Indigenous communities, biodiversity in focus at Global Landscapes Forum

By Gabrielle Lipton | 20 December 2017

BONN, Germany (Landscapes News) — “We must act now,” said Robert Nasi, director general of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), kicking off the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) conference in Bonn, Germany on Tuesday, with a call to action.

GLF Bonn 2017 is not only the seventh installation of the world’s largest multi-sectoral platform focused on landscapes, which first launched in Warsaw in 2013; but it also marks the start of a new chapter for the forum, following the recent boost of an 11 million euros ($13 million) injection by the German government. GLF is now shoring up activities in anticipation of five more years of addressing landscape issues around the world, conducted in partnership with the World Bank, CIFOR, the U.N. Environment program, and the German government.

This new phase of the movement has ensured the activity can extend beyond the two-days of intense activity at the World Conference Center venue in Bonn on Dec. 19 and 20 in a concerted effort to address and combat landscape and climate change issues.

Also in its new phase, GLF aims to engage more than 1 billion people worldwide. The conference was attended on Tuesday in Bonn by more than 1,000 participants ranging from President of Mauritius Ammenah Gurib Fakim and Former President of Mexico Felipe Calderon to yogi-environmentalist and spiritual guide Sadhguru, as well as scientists, start-up entrepreneurs, leaders from non-governmental organizations, actors in the public and private sectors, and a number of students and youth. Thousands of people around the world tuned in online to watch live-stream videos of various discussions, plenaries, “TED Talk” style Landscape Talks, press conferences, and capacity-building Launchpad sessions.

The myriad items on the day’s agenda revolved around the forum’s stated five themes: landscape restoration, financing sustainable landscapes, rights and equitable development, food and livelihoods, and measuring progress toward climate change and development goals.

Stefan Schmitz, deputy director-general and commissioner of the “One World – No Hunger” Initiative of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), stated in the opening plenary, more than 70 percent of those suffering from poverty and hunger live in rural areas, and environmental degradation is largely confined to their home fronts.

“The Global Landscapes Forum creates space for innovative ideas that can then be implemented on the ground,” said Barbara Hendricks, the Federal Minister of German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB). “The overarching goal is to learn from one another and take action together.”

Native Knowledge

Following on the heels of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bonn in November, and French President Emmanuel Macron’s “One Planet” summit earlier this month, GLF has distinguished itself by including indigenous and marginalized communities in the discussion. Ideally, GLF will offer an opportunity for more space and attention in dialogues and decision-making processes to be applied on the local, regional and global levels.

Indigenous communities play a key role in finding holistic solutions to land degradation, reforestation, food security and the future of clean water sources.

“I think that’s one of the biggest contributions that indigenous organizers and young professionals are making, in every field addressing climate change and unsustainable development—that they look at everything as its complete picture,” said Janene Yazzie, co-founder and chief executive of Sixth World Solutions and member of the U.S.’s Navajo Tribal Nation. “We look at what’s affecting our air, our father sky, our mother earth.”

The forum has quickly made evident the importance of investing in indigenous communities—both financially and culturally, as the two are inextricably linked.

Roberto Borerro, programs and communications coordinator of the International Indian Treaty Council, said that indigenous groups should be viewed as partners in a unique position to offer solutions on environmental issues.

“We’re not looking for saviors,” he said. “We can save ourselves if we’re given the right tools and the opportunity to save ourselves.”

Africa in the spotlight

“As we modernize, we must support traditional knowledge systems, which are those linked to sustainable agriculture,” Fakim said.

In a keynote speech, Fakim reiterated the crucial role of indigenous communities in tackling landscape issues. However, she contextualized this specifically in terms of Africa where threats to biodiversity are graver than on any other continent. In Mauritius alone, almost 100 species have become extinct since the 17th century, she said.

Throughout African countries, as temperatures rise, so do costs for tackling ensuing changes to the continent’s ecosystems and landscapes. As such, changes to the landscape are a crucial focus for the conservation community.

Fakim made a call for increased investment in research. She said that basing policies and government agendas on fact-based information are paramount to positive change, not just in Mauritius but everywhere.

Karin Kemper, senior director for the environment and natural resources, global practice at the World Bank, advanced this notion, saying that in order for the World Bank to achieve its twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity, a combination of information, innovation and incentives are needed.

Research, technology, and finance mechanisms must be advanced in tandem, and policymaking should be incentivized to be progressive and forward thinking.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the Global Landscapes Forum and retrieved on 12/20/2017 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM Inc. accordingly.





Dubai wants to be ‘world’s happiest city’

 The desert city of Dubai launched its own ‘happiness index’ in 2014. Photograph: John Harper/Corbis

The desert city of Dubai launched its own ‘happiness index’ in 2014. Photograph: John Harper/Corbis

Written by: . Posted on Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The United Arab Emirates recently appointed its first ‘minister for happiness’, underlining Dubai’s ambitious plan to become the happiest city on the planet. But a new report suggests there is still much work to be done.

Dubai’s ambition to become the “world’s happiest city” by the end of the decade has suffered a blow with the publication of the latest annual World Happiness Report, which sees the United Arab Emirates slip down the rankings from 20th to 28th place.

The new report, which ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels, also states that “happiness inequality” has increased significantly “in most countries, in almost all global regions, and for the population of the world as a whole.”

In an effort to counter this trend, in 2014 Dubai – one of seven emirates that make up the UAE – launched its own “happiness index”, aimed at collecting data on how government services impacted happiness. Smart devices were distributed around the city – 23 touch-screen terminals positioned in public buildings and linked to government centres – and individuals were encouraged to give feedback by choosing one of three options to register satisfaction or otherwise with their experience.

“Creating happiness is the final result of the smart city agenda,” Ahmed Bin Byat, CEO of the investment group Dubai Holding, told a government summit last year. “Once we are able to manage and meet people’s experiences, we will be able to rise on the happiness index. It is vital because if people are not happy, they don’t stick around in the city; they leave.”

 As part of its bid to be a happier city, Dubai is spending billions generating clean energy. Photograph: Ashraf Mohammad Mohammad Alamra/Reuters

As part of its bid to be a happier city, Dubai is spending billions generating clean energy. Photograph: Ashraf Mohammad Mohammad Alamra/Reuters

Last month, the UAE’s prime minister and Emir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, announced via Twitter that his new cabinet included its first “minister of state for happiness”, Ohood Al Roumi. He insisted this was more than a fuzzy feelgood move, and that the initiative would be propelled by “plans, projects, programmes [and] indices”.

One supporter of Dubai’s efforts is Scott Cain, chief business officer at the UK government-funded organisation Future Cities Catapult (FCC), which aims to “accelerate urban ideas to market, to grow the economy and make cities better”.Recently Cain wrote: “Happiness is something Emiratis take very seriously. Following the recent appointment of the UAE’s first minister for happiness and the declaration that Dubai is to be the happiest city in the world by 2019, Future Cities Catapult has been supporting the city in realising its ambition.

“I was recently invited to present the catapult’s view on happiness and wellbeing in the city, and addressed some issues that will be challenging in the UAE environment. It seems they weren’t discouraged as they presented me with an award, which was as unexpected as it was rewarding.”

Cain will be in Dubai later this week for the fourth annual International Day of Happiness on 20 March, which the desert city will celebrate with a series of events. “The highlight will be meeting the Minister for Happiness herself,” Cain says, “and hearing what other cities in the UK and beyond can learn from Dubai’s efforts.”

Some observers have raised eyebrows at the UAE’s “happiness project”, coming as it does amid ongoing human rights concernsAccording to Human Rights Watch (HRW): “The United Arab Emirate often uses its affluence to mask the government’s serious human rights problems. The government arbitrarily detains, and in some cases forcibly disappears, individuals who criticised the authorities, and its security forces face allegations of torturing detainees.”

HRW highlights a new anti-discrimination law which “further jeopardises free speech”, and raises concerns about migrant construction workers “facing serious exploitation” and female domestic workers who are “excluded from regulations that apply to workers in other sectors”.

According to Cain: “In many ways Dubai is much more progressive than its near neighbours; many of its senior officials are women including the minister for happiness.” He adds that FCC is “not a public policy advisory group; we follow the lead of UK government”.

While Dubai and the UAE strive for greater happiness, the top of the world happiness league continues to be dominated by northern Europe. Denmark has regained first place, followed closely by Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Finland. The US is ranked 13th in the new report, two places higher than last year.

The report is produced by the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Its co-editor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, says: “Measuring self-reported happiness and achieving well-being should be on every nation’s agenda as they begin to pursue the Sustainable Development Goals … Rather than taking a narrow approach focused solely on economic growth, we should promote societies that are prosperous, just and environmentally sustainable.”

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Article Disclaimer: This article was published by The Guardian and was retrieved on March 16, 2016 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views, contents and thoughts expressed in the article remains those of the author. Please cite the original source accordingly.





Palo Alto Builds on a Legacy of Innovation as a Sustainable Community





Karalee Browne is a program manager of the Institute for Local Government’s Sustainable Communities program and can be reached at For more information about the Sustainable Communities program, visit

More than 36,000 mature trees line the streets of Palo Alto, a city with a history of sustainability leadership and community engagement. Palo Alto was one of the first cities to begin a curbside recycling collection program in 1978 and one of the first in California to adopt a climate action plan in 2007. “We are lucky to have a long-standing culture of innovative thinking and commitment to sustainability,” says Mayor Karen Holman. “As elected officials, we are trustees of preserving this culture.”

The Institute for Local Government’s Beacon Program ( recognizes voluntary efforts by local governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save energy and adopt policies and programs that promote sustainability. The City of Palo Alto won a Silver-level Beacon Award in 2014 for its 53 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, 35 percent reduction in natural gas and 9 percent reduction in energy usage in agency facilities over a 1990 baseline. In addition, the city reduced community greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent and implemented a variety of innovative sustainability activities, which include adopting a progressive green building ordinance and an energy reach code that exceeds the minimum state energy code requirements by 15 percent and implementing a comprehensive water conservation plan.

The Power of Being Your Own Provider

The City of Palo Alto is the first and only municipality in California that operates a full suite of city-owned utility services — electricity, gas, water and waste. It was the idea of two Stanford University professors, Charles Marx and Charles Benjamin Wing, who were largely responsible for the emergence of the municipally owned utility service in Palo Alto in the late 19th century. Marx and Wing argued that the city could provide utility service at rates significantly below those charged by private companies, but that they must show a financial return to the community for continued success. This has continued to be a priority not just in utility decisions, but in almost everything that goes before the city council.

“The city’s investment in community-owned utilities yields long-term benefits to Palo Alto that include competitive rates and programs that meet community goals as well as support for other city services,” says City Manager James Keene. “Specifically, local control means we have the responsibility to be prudent fiscal stewards for our community owners.”

As in many cities, the wastewater treatment plant was one of the city government’s largest energy consumers. To address this, in 2005 the city started using methane gas from Palo Alto’s landfill in the plant’s incinerator. This helped offset the use of natural gas in the afterburner. Six years later, the city fine-tuned the incinerator burners to increase efficiency. These projects, combined with other retrofits including an office lighting upgrade, resulted in a 16 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that save the city more than $500,000 annually.

(Best) Practice Makes Perfect

While innovation and fiscal stewardship underpin Palo Alto’s success, the way in which the city approaches uncharted territory also plays a vital role. Many of the more progressive policies and programs in place today started as smaller pilot programs that were carefully monitored and adjusted as funding, support and opportunities materialized. Along the way, these innovations evolved into best practices that other communities have learned from and emulated.

For example, the city first introduced “Palo Alto Green” electricity in 2003. The city started by offering its customers the opportunity to purchase carbon-free electricity from the utility at a higher rate. After 22 percent of the city’s customers agreed to pay more to reduce the carbon in their electricity, the city council decided to make all of the city’s electricity carbon free. While almost half of Palo Alto’s energy has been coming from hydroelectric power, the city struck deals in 2013 to add 12 percent renewable electricity from California wind farms, bringing its carbon-free portfolio up to 60 percent. Later in 2013, the city spent a little more than $400,000 to purchase renewable energy credits to offset its purchase of electricity derived from fossil fuels, thereby qualifying its entire electricity mix as carbon-neutral.

“The renewable energy credits are a bridge to get us to fully carbon-neutral electricity by 2017,” says Palo Alto’s Chief Sustainability Officer Gil Friend. “When we approach things in this way, it changes the discussion and we learn what might be possible down the road.” Palo Alto introduced a similar voluntary program for carbon-neutral natural gas and is actively exploring how to economically shift natural gas users to carbon-neutral electricity.

Defaulting to Greener Settings

While Palo Alto is uniquely positioned because it operates its own utilities, much of its sustainability success comes from a continuing commitment to incremental changes. City staff and officials believe that sustainability should not be a compromise. Palo Alto’s Office of Sustainability works with other departments within the city to make doing the right thing the norm, rather than an extra effort. The goal is to find the easiest way to get staff to make greener choices every day.

For example, the city set all the new copiers to “duplex.” This means employees have to change the settings to print single-sided copies, rather than having to change the settings to print two-sided copies. As a result, the city reduced paper use by 15 percent during the first nine months, saving $7,600.

In a similar situation, the sustainability team found that although the city had a purchasing policy to buy paper with at least 50 percent recycled content, many employees continually ordered a paper of a lesser recycled content from the city’s online supplier. In response, the city asked the vendor to switch the sequence in which the options appeared on the order screen, making the paper with the most recycled content the first option and paper with the least recycled content the last option. Employees still have the option to order a less sustainable product, but they must take the time to scroll down to find it.

As a next step, Palo Alto has applied its “default to green” strategy to city fleet purchases, making electric vehicle sedans — running on Palo Alto’s carbon neutral electricity — the standard choice, instead of the compressed natural gas vehicles the city had been purchasing.

There’s an App for That

Palo Alto is not without its challenges. Even though the city has installed more than 65 miles of bicycle paths, residents love their cars. Nearly 60 percent of the vehicle miles traveled in Palo Alto are noncommute trips, indicating that residents are using cars for errands and social activities instead of more environmentally friendly means of transportation. And while Palo Alto received an EV Readiness Award in 2014 from the Bay Area Climate Collaborative, the city continues to work with regional partners on alternative transportation options to address traffic that stems from the dramatic job-housing imbalance in Palo Alto and the region.

The City of Palo Alto is exploring ideas such as “mobility as a service” to make it more convenient for anyone, anywhere, at any time not to have to get in a car and drive. In this model, a resident would buy mobility services based on their own individual needs, instead of owning the actualmeans of transportation. For example, a resident may choose to purchase a bundle of services such as transit, bike-share, parking and car-sharing services with a prepaid plan. The resident would be able to access these services on demand from their smartphone.

Seeking Inspiration, Advancing a Vision

Palo Alto’s leaders and staff look to places like Copenhagen and Helsinki for inspiration to explore how sustainability initiatives can help address larger social and economic issues in the community and beyond. Having exceeded many of the goals set forth in its 2007 climate action plan, the city has launched a new Sustainability and Climate Action Plan Initiative that will go before the council in fall 2015. In this effort, the city has hosted an “ideas expo” to engage the community and hopes to create a dialogue that advances ideas about how a small, innovative city can contribute to a broader sustainability revolution. The city’s goals align with its tradition of sustainability leadership and achievements.

“It can be challenging for staff to find the time for long-term planning with so many pressing initiatives on their plates,” says Friend. “But vision — from creating a municipal utility more than a century ago to creating carbon-neutral electricity a few years ago — has helped make Palo Alto the city it is today. We’re excited about what is to come.”

Beacon Awards at the Annual Conference

Join the Institute for Local Government in honoring the 2015 Beacon Award winners during the General Session on Thursday, Oct. 1 at the League of California Cities 2015 Annual Conference & Expo in San José. Take advantage of an opportunity to chat with elected officials and staff from cities recognized with awards for energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions reduction and sustainability best practices at the Beacon Program Reception at 5:30 p.m, Thursday, Oct. 1, at the Marriott. For more information visit

Photo credit: Yvonne Hunter, courtesy of the Institute for Local Government (all photos)


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