11,000 scientists warn of ‘untold suffering’ caused by climate change

“The scientists point to six areas in which humanity should take immediate steps to slow down the effects of a warming planet:

  1. Energy. Implement massive conservation practices; replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewables; leave remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the ground; eliminate subsidies to fossil fuel companies; and impose carbon fees that are high enough to restrain the use of fossil fuels.
  2. Short-lived pollutants. Swiftly cut emissions of methane, soot, hydrofluorocarbons and other short-lived climate pollutants; doing so has the potential to reduce the short-term warming trend by more than 50% over the next few decades.
  3. Nature. Restore and protect ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, peatlands, wetlands and mangroves, and allow a larger share of these ecosystems to reach their ecological potential for sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas.
  4. Food. Eat more plants and consume fewer animal products. The dietary shift would significantly reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases and free up agricultural lands for growing human food rather than livestock feed. Reducing food waste is also critical – the scientists say at least one-third of all food produced ends up as garbage.
  5. Economy. Convert the economy to one that is carbon free to address human dependence on the biosphere and shift goals away from the growth of gross domestic product and the pursuit of affluence. Curb exploitation of ecosystems to maintain long-term biosphere sustainability.
  6. Population. Stabilize a global human population that is increasing by more than 200,000 people a day, using approaches that ensure social and economic justice.”

“Mitigating and adapting to climate change while honoring the diversity of humans entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems,” the paper states. “We are encouraged by a recent surge of concern. Governmental bodies are making climate emergency declarations. Schoolchildren are striking. Ecocide lawsuits are proceeding in the courts. Grassroots citizen movements are demanding change, and many countries, states and provinces, cities, and businesses are responding. As an Alliance of World Scientists, we stand ready to assist decision makers in a just transition to a sustainable and equitable future.”

Read if it you haven’t, hear in open-access format at BioScience:  https://academic.oup.com/…/d…/10.1093/biosci/biz088/5610806…

 

Promoting climate resilience in Taita

Communities across Kenya are not only feeling the presence of climate variability and change but also its impacts. Climate change has resulted in prolonged drought, and high incidence of pests and diseases, affecting livestock and crop production negatively. This year the ‘long rains’ were late and short while the ‘short rains’ were long and heavy. Through the ‘People Partner with Nature’ program, Nature Kenya has been supporting initiatives aimed at helping communities in Taita and Kilifi counties adapt to climate change through participatory forest and natural resource management.

 

In Taita Hills, community members are employing various adaptation strategies to counter the effects of climate change. Climate-smart agriculture is one such approach. It refers to agricultural practices geared at sustainably increasing productivity, building resilience to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate-smart agriculture includes the integration of tree planting with crop and livestock production as a package. Six self-help groups affiliated to Dawida Biodiversity Conservation Group (DaBiCo), the Taita Hills forests’ site support group, have embraced this approach.  The groups are Ndiwenyi Community Unit, Ngangao Farmers Group, Mwavunyu Chakiloli, Iyale Angamiza, Wuchichi Self Help Group and Mghange Dawida Mazingira.

 

The groups have established kitchen gardens on which they grow high-value crops. These include vegetables like cabbages, tomatoes, capsicum, courgette, black nightshade – locally known as managu – and onions. Vegetables are preferred because they are fast-growing and yield good returns. One benefit of the kitchen garden model is that it utilizes space efficiently, maximizing productivity.

The communities use hybrid seeds, organic manure and drip irrigation technologies to further enhance crop production. Planting of fruit and fodder trees is another practice being promoted under the climate-smart agriculture approach. The trees planted on farms also provide building materials and fuel wood. Other practices include application of soil and water conservation techniques and use of crop residue as livestock feed.  These practices improve soil moisture and organic matter retention and mitigate the risk of erosion.

The Taita Hills comprise two main mountain massifs, Mbololo and Dawida, rising from the dryland below. The forests that remain on the hilltops are extensively fragmented. Taita Hills forests are part of the Eastern Arc mountains, one of 34 global biodiversity hotspots, and are ranked as one of Kenya’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). Two Critically Endangered birds are only found in these forest remnants: Taita Thrush and Taita Apalis. Severe fragmentation, isolation and decline in quality and extent of indigenous forest cover in Taita Hills pose major threats which affect the breeding success and survival of the two bird species. Helping the community to conserve the forests is therefore vitally important.

The ‘People Partner with Nature’ program is supporting communities living adjacent to the Taita Hills forests to engage in income-generating activities, such as butterfly farming, beekeeping, eco-tourism, climate-smart agriculture, among others, that reduce pressure on the environment. The program is being implemented in partnership with DOF (BirdLife in Denmark) with financial support from DANIDA/CISU. The overall objective of the program is to ‘reduce the destruction of forested KBAs and contribute to the realization of best participatory forest management practices for the benefit of all.’ This program is also running in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Dakatcha Woodland in Kilifi county.

Promoting conservation at grassroot level

Safeguarding Kenya’s sites of global biodiversity conservation importance – Key Biodiversity Areas – is crucial to the country’s well-being. The ecosystem services and goods provided by these sites are invaluable. Forests for instance, supply us with timber, food, fuel, and bioproducts, not to mention provision of ecological functions such as carbon storage, water storage and release, soil protection and nutrient cycling. Wetlands purify and replenish our water, reduce the impacts of drought and flood, and provide us with food and fibre. Putting in place good mitigation strategies to conserve these sites is key to their survival.

Local communities residing around such important sites play a big part in sustaining them. Engaging these communities positively in conservation activities is a sure way of ensuring ecological sustainability of these areas.

The site support groups (SSGs) model being promoted by Nature Kenya is an approach aimed at enhancing community engagement in conservation at site level. This model entails working closely with groups of local volunteers at Kenya’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). Currently, there are 26 SSGs spread across the country. These groups act as an entry point for wider community engagement in the conservation and management of biodiversity. The SSGs are actively involved in site patrolling, policing and monitoring, habitat management and restoration, and environmental awareness and advocacy. These groups employ simple, inexpensive tools and methods to collect vital data through citizen science initiatives. This level of engagement underscores the value of voluntary public participation in conservation.

In 2013, a monitoring team comprising of members of the Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group (the Dakatcha Woodland KBA site support group) discovered the nesting site of the endangered Clarke’s weaver, a bird found only in Kilifi County, Kenya. This discovery was a major milestone for conservation of this threatened bird, warranting international attention. No known account of the species’ breeding grounds had been reported prior to this discovery.

Late in 2017, some members of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Adjacent Dwellers Association (the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest KBA site support group) went public to decry unabated illegal logging activities in the forest. Their exposé triggered a chain of events which culminated into a national logging moratorium. Through their voices, these community members drew national attention to a serious threat facing one of Kenya’s iconic coastal forest.

Last year, a local community member stumbled upon a dead hyena somewhere in the Maasai Mara. Suspecting the wild animal to have been poisoned, he immediately alerted relevant authorities. Through his swift action, hundreds of secondary wildlife poisoning deaths, including those of critically endangered vulture species, were averted. Several other wildlife poisoning incidents in the area have been reported by community members and promptly addressed, leading to fewer deaths.

These are just a few examples of the important role played by local communities in the conservation of key sites and biodiversity in Kenya.

A healthy environment means a better life for people. As such, conservation and human development need to be mutually reinforcing. Linking community livelihoods with conservation is another way of incentivizing people to take action. Establishment of nature-based enterprises such as beekeeping, butterfly farming, ecotourism, among others, has provided opportunities for local communities to sustainably harness available natural resources. The Kipepeo butterfly project in Gede near Malindi, for instance, is enabling hundreds of local community members to earn livelihoods while conserving the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest.

There is no doubt that community-based approaches have the potential to spur conservation action at key sites. The recently released Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services by the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) acknowledges this point. The report recognizes contributions by local communities in limiting deforestation. These local governance regimes, IPBES notes, have been proven to be effective in mitigating habitat loss, at times even more effective than formally established protected areas.

Local community engagement in the protection of nature needs to be encouraged. Communities need to be empowered to effectively take conservation action. Conservation policies also need to take into account the needs of local communities by providing some form of benefit mechanism for the locals. At a time of increasing pressure on the world’s biodiversity, community-based conservation approaches deserve full support.

A future for Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland – Yala Swamp

Yala Swamp is one of Kenya’s important ecosystems. The wetland lies on the north-eastern shore of Lake Victoria, cutting across Siaya and Busia counties. The swamp is Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland, and an internationally recognized Key Biodiversity Area (KBA). Yala Swamp is home to the nationally threatened Sitatunga antelope and other large mammals, numerous wetland birds (including the vulnerable Papyrus Yellow Warbler), and is a refuge for cichlid fish endemic to Lake Victoria that have become extinct in the main lake. In addition, the swamp provides numerous essential ecosystem services and vital resources such as water, food, medicine and wood for over 250,000 people who live around it. The wetland, however, faces many threats, including increasing human population, over-exploitation of its natural resources by the competing local communities, habitat degradation and biodiversity loss.

During the years 2014-2018, Nature Kenya successfully implemented a project titled “Balancing development and conservation in Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland”. The Darwin Initiative, MacArthur Foundation and USAID-PREPARED jointly funded this project. The main outcome of this project was that key steps were taken to safeguard the future of Yala Swamp, putting into consideration development and conservation needs. Nature Kenya worked in collaboration with the Siaya and Busia county governments, local communities and the national government to develop a Land Use Plan (LUP) for Yala Swamp, informed by a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), and borrowing lessons learnt from the award-winning Tana Delta land use planning process.

The Yala Swamp LUP seeks to balance the various interests in the wetland. It involves addressing the needs of communities, their settlements and livelihoods, equity and fairness in land resource allocation (for both investors and communities), while protecting the wetland’s unique biodiversity through embracing strong conservation ethics. This approach is supported by evidence that conservation of significant areas of the swamp is critically important for the sustenance of ecosystem services that support the economy, biodiversity and livelihoods. The endorsement of the Yala Swamp LUP by the Siaya County Governor H.E. Cornel Rasanga and his Busia counterpart H.E. Sospeter Ojaamong’ in July 2019 marked a milestone in development towards the implementation of the wetland’s land use planning process. Both the Siaya and Busia county assemblies have also expressed commitment towards the adoption of the Yala Swamp LUP.

With funding from the Darwin Initiative, Nature Kenya is still working to secure a sustainable future for Yala Swamp. Towards this, a three-year project is currently underway. The project, which started in April 2019, will support the adoption of the Yala Swamp LUP as a county government policy, formalize the creation of Community Conservation Areas (CCAs) through gazettement, and develop a management plan to be implemented by a multi-stakeholder committee.

Community livelihoods are also set to be enhanced through empowering households to establish nature-based enterprises (making of papyrus and palm leaf products, fish farming, bee-keeping, chicken rearing, vegetable gardening and eco-tourism), setting up producers’ cooperatives and opening a ‘market hub’ in Siaya town.  Management of Community Conservation Areas will be sustainably financed, in part through contributions from the cooperatives. Project lessons and experiences will be widely shared through meetings, conferences and awareness events. The project will directly benefit over 635 households and indirectly benefit 250,000 people and ensure continued provision of vital ecosystem services. The project will also advance the listing of Yala Swamp as a Ramsar (wetland of international importance) site in addition to furthering the objectives of international biodiversity conventions ratified by Kenya such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and a number of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The project’s implementation partners at the community level include the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group (YESSG) who are community conservation champions and local beneficiaries. Their role involves supporting CCA management through proceeds derived from livelihood enterprises. Other partners are the Yala Planning Advisory Committee (YPAC), whose role is to promote integration of the LUP/SEA into county plans and budgets, and represent communities on the multi-stakeholder CCA Management Committee; and Lower Nyandera and Muweri Water Resource Use Associations (WRUAs), whose role is to champion implementation of the water-sharing regime recommended by the SEA/LUP. Other local partners include Beach Management Units (BMUs) and Community Forest Associations (CFAs).