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EPIC approach to sustainability and climate resilience to expand across Africa

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Representatives from 22 African cities are visiting Durban to receive training on a pioneering initiative that matches real-world challenges in cities with local university students. The event is the first Africa-led training workshop for the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities (EPIC) programme, and signifies the growing international attention garnered by the approach.

Using the EPIC model to match cities’ needs with students in colleges or universities, a broad spectrum of sustainability issues can be tackled in a win-win scenario, where students gain real-world, hands-on experience, allowing them to develop professionally, while local municipalities can leverage the often-untapped expertise of local universities to tackle their sustainability challenges at low costs.

“For ten years in the US, the EPIC model has been groundbreaking in its ability to solve cities’ social and environmental challenges at low costs by creating partnerships between municipalities and local universities. We’re very excited to see it expand across Africa, where one could argue the model will be even more important due to the limited capacity of many municipalities,” says Sean O’Donoghue, Senior Manager of the Climate Protection Branch, eThekwini Municipality, Durban, South Africa.

The EPIC Network is a collection of more than 40 institutions currently implementing the approach, which originated in the University of Oregon in 2010. Network members have completed over 1,200 projects to date, consisting of hundreds of thousands of student hours.

The Chronicle of Higher Education in the US described the EPIC model as “one of higher education’s most successful and comprehensive service-learning programs.”

This first African-led EPIC training workshop, funded and organized by START International, will take place at Durban Botanic Gardens from 3rd – 6th February 2020.

Twenty-two local and national African governments will be represented at the workshop, along with staff from their local universities; the workshop aims to build on the successes of three pilot projects in Durban, Lusaka, Zambia, and the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, and to expand the model across the continent. Trainee pairs from Harare, Zimbabwe, Paynesville, Liberia, Kampala, Uganda and other African cities will attend.

The results from the three African pilots suggests the EPIC model is a promising approach to climate adaptation and disaster management. For example, students from the University of Zambia, partnering with the Lusaka City Council, produced local area plans for water security in the informal settlements of the city. The cost to the city was around USD 45,000, instead of an estimated USD 130,000 – 145,000 professional fee. This motivated Lusaka City Council to start institutionalizing the EPIC model in the council’s operations to address other issues.

The Durban workshop will be the second EPIC training workshop in Africa. The first, led by the EPIC-Network in 2017, inspired the three African pilot projects, and was funded by the US National Science Foundation and UNEP’s Global Adaptation Network.

“The partnership between universities and local governments can be an immensely powerful force in making cities resilient to climate change. In Africa, this is especially vital due to the way in which climate change is threatening millions of livelihoods. We at the Global Adaptation Network are delighted to see one of our partners expand its work with such efficacy and success,” said Lis Bernhardt, Coordinator of UNEP’s Global Adaptation Network.

In addition to the Durban workshop, two other continents will be hosting EPIC training events in the first half of 2020 – a Regional Training Workshop will be held in Bangkok, Thailand, on 24-28 February 2020, and the 9th Annual EPIC-Network Conference will be held in North America in April 2020.

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Rosewood conservation: A success story from Madagascar

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Edmond (right) and Nirina (left) are involved in a UNEP project to replant endangered rosewood trees in Madagascar. So far, the initiative has cultivated more than 2,000 saplings. Photo by Adolphe Lehavana/Missouri Botanical Garden

For Madagascar farmer Edmond, who goes by one name, it was a breakthrough. In 2019 he perfected a complicated technique to grow a rare species of tree known as Dalbergia normandii.

The plants hail from a valuable, and difficult-to-propagate family of trees known as rosewoods, which have been felled near to the point of extinction in many parts of Madagascar.

“This year is one of the happiest years of my life because the time I spent on this technique was not in vain,” said Edmond, 60, who lives in Ambodimanga village on Madagascar’s eastern coast. “This time, luck is with me.”

Edmond is working on a rosewood conservation project coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Its aim is to safeguard a group of trees that is the world’s most trafficked wild product by value and volume. From Guatemala to Madagascar to Thailand to Zambia, rosewoods have been targeted by timber traffickers who seek to profit especially from its growing demand in China and Viet Nam, principally for furniture.

“Over the last decade, the share of total rosewood imports to China coming from Africa has steadily increased, with a portion of this share suspected to have been illegally sourced in or exported from Africa,” says a July 2020 report by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  

To help reverse this trend, in 2017 UNEP, Madagascar’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, and local partners launched a Global Environment Facility-funded project titled Conservation of key, threatened, endemic and economically valuable species. The project, which runs till 2022, seeks to reduce the threats to 21 economically important but threatened species at 18 sites in Madagascar. The production of large quantities of healthy new rosewood plants is critical to the project’s success.

The Pointe à Larrée protected area, on the coast in central-eastern Madagascar, currently managed by Missouri Botanical Garden, is one of the project sites. It’s home to 13 species targeted by the project, including six species of Dalbergia, most of them rosewood. (All species of Dalbergia fall within the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Appendix II.)

Rosewood species “threatened for decades”

“These species have been threatened for decades due to commercial exploitation for their very valuable `precious wood’ and habitat loss due to slash-and-burn cultivation,” says Adolphe Lehavana, project manager at Pointe à Larrée and an employee of Missouri Botanical Garden, an international non-governmental organization mandated by Madagascar to manage the protected area.

“Population levels for some species are now critically low and they seemed doomed to local extinction since isolated trees fail to produce seeds.

“For example, within the landscape, including the protected area, researchers have been able to locate just 10 remaining individuals of Dalbergia maritima and just one remaining individual of Dalbergia louvelii – all outside the protected area,” he adds.

Through the project, resources are now being mobilized to prevent the local extinction of these very rare species by reinforcing the wild population as part of an ecological restoration programme.

In 2019 the team produced 2,328 young rosewood plants using the technique developed by Edmond, the farmer. Known as air-layering, it allows conservationists to grow new roots from a plant’s branches which can then be deposited into the ground. The rosewoods have been used, with other native tree species, to enrich around 10 hectares of degraded forest. To date, the survival rate of young rosewoods has been nearly 100 per cent.

The project contributes to the objectives of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework in Madagascar (2015-2019), providing vulnerable populations with employment opportunities and supporting sustainable development. It is also part of the broader effort to conserve biodiversity as set out in The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5, published by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

Through activities such as forest enrichment and restoration, the conservation of endemic species also contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 15, which aims to safeguard forests and protect biodiversity.

UN Environment

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Day-to-Day Items That Can Now Be Made Using Organic Materials Only

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According to Pew Research, three-quarters of Americans are concerned about helping improve the environment.

Unfortunately, only one in every five Americans is willing to make an effort to change the negative impacts on the environment. A key reason why this happens is that many people have no idea where to start when it comes to saving mother earth.

But did you know that you can be a hero just by substituting some of the essential items you use every day with eco-friendly products?

If you’re in doubt, here are a few everyday items that you can substitute with their readily available eco-friendly alternatives.

1.     Reusable Grocery Bags

Every year, an estimated one trillion plastic bags are used globally. Most of these bags end up in landfills, where they take forever to degrade.

The use of recyclable shopping bags can reduce plastic waste without any inconvenience on your part.

Unlike bags made of plastics, recyclable shopping bags decay faster due to their natural materials. Being reusable also means that they last longer, which allows you to save money while saving the planet.

2.     Eco-friendly Blankets

A comfortable blanket that also eases your ecological footprint worries will definitely give you a restful sleep. Blankets made from recyclable materials are environmentally friendly as they leave less synthetic fillings on the environment.

A eucalyptus blanket is an excellent example of an eco-friendly blanket. These blankets are soft and subtle as they are made from a poly microfiber eucalyptus fabric. Unlike traditional beddings, these eco-friendly blankets keep 50 plastic bottles away from landfills, which is much better for our environment.

3.     Recyclable Straws

Americans use around 500 million plastic straws daily, which could fill over 125 million school buses.

Plastic straws are made from polypropylene, a dangerous chemical that affects our estrogen levels. The disposal of these plastic straws also introduces a lot of plastic waste into the environment.

But you can now substitute your plastic straws with reusable stainless steel straws. We also have biodegradable straws in the market made from bamboo sticks, coconut leaves, cane stems, or paper.

4.     Organic Sanitary Towels

Organic sanitary pads are gaining popularity as they have fewer dyes and additives. They are also safer for the environment.

Most of the modern sanitary pads are manufactured from plastics or their derivatives. Many women complain that the perfumes and dyes often used on these pads irritate their sensitive skin. This has seen many ladies turn to organic pads.

Most organic sanitary towels are made of cotton cloth or other biodegradable materials. Others have a plant-based top material made of wood, bamboo, jute palp, or banana. This makes them free from plastics, chemical dyes, and additives. The organic sanitary towels are also more comfortable, sustainable, and eco-friendly. Since they are also compostable, their use reduces the accumulation of plastic waste on our planet.

The above four products are just a few examples of eco-friendly alternatives that you can use in place of everyday products. If you haven’t started saving our planet, now would be a good time to start!

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No More Business as Usual: Green Deal Needed in Europe’s Recovery

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Chief executive officers (CEOs) and senior representatives of around 30 European companies expressed today their support for the European Green Deal as a growth strategy for Europe with a joint statement. The COVID-19 recovery is the opportunity to reset Europe’s economy with a new growth model on the path to net-zero emissions, based on circularity, renewable energy and low-carbon industries.

The CEOs said they firmly believe the way out of the current crisis cannot be more of the same. They commit to reducing their carbon footprint and to embrace new production and work models to play their part in decarbonizing Europe’s economy and achieving climate-neutrality by 2050.

“The COVID-19 pandemic requires a massive and coordinated economic stimulus to both mitigate the economic repercussions of the pandemic and, above all, to accelerate the necessary transition to a low carbon economy. We have to take more and faster action with more emphasis on sustainability and circularity. The European Green Deal presents an opportunity to do just this. It requires a strong partnership between business, politics and society. Together we can make Europe the greenest, most innovative and inclusive region in the world, where the Green Deal should provide jobs and economic prosperity at the same time. The action plan announced today by the WEF CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal is an important step with concrete actions to support this agenda.” commented the CEO Action Group Co-Chairs, Axa’s CEO Thomas Buberl and Feike Sybesma, Royal DSM’s Honorary Chairman.

“The EU is putting in place the largest and greenest stimulus plan ever. It is the right time for businesses to show how they can effectively contribute to achieving the EU’s climate targets. As a next step, this group is working on lighthouse projects, which demonstrate how to step up action in areas such as sustainable transport and mobility, food and agriculture and renewable energy markets,” Børge Brende, President of the World Economic Forum, added.

The EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in her State of the European Union speech today, is expected to reassert the Green Deal as a central element of Europe’s growth strategy and the region’s recovery efforts. Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President in charge of the European Green Deal, welcomed the CEO statement: “The Green Deal is a once-in-a-generation effort to transform our economy. It is crucial to have European businesses on board, as we’ll need every company to contribute to climate neutrality and help deliver on the Green Deal. I very much support the efforts of the CEO Action Group to implement the European climate agenda.”

CEOs and senior representatives supporting the statement are:

  • Michael Altendorf, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Adtelligence GmbH, Germany
  • Marco Alverà, Chief Executive Officer, Snam S.p.A., Italy
  • Claudia Azevedo, Chief Executive Officer, SONAE SGPS SA, Portugal
  • Kai Beckmann, Chief Executive Officer, Performance Materials, Member of the Executive Board, Merck, Germany
  • Dick Benschop, President and Chief Executive Officer, Royal Schiphol Group, Netherlands
  • Jesper Brodin, Chief Executive Officer, Ingka Group (IKEA), Netherlands
  • Thomas Buberl, Chief Executive Officer, AXA SA, France*
  • Levent Cakiroglu, Chief Executive Officer, Koç Holding AS, Turkey
  • Bertrand Camus, Chief Executive Officer, SUEZ, France
  • Liam Condon, President, Bayer Crop Science, Bayer AG, Germany
  • Claudio Descalzi, Chief Executive Officer, Eni SpA, Italy
  • Hanneke Faber, President, Foods and Refreshment Division, Unilever, Netherlands
  • Camilla Hagen Sørli, Member of the Board, Canica AS, Norway
  • André Hoffmann, Vice-Chairman, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd, Switzerland
  • John Holland-Kaye, Chief Executive Officer, Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited, United Kingdom
  • Svein Tore Holsether, President and Chief Executive Officer, Yara International ASA, Norway
  • Paul Hudson, Chief Executive Officer, Sanofi, France
  • Nuno Matos, Chief Executive Europe, HSBC Holdings Plc, United Kingdom
  • Gerald Podobnik, CFO Corporate Bank, Deutsche Bank AG, Germany
  • Jonas Prising, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ManpowerGroup, USA
  • Nicolas Namias, Chief Executive Officer, Natixis, France
  • Yves Robert-Charrue, Member of the Executive Board and Head of Switzerland, Europe, Middle East & Africa, Bank Julius Baer & Co. Ltd, Switzerland
  • Michael Schernthaner, Chief Executive Officer, Schur Flexibles Group, Austria
  • Veronica Scotti, Chairperson, Public Sector Solutions, Swiss Re Management Ltd, Switzerland
  • Marco Settembri, Executive Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer, Europe, Middle East and North Africa, Nestlé, Switzerland
  • Feike Sybesma, Honorary Chairman, Royal DSM NV, Netherlands*
  • Jean-Pascal Tricoire, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Schneider Electric, France
  • Loic Tassel, President, Europe, Procter & Gamble, Switzerland
  • Bernhardt von Spreckelsen, Fashion Photographer & Developing Hyper Luxury, Brand Owner, Bernhardt von Spreckelsen, United Kingdom

The CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal, launched in autumn 2019 in cooperation with the World Economic Forum and the European Commission, seeks to mobilize business to step up commitments towards achieving the Green Deal and the EU greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030 in order to drive a clean and inclusive economic recovery.

*Co-chairs of the CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal

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