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Environmental Change and Security Program
A production of the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC
Category: Non-Profit
Location: Washington, DC
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June 30, 2015 12:54 PM PDT

“Compare those societies that respect women and those who don’t,” says Texas A&M Professor Valerie Hudson, quoting former USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg, in this week’s podcast. “Who’s trafficking in weapons and drugs? Who’s harboring terrorists and starting pandemics? Whose problems require U.S. troops on the ground? There’s a one to one correspondence.”

The idea that the treatment of women and girls should play a major role in U.S. security and foreign policy is explored in Hudson and Patricia Leidl’s new book, The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy. The Hillary Doctrine gets its name from then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s 1995 speech in Beijing in which she famously declared, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.” Clinton’s term as Secretary of State led to important changes at the Department of State, but the framework for looking at the world has also taken on a life of its own. As Hudson and Leidl define it, the doctrine is based on two pillars:

  1. The subjugation of women is a threat to the common security of the world and the national security of the United States.
  2. The suffering of women and the instability of nations go hand in hand.

Hudson, who has spent the majority of her career researching the treatment of women and its effect on nation states, notes gender has appeared as a topic in U.S. foreign policy since the Nixon years. But Clinton’s rise to the role of Secretary marked a crucial moment in foreign policy where women not only became an intentional policy focus, they also played a role in shaping it, she says.

Reviews of how successful Clinton was in implementing her namesake doctrine have been mixed. Leidl, who spent years working for development organizations including UNFPA and USAID, says Clinton was successful in making gender a principal topic at the Department of State and other federal agencies, as well as creating frameworks that integrated the issue into existing work. But when it came to implementing initiatives to help women on the ground, the doctrine fell short.

In interviews with USAID employees, contractors, and other workers in the field, Leidl found that gender and women’s rights were more often viewed as a “pet rock.” “It was something that was an add-on,” says Leidl, “It was considered to be an expendable; considered to be something of an indulgence; something that was being done to please the higher-ups in Washington who didn’t actually know what they were doing.”

This was in part due to the attitudes of those who implemented the programs, including former military personnel who were not well equipped to navigate complex gender dynamics, says Leidl, as well as local contractors who were raised in patriarchal societies where the idea of gender equality and women’s empowerment was alien. Leidl and Hudson also point out that many women’s empowerment initiatives lacked concrete benchmarks, metrics, or goals, making it easy for programs to slip through the cracks.

Leidl and Hudson say Clinton’s four years at the Department of State yielded much better results for women than an alternative in which they were not considered at all. But their book concludes with recommendations for future administrations on how to further champion the rights of women and girls around the world.

“It may take a Hillary Clinton to get the ball rolling, but it’s up to everyone, including the president, vice president, the State Department, and other players, to keep the momentum up,” says Leidl.

June 25, 2015 10:49 AM PDT

With dangerous levels of climate change already in the pipeline, countries across the world are tasked with adapting to a drastically changing Earth. The Wilson Center and a consortium of international partners recently released an independent report commissioned by the G7 that examines the risks to stability from climate change.

In this week’s podcast, Alexander Carius, contributing author to A New Climate for Peace, offers an overview of the report, which examines “how climate impacts intertwine with structural components of fragility and conflict.”

The report is unique because it looks beyond “fragile states” to examine fragility itself and the full spectrum of societal mechanisms that feed into it, Carius says. Though A New Climate for Peace offers numerous case studies, it primarily focuses on the drivers and risks that can propel any country into fragility.

Though the report identifies seven compound climate-fragility risks, it emphasizes the cross-cutting nature of many of these vulnerabilities. Climate change is also interacting with environmental degradation, economic inequality, urbanization, population growth, and increasing resource demand. For example, Carius mentions widespread droughts and natural resource scarcity in Syria, which has destabilized livelihoods and caused widespread rural-urban migrations into cities already strained by sudden influxes of new residents. “Migration was not meant to be a centerpiece of our report because it cuts across many of the compound risks that we have identified,” says Carius.

Beneath these climate-fragility risks lies the interplay of shock and resilience. Whether it’s volatile food prices, exogenous resource shocks, or extreme weather and natural disasters, resilient societies are better equipped to “bounce back” to normality after these shocks, whereas fragile countries may be crippled and permanently set back in terms of human development, security, or stability.

However, interventions to bolster resilience must also be carefully scrutinized, says Carius. “Emergency responses, if they are well designed, can help to overcome existing political and ethnic conflicts, but ill-designed rehabilitation measures can deepen inequality and contribute to social unrest.” He mentions several examples of well-intentioned climate policies gone astray, sometimes exacerbating the problems they are attempting to alleviate.

Carius calls for humanitarian aid to be “climate-proofed” by integrating across silos, like health care or poverty reduction. Likewise he suggested finding ways to better coordinate humanitarian relief with long-term development efforts, climate change adaptation, and peacebuilding. The report shows that there is still much progress to be made in this area. “Both domestically and internationally, we are far away from breaking down the sectoral barriers and silos that exist,” says Carius.

A New Climate for Peace underscores the need to bring these sectors together by placing a cross-cutting goal – resilience – at the forefront of the global agenda. By strengthening institutions, countries and communities will be better prepared for the increased variability and risk that comes from living in a changing world.

Alexander Carius spoke at the Wilson Center on June 22Download his slides to follow along.

Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

Sources: IPCC, A New Climate for Peace.

June 18, 2015 01:35 PM PDT

The stakes are high for the UN climate conference in Paris later this year, so high in fact, some scholars feel it’s foolish to be putting all our eggs in one basket.

“Let’s face up to calling climate change an issue of human survival,” says Ruth Greenspan Bell, public policy scholar at the Wilson Center, in this week’s podcast. “Warming to this level changes everything…there really is no precedent in human history of what we’re going through right now.”

She and a number of other scholars have been pushing for more creative ways to address the risks at hand than relying on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. “Climate has been stuck in what I call the environmental ghetto,” says Bell. “It’s consigned to an environmental stovepipe.”

The tendency to view climate change in isolation impedes cross-cutting policy responses. “Climate change will continue to make every other issue more difficult – disease, food security, poverty, conflict, and our own security and safety,” says Bell. She points to Syria as an example of climate change’s “threat multiplier” effect. “A persistent drought devastated the farm community in the northeast part of the country – more than 1 million people were affected since 2008,” she says. “Lots of these people were forced to move into urban slums, the government didn’t do much for these people, [and] they became angry and defected.”

Despite these complexities, global climate governance operates around “one big solution” based on consensus. “No rational person would put her entire retirement savings into a single stock but that’s what we’re doing betting on the UNFCCC process,” says Bell. Rather than focus on a single, comprehensive treaty, she suggests policymakers should build momentum by coming to agreement on small things first through bilateral agreements and small coalitions. She likens this approach to weapons negotiations during the Cold War, where “progress was made when issues were broken out and resolved, even when particular agreements didn’t solve everything.”

“Do we really need 196 parties to deal with [the] issue?” asks Bell. The greatest emitters can make headway in separate negotiations. The U.S.-China agreement reached last fall that puts both countries on track to cap their emissions is an example that should be repeated, she says.

“I actually think that breaking things out and starting to see more opportunities is the direction we are going,” says Bell. “We must align the political tools with the problems, we must consider climate change as the threat multiplier that it is, and we must engage the best people and give climate the attention it deserves.”

June 11, 2015 11:58 AM PDT

By Linnea Bennett

After Typhoon Haiyan ripped across the Philippines in 2014 leveling nearly every building in site, 4 million people – mostly poor and from coastal regions – were displaced. In response, the government set up “no build” zones in vulnerable areas and worked to move people to new land. But many of the newly relocated people discovered this land came with no access to water, electricity, or other services.

“There’s a hasty effort to get people out of tents and move them somewhere else, but it’s done in a way that creates more vulnerabilities and undermines human rights,” says Alice Thomas, manager of the Climate Displacement Program at Refugees International, in this week’s podcast. “It’s probably one of the most profound human right impacts of climate change, and one for which there is currently no solution.”

Loss of Identity

“It’s been widely recognized by the Human Rights Council, by governments, by human rights experts, that climate change will directly and indirectly undermine the realization and enjoyment of a wide range of human rights,” says Thomas.

Flooding, for example, can impact disease rates, while drought can affect food security, and major storms threaten housing and infrastructure. Meanwhile, warming temperatures are melting glaciers and decreasing snow pack, upon which one sixth of the world’s population relies on for fresh water.

Climate change also threatens people’s right to self-determination, says Thomas. This is particularly relevant to low-lying islands, some of which are facing the prospect of complete inundation. Much of the international community has moved away from discussions about helping communities adapt and is instead focusing on relocation efforts. But Thomas argues that relocation deprives islanders of their right to self-determination as they are stripped of their homes and, subsequently, their identity.

A Different Model?

To understand how climate change affects marginalized and already vulnerable groups more intensely, consider fragile and conflict-affected states, says Thomas. Somalia experienced an intense drought in 2011, causing a famine that killed a quarter of a million people and displaced another million, many of which fled to other countries. When refugees tried to return afterwards, they found the country’s other vulnerabilities, such as poor governance and decades of civil conflict, had been exacerbated, making it dangerous or impossible to come home. “The lack of a functioning government meant that, unlike California, there was no one to help these people when they needed water and food,” says Thomas.

Because climate change is experienced in conjunction with other challenges, like poor governance, poverty, and insecurity, it can’t be addressed in isolation. Thomas says breaking down silos in the funding community could be a more effective approach. By pooling resources for disaster risk reduction, humanitarian relief, and development, governments and relief organizations could help people prepare and adapt to climate change while respecting their rights.

But barriers persist. Only one percent of overseas development aid is dedicated to disaster risk management, Thomas says. The third international Financing for Development conference in July represents an opportunity for governments and donors to change this. “I urge development and humanitarian and [disaster risk reduction] funders to look for opportunities to channel this funding in a way that promotes rights,” she says.

June 04, 2015 12:05 PM PDT

“The Sahel faces huge problems,” says Jack Goldstone, Virginia E. and John T. Hazel professor of public policy at George Mason University and Wilson Center global fellow, in this week’s podcast. “It is facing massive population growth. It is facing environmental decay. It has a history of violent conflict.”

In the coming decades, Africa will have the only growing working age population in the world, says Goldstone. “The education, the socialization, the stability of young people in this region of the world is going to be, I think, the dominant issue for conflicts in the years ahead.”

As governments struggle to meet the needs of growing populations, young people and marginalized groups have become vulnerable to recruitment by extremists. In states already experiencing conflict or displacement, youth populations can be an even greater source of frustration as their potential is capped by limited livelihood options and their schooling is often cut short.

Effective governance can overcome these challenges through investments in education and health that allow fertility rates to decline and empower young people, giving them productive pathways to integrate with society. “As young people grow up feeling more in control of their own destinies,” Goldstone says, “they are more likely to turn to constructive group activities and less likely to be drawn to deviant or extremist movements out of anger and frustration.”

Goldstone says education, health, and security policies must be viewed as part of a holistic process. Improving secondary education requires many steps, including raising incomes so families can afford it, investing in tertiary schools to train teachers, and creating administrations that can secure and coordinate school supplies. Conflict undermines development as women and children are unable to attend health clinics and school for fear of violence. Likewise, displaced children “do not get the same educational progress that children do who grow up in their own home.”

“Population growth, education, and security are all deeply intertwined,” says Goldstone. “The cycle of stopping conflict requires a combination of investment not only in education and contraception but also in building governments that are inclusive, effective, and legitimate.”

“If people come to trust the state and public institutions, they have less need to work through private networks to get around the state or to protect their group at the expense of others.”

Jack Goldstone spoke at the Wilson Center on May 12.

Friday podcasts are also available for download from iTunes.

May 28, 2015 10:40 AM PDT

Rapid population growth, which many Sahelian countries are experiencing, is often associated with an increased risk of sociopolitical violence. But in this week’s podcast, Cornell University Professor Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue argues there is another factor related to demographic change that governments and development organizations should account for: inequality.

It’s not so much overall inequality rates that are important in this context, he says, but comparisons between peers. The richest among African youth often live very different lives than the rest of their generational compatriots. Things like how likely parents are to invest in their children, how much they have to invest, and family size vary greatly, creating different opportunities which can have life-long repercussions. “Class differences and demographic behavior translate into inequality among children, and these inequalities work their way up through adulthood,” Eloundou-Enyegue says.

“If you look at sub-Saharan Africa in particular, including the Sahel region, you find many countries in Africa have higher levels of inequality than the U.S. at a time when the U.S. was at its own historical high,” says Eloundou-Enyegue. “That’s quite impressive.” What’s more, there seems to be a connection between inequality and demographic change. When comparing countries within the Sahel, he points out that inequality, measured in a variety of ways, is higher among countries where women on average have less than six children apiece than those where they have more.

This suggests countries are experiencing an “uneven demographic dividend,” as he calls it, which may lead to violence as inequality follows young people from childhood to adolescence, especially when young people seek work for the first time. “It’s especially at the nexus of this transition from school to work that it can actually trigger violence,” Eloundou-Enyegue says. “Young adults are going to remain unemployed after they leave school and that is one of the contributors, in my estimation, to violence.” Recruitment for Boko Haram in Nigeria, which has some of the highest regional levels of inequality in the region, has been linked to unemployment and disillusionment among young men, for example.

To fight inequality among youth, Eloundou-Enyegue proposes an emphasis on job training and employment opportunities to help level the playing field. But he adds it won’t be as simple as “just getting a job,” as a push towards civic engagement and behavior change will also be important to change things like family size and propensity to invest in children that lead to such inequalities in the first place.

Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue spoke at the Wilson Center on May 12. Download his slides for more.

May 21, 2015 11:06 AM PDT

In the Sahel, one of the most food-stressed regions of the world, “women bear the brunt in terms of coping mechanisms that are employed at the community level,” says Sylvia Cabus, gender advisor for USAID’s Bureau for Food Security, in this week’s podcast.

Women are the traditional guardians of family health and nutrition. But because of this responsibility, they often reduce their own food intake and make unimaginable sacrifices, including selling personal assets and even engaging in sexual bartering to pay for food. They may also take their children out of school or encourage early marriages in order to reduce household size and receive an injection of assets from bridal dowries.

“We are operating in a context of scarcity,” says Cabus, as rapid population growth stresses resources and the region has borne several major droughts.

The most common coping mechanism among males – to migrate in search of work – may actually hurt households as “the flow of remittances is often irregular or nonexistent,” says Cabus. World Bank data shows that sub-Saharan Africa (including Sahel countries) receives the lowest amount of remittances worldwide, while being the costliest region from which to send them. Male out-migration also puts women in a difficult position as they frequently become the de facto heads of household without the same rights to own property and manage resources that men have.

It’s a “very patriarchal culture where women and girls have low status” and “very limited decision-making,” Cabus says. Of the 10 worst countries to be a mother or a child, four – Mali, Niger, The Gambia, and Chad – are located in the Sahel, according to Save the Children’s latest State of the World’s Mothers report.

Still, Cabus maintains a positive attitude. “The Sahel is a very lucky region in the sense that it’s been studied and over-studied over decades now,” she says. But “it’s important to ask the right questions.” In one instance, a USAID program in Mali distributed an improved type of millet seed. When asked for feedback, women said the new millet took significantly longer to cook. At the household level, this simple change can mean a lot. More time over the fire means more firewood and more exposure to smoke. It also means higher costs for fuel and more time spent by women and girls traveling to further places for fuel, which can be dangerous.

New development strategies to diversify rural economies are working to create new livelihood pathways for women. For example, Cabus and her USAID team visited a group of women in Burkina Faso who saw a niche market for parsley and began growing it their rural community to sell in the capital, Ouagadougou. And men can help too. In Niger, the UN Population Fund began “Ecole des Maris,” or “husband’s schools,” that bring together groups of men to discuss reproductive health matters and promote the empowerment of women at the community level.

In the Sahel, as elsewhere, the status of women, their health, and household food security are deeply intertwined. “We know that agricultural production is highly gendered,” says Cabus. “We help farmers…and their husbands.”

May 07, 2015 01:34 PM PDT

The world is changing quickly thanks to a convergence of megatrends, says Singularity University’s Banning Garrett in this week’s podcast, but urbanization could be the most critical. “If we get it right in cities, we can solve a lot of big problems,” he says.

“Virtually all population growth will be in cities,” says Garrett. As early as 2050, 70 percent of the world’s estimated 9.6 billion people will live in urban areas, equivalent to 100 more Jakartas in the world. Sustaining these populations will be difficult. “There are about one billion people in slums today. It could be two billion by 2030,” he says.

However, cities can play an essential role in sustainable development. “The great thing about cities is that everybody is there,” says Garrett. Concentrations of people living together allows for economies of scale and better efficiency in the delivery of goods and services. Garrett cites a study that found GDP per capita increases disproportionately as cities expand, while relative resource use declines. “Cities can be far more efficient as well as more productive,” he says.

Agents of Innovation?

Cities are also creating new markets of their own. “Smart city” technologies have attracted new investment in transportation, health care, and communications, and the arrow appears to be pointing up. “It’s going to be a humongous market,” says Garrett, “we’re talking $90 trillion in infrastructure.” Other technologies such as vertical farmingand 3-D printing could mean goods are produced at the point of consumption within cities, rather than shipped from afar, reducing transportation and production costs while minimizing carbon footprint.

Gearing a city’s infrastructure for the future is crucial given the staying power of these investments. Garrett pointed out that a coal-fired power plant built in 1949 outside Alexandria, Virginia, was in operation until three years ago, burning an estimated 88 million tons of coal and emitting 233 million tons of carbon dioxide over its 63-year lifetime.

“Cities have long outlived states,” says Garrett, “they will still be there when the particular state may be long gone.” While some national governments are “paralyzed,” Garrett says urban areas have been serving as laboratories for new ways to organize society and use advanced technologies. Mayors now play a role as global actors in their own right. Thousands of city delegations travel the globe sharing best practices and promoting city-to-city learning.

“Cities are where this game is going to play out,” he says, “where governance is either going to take place, or not, and where good governance is going to have to contain this sustainability that we’ve all been talking about.”

“You’ve got to look long term….where would we like to go and what decisions do we have to make to get there?”’

Banning Garrett spoke at the Wilson Center on April 22.

Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

April 30, 2015 02:28 PM PDT

One of the biggest challenges to improving health care in developing countries is that it’s not necessarily a great job. Midwives and other auxiliary health workers often face very difficult working conditions with little training, poor pay, and no hope of advancement. This can translate to poor results and even abuse of patients.

Midwives need “a purpose that’s bigger than themselves,” says Barbara Stilwell, senior director of health workforce solutions at the NGO Intrahealth International, in this week’s podcast. “Self-actualization is a basic need for people,” she says, “but when we look at health care, one of the things we do is we task shift.”

Task shifting is a concept being explored in many low resource settings whereby certain treatments that previously only doctors were allowed to perform are delegated to auxiliary health workers. The idea is to make up for the lack of doctors by making each one go further. But in practice, this can be demeaning to health workers, Stilwell says. “We give you a task: you can give injections. But heaven forbid that you should ever know what the injections are for, or you should ever be able to tell me that I’ve told you something wrong, or you should ever bring an idea to me about that.”

Instead of task shifting, Stilwell suggests giving greater purpose to health care jobs. “There is now some idea in my world…that we need to be coming up with big ideas that are going to change the way we look at these issues in a way that is much more profound than this.”

Autonomy and having independent success in one’s work has been shown to increase investment in health care jobs, says Stilwell. In Karnataka, India, Intrahealth International implemented a program where skilled nurses were trained to become mentors. “What we found was not only have the nurse midwives become much better at giving care, but they’ve also shown initiative,” she says. For example, some noticed broken radiant warmers – which are similar to infant incubators –and took steps to fix them on their own. Stilwell points out that taking this initiative not only showed independence, it also brought more value to the job itself.

Mastery brings two major benefits: it encourages people to deepen their skills and creates a ladder for those who want to pursue a career in health. Stilwell cites the 2014 State of the World’s Midwifery Report that projects 87 percent of all needed and essential care for mothers and newborns could be completed by midwives if they received the right education.

Ascribing health care to a larger purpose also gives providers more incentive and motivation to improve – especially when they see data that shows quality of care makes a difference in their patients’ lives. “There have been some fine examples about the midwives who are connected to communities and get feedback from the communities,” says Stilwell. “That’s their motivation.”

April 24, 2015 06:21 AM PDT

“Even though small-island nation states generally are responsible for less than one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, small islands are already expending scare resources on strategies to adapt to growing climate threats and to also repair themselves after they have hit,” says Maxine Burkett, associate professor of law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in this week’s podcast.

The rise in climate-related disasters such as Cyclone Pam, which devastated the archipelago of Vanuatu in March, has elevated concern over the vulnerability of islands. “Island nations are seeing the development they’ve experienced in the last few years being wiped out in a day in some cases,” Burkett says.

Sea-level rise is the obvious major threat. In Micronesia, more than half of communities surveyed for one study confirmed having adopted adaptation measures to prevent coastal erosion, but 92 percent reported having experienced continued adverse effects. The collapse of fisheries due to acidification is also a concern, as is “climate departure,” where the lowest average temperature becomes higher than the highest average temperature recorded during normal years. Tropical regions and islands are expected to experience this change first, perhaps as soon as mid-century, Burkett says.

In Burkett’s home state of Hawaii, a recent heat wave caused classroom temperatures to peak at 101 degrees Fahrenheit. “I have two young children and I was sort of imagining what the lost opportunity is here when you have children that are attempting to learn under these circumstances,” she says.

When Adaptation Is No Longer Possible

In some cases damage may prove so great that mitigation and adaptation measures simply cannot cope. “We’re finding that we need to look at insurance, risk transfer mechanisms, and the possibility of compensation for those things that are completely lost,” Burkett says. The conversation around this in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change process is referred to as “loss and damage.”

Shared concerns among small islands and low lying coastal countries have led a group to establish the Alliance of Small Island States. This organization represents 47 members and acts as a voting bloc within the United Nations, advocating for an effective loss and damages mechanism that would include disaster risk management, risk transfers through insurance, and compensation.

The threat to small islands may be more visible today, but Burkett emphasizes that these proposals are not new. The Alliance of Small Island States has called for a loss and damages policy for nearly 25 years after Vanuatu introduced the concept in the early 1990s. Despite discussions at the Conferences of Parties throughout the years, the UN has failed to adopt such a policy given significant costs and the difficult political problem of claiming responsibility for climate-related damages.

Small-island states are mobilizing to advance their agenda once again at this year’s meetings in Paris with the goal to include finance-specific language for a loss and damage policy in what’s expected to be a landmark treaty. “There is a desire to not have to go around with a begging bowl,” Burkett says, “a desire to have more sophisticated responses to [this] 21st century type of disaster.”

Maxine Burkett spoke at the Wilson Center on March 25 at the “Island as Champions of Resilience” event.

Friday Podcasts are also available for download on iTunes.

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