Editor’s note: In a rich, ongoing series, Facing Climate Change, multimedia producers and Ecotrust friends Benjamin Drummond and Sarah Joy Steele capture the real consequences of global warming for people on the ground, around the world. Here the focus is on Washington’s coastal Swinomish Tribe, led by the Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Award’s top honoree in 2012, Brian Cladoosby.
It would be perfectly alright for Landry Ndriko Mayigane to celebrate normalcy. He could clock in and out at his government job monitoring diseases and expansion in the Rwandan poultry industry. He could sit back and marvel at how Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali, his home, is becoming liveable — expanding and cleaning up, as President Paul Kagame aggressively pushes modernization. He could find a wife and settle down. And given his country’s past, that would be enough.
Instead, Mayigane, 31, is in constant motion. A trilingual veterinary doctor whose passport is thick with stamps, he has ambitions to be a world leader. “One of my goals is to be the UN Secretary General,” he says unabashedly.
He’s not wasting any time. A respected avian influenza authority internationally, he’s part of the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s worldwide network. And he moonlights as one of the global climate movement’s top young exponents in Africa.
He’s organized rallies across Africa for the likes of 350.org and is a serial founder of organizations and chapters on the issue. His latest two groups seem to have staying power and resonance in a world where climate change consequences are quickly piling up: the nonprofit Rwanda YACA aims to turn Rwanda’s ballooning cohort of jobless youth into renewable and appropriate energy entrepreneurs. His African Youth Initiative on Climate Change works to network young people all over the continent with educational and professional development opportunities that will help them approach the continent’s problems from a resilience perspective.
In a wounded country, in a battered region of the African continent, Mayigane is a walking testament to resilience.
“Like our president, I want to dignify Africans,” says Mayigane, who is at Ecotrust for a four-month U.S. State Department-sponsored fellowship. “We need to think and learn globally and act locally.”
Though that’s nearly a worn-out phrase in the West, it’s a more pithy pair of ideas to swallow in Africa, and particularly in Rwanda, where global problems are exacerbating local ones in a small, landlocked and heavily agriculturally dependent country.
Mayigane knows this first hand.
His father was one of 20 children born on his grandfather’s land in the northern part of Rwanda. With land now being distributed to Mayigane’s generation and the next, there is simply not enough to go around. This is happening all over the country; He quotes a figure that 200,000 young Rwandans migrate to Kigali and other cities from rural areas every year.
Meanwhile, global warming alters weather patterns and touches people across Rwanda. In a visit to villages in the eastern part of the country last May, he says that roughly 20% of the poultry he inspected was suffering from heat stress. The chickens were lethargic and panting to reduce their core temperature and egg production was off. Rwanda is also expecting livestock disease to spike along with temperature and rainfall changes.
“It’s going to be a challenge to feed the population in the face of climate change,” Mayigane says. “And that’s where resilience comes in. How can we make cheap technology available, create jobs, and fight climate change at the same time?”
If Rwanda YACA is successful, it will quickly begin employing people to spread cheap energy technologies, from solar panels to charcoal made from food waste. They’ll also begin tree-planting campaigns, to help alleviate wood shortages in villages, in addition to controlling flooding and erosion.
But Mayigane will also seek to boost the social entrepreneurship of group members, through training programs that teach them to creatively seek out and solve problems in their own community.
His own spark came from the seven years he spent at vet school in Senegal. After that, a world of possibilities opened up to Mayigane, beyond the comfortable confines of a good student who cashes in for a government salary and pension.
“My dream,” he says, “Is to help Africa become more competitive so that African youth will be proud to call it home.”
Mayigane on Rwanda YACA (Youth Alliance for Climate Action:
In 2009, I published a book with Graciela Chichilnisky, Saving Kyoto (New Holland 2009), that argued passionately for preserving the economic and political architecture of the only international treaty on climate change the world has known – the Kyoto Protocol. The book was timely: the countdown to compliance with Kyoto’s mandated emissions targets had begun; the international community was gathering that year in Copenhagen to negotiate the next round of climate commitments; and there was hope that the Obama administration could usher the U.S. back to the negotiating table in earnest.
More importantly from my perspective, however, was the growing realization that the window of opportunity for stabilizing the earth’s climate system was rapidly coming to a close. The urgency of the crisis demanded immediate, extensive emissions reductions. And I firmly believed that a coordinated international effort that mandated reductions from world’s largest emitters was the fairest and most efficient way to stave off climate disaster.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the famous Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the international governance framework that eventually gave rise to the Kyoto Protocol. As the global community convenes again this week in Rio to establish goals and strategies for sustainable development for the next 20 years, its failures to arrest climate change over the last 20 years will be hard to deny.
But it will also be hard to ignore the real energy, innovation, and progress around climate change that is emerging from the ground up all over the world. The examples are many, including Germany’s aggressive use of feed-in tariffs that is helping to drive down the costs of solar technology worldwide; the commitments of cities across the globe to redesigning their infrastructure, planning, and policies to dramatically slash emissions; and the emergence of regional emissions reduction schemes, such as California’s AB32 and the Northeast’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Even private industry is taking positive leaps forward toward embracing energy savings and preparing for future uncertainties around climate change and global energy prices.
As someone who supports a global approach to climate change, I have had to reconcile the failures of the international framework with progress at regional and local scales. I am an economist by training, so my orientation to climate action is first and foremost as a global public good. Viewed through this lens, individual actions to mitigate climate change – whether at a national, regional, or local scale – is inefficient at best, ineffective at worst. If one country’s efforts can benefit all other countries without exclusion (the defining characteristic of a global public good), only credible, coordinated action between countries should incentivize an individual country to act. In the case of climate change, there is even more rationale for tackling the problem from the top-down: no single country’s mitigation effort can be sufficient to slow global warming. Acting alone, each country is powerless to prevent climate disaster.
For these reasons and more, a binding international treaty on climate change seems to make sense. Acting as part of a coordinated global effort, each country can be sure that the costs it incurs to lower emissions will be justified by the reduction in global climate change risk. A global approach also facilitates a more just burden sharing between nations. Individual country commitments in the Kyoto Protocol, for example, institutionalized a notion of climate justice agreed to by the parties to the UNFCC. That equity commitment shifted the burden of emissions reduction onto those countries most responsible for global warming and best able to pay for mitigation, and excluded developing countries from mandatory reductions.
As the last two decades have demonstrated, however, a global approach to climate change may work better in theory than in practice. We may have been too optimistic reaching for a global solution in 1992, without having laid enough of the groundwork at home. There is no doubt that the picture of our climate future today would look very different had the U.S. remained a committed participant to the UNFCC process and taken the lead on reducing emissions and developing clean energy technologies. But the level of popular understanding and engagement with climate change and its impacts was not sufficient to sustain the necessary commitments.
To mobilize broad-based support for climate action, the moral and economic imperative of climate action needs to become more widely understood. A clearly articulated vision for an alternative energy economy has to be presented, alongside a feasible, delineated path that can lead us there. I interpret the groundswell of activity on the ground in the U.S. and elsewhere as progress along both of these fronts. The solution to climate change may ultimately be global, but national, regional, and local scale efforts will have to carry us part of the way there. Climate change is global; climate change impacts and adaptation are local. Why wouldn’t we look to locally appropriate technologies and solutions to inform a global response?
At the international scale, the benefits to emissions reduction have been described almost entirely in terms of reduced global warming potential. But there are non-climate related benefits from reduced dependence on fossil fuels that seem more tangible in the here and now. Though individual efforts at the local, regional or national scale may not halt global warming, they can deliver real energy savings, improve health outcomes, increase efficiency and profitability, and reduce vulnerability to volatility in fossil fuel supplies. More localized campaigns to shutter coal plants, prevent hydraulic fracturing (fracking), create walkable communities, solarize public buildings, and retrofit homes and businesses for greater energy efficiency can create these ancillary benefits, while contributing to global emissions reduction.
Climate action from the ground up can also engender conversations within communities about the type of future that is desirable. A community that rallies to prevent fracking, for example, will have to grapple with creating alternative employment opportunities and securing community sovereignty, economic power, and political voice. These discussions can help forge bridges between climate action and other movements to eliminate gross inequalities, cultivate resilience, and create a more reliable prosperity. The connectivity of these movements may eventually secure a greater win for social justice than Kyoto’s complicated burden sharing scheme.
Supporting climate action from the bottom up does not mean abandoning all hope for a global solution. Successes at multiple scales increase the likelihood that a robust global solution will be forged. Every coal plant taken offline, every new pipeline halted, and every new regulation enacted reduces the power and influence of the fossil fuel industry over the electorate. Every new dollar saved through energy efficiency, every new kilowatt generated by wind power, and every new person employed installing solar panels demonstrates the real potential of a green energy future and closes the gap between aspiration and reality.
This piece was cross-posted from Real Climate Economics.