Friday, December 19, 2014

Lima to Paris: Call for Climate Action Puts World on Track for 2015

A new 2015 agreement on climate change, that will harness action by all nations, took a further important step forward in Lima following two weeks of negotiations by over 190 countries.

Nations concluded by elaborating the elements of the new agreement, scheduled to be agreed in Paris in late 2015, while also agreeing the ground rules on how all countries can submit contributions to the new agreement during the first quarter of next year.

These Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will form the foundation for climate action post 2020 when the new agreement is set to come into effect.

What is an INDC?

Under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), countries across the globe agreed (or does it mean committed) to create a new international climate agreement by the conclusion of the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015. During previous climate negotiations, countries agreed to publicly outline what actions they intend to take under a global agreement well before the Paris Summit (and for those countries in a position to do so, by March 2015). These country "commitments" are known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The form and rigor of these INDCs will largely determine whether the world achieves an ambitious 2015 agreement and is put on a path toward a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.

There is always a puzzle in my mind as to how committed countries are to really cutting down the emmissions  to save this planet from further anthropogenic climate change. "Contributions" from countries seem a very open and non-binding option that countries are expected to voluntarily make. I hope that "contributions" may sound "committments" to the ears of countries and they will look at this process with more seriousness and aimed at really making a difference.

How does the process work?

The INDC process has been hailed as a bottom-up process in which countries put forward their contributions in the context of their national priorities, circumstances and capabilities. This is to feed into the global agenda aimed to reduce global emissions enough to limit average global temperature rise to 2 degrees C, thus averting the worst impacts of climate change. So countries will, in their INDCs, will propose the steps they will take to reduce emissions and also address other issues, such as how they will adapt to climate change impacts, and what support they need from—or will provide to—other countries to address climate change. After the initial submission of INDCs, there will be an assessment phase to review countries’ INDCs and possibly adjust them before the Paris Climate Summit (COP 21).

What makes a good INDC?

A well designed INDC will signal to the world that a country is doing to combat climate change and limit future climate risks. Countries are expected to follow an efficient and transparent process when preparing their INDC to build trust and accountability with domestic and international stakeholders.

A good INDC should be ambitious, leading to transformation in carbon-intensive sectors and industry; transparent, so that the level of ambition can be reviewed; and equitable, so that each country does its fair share to address climate change. It should also articulate how the country is integrating climate change into other national priorities, such as sustainable development and poverty reduction, and send signals to the private sector to contribute to these efforts.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

AfriCAN Women CAN!

I had an amazing day at the Women’s Park in the Miami – Dade County today. It was everything I did not expect and I liked it. The rains did not allow our team to go out and enjoy the beautiful scenery and sunshine (which I have learnt to value now that I am here) but I had the most exciting time meeting the amazing girls partaking in the Girls Empowerment and Mentoring (GEM) programme while learning about a phenomenal woman Roxcy O’Neal Bolton, a woman of distinction. We went to the park as part of our community service component of our programme on the Washington Fellowship.

When I saw the advertisement for the Washington Fellowship in December, 2013 I knew I wanted to be a part of it, however I was unsure if I wanted to get my heartbroken again. I was recovering from not getting into a highly competitive PhD programme. Plus I reason that there would be thousands of applications (and there was; 50, 000 of them). Would I stand a chance?
In the end I decided that I should at least give myself the chance. So I did. In March, 2014 I received a call and then was interviewed a few days later for the fellowship. Then on the 8th of April, 2014 I got mail. I was officially a Washington Fellowship finalist. The rest is history.

My professor at the University of Gloucestershire, Prof. Lindsey McEwen taught me to celebrate my successes, to relax, to reflect and to give myself the chance. When we met I was a twenty-three year old with a first class degree in Natural Resources Management looking to learn and gain practical experience. So as my instructor on my Masters programme she asked that I submit my curriculum vitae so that she would help me to gain the practical experience I wanted. The c.v. simply said the basics about me, so she asked what class I graduated with and I replied that I graduated as the top girl in my Fisheries and Watershed Management option class of 2008. I did not think it was important to place it on my curriculum vitae because for me it would come across as a show off. She simply said to me “...Afua Prempeh, no one is going to blow your horn for you...”.

Why work so hard and play it down? How was I going to get my foot in the door or expect someone to give me a fair chance when I was not giving myself a fair chance?

I think there is something fundamentally not right with the way society socializes women not only in Ghana but in Africa and around the world. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being competent and excellent at what you do. And there is no shame in being confident and acknowledging that you are good at something.

The Washington Fellowship has shown me that the African continent has an amazing resource that hitherto has not been mined and explored in the most effective manner - Intelligent and talented women; Women who are passionate about the future of our communities, nations, Africa and the world!

So I dedicate this piece to all the women participating in the Washington Fellowship 2014. Let us empower other women by sharing our stories, experiences and encouraging other women to work hard and be confident in whom they are. You are an inspiration and an example to all women that:


Afua Serwah Akoto Prempeh, is a guest writer for this blog. Afua is an environmentalist who is passionate about natural resources management and sustainable development. She believes firmly that communities, no matter how deprived possess untapped capabilities and assets to protect their environment, utilize their resources sustainably and develop. She strives to foster a structured and close collaboration between state institutions and local communities to ensure national sustainable growth.

Afua joined the Environmental Protection Agency, Ghana in 2011 as a Program Officer and has worked in the Strategic Environmental Assessment Unit. She currently works with the education team of the Western Regional office of the Agency, which educates the general public on pertinent environment challenges and the need for members of communities to take an active part in environmental management. She works as a member of the technical review committee in the regional office to review and critically analyze developmental applications, preliminary and annual environmental reports. The committee makes recommendations aimed at minimizing the likely negative social and environmental impacts of undertakings.

She has effective communication, training, analytical and research skills and an understanding of environmental legislation. Afua Prempeh holds an MSc in Environmental Policy and Management from the University of Gloucestershire, UK, and a BSc in Natural Resources Management from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana and a Certificate in Policies, Strategies and Support Systems for Rural Revitalization from the Weitz Centre for Development Studies in Israel.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University, has come up with a technique that he thinks could solve the problem. Lackner has designed an artificial tree that passively soaks up carbon dioxide from the air using “leaves” that are 1,000 times more efficient than true leaves that use photosynthesis.

"We don't need to expose the leaves to sunlight for photosynthesis like a real tree does," Lackner explains. "So our leaves can be much more closely spaced and overlapped – even configured in a honeycomb formation to make them more efficient."

The leaves look like sheets of papery plastic and are coated in a resin that contains sodium carbonate, which pulls carbon dioxide out of the air and stores it as a bicarbonate (baking soda) on the leaf. To remove the carbon dioxide, the leaves are rinsed in water vapour and can dry naturally in the wind, soaking up more carbon dioxide.

Lackner calculates that his tree can remove one tonne of carbon dioxide a day. Ten million of these trees could remove 3.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year – equivalent to about 10% of our global annual carbon dioxide emissions. "Our total emissions could be removed with 100 million trees," he says, "whereas we would need 1,000 times that in real trees to have the same effect."

If the trees were mass produced they would each initially cost around $20,000 (then falling as production takes over), just below the price of the average family car in the United States, he says, pointing out that 70 million cars are produced each year. And each would fit on a truck to be positioned at sites around the world. "The great thing about the atmosphere is it's a good mixer, so carbon dioxide produced in an American city can be removed in Oman," he says.

Source: BBC's "Sucking CO2 from the skies with artificial trees" 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

GMO Myths and Truths

GMO Myths and Truths 
- An evidence-based examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops.

by Michael Antoniou, Claire Robinson and John Fagan

Executive Summary:

Genetically modified (GM) crops are promoted on the basis of a range of far-reaching claims from the GM crop industry and its supporters. They say that GM crops:

  • Are an extension of natural breeding and do not pose different risks from naturally bred crops
  • Are safe to eat and can be more nutritious than naturally bred crops
  • Are strictly regulated for safety
  • Increase crop yields
  • Reduce pesticide use
  • Benefit farmers and make their lives easier
  • Bring economic benefits
  • Benefit the environment
  • Can help solve problems caused by climate change
  • Reduce energy use
  • Will help feed the world.

However, a large and growing body of scientific and other authoritative evidence shows that these claims are not true. On the contrary, evidence presented in this report indicates that GM crops:

  • Are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops
  • Can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts
  • Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety
  • Do not increase yield potential
  • Do not reduce pesticide use but increase it
  • Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant “superweeds”, compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops
  • Have mixed economic effects
  • Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity
  • Do not offer effective solutions to climate change
  • Are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops
  • Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes – poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on.

Based on the evidence presented in this report, there is no need to take risks with GM crops when effective, readily available, and sustainable solutions to the problems that GM technology is claimed to address already exist. Conventional plant breeding, in some cases helped by safe modern technologies like gene mapping and marker assisted selection, continues to outperform GM in producing high-yield, drought-tolerant, and pest- and disease-resistant crops that can meet our present and future food needs.

Source: Click Here to Download

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

230 million hectares of tree cover lost from 2000 to 2012

It is estimated that the world lost 2.3 million square kilometers (230 million hectares) of tree cover from 2000 to 2012—equivalent to 50 soccer fields of forest lost every minute of every day for 12 years 

The World Resources Institute (WRI), Google, UNEP and a group of more than 40 partners on 20 February 2014 launched Global Forest Watch (GFW), a dynamic online forest monitoring and alert system that empowers people everywhere to better manage forests. For the first time, Global Forest Watch unites the latest satellite technology, open data, and crowdsourcing to guarantee access to timely and reliable information about forests.

"Global Forest Watch is a near-real time monitoring platform that will fundamentally change the way people and businesses manage forests. According to data from the University of Maryland and Google, the world lost 2.3 million square kilometers (230 million hectares) of tree cover from 2000 to 2012 equivalent to 50 soccer fields of forest lost every minute of every day for 12 years. The countries with the highest tree cover loss are: Russia, Brazil, Canada, United States, and Indonesia.

"Managing the world's forest resources is today both a local and global undertaking, and technology has provided Global Forest Watch with an unprecedented opportunity to connect not only information and data but people, whether they be forest managers, businesses and private sector, or consumers across the globe. This is a great example of a community coming together and providing the world with a truly groundbreaking and pioneering product. Hopefully in a few years' time we will be able to monitor the impact and the results in terms of what actually happens on the ground that will be both a litmus test and I think the greatest affirmation that the time for this idea had come," said Achim Steiner, UN Under Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director.

Global Forest Watch has the following features:

  • High-resolution: Annual tree cover loss and gain data for the entire globe at a resolution of 30 meters, available for analysis and download.
  • Near-real time: Monthly tree cover loss data for the humid tropics at a resolution of 500 meters.
  • Speed: Cloud computing, provided by Google, multiplying the speed at which data can be analyzed.
  • The crowd: GFW unites high resolution information from satellites with the power of crowdsourcing.
  • Free and easy to use: GFW is free to all and no technical expertise is needed.
  • Alerts: When forest loss alerts are detected, a network of partners and citizens around the world can mobilize to take action.
  • Analytical Tools: Layers showing boundaries of protected areas worldwide; logging, mining, palm oil and other concessions; daily forest fire alerts from NASA; agricultural commodities; and intact forest landscapes and biodiversity hotspots.

Global Forest Watch will have far-reaching implications across industries. Financial institutions can better evaluate if the companies they invest in adequately assess forest-related risks. Buyers of major commodities such as palm oil, soy, timber, and beef can better monitor compliance with laws, sustainability commitments, and standards. And suppliers can credibly demonstrate that their products are "deforestation free" and legally produced.

Global Forest Watch can support other users like indigenous communities, who can upload alerts and photos when encroachment occurs on their lands; and NGOs that can identify deforestation hotspots, mobilize action, and collect evidence to hold governments and companies accountable. Global Forest Watch can also help in designing smarter policies, enforce forest laws, detect illegal forest clearing, manage forests more sustainably, and achieve conservation and climate goals.

Global Forest Watch was created by the World Resources Institute with over 40 partners, including Google, Esri, University of Maryland, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Imazon, Center for Global Development, Observatoire Satellital des ForĂȘts d'Afrique Centrale (OSFAC), Global Forest Watch Canada, ScanEx, Transparent World, the Jane Goodall Institute, and Vizzuality. Major companies have also provided early input, including Unilever and Nestle, and the wider Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 Partnership. Core funders include the Norwegian Climate and Forests Initiative, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Global Environment Facility (GEF), U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), and the Tilia Fund.

Visit GFW at 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Opposition to Genetically Modfied (GM) Foods in Ghana Intensifies

The fight against the introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) was taken to another level yesterday as Rastafarians and members of some civil society groups hit the streets of Accra to demonstrate against GMOs and the Plant Breeders’ Bill which is before Parliament.


The groups that took part in the demonstration were the Rastafarian Council, Food Sovereignty Ghana, the Vegetarian Association of Ghana, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), the Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Organisational Development (CIKOD), the All African People’s Revolutionary Party and the Earth Replenishers Foundation.


Chanting “No GMO”, “Away with GMO” and “Chooboei” and intermittently singing the national anthem, with emphasis on the words: “…and help us to resist oppressors’ rule”, the demonstrators started from the Obra Spot at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, branched through Adabraka and the TUC, passed in front of the National Theatre before converging on the National Arts Centre to address the press.

Under heavy police guard, the demonstrators stopped from time to time to explain to passers-by the implications of the Plant Breeders’ Bill and GMOs.


They carried placards with weird photos of GMOs, some of which read: “Say no to Man Satan (Monsanto)”, “Monsanto out of Ghana”, “Farmers’ right come first”, “No to the Plant Breeders’ Bill”, “Ban GMOs”, “GMOs will make Ghanaian farmers poor” and “GMO is poison, beware”.

Implications of the Plant Breeders’ Bill

Addressing the participants at the Arts Centre in Accra, the Chairperson of the Coalition for Farmers’ Rights and Advocacy against GMOs, Ms Samia Yaaba Christine Nkrumah, said there was the need for Ghanaians to rise against the imposition of the Plant Breeders’ Bill, which was currently in Parliament.

The passage of the bill will allow the introduction of the GM foods into the country.

Ms Nkrumah stated that the imposition of the bill had far-reaching social, economic and political consequences on Ghanaians and the entire African continent.

She explained that the passage of the bill would disable Ghanaians from having total control over their agricultural and food commodities.

“So can’t we even control our own foods? Is this what our forefathers left for us? Do we want a day to come when someone will control what we eat as Africans?” she asked.

Ms Nkrumah said there was the need for all Ghanaians to come on board to help kick against the bill, since it was not in the interest of the Ghanaian farmer, adding that the call on the ban on GMOs went beyond partisan politics.

Official launch

She also used the platform to officially launch the coalition and called on bodies such as the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference, traditional rulers, women’s advocacy groups, youth groups, the National Chief Imam, among others, to join hands and help defend the interest of the Ghanaian.

Ms Nkrumah further called on parliamentarians to help educate Ghanaians on the bill before attempting to pass it into law, adding, “It is full of legal jargon that cannot be understood by the ordinary Ghanaian.”

SOURCE: Daily Graphic, Ghana

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A case for Indigenous Knowledge in Environmental Management

Benji Gyampoh during a research on IK in climate change Adaptation
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a report (January 2014) titled “A Decade of Tribal Environmental Research: Results and Impacts from EPA’s Extramural Grants and Fellowships Programs”. This report caught my attention as soon as I heard of it. It highlights the accomplishments and impacts of more than a decade of supporting Tribal Environmental Research. The report is available for download at

The findings of this report, once again, confirms the importance of Indigenous Knowledge (IK) in Environmental Management. I have constantly advocated the need for more research into IK in climate change adaptation and I am happy that this report also makes a very strong case for IK in environmental management.

Dr James H. Johnson, Jr., Director of the National Center for Environmental Research, Office of Research and Development of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency observes that “American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities have been tied inextricable to their environments for millennia. Because of their reliance on natural resources to maintain traditional diets, life ways, customs and languages, there is a unique need for tribal-focused research to identify the impacts of pollution, dietary exposures, cumulative risks and climate change, as well as to inform decisions to reduce health risks in these areas.”

The US EPA established the Tribal Environmental Health Research Program in 2000 through the Science To Achieve Results (STAR) grants and fellowships programs. This is the kind of primary research that is very commendable and many countries must take a cue from this. A people can only truly develop scientifically when they master the knowledge already around them. Since its inception, the Tribal Environmental Health Research Program has funded 10 STAR grants for tribal environmental health research, many of which are conducted on tribal lands by researchers from tribal colleges and universities. 

EPA’s STAR tribal research can be categorized by five themes:
  1.         Cultural practices, language and traditional ecological knowledge.
  2.         Subsistence foods and water resources.
  3.         Community-based participatory research (CBPR) and community outreach and education.
  4.         Risk assessment and incorporating sensitive populations.
  5.         Impacts on regulations and management plans.

This highly commendable programme by the US EPA has yielded key data, tools, products, methods and knowledge. The use of such knowledge discovered can help to better define and reduce the health risks faced by tribal populations, protect natural resources essential to cultural and spiritual practices, and supports ecological knowledge and tribal practices for protecting and preserving the earth for future generations.

One important lesson to take from this report, “A Decade of Tribal Environmental Research: Results and Impacts from EPA’s Extramural Grants and Fellowships Programs” teaches is the importance of using research data in making informed decisions. It is not just enough to put money in research because there is a cry for investment in research and development. It is crucial that the knowledge discovered or produced from such research is used for the benefit of the society. According to the EPA report, “results from STAR grants and fellowships have influenced State and tribal regulations and management plans. For example, the states of Washington and Oregon have used STAR data to reexamine and revise their state water quality standards. These revisions offer greater protection of tribal populations whose cultural practices and traditional lifeways could result in higher exposures to water contaminants. The Cherokee Nation used results from research by a STAR fellow to design its Tribal Integrated Resource Management Plan for natural resource planning and management on Cherokee lands.

This is a way to go!