The two most promising and exciting things about COP23 for me was the keen interest among so many delegates first in ecovillage development and second in taking the 1.5 degree goal from the Paris Agreement on limiting global warming quite seriously and then on increasing government ambition to be able to do this. For example I heard again and again about various efforts being made to move towards 100% renewable energy; to sequester carbon in plants and soils; and to reach carbon neutrality through such things as regenerative agriculture, water retention landscaping, reforestation, and ecosystem restoration, etc.
Among the most promising was the efforts described by the Governors of the 3 western-most US states to cut greenhouse gas emissions and transition to renewable energy. Really they described a step change in actions being undertaken. Far beyond what has been done in the US at any level of government to date.
But most moving was a short video shown by GEN’s new partner organization for COP23, the International National Trust Organization (INTO) on the challenges faced by the small island developing state of Kiribati due to climate change. Imagine if not only you, but also the entire ecovillage community where you live, had to move… to abandon the place you’d called home – leaving behind all that you’d worked on, to sink beneath the waves. The fields and garden, energy installations, all of the houses and buildings, everything that you had come to know and love, the ancestral burial grounds, the livelihood opportunities you’d developed based on the people and places where you had lived, neighbors, family and friends, perhaps even cultural traditions, passed down generation by generation, now all gone.
This is not some future scenario or calamity that might happen sometime in the future. It is happening already, right now today. Storm surges already sweep across the islands, salt water intrusion and water debris poisoning the land, crops and sea walls swept away in the pounding deluge, sand and houses gone. Destroying coastal buffer zones and retaining walls built from materials all of which had to be brought in my boat. This is all real for the people of Kiribati; what is still some dream of the future is the world that our ecovillage solutions could and do provide and offer.
Which brings me back to the other most promising and exciting thing about COP23, which was the receptivity and interest in GEN and our approach to development activities and to addressing climate change. For example, I remember the morning that Kosha (GEN’s Executive Director) and Yvette (GEN’s Advocacy Director) went to get something to eat at the cafeteria in the Bula Zone while I watched our stuff. Ten minutes later they were back with a country delegation and team from Africa that they had met while standing in line, which turned into a half hour meeting and an interview that was broadcast on national TV and most likely will turn into some type of a GEN/country partnership agreement.
Similarly, I attended an event on bio-energy organized by the International Renewable Energy Agency. I was particularly interested in this as I had lobbied and spoken out about the need for such an agency starting back in 1999 when I was one of the organizers of the NGO Energy Caucus at the UN and no government delegates were talking about it; and now not only has it been established, but 160+ countries are participating in it, and its Research Headquarters are in Bonn. So, I have seen this as one of my personal success stories from the time I have spent at the UN.
During the session the Chair of the EverGreen Agriculture Partnership from the World Agroforestry Centre told us about an amazing nitrogen fixing tree, Gliricidia, which is interplanted with maize and other such crops and which can double agricultural productivity while being coppiced or cut back to produce 4-5 tons of biomass per acre which can then be sold to local bio-energy producers to provide access to electricity where there is currently none, along with providing fodder for animals and wood for clean cookstoves. The Partnership is already working with 17 country governments in Africa to spread this initiative across the continent. When I told them about GEN’s PanAfrican Ecovillage Development Programme and various ecovillage initiatives that we have on the ground there, the director was most interested; and we have arranged a meeting this coming week to see how GEN can become a partner in this initiative. See: www.evergreenagriculture.net/gliricidia-as-a-power-source-in-sri-lanka
And it was like this everywhere we went. I have represented GEN at the UN in New York focusing on sustainable development issues for the past fifteen years; and never have I seen such an interest in what we are doing and such a willingness to consider how we can make a significant difference in the world. So, what I am hoping now is that GEN and all of us that are living in ecovillage communities will step up to the challenge. The world, and our governments, are looking for solutions. We’ve been telling them that we have them; now we need to really show how it can be done.
We’ve told them that many of our ecovillage communities are sequestering carbon in plants and soils using regenerative agriculture and restoring the natural environment. See: www.ecovillage.org/climatesolutions. Now we need to develop strategic plans to move towards becoming carbon neutral as soon as we can as is being done in Findhorn and in a few other ecovillage communities. Many if not most of us already eat vegetarian or at least way less meat than the average, compost and recycle our wastes and grow much of our own food organically; which is a great start. Now we need to figure out how we can reduce our transport impacts, cut our consumption patterns even further, and do much more to reforest and restore the earth; and this is especially important and needed in the developed countries such as in Europe and the US.
We have also talked with governments about partnering with them on the development of our PanAfrican and global Ecovillage Development Programmes; about the great skills that we can provide through the GEN Consultancy and all of our amazing consultants; about the various EDE training programmes we can provide; about the new Greening Schools and the EmerGENcies programmes; and we have shown the results that we have seen from the GEN Impact Assessment Survey. Now it is time for us to follow through and to make sure that these programmes and activities are all grounded in reality as we go forward from here.
We will need a lot of help from everyone within GEN, whether as staff, serving on a GEN board, or living in an ecovillage community, etc. We really cannot successfully carry out any of these programmes and initiatives without everyone’s help and support. But with it the sky is our limit. The time is now.