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Environmental Change and Security Program
A production of the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC
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Location: Washington, DC
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February 11, 2016 09:09 AM PST

"In my view, we are 40 years into a 100-year transition to a clean energy economy," says Mike Eckhart, global head of environmental finance and sustainability at Citigroup, in this week’s podcast. “We're in the mainstream of building an industry."

Speaking at the Wilson Center’s day-long conference on renewable energy in the developing world, Eckhart outlined changes in technology, market structure, policy, and financial markets that amount to “four big waves of innovation” fueling the advancement of the renewable sector. Technological innovation may be the most apparent of the big waves, Eckhart says, helping to bring prices down, but “we’ve had great policy innovation in the renewable portfolio standards, the investment tax credit, and the production tax credit.”

Innovating “with intention” as Eckhart describes, is partly what fueled these waves of advancement. In terms of financing, one of the most successful ideas was separating high risk development phase projects from low risk operating assets, thus “optimizing investment products” and attracting more sophisticated private sector buy-in for renewable markets.

Eckhart says there are ways to tailor financing and market structure to expand renewable energy generation in the developing world. Yet, failure to acknowledge and tackle climate change can stall success. "I have never seen a country really move ahead on renewable energy,” says Eckhart, “until after it has made a full-blown commitment to address climate change.”

On the heels of the historic COP-21 treaty, this critical connection was echoed by President Obama in his address this week, in which he announced a budget that doubles funding for clean energy research and development by 2020. “Investors and business leaders including Bill Gates, Meg Whitman, and Mark Zuckerberg joined us,” Obama remarked, “pledging their own money to help advance new technologies to the market.”

Mike Eckhart spoke at the Wilson Center on October 27, 2015.

February 04, 2016 06:43 AM PST

“The demographic dividend is about inclusive growth, not just economic growth,” says Jagdish Upadhyay, chief of commodity security at the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in this week’s podcast. “If it’s not inclusive, achieving the demographic dividend will be difficult.”

Upadhyay argues that countries wanting to seize the economic potential of having a disproportionate number of workers compared to dependents need to understand that it won’t happen unless young people are better prepared and engaged. “We see that about 60 countries are waiting for the demographic dividend,” Upadhyay says. “And if you don't talk about empowerment of young people, and that kind of inclusive development, then we will miss this generation that we are working on.”

Upadhyay makes the case that high quality, comprehensive, and gender-disaggregated data is necessary to connect access to family planning and increased empowerment to sustainable and economic growth. By illustrating the impacts of demographic change, Upadhyay says it easier to show economic and finance ministries how “you are losing your economic growth if you don't do these things.” He cites USAID’s estimate that maternal and newborn mortality leads to $15 billion in lost in potential productivity globally every year as an example.

The “economy will not be successful,” says Upadhyay, “if we cannot empower young people, if they cannot plan their pregnancy, if they cannot complete their education.”

Jagdish Upadhyay spoke at the Wilson Center on December 8.

January 27, 2016 08:08 AM PST

“Right now, 1.5 billion people are living in humanitarian crisis – living in conflict-afflicted regions,” says Kate Gilmore, deputy executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in this week’s podcast.

She argues that upholding the rights of young women and girls in crisis settings is a moral obligation, rooted in the commitment to ensure basic human rights. “Sexual and reproductive health,” says Gilmore, “is most vulnerable to attack in these humanitarian and fragile settings precisely when access to information, support, and services most severely declines.”

Gilmore spoke at the launch of UNFPA’s 2015 State of World Population report, Shelter From the Storm, which focuses on the need to protect and meet the needs of women and girls during natural disasters, mass displacement, and humanitarian crises. According to the report, three in five preventable maternal deaths occur in conflict settings and 45 percent of neonatal deaths.

Ensuring sexual and reproductive rights is an opportunity to invest in the “human capital of the adolescent girl,” Gilmore says. It is during “the toughest of times, in the hardest of places” where sexual and reproductive health and the rights of women and girls must be protected.

“Disaster may derail,” says Gilmore, “but never erase these rights.”

Kate Gilmore spoke at the Wilson Center on December 3.

January 21, 2016 10:27 AM PST

“The demographic data is telling us that the future is very young and the future is very female,” says Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, a lawyer and general secretary of the World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA), in this week’s podcast. “And therefore, we actually have an imperative to respond.”

Adolescence for young girls and women is a critical period, says Gumbonzvanda, “the age when they are transitioning from childhood to adulthood…[and] there is increased responsibility and increased personal decision-making on many matters, including social issues.”

The YWCA, active in 120 countries, provides physical and social “safe spaces” for girls and young women to express themselves and talk about the issues they are having away from the pressure of community or societal expectations.

“We are unique because we are a faith-based organization,” Gumbonzvanda says, focusing on “strongly advancing the issues of human rights and social justice.” This allows them to demand accountability from “faith and cultural leaders on sensitive and controversial issues,” she says, like child abuse, rape, and genital mutilation.

As difficult as some of these conversations may be, they serve to disrupt traditional power structures and elevate youth as engaged members of the community. Gumbonzvanda says these efforts are shifting the narrative “on adolescent girls and young people from a perspective of vulnerability... to the notion of leadership.”

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda spoke at the Wilson Center on October 19.

August 21, 2015 09:48 AM PDT

“We [need to] stop treating ‘adaptation’ like a sector,” says John Furlow, climate change specialist at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), in this week’s podcast, “but start treating it as a stress or a risk that undermines the development sectors, the environmental sectors, the social sectors that we care about.”

At the 2010 United Nations climate summit in Cancun, member states began formulatingNational Adaptation Plans (NAPs) with the goal of integrating climate-related disaster risk reduction with development goals in the least developed countries.

“The objectives of NAPs is to reduce vulnerability and to do so by integrating climate adaptation into other things we do,” says Furlow. “The way to do that effectively is not to have an isolated adaptation strategy or an isolated plan but to weave climate into the things that drive actual decision-making and investments.”

However, making structural changes is often easier said than done. “[US]AID and most development agencies are still structured to do deal with things one issue at a time,” says Furlow. Climate adaptation demands more cross-sectoral efforts, including “bridging the gap between the development and the humanitarian assistance budgets.”

A significant challenge is the power difference between environment ministries and other government bodies. “How do you get the relatively weak environment ministry to get the big, powerful ministries –finance, planning, agriculture, transportation, energy, tourism – to think about climate change when we’ve all sort of been indoctrinated that climate is an environment thing?” he says.

Within and Between Governments

One strategy piloted by USAID is to hold high-level climate and development workshops with government officials from many different agencies. By the end of first workshop, in Jamaica, Furlow says the minister of finance, initially hesitant to participate, wanted to know why he wasn’t informed about climate change risks years ago. “Often the coordination barrier is not that high, it’s just getting the right three people in the room together.”

The broad effects of climate change demand more cooperation at an even higher level as well, says Furlow. As developing countries write and implement their National Adaptation Plans and aid organizations do more on climate, governments and donors need mechanisms to share lessons learned and strategies to avoid overlap and maximize results.

To encourage international cooperation, the NAP Global Network was launched at the 2014 UN climate conference.

“We want to enable countries to learn from each other,” says Furlow. “There is no defined template for a national adaptation plan…[and] there is a discomfort with some of the developing countries that it’s not clear what their NAPs should look like or when it’s going to be done or what they have to do with it.” The NAP Global Network hosted its first  Targeted Topics Forum in July for national leaders in climate policy, finance, and other departments.

Donor countries can also do much more to synchronize their efforts and increase climate-sensitive planning, Furlow says. “We are trying to find out how we can provide support, how we can coordinate with each other.”

For example, at an initial meeting, they “found that USAID and [the UK Department for International Development] were both supporting a beach replenishment project on the same beach and didn’t know it, and we had been working there for several years, and this government of this country was still issuing sand mining licenses for the same beach.”

John Furlow spoke at the Wilson Center on July 28.

Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

Sources: NAP Global Network, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, U.S. Agency for International Development.

August 13, 2015 11:19 AM PDT

“The relationship between human health…and environmental changes is extremely complex,” says Sally Edwards, advisor for sustainable development and environmental health of the Pan-American Health Organization/World Health Organization office for the eastern Caribbean countries, in this week’s podcast.

“What we do know is that there are enormous numbers of interconnections and it needs to be looked at from quite a broad perspective because there is not any sort of only unique, directional relationship of just two things, it’s a very complex web of interrelationships,” she says.

Flooding from extreme weather events in the Caribbean not only directly puts people in harm’s way but also increase waterborne diseases, says Edwards. Nutrition can be affected if crops or food stored low to the ground are contaminated, polluted water can drain into public waterways, and sea-level rise can inundate coastal wells.

These effects are exacerbating existing problems. “In the Caribbean, the infrastructure is aging and failing,” says Edwards, “there’s a lot of breakages in the system so even if you are having treated water being put into the system at the beginning, that is not what is coming out in peoples’ houses.”

“Yes, they have access to piped water,” she says. “But is the water coming out of those pipes of a quality that we regard safe for human consumption? The answer is no.”

Avoiding Unintended Consequences

Some environmental programs with good intentions have had negative unintended consequences as well. To combat water scarcity, the government of Barbados passed a law requiring certain buildings to have rainwater storage capacity. However, the mandate didn’t specify the need for pumps or proper water usage, causing an “enormous proliferation” of mosquitoes, resulting in a rise of dengue fever, says Edwards.

“The bad news about adaptation is we can’t really see the future really clearly,” says Edwards. This is especially difficult in the Caribbean given the lack of available data. “You need a certain amount of data to get statistically significant models, especially going into the future,” she says.

But while “not all climate risks are avoidable,” much more can be done, says Edwards. On the household level, increased awareness of proper water and food storage can improve food security while decreasing instances of waterborne disease. With agriculture, using retreated wastewater can sustain production while reducing climate vulnerability.

And there are examples of successful adaptation programs by governments. In Barbados, coastal zone protection programs have committed marine and coastal areas to conservation while creating public parks and recreational areas.

The key is keeping in mind the potential for unintended consequences during planning, Edwards says. “It’s very important we think about some of the other consequences that they can have and make sure we are looking at all of the pluses and minuses that they can gave and what can we do in regard to the minuses, because sometimes they are very easy things to correct.”

August 06, 2015 08:54 PM PDT

Rich in natural resources, poor in nearly every human development indicator. The description applies to many of the most-conflict ridden states in the world, but also to a region often forgotten in global development circles: the Arctic North.

At some point above the 66th parallel, the North-South divide does a 180, says Anthony Speca, managing principal for the consulting firm Polar Aspect, in this week’s podcast. Although Canada ranks in the top 10 of the Human Development Index (HDI), a subnational study reveals dramatic inequalities, placing the northeastern territory of Nunavut on par with Palestine or Paraguay.

“Nunavut is basically blessed with virtually everything you could think of to dig out of the ground: iron, zinc, copper, silver, gold, diamonds, oil, gas uranium, sapphires. You name it, you can probably find it,” Speca says. “But all of this natural capital is stranded because there is no infrastructure.”

“What I would like to do, instead of talking about practical policy prescriptions, is make a plea for a change of mindset about the North,” he says. “There is a moral dimension to the question of human security and development in the Arctic that cannot be addressed simply within an economist’s sort of technical solution.”

Resource Restraints

Nunavut makes up 20 percent of Canada at over 2 million square kilometers, equivalent to three states of Texas. Eighty-five percent of the 35,000 Canadians who live there are Inuit, a people who have faced many challenges under European rule. They were forced to permanently settle and adapt their livelihoods in the mid-20th century for government convenience in providing public services, says Speca. Then in the 1980s, they were devastated by international bans on seal imports.

“Whereas before a single seal pelt could pay for a day’s worth of hunting before 1983, after the ban in 1983, a single seal pelt wouldn’t even buy a box of bullets,” says Speca. “Sixty percent of the income of Inuit communities was, overnight, wiped out. Vanished. These communities where instantaneously impoverished.”

He relates this experience to the present debate on banning offshore drilling. “Not to say that people in the Arctic want to see a forest of oil derricks off their shores,” says Speca, “people in the Arctic are conflicted about the benefits of oil and gas development and they are fully aware of the possible consequences. It’s just that they want to be the ones to decide how to balance that question, not have it decided by southern interests again in a way that treats their communities as collateral damage in a greater fight for something else.”

At the same time, the costs of doing business in Nunavut are high, says Speca. Roads and airports are scarce and of bad quality, leasing rates are high, and internet speeds are slow. “The private sector depends on the government to have already provided a certain base of infrastructure,” he says, “and the government is simply not doing that.”

More Than Markets

“If Nunavut is ever going to achieve the levels of human security and human development it deserves, it’s going to have to start first with government,” says Speca. “You are not going to get human development in Nunavut simply by relying on market forces.”

Canada’s Territorial Finance Formula in theory fills the gap between the territory’s expenditure needs and revenue generation, but funds remain “not nearly as much as the South,” Speca says. “I wouldn’t even call it ‘expenditure need’ I would just call it what the federal government is willing to see go out the door.”

“Pick any social indicator you can think of,” he says, “all of these are much, much, much worse than they are in southern Canada.” The suicide rate is 10 times higher. One-third of Nunavumians are food insecure, 50 percent rely on social assistance, and 50 percent living in public housing. Demographic instabilities contribute to these vulnerabilities as one-third of the population is under 15 years old and the birthrate remains higher than the South at over three children per woman. “These sorts of social outcomes would not be tolerated in southern Canada,” Speca says.

“I don’t think we are going to go anywhere unless…the government stops thinking of the North as a national space where they have local agents – namely the territorial governments to deliver public services as cheap as possible – and rather, instead thinks of it as an integral part of Canada where citizens deserve comparable services at comparable levels of taxation,” he says.

“We have to listen to the people in the Arctic – how they want their development to happen. We have to stop putting obstacles in their way.”

July 30, 2015 02:04 PM PDT

For the past four decades, urbanization in Latin American and Caribbean countries has been on the rise. Today it’s one of the most urbanized regions of the world with 79 percent of the population living in towns and cities. By 2050, 9 out of 10 residents are expected to live in cities. This density and movement of people is critical to understanding the region’s water and climate change issues, says ECSP’s Roger Mark De Souza in this week’s podcast.

As Latin American cities have grown, infrastructure hasn’t necessarily kept up. There is a natural variability in access to water across the region, and inequality within urban areas in terms of access to services and infrastructure is quite high as well. Women are disproportionately impacted, as they are often responsible for fetching household water by hand. The ratio of women to men in poor households increased eight percent between 1997 and 2012. What’s more, 150 million people are expected to be added to the region by 2050, says De Souza.

Many Andean countries rely on glaciers for freshwater, and others require vast amounts of water to sustain booming agricultural industries. But by some projections, between 12 and 81 million people will face water shortages by 2020 as glacial melt and saltwater infiltration affect drinking water availability, agricultural production, and tourism.

He calls for an approach to building resilience that cuts across and addresses natural environmental factors (e.g., water sources), man-made environmental factors (infrastructure, politics), and demographic factors (gender, socioeconomic characteristics).

Migration patterns, density, and gender dynamics can provide critical insights into how water is being used, and provide helpful lenses for policies that make a sustainable impact. Conversely, analyzing how climate change is straining natural resources can help policymakers understand certain demographic repercussions that result from that stress, like political and social stability.

Countries should look to understand the broad range of source options within a water system as well as what sources can serve as alternatives if others are disrupted. Connectivity between cities and countries is also critical to building climate resilience, says De Souza, as it can help smooth out variability. “There have been attempts to think of how we could encourage water companies to share or trade water. Are there ways that we can get different groups of users to trade water allocations so that patterns of use could shift as water availability changes?”

But De Souza said all of this work must circle back to one critical theme. “Can water keep up with these population dynamics in the region?”

July 24, 2015 08:24 AM PDT

In May 1855, Dr. James Marion Sims opened the first obstetric fistula hospital in New York City. Just 40 years later, it closed, reflecting a sharp decline in maternal morbidity rates in the United States and other Western countries. The Waldorf Astoria Hotel now stands on the site of the former hospital. “We know that we have eradicated obstetric fistula in high income countries; it happened at the turn of the 20th century,” says Dr. Lauri Romanzi, project director of Fistula Care Plus, in this week’s podcast.
That timing is crucial, says Romanzi, because there is a narrative that argues certain social determinants must be changed to eradicate fistula in developing countries today, such as forced marriage, teen pregnancy, women’s education and suffrage, antenatal care, and gender-based violence. Yet at the turn of the 20th century in the United States and Europe, many of these “mandatory” determinants were far from modern progressive standards (teen pregnancy remains substantially higher in the United States than other industrialized nations to this day).

Speaking at a Wilson Center Maternal Health Initiative event, Romanzi says the turning point for fistula eradication in Western countries coincided with the advent of crude anesthetics, such as chloroform on cloth, which revolutionized surgical practices and made Caesarian sections more feasible for mothers. “Possibly that was a catalyst at that time, in those cultures,” she says. “We need to figure out what today’s catalyst is.”

Beyond the “Truffle Hunt”

Obstetric fistula is a childbirth injury caused by prolonged obstructed labor, often leading to incontinence, social stigmatization, infection, and even mental illness. Though fistula is almost entirely preventable and largely eradicated in high-income countries, it is stillwidespread in the developing world. Prevention and treatment is very simple says Romanzi, yet progress is moving slowly, leading some to question existing approaches.

Romanzi notes that in countries where fistula is more common, Cesarean section rateshover around 5 percent, whereas the ideal rate to prevent maternal morbidities is about 15 percent. But increasing the Cesarean section rate without regard to quality of care may cause further complications such as iatrogenic fistula, which is a form of genital fistula unintentionally caused by a health care provider. Iatrogenic fistula is often much more complicated than obstetric cases and is more likely to damage the kidneys, says Romanzi.

The “invisibility” of fistula and maternal morbidity care in general is often reflected in funding streams. A bigger budget for one West African hospital increased the number of deliveries the maternity ward could handle from 5,000 to 15,000 a year. Yet there was still only one operating theater, and poor quality of care caused many women to develop complications. “It’s an obstetric fistula factory,” says Romanzi. Patients are often funneled to a fistula clinic literally down the hill from the hospital to treat these maternal morbidities.
“Fistula has gotten a lot of attention, and deservedly so,” she says. “But there are many other morbidities as well.” Romanzi proposes implementing an obstructed labor screening program that would utilize many existing resources to address the multiple needs that obstructed labor patients have, rather than simply focusing on the “truffle hunt” of targeting fistula.

It’s important to look at the many factors that make eliminating maternal morbidities such a stubborn challenge in many places – patient to midwife ratios, midwifery education programs, waste management, water security, medical supply chains, and others, says Romanzi. She suggests focusing on localized, multi-sectoral, and self-sufficient systems that target disparities between the poor and wealthy to improve all areas of women’s health.

“The goal is that every woman, every time, has access to a facility that is outfitted and staffed to meet a minimum standard of care, within which both the health outcomes of the baby and the mother are optimized,” she says, “and that that care is rendered in a humane, kind, and caring fashion.”

July 17, 2015 12:46 AM PDT

“Perhaps I’m a case study for what happens in the federal government when we start on a tough problem,” says Alice Hill, the senior director for resilience policy and the National Security Council and former senior counselor to the secretary of homeland security, in this week’s podcast.

In 2009, President Obama issued an executive order requiring all agencies to conduct climate change adaptation and environmental sustainability planning. “We turned very seriously to the question, ‘should an agency like DHS even care about climate change?’” says Hill, who was also a judge before joining the government. “In 2009 that was a serious question. We did not have a definite, consensus view within the department.”

“We had the hard work of answering that question and looking at all of our mission spaces to determine that, in fact, we should care deeply,” she says. “That threat multiplier of climate change could knock aside all of the important work – or much of the important work – that we are doing.”

Once the threat was recognized, determining a plan of action proved just as difficult. “What do you do about it? How do you start really making choices that will make a difference to better prepare a nation, a fragile state, or even the United States to the impacts of climate change?” she asks. “This is new territory for many people across the federal government.”

Since 2009, Hill has moved on to the White House where she helps coordinate responses to climate change across the U.S. government. The security community has increasingly emphasized the potential risks of climate change in strategy and planning documents. Hill references the 2010 and 2015 National Security Strategies, the Quadrennial Defense Report, and the Quadrennial Homeland Security Report for example, which call climate change a “threat multiplier.”

In 2013, an executive order created a task force to engage senior officials from more than 30 agencies, as well as state and local leaders to give domestic recommendations on climate preparedness and resilience.

Seeing support for these initiatives, the international agencies signaled their desire to do more climate work abroad, says Hill, inspiring a more recent executive order that requires all new U.S. international development projects to be screened for climate risks by October 1, 2015. The White House also launched a public-private partnership with the American Red Cross, Asian Development Bank, Esri, Google, Inter-American Development Bank, Skoll Global Threats Fund, and U.K. government to pilot climate resilience projects in Colombia, Ethiopia, and Bangladesh.

Still, “when you get down to actually doing this there are still major challenges,” says Hill. Two issues are lack of routinely available data that’s useful at the local scale and experts who can translate science-based findings into policy objectives. “We simply don’t have that cadre built yet of knowledgeable people can consult and offer the advice,” she says.

Building resilience to climate change is still novel. “I don’t think there is any consensus on how to do it well,” says Hill. She cites A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks, a report commissioned by G7 foreign ministers and authored by an international consortium including the Wilson Center, as a resource that “brings together and synthesizes many of the challenges that we’ve seen.”

“If we don’t think through how we are helping a country through the climate lens – think through their fragility risks posed by climate change and by independent factors, we really are at risk for not being able to achieve our goals.”

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