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5 insider tips to plan an unforgettable African vacation

MD Staff

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When you get lost in wanderlust, do you find yourself dreaming of Africa? This exotic continent is on many people’s travel bucket lists, but planning a trip can be intimidating. If you are ready to stop dreaming and start planning an unforgettable African adventure, here are some simple tips to help you get the most out of your trip.

1. Make time for research

When deciding where to go and what to do, consult online resources and guidebooks to get a sense for what interests you most. For example, many African safari destinations have the Big Five — lions, elephants, rhino, leopard and buffalo — but more rare species like the endangered mountain gorilla are only found in a few countries, including Uganda. Uganda also offers some of the most diverse cultural experiences on the African continent, drawing visitors from around the world.

With 10 distinct national parks, Uganda gives you the chance to explore myriad landscapes and natural habitats, each with its own impressive characteristics and wild inhabitants. Most people only have time to visit three or four parks in Uganda, so it’s important to get a feel for which one may be right for you. Book a boat safari on the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park, or head out on a game drive in Kidepo Valley National Park to see elephants, giraffes, lions and more with your own two eyes. Learn more about these and other unique Ugandan experiences at www.visituganda.com.

2. Prioritize must-do activities

When you start your research, you’ll quickly find there are countless things to see and do. That’s why it’s important to create a bucket list for your trip. Once you know the things you don’t want to leave without accomplishing, you can start putting together an itinerary.

How about the thrill of encountering mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, tracking chimps through dense forest or catching a glimpse of the powerful tree-climbing lions? Birding opportunities are also rich considering more than half of Africa’s bird species can be found in Uganda.

3. Consult a trusted travel professional

Especially if you’re traveling to a foreign country for the first time, a travel expert can provide customized insight you won’t find by doing it solo. Plus, they can help craft the ideal itinerary by suggesting activities or VIP services you may not know about.

For example, maybe kayaking Uganda’s Lake Bunyonyi wasn’t on your radar. Travel agents and tour operators can tell you why it should be. Want to upgrade your gorilla tracking experience? Travel professionals can arrange educational sessions with organizations like the Gorilla Doctors and their jungle veterinarians. They can help you book a rafting trip on the White Nile in Jinja, Uganda’s adventure capital, or arrange a visit to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. All these activities and more are made easier when you consult a trusted travel professional.

4. Go beyond wildlife

From the snow-capped peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains to the savannah of Queen Elizabeth National Park and the lush banks of the Nile, Uganda’s beautiful landscapes differ dramatically throughout the country. Wildlife flourishes, but there is so much more to explore than Mother Nature’s delights. The people that make this land their home are the true heart of Uganda.

To make your trip feel complete, incorporate cultural activities into your itinerary. For example, hike to the top of a mountain near Kidepo Valley National Park and visit the Ik people, a centuries-old community maintaining their traditional way of life. Another opportunity is the Batwa Experience where you can explore Uganda’s forest with its original inhabitants. Finally, don’t forget to spend a day in the capital city of Kampala, to see what modern life is like for the people of Uganda.

5. Open your mind and take it all in

An African safari is unlike any travel experience you’ll ever have. From mind-blowing wildlife encounters to outdoor adventures and immersive cultural experiences, Uganda has plenty to offer every type of travel personality. Keep an open mind and open heart and the things you’ll experience will change you forever.

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Climate Week to New York City

MD Staff

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Mayor de Blasio and NYC & Company—New York City’s official destination marketing organization—announced today that they will welcome Climate Week to New York City from September 24-30, 2018. Organized by The Climate Group, an international non-profit organization, Climate Week NYC will gather international leaders from across the public, private and government sectors to showcase and discuss global climate action in New York City, with support from NYC & Company.

“We are honored to again welcome The Climate Group and Climate Week NYC for the 10th year,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Here in New York, we’re taking bold action on climate. Through our ground breaking OneNYC strategy and our ambitious 1.5˚C Plan, we’ve committed our city to hit the highest goals of the Paris climate agreement. We’re divesting from fossil fuels, mandating that our largest buildings cut their emissions, and investing in electric vehicles. Through investments in resiliency and sustainability, we are building a fairer city for all.”

“Climate Week NYC is the largest climate week in the world and as one of the key summits in the international calendar—which runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly—has been driving climate action forward since its launch in 2009,” said Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group. “We are thrilled to be hosting our 10th Climate Week NYC and to appear on the world’s stage, to continue to advance climate action to the top of the global agenda.”

“Our goal is to leverage the City’s significant and growing sustainability efforts to position the destination as ‘the capital city of a responsible world,” said Fred Dixon, President & CEO of NYC & Company. “From our most iconic parks becoming permanently car-free, plans for Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to house one of the City’s largest rooftop farms, and many of our leading hotels embracing the City’s Carbon Challenge, events such as Climate Week NYC are the perfect platform to engage our City and the world to demonstrate their pledge to better protect the planet.”

Approximately 10,000 people from over 40 countries are expected to attend 150 events—including panel discussions, concerts, exhibitions and seminars. An opening ceremony on September 24—featuring key speakers and dignitaries including Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Edmund G Brown, Governor of California, and President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti—is planned for The Times Center in Manhattan.

Along with Climate Week NYC, New York City has recently attracted high-profile, large-scale events including WorldPride in 2019. These monumental events will help fuel record breaking visitation numbers. In 2017, there were a 62.8 million visitors.

“New York City is thrilled to host the 10th annual Climate Week to showcase the climate leadership happening all across the five boroughs,” said Daniel Zarrilli, NYC’s Senior Director of Climate Policy and Programs and Chief Resilience Officer. “In the absence of federal leadership in Washington, cities all across the country are stepping up their ambition to achieve the Paris Agreement. Here in NYC, we are accelerating our GHG reductions, adapting our city, and divesting from fossil fuels as part of our comprehensive OneNYC strategy.  Congratulations to the Climate Group for building an effective and successful platform for climate action over the last decade and we look forward to the next 10 years of partnership.”

“From protecting our coastlines, buildings, and infrastructure to making our neighborhoods safer and more vibrant, New York City is dedicated to confronting climate change head-on and protecting our city and its citizens from the associated threats,” said Jainey Bavishi, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency. “Climate Week NYC brings together some of the most brilliant innovators around the world to do just that.”

“Climate change is here and this moment requires decisive, ambitious, and collaborative action,” said Mark Chambers, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. “Climate Week NYC is an opportunity to inspire and embolden us all to deliver necessary solutions.”

“As the Ranking Democratic Member on the State Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications, I am excited to celebrate Climate Week NYC. This is a great initiative and effective way to engage all stakeholders as we work to protect the environment,” said Senator Kevin Parker.

A New Generation of Sustainable Hotels
New York City’s evolving hotel scene is embracing eco-conscious design and practices. Overall, 19 properties are currently committed to the NYC Carbon Challenge. 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge opened in 2017 as part of the eco-friendly 1 Hotels brand. The Grand Hyatt New York and The Peninsula New York have vowed to shrink their carbon footprints through upgrades like high-efficiency boilers and LED lighting. The Pierre participates in EarthCheck, a program which measures the property’s impact on the environment, and boutique Crosby Street Hotel was awarded the City’s first LEED Gold Certified building.

Park Preservation and Honoring Horticulture
As of June 2018, Central Park—the world’s most iconic greenspace, which welcomes more than 42 million visitors yearly—joined Brooklyn’s Prospect Park in becoming entirely car-free. Suspended above the City streets, The High Line—an abandoned elevated rail line transformed into a horticultural oasis—opened its first section in 2009 as a habitat for birds, insects and humans seeking respite. At Battery Park City, horticulturists manage the neighborhood’s park without pesticides and engage in large-scale composting.

This summer, New York City welcomed new green spaces at Hunter’s Point South in Long Island City, Domino Park in Williamsburg, and Pier 3 at Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Green Roofs and Urban Farms
The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is currently home to a 6.75-acre green roof, completed in 2014, which attracts wildlife, provides insulation that cuts the building’s energy use by 26 percent, and absorbs storm water. The Javits Center’s latest initiative is to cultivate a nearly 1 acre rooftop farm on the roof of the expansion, with the intention to grow produce to serve delegates.

Atop Brooklyn’s Barclays Center—famed for its sporting events and concerts—is a 3-acre green roof with another sloping over its subway entrance. Brooklyn Grange keeps bees in over 30 naturally-managed, rooftop hives citywide and operates the world’s two largest rooftop soil farms in Long Island City, Queens and the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

New to the Bronx, The New York Botanical Garden introduced Edible Academy this spring. The three-acre campus features a green roof, demonstration kitchen, technology lab, teaching greenhouse, solar pavilion, vegetable gardens, teaching and performance spaces and more.

Established in 2012 to help feed, inspire, and educate the local community, Snug Harbor’s 2.5-acre Heritage Farm on Staten Island produces fresh fruits and vegetables in an environmentally sustainable manner. In 2017 Heritage Farm staff worked with over 100 volunteers and educated over 2,280 children on sustainable farming, food sources, and plant biology.

Roosevelt and Governor’s Island
Roosevelt Island is home to Cornell Tech’s in-progress campus, featuring cutting-edge green buildings the “net-zero” Bloomberg Center and “The House”, the world’s largest LEED-Platinum passive house structure. On Governors Island, eco highlights include an urban farm with resident goats, a composting center and the Billion Oyster Project, an ecosystem restoration and education initiative which has already planted 25 million oysters of a 2035 goal of one billion oysters, to create waterway filtration in New York Harbor.

City’s Top Attractions LEED The Way
The City’s LEED buildings are models of sustainable urban architecture. In 2009, the Empire State Building underwent a green-focused retrofit of the iconic 1931 skyscraper while One World Trade Center was constructed as one of the world’s tallest LEED-certified buildings. At Hudson Yards—the largest private real estate development in the history of the US—14 acres of gardens and public spaces, rainwater-collection infrastructure to reuse 10 million gallons per year and an on-site hyper-efficient power plant are leading green features. Of note, the first completed building in the emerging neighborhood, 10 Hudson Yards, is LEED Platinum certified.

Brooklyn’s Children’s Museum earned a Silver LEED certification after it was built in 2008 for solar-generated electric power, recycled rubber flooring and geothermal heating and cooling, while the venue also teaches children about ecology through hands-on exhibits. The Whitney Museum of American Art is also LEED Gold certified for its energy-saving measures, recycled materials used in construction, and green roof which is home to two beehives.

Shining examples of the NYC theater industry’s commitment to sustainability include the creation of The Broadway Green Alliance.

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Beijing joining the ranks of the world’s most liveable cities

MD Staff

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Every year, people all over the world tune in to see which cities make it onto the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) list of the world’s most liveable cities. And every year, a number of surveys look at the best and worst living conditions in the world’s major cities. For the EIU, each city is ranked across 30 factors – from acceptable to intolerable – and across quantitative and qualitative criteria.

The annual report, which measures quality of life, fires up the aspirations of many of the world’s greatest cities. Beijing is one city that is tackling its ranking, and its environment.

But what goes into these rankings and how much do environmental factors really matter to quality of life? And can a city grow in population and at the same time improve the quality of its air, water and public transportation?

Beijing is striving to do just that. The city has climbed four points on the EIU’s list in just a decade and is striding to do better.

What is “liveability”?

Beijing scores well on many of the EIU criteria. It has, low crime, low threat of civil unrest, high quality of private healthcare, consumer goods and services, and good quality of private education.

The city currently scores under 70 (out of 100) in the EIU’s “culture and environment” category.

Beijing is keen to improve its score and is taking steps to improve quality of water provision, quality of public transport, general healthcare indicators, humidity/temperature rating, discomfort of climate to travelers and quality of energy provision.

“Roxana Slavcheva, Head of City Practices at the EIU, explains how these domains are interlated: A dense public transport network cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions,”

Slavcheva cautions that EIU tries to refrain from being too prescriptive in their reports. “We aim to reflect the reality on the ground, and not produce a forecast or recommendations.”

But of course, ambitious cities are looking for signals that will help them develop a roadmap to a highly ranked future. It is no wonder that the city is looking to its scenario planning arm – and the international community – to help it.

Two factors that no doubt affect quality of life, are pollution and air quality. “These are included in the environmental category, as there is a strong correlation between pollution and climate”, says Slavcheva.

Building a pollution-free future

China is indeed ambitious. “Beijing wants to be one of the best livable cities in the world,” says Dr. Kijun Jiang, the head of the Energy Research Institute at the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission.

“Sydney, Vancouver and Vienna have won. And Beijing is asking ‘how do we get to this?’” To answer that, Jiang and his colleagues are busy creating scenarios for that “liveability future”.

On the sidelines of the recent GEO6 conference in Singapore, Jiang explained how Beijing aims to outperform some of the world’s most environmentally ambitious cities. A youthful, energetic scientist, Jiang projects optimism about the energy future of China – and the world.

Jiang started out as a computer science major at university in 1990, crunching national greenhouse gas models for the governmental Energy Research Institute. In 1998, when the Beijing haze had become notorious, he was given a new mission: China’s energy future.

Jiang responded to the challenge by coming up with concrete recommendations based on modeling and data. He and his team analyze air quality, energy consumption and climate change patterns, among other variables.

“We are looking to see what happens in 2030, 2050 and 2100 and giving advice on how to reach the highest ranks.”

Beijing became famous for its Olympics-related clean-up and this may just have been the beginning of a monumental effort to jump on the world’s clean air stage.

It won’t be easy, he acknowledges. “Beijing still has big trouble with air pollution.”

How has the GEO process helped Beijing?

Jiang has been involved in GEO conferences for more than a decade. “I’m very happy to join the GEO process,” he says. “I am looking forward to bring back to the Chinese government what we learn from the global environmental process” and adapt it to what he calls “the Chinese way, the Chinese road”.

Collaborations with processes such as the GEO-6, are also part of a new model of adapting to climate change. “China is releasing and sharing data with scientific entities, to help them make sense of and act on the data. I think there is this realization in China, that it serves them well to see where the problems are.”

How far has Beijing come and how far to go?

This isn’t the first time the city has worked to improve its environment. During the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics the city invested massively in infrastructure and improving air quality. This resulted in improving its rank by four points.

Contrary to popular perception, says Jiang, the Beijing air quality turnaround story did not just begin with the 2008 Olympics. It started eight-years earlier, where the city executed an action plan every six months to reduce pollution.

“Five years ago, China started an action plan on air pollution control. Today if you go to Beijing, it is much better than five years ago, and people are surprised by what we managed to achieve.”

Jiang says at times he has to deliver prescriptive messages to Chinese policymakers. “We tell them, if you want to be the best in the world, you should reach zero emissions by 2050, in air pollution, carbon emissions.”

No doubt, China and Beijing will rise to this challenge!

UN Environment

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Oman : A reality from a world of fantasy

MD Staff

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Oman is one of the most biodiverse-rich countries in Western Asia with its mountain ranges, valleys, plains, cliffs, rocky hills and coastal areas.  It is home to the magnificent green, red turtles, sharks, dolphins, whales, and prey birds such as the Egyptian vulture and the golden eagle.

99 different mammals, including some endangered species such as Arabian tahr, Arabian oryx, Arabian leopard, red fox, deer and rabbits live in the valleys and mountains of Oman. The southern region sees rodents and wolves and animals such as blue-headed lizard, aquatic snakes, Arabian toads, and bats living in the caves.

Every May, the southern coast of the Sultanate witnesses a unique phenomenon: cold, nutrient-rich sea water rushes to the edges of the rocks, providing the perfect breeding conditions for marine life.

Ras Al Hadd, Ras Al Jinz, and the island of Masirah are one of the largest nesting grounds of  Green, Loggerhead and Hawksbill turtles in the world and home to 30,000 turtles. Furthermore, the Bar Al-Hikman area boosts 30 square kilometers of coral reefs, making it a fertile ground for diverse marine plants and the shore is home to millions of migratory sea birds.

The rosy lakes in the state of Al-Jarz owe their color to the algae: another natural wonder of Oman.

From the coast to the desert: Advocating for sustainable tourism

Oman has a rich desert landscape ranging from golden sand dunes in the East to rocky desert of Jeddah Al-Harasis in central of Oman and the Rub’ al Khali desert in the far south. These are home to predators such as lynx, sandy foxes, wild sand cats and one of the largest deer species known as Ghazlan Al Reem.

Salalah, the capital of the Dhofar Governorate, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Arabian Peninsula for its beautiful landscape and a wide range of tropical fruits such as bananas, coconut and sugarcane. Behind the plains of the state of Salalah lie the foothills of Mount Qara, covered with frankincense trees that have made Oman famous for producing the best frankincense in the region.

The Sultanate attracts millions of tourists every year. The government is fully engaged in raising awareness about its many wonders and ensuring to safeguard its rich biodiversity. “We must strive to ensure that people visiting our country recognize the importance of the environment and preserve its natural diversity,” said  Mohamed Al Toby, Oman’s Former Undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism.

Protecting the wildlife, and its natural habitats, and conserving biological diversity in the Sultanate is very important.  It is one of the priorities that the Government has included in its five-year development plan as erosion and depletion of natural environments will result in significant loss and severe put at risk the Sultanate biodiversity.

The locals believe the beauty of nature must be preserved because it is a source of income for the country allowing tourists to discover and enjoy the unique charming nature.

Unique plant diversity

Oman has a rich floral biodiversity. The central and southern regions are among the top 35 regions in the world known for plant diversity. In the north, its flora is similar to Iran, while in the eastern region Hajar Mountains, the landscape is similar to Africa. The Sultanate has approximately 1212 species of plants, of which 87per cent are endemic or semi-endemic.

Over the past 10 years, Oman Botanic Garden has put in place the largest documented database in the Arabian Peninsula. It includes 1407 documented species. A recent study by the University of Edinburgh found that out of the 1407 species, 77 are only found in the Sultanate.

Safeguarding the natural heritage

The Sultanate is the first country in the Gulf to establish a Ministry of the Environment which led to putting in place a comprehensive law to protect the environment.

It is also the first country in the region to establish an award for the preservation of the environment, known as the Sultan Qaboos Prize.

In 2017, the French Newspaper Le Monde named the Sultanate as the best tourist destination and the World Economic Forum ranked it as the fourth safest destinations in the world.

Cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme

UN Environment is working closely with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs to strengthen the link between the environment, social and economic challenges as an integrated approach to sustainable development.

UN Environment endeavors to promote strategic partnerships with local authorities, civil society, academic community, private sector and other stakeholders to:

  • preserve the unique biodiversity of the Sultanate of Oman
  • manage natural resources
  • link environmental, social and economic dimensions to achieve the sustainable development goals.

UN Environment

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