Maximpact Offers Language Help for Refugees

Syrian boys in Raqqa, June 2013 (Photo by Beshr Abdulhadi) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Syrian boys in Raqqa, June 2013 (Photo by Beshr Abdulhadi) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, April 26, 2018 (  News – “I want to help” is “Ana bady asa’ed” in Arabic, the language of much of Syria. This simple translation illustrates the steep learning curve Syrian refugees face trying to re-start their lives in an English-speaking country, such as Canada, the United States or the United Kingdom, which together have taken nearly 100,000 Syrians fleeing the conflict.

Of course, the learning curve is just as steep for Syrians resettling in Germany, Sweden or Austria, the European countries that have taken the greatest number of refugees from this war-wracked country.

Nearly 13 million Syrians are displaced after seven years of conflict, a total that amounts to about six-in-10 of Syria’s pre-conflict population, according to the Pew Research Center. No nation in recent decades has had such a large percentage of its population displaced.

About one million displaced Syrians have moved to Europe as asylum seekers or refugees since the conflict began, according to data from Eurostat, Europe’s statistical agency, and data on refugee resettlement from the UN High Commission for Refugees.

The humanitarian impact of the Syria crisis remains deep and far-reaching:

  • 13.1 million people in need of humanitarian assistance
  • 6.3 million people are food insecure
  • 5.6 million people have fled the country
  • 1 in 3 schools are damaged or destroyed

Delegates to a major EU and United Nations donor conference in Brussels April 24-25 pledged some US$4.4 billion in 2018 to meet the deepening needs of displaced Syrians, as well as the main refugee hosting countries in the region – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq.

By the close of the conference on Wednesday, a further US$3.4 billion had been pledged for humanitarian and development programmes in 2019 and 2020.

The conference was held at the ministerial level, and brought together 57 countries, 10 regional organizations and 19 UN agencies. More than 200 NGOs met in Brussels on Tuesday to provide operational recommendations to the ministerial part of the conference held the following day.

NGOs emphasized the vital importance of education for the future of young Syrian refugees. Two key issues emerged across the hosting countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey: low school attendance among refugee populations, linked to protection issues, and poor quality education.

A lack of adequate adaptation processes was highlighted, particularly in Lebanon, with refugee children attending schools where they do not speak the language of tuition, preventing them from learning effectively and increasing drop-out rates.

In his address to the conference, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said that a quarter of the world’s refugees are Syrians, and that a quarter of all Syrians are themselves refugees.

Despite generous support from hosts, up to 80 percent of refugees from Syria are living below the poverty line in some countries, and 35 percent of child refugees are out of school.

The pledging event opened with a video of six-year-old Syrian refugee Farah, who lives in Zaatri refugee camp in Jordan. She loves learning languages and science, dreams of becoming a teacher and a poet.

But learning a foreign language remains a high barrier for resettling refugees.

Now, Maximpact is stepping up to help.

Based in Europe, the United States and the United Arab Emirates, Maximpact is a unique platform offering comprehensive development and support services to the circular, impact and sustainability sectors.

Employers, donors, NGOs or government organizations who want to change Syrian refugees’ lives for the better and facilitate the integration process can do so through Maximpact’s Language and Vocational Training for Employment.

Within three to four months, refugees will have general and working language skills, technical vocational skills and potential placements after graduating in fields such as: nursing, caregiving, hospitality, fruit picking and packaging, and waste management.

The languages covered are English, French, Spanish, Italian, German and others upon request.

All trainings are demand-oriented and build specific skills tailored to prospective employers’ needs. By bridging refugees’ and employers’ needs, Maximpact aims to improve job prospects for refugees in their host countries.

Dr. Linda Morrice, an education professor at the UK’s University of Sussex, said, “Refugees who are starting a new life in Britain want to work and see this as a key pathway to integrating. This government needs to improve the current resettlement system in order to ensure refugees resettling in Britain now, like those from Syria, have the best opportunity and support to gain employment which meet their skills.”

“We must shift the focus from talking about ‘meeting numbers and targets’ to ensuring that we have fast-track learning routes in place, especially English language learning,” Morrice said.

The Maximpact project will provide an opportunity for Syrian and other refugees to expand or adapt their skill sets, increase their confidence, and offer productive services to the communities where they are now living.

Contact Caroline Kennedy at to find out more about the Maximpact refugee training program.

Meanwhile, the United Nations is negotiating a new global compact on refugees with its Member States.

As the number of people forced to flee their homes continues to climb, the new compact aims to transform the way the international community responds to refugee crises, by providing more predictable and equitable support for the countries and communities which host them.

“With unprecedented levels of forced displacement, we need a new deal on how we manage refugee situations globally,” said UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk.

“The compact embodies a new approach where the major host countries – typically among the poorest in the world – get the robust and sustained support they need, and refugees can contribute to their own futures and the communities where they live,” he said.

UNHCR was given the task of developing a global compact on refugees by the UN General Assembly in the historic New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, of September 19, 2016, in which 193 governments pledged to forge a fairer global system.

The draft refugee compact is being discussed in a series of formal consultations with UN Member States at the Palais des Nations in Geneva between February and July 2018. NGOs and other stakeholders have observer status.

The expected outcome is a non-binding document, reflecting consensus among UN Member States. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees will present a proposed draft compact in his 2018 report to the UN General Assembly at the end of 2018.

Featured Image: Two Syrian girls, aged 12, study at a temporary school in northern Lebanon, set up by UNICEF and the Lebanese NGO Beyond Association with the help of UK aid. (Photo courtesy DFID, UK Department for International Development) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Seven Brave Activists Win Goldman Environmental Prize

2018 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners: top row, from left, AFRICA: Makoma Lekalakala and Liziwe McDaid, South Africa; ASIA: Khanh Nguy Thi, Vietnam; EUROPE: Claire Nouvian, France; bottom row, from left, ISLANDS: Manny Calonzo, The Philippines; NORTH AMERICA: LeeAnne Walters, United States; SOUTH AMERICA: Francia Márquez, Colombia. (Photo courtesy Goldman Environmental Foundation) Posted for media use

2018 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners: top row, from left, AFRICA: Makoma Lekalakala and Liziwe McDaid, South Africa; ASIA: Khanh Nguy Thi, Vietnam; EUROPE: Claire Nouvian, France; bottom row, from left, ISLANDS: Manny Calonzo, The Philippines; NORTH AMERICA: LeeAnne Walters, United States; SOUTH AMERICA: Francia Márquez, Colombia. (Photo courtesy Goldman Environmental Foundation) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 24, 2018 ( News) – The Goldman Environmental Foundation Monday announced seven recipients of the 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize, the world’s largest award for grassroots environmental activists. The honor comes with a no-strings-attached award of US$175,000 per recipient.

Awarded annually to environmental heroes from each of the world’s six inhabited continental regions, the Goldman Environmental Prize recognizes grassroots activists for important achievements to protect the environment.

The Goldman Environmental Prize provides international recognition that enhances the credibility of the winners and worldwide visibility for the issues they champion.

Established to express their longtime commitment to both philanthropic endeavors and environmental concerns, the founders, insurance company owner Richard Goldman and his wife, Rhoda Goldman, an heiress to the Levi Strauss fortune, envisioned the Goldman Environmental Prize as a way to demonstrate the international nature of environmental problems.

They aimed to draw public attention to global issues of critical importance, reward ordinary individuals for outstanding grassroots environmental achievements, and inspire others to emulate the examples set by the prize recipients.

The first Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony, timed to coincide with Earth Day, took place on April 16, 1990, Richard Goldman’s 70th birthday. Both Richard and Rhoda Goldman have passed away, but their work lives on in the Goldman Environmental Prize winners.

The 2018 winners were awarded the prize at an invitation-only ceremony Monday evening at the San Francisco Opera House. A ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC, will follow on Wednesday, April 25, at 7:30 pm EDT.

The 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners are:

AFRICA: Makoma Lekalakala and Liziwe McDaid, South Africa

As grassroots activists, Makoma Lekalakala and Liziwe McDaid built a broad coalition to stop the South African government’s secret nuclear deal with Russia.

In April 2017, the High Court ruled that the $76 billion nuclear power project was unconstitutional – a legal victory that protected South Africa from an unprecedented expansion of the nuclear industry and production of radioactive waste.

The nuclear industry promotes nuclear energy as green energy, but the negative environmental impacts of the nuclear industry are substantial. For every pound of enriched uranium that goes into a nuclear reactor, more than 25,000 pounds of radioactive waste are produced in the mining and processing of uranium.

Used reactor fuel remains hot for hundreds of years and radioactive for thousands of years.

South Africa currently has one nuclear power station, Koeberg, operated by the state-owned electric utility, Eskom. Koeberg’s spent reactor fuel, high-level radioactive waste, is retained in storage ponds on site, and Eskom has not found a long-term solution for its disposal.

Since the 1980s, nuclear waste from the reactor has been buried in the Namaqualand desert, home to the indigenous Nama people, who were not consulted about the location of the nuclear waste site.

In 2014, South Africa’s government made a secret deal with Russia to develop 9.6 gigawatts of nuclear energy by building eight to 10 nuclear power stations throughout South Africa. The US$76 billion deal was unprecedented in scope and cost, and assigned all liability for nuclear accidents to South Africa.

The proposed site of the first new nuclear station was on the coast of Port Elizabeth, where warm water discharged by the nuclear station’s cooling system would have raised the temperature of the ocean, harming marine life and jeopardizing the livelihoods of small-scale fishermen in the area.

The reactor’s proposed location also put it at risk from seismic activity, with the potential to spark an accident like the nuclear meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011.

Lekalakala, 53, was raised in the Johannesburg neighborhood of Soweto and is the director for Earthlife Africa<>, a volunteer-driven organization that mobilizes South Africans around environmental issues. Lekalakala got her start as a youth activist through her church, moving to trade unions, then women’s rights, social and economic justice, and now environmental justice.

Says Lekalakala, “The nuclear deal was, and potentially still is, a major threat to the livelihood of South African citizens and our quality of life. There are other ways of generating energy, ways that are clean and affordable, and put the power in the hands of the people. It is important, for our sustainability, that we start thinking differently about how we satisfy our energy needs. It is not sensible to think that what used to work in the past, can still apply now, particularly since the evidence is overwhelming against nuclear technology and fossil fuels.”

McDaid, 55, grew up in Cape Town and is the climate change coordinator for Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute, an interfaith environmental organization dedicated to confronting environmental injustice. She has campaigned against nuclear energy for decades, thwarting previous attempts by South Africa to develop a nuclear industry.

McDaid said, “The risks with nuclear are just too high. I believe that if people have the facts, they will choose differently. This is what we are doing through our campaigning. For example, there is so much we don’t know about the future impacts of nuclear waste, which continues to grow every year. Koeberg alone generates approximately 30 tons of high level waste per year, all stored at the plant. Furthermore, the Chernobyl disaster, which happened 39 years ago this week, and Fukushima still continue to provide evidence of the enormous risks of nuclear.”

Lekalakala and McDaid met with communities around the country and explained the financial risks and environmental and human health impacts of the Russian nuclear project. McDaid organized weekly anti-nuclear vigils in front of the Parliament in Cape Town. Lekalakala and McDaid organized marches and public rallies against the nuclear project, protesting across South Africa.

On April 26, 2017, the Western Cape High Court ruled that the nuclear deal was unconstitutional, invalidating the agreement and stopping the nuclear power project.

ASIA: Khanh Nguy Thi, Vietnam

Khanh Nguy Thi used scientific research and engaged Vietnamese state agencies to advocate for sustainable long-term energy projections in Vietnam.

Highlighting the cost and environmental impacts of coal power, she partnered with state officials to reduce coal dependency and move toward a greener energy future.

As its economy booms, Vietnam’s electricity needs have been growing at roughly 12 percent per year for the past decade. Vietnam is one of four Asian nations that lead the world in new coal plant construction. As the dirtiest form of electricity generation, coal is responsible for 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is a major source of air and water pollution.

In 2011, the Vietnamese government published its 2011-2020 Power Development Plan, which forecast the country’s future energy needs and called for 75,000 megawatts of coal-fired power by 2030. A 2015 Harvard University study concluded that about 20,000 citizens per year would die prematurely as a result of air pollution if all proposed coal plants were built in Vietnam.

Khanh Nguy Thi, 41, was born into a rural family in Bac Am, a village in northern Vietnam. Growing up near a coal plant, she experienced firsthand the pollution and dust from coal operations and witnessed many people in her community develop cancer. After graduating from college, she began working on water conservation issues and community development for a small Vietnamese nonprofit organization.

In 2011, Nguy Thi founded the Green Innovation and Development Centre (GreenID) to promote sustainable energy development in Vietnam, as well as good water and air governance and green development.

She also established the Vietnam Sustainable Energy Alliance, a network of 11 Vietnamese and international environmental and social organizations that collaborate on regional energy issues. She is deeply focused on engaging with experts and decision makers on renewable energy and energy efficiency in order to reduce dependence on fossil fuel and coal power.

Her activities stimulated extensive media coverage and widespread public debate about coal, which allowed Nguy Thi and GreenID to collaborate with the Vietnamese government on a revised energy development plan.

In January 2016, the government announced that it intended to review development plans for all new coal plants and affirmed Vietnam’s commitment to responsibly implement international commitments for reducing greenhouse gases.

EUROPE: Claire Nouvian, France

A defender of the oceans and marine life, Claire Nouvian led a focused, data-driven advocacy campaign against the destructive fishing practice of deep-sea bottom trawling, successfully pressuring French supermarket giant and fleet owner Intermarché to change its fishing practices.

Her coalition of advocates ultimately secured French support for a ban on deep-sea bottom trawling that led to an European Union-wide ban.

In the 1980s, traditionally strong stocks of Atlantic cod and other white fish along the northeast Atlantic continental shelf began to collapse from overfishing. Fishermen ventured farther out to sea and into deeper waters in search of unexploited fishing grounds.

Most deep-sea fish grow slowly and reproduce late, making them vulnerable to overfishing. By the early 2000s, deep sea fish populations were severely depleted.

In Europe, the main deep-sea fleet was French and belonged to supermarket chain Intermarché. The fleet, like many others in Europe, used a method known as bottom trawling, one of the most destructive forms of fishing in which boats tow a heavily-weighted net that is dragged back and forth over the seafloor.

The 10 French deep-sea bottom trawlers could destroy an area the size of Paris in two days.

Marine animals picked up as bycatch are thrown overboard and rarely survive. One observer likened the practice to “clear-cutting a forest to catch a few birds.”

Nouvian, 44, grew up in Algiers, Paris, and Hong Kong, the daughter of a recreational fisherman. In her 20s, Nouvian spent time in Argentina, where she experienced an environmental awakening that inspired her to work for the environment, initially as a wildlife filmmaker and journalist.

After filming a documentary at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, Nouvian became passionate about the deep sea.

In 2005, Nouvian founded the NGO BLOOM to preserve marine environments from unnecessary destruction, and soon began to build relationships with other organizations and experts to fight deep-sea trawling.

In 2008, as the EU was developing reforms of its deep-sea fisheries laws, Nouvian saw a window of opportunity to influence policy at both the French and EU levels. She began collaborating with other activists to lobby French politicians on the need for new fisheries legislation.

In June 2012, Nouvian won a legal battle against Intermarché for its ad campaign that falsely claimed that its fishing practices posed no harm to the marine environment.

The following year, she began a public consumer campaign that ranked French supermarkets according to their fishing practices, focusing on deep-water fish and each supermarket’s commitment to sustainable fishing. With the largest and most destructive fishing fleet, Intermarché came in last in the ranking.

Throughout 2013, Nouvian continued a media blitz, with giant public posters, newspapers ads, press statements, media interviews, and fact-based reports, all in opposition to destructive deep-sea fishing. In December 2013, public pressure on Intermarché prompted the supermarket chain to begin negotiations with Nouvian.

In January 2014, Intermarché announced that it would no longer fish below 2,600 feet (800 meters) and would phase out the sale of deep-sea species by 2025.

Still, France remained one of the only EU member countries opposed to any regulation of deep-sea bottom trawling, so Nouvian launched a new media campaign pressuring the French government to change its position. In November 2015, in response to overwhelming public pressure, France finally agreed to a ban on deep-sea bottom trawling below a depth of 800 meters. In 2016, all EU member states collectively adopted the ban.

Today, Nouvian and BLOOM are collaborating with Intermarché to deepen its sustainability practices. With BLOOM, Nouvian is now actively working to end fishing subsidies that encourage overfishing and destructive fishing practices around the world.

ISLANDS: Manny Calonzo, The Philippines

Manny Calonzo spearheaded an advocacy campaign that persuaded the Philippine government to enact a national ban on the production, use, and sale of lead paint. He then led the development of a third-party certification program to ensure that paint manufacturers meet this standard. As of 2017, 85 percent of the paint market in the Philippines has been certified as lead safe.

The hazards of lead paint have been well-documented and regulated in developed nations for more than 40 years. But lead paint remains a major environmental health issue in developing countries, including the Philippines. Studies conducted in the early 2000s revealed startlingly high levels of lead in decorative paint in more than 30 developing countries, showing lead levels routinely above 600 parts per million (ppm), and often higher than 10,000 ppm. The United States allows lead levels of no more than 90 ppm.

Lead is added to paint to help it dry smoother, faster, and be more opaque. High quality, cost-effective alternatives to lead ingredients exist and are used in developed countries.

Unlike many environmental health issues, the science on lead poisoning is indisputable. Studies have shown that the presence of lead paint on home interiors and exteriors is strongly linked to lead levels in children’s blood. Over time, paint on surfaces will chip and deteriorate, which releases lead into the dust and soil around homes, schools, and other locations. Children playing in these environments get the soil or dust on their hands and ingest it through normal hand-to-mouth contact.

Lead is a potent neurotoxin; even low levels of lead exposure can impair children’s cognitive function. Childhood lead poisoning can have lifelong health impacts, including learning disabilities, reduced IQ, anemia, and disorders in physical, visual, spatial, and language skills.

Calonzo, 54, grew up in the city of Makati in metro Manila and has worked on consumer and human rights issues for over 30 years. He is a past president of the EcoWaste Coalition, a Philippine network of more than 150 community, church, school, environmental, and health groups that work for sustainable solutions to waste, climate change, and the control of toxic chemicals.

After his term as president ended, he launched the EcoWaste campaign for lead-safe paint. In 2008, spurred by mounting international concerns about lead paint, Calonzo created a national, evidence-based campaign in the Philippines to eliminate lead paint.

In 2009, EcoWaste found that the majority of paint sold in the Philippines contained levels of lead above 90 ppm, and more than 40 percent of the paint contained lead levels over 10,000 ppm.

Under Calonzo’s leadership, EcoWaste conducted studies over the next four years, examining the lead content of paint and dust found in the environment surrounding Philippine homes, schools, and daycare centers.

Calonzo organized more than 100 public and media events to raise awareness and called for a mandatory standard for lead in paint.

Calonzo built alliances with members from the health sector and academia, organized news conferences on the hazards of lead exposure. He reached out to the paint industry to build partnerships and secured its support for eliminating lead in paint.

In December 2013, the Philippine government announced the Chemical Control Order, establishing a legal maximum of 90 ppm for lead in paint.

Calonzo worked with the paint industry and developed a plan for a voluntary, third-party program to certify that paints contain less than 90 ppm of lead so consumers could distinguish between lead-safe paints and those that contained unknown levels of lead.

In July 2016, the two top paint companies operating in the Philippines were certified as lead-safe by the program that Calonzo helped create. By January 2017, 85 percent of the paint market had been certified as lead safe and Philippine schools now require use of certified paint, protecting millions of Filipino children under the age of six from lead exposure.

Calonzo is now spreading the Philippine model across Asia, partnering with local organizations to oversee studies of lead in paint in Mongolia, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Vietnam, and introducing the certification program to paint brands in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

NORTH AMERICA: LeeAnne Walters, United States

LeeAnne Walters led a citizens’ movement that tested the tap water in Flint, Michigan, and exposed the Flint water crisis. The results showed that one in six homes had lead levels in water that exceeded the EPA’s safety threshold. Walters’ persistence compelled the government to take action and ensure that residents of Flint have access to clean water.

The Flint River has served as a traditional dumping ground for local industry, starting with lumber mills in the 1830s, followed by paper mills, chemical processing plants, and automobile manufacturing. The city began drawing its drinking water from the Flint River in 1893.

By 1955, the river was so polluted that Flint was compelled to switch its drinking water supply to a nearby reservoir. In 1967, the city began purchasing cleaner water from Detroit, which sources its water from Lake Huron.

In 2011, with the city of Flint facing a $25 million deficit, the state of Michigan took over Flint’s finances. The state found that it could save money by building its own pipeline to Lake Huron. However, the project would take at least two years to complete, and the state sought an inexpensive, temporary alternative. In April 2014, state and local officials began using the Flint River as the city’s primary source of water again.

Almost immediately, Flint residents noticed an orange-brown tinge to their water. When city officials finally tested the water four months later, they found E. coli in the water supply.

Walters, 40, is a stay-at-home mother of four children and a native of New Jersey who has lived in Flint since 1993. Married to a Navy serviceman, Walters and her family now divide their time between Flint and Norfolk, Virginia, where her husband is currently stationed. She adores Flint and describes it as a tight-knit, friendly community where she knows most of her neighbors.

In July 2014, Walters noticed a rash on both of her three-year-old twins. Walters and her daughter began losing clumps of hair in the shower, and Walters’ eyelashes fell out. In December 2014, Walters’ 14-year-old son fell ill.

Walters first informed the city of the water problem in late 2014, but it was not until February 2015 that the city sent someone to check on her complaints. Tests revealed that lead levels in her drinking water were at 104 parts per billion (ppb), unprecedented levels for Flint, so high that a city is required to alert residents immediately, according to federal law.

Alarmed, Walters began researching. She learned that lead is a powerful neurotoxin that impacts young children. Lead exposure can result in a lower IQ, shortened attention span, increases in violence, and antisocial behavior. Each of Walters’ four children tested positive for lead exposure, and one of the twins was diagnosed with lead poisoning.

Still, state authorities assured Flint residents that the water was safe, and the city insisted that hers was an isolated case. Walters studied the city’s historical water quality data and noticed something that no one else had. Water from the Flint River was highly corrosive, and Walters surmised that the city had not been applying adequate corrosion controls to prevent the leaching of lead from pipes into the water supply.

In the absence of any official response, she launched an organizing and canvassing operation to inform residents of the risk.

In March 2015, Walters sought help from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Miguel del Toral, a regional manager who helped her document the crisis, even as the EPA officially refused to get involved.

Walters sought the help of Professor Marc Edwards, an environmental engineer at Virginia Tech, who helped her conduct extensive water quality testing in Flint.

Walters sampled each zip code in Flint and set up a system to ensure the integrity of the tests. Working 100 hours per week for three straight weeks and collected over 800 water samples – a 90 percent response rate. She found lead levels as high as 13,200 ppb – more than twice the level the EPA classifies as hazardous waste.

Walters and Edwards showed that one in six homes had lead water levels exceeding the EPA’s legal safety threshold. Public pressure mounted and, in October 2015, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced that the city of Flint would stop using the Flint River for drinking water.

SOUTH AMERICA: Francia Márquez, Colombia

A leader of the Afro-Colombian community, Francia Márquez organized the women of La Toma and stopped illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. She exerted pressure on the Colombian government and spearheaded a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women to the nation’s capital, resulting in the removal of all illegal miners and equipment from her community.

Illegal gold mining is a growing problem in Colombia, where 80 percent of gold is mined unlawfully, resulting in deforestation and contamination of water sources. Illegal gold miners are estimated to dump more than 30 tons of mercury into rivers and lakes in the Amazon region each year, poisoning fish and people as far as 250 miles downstream.

La Toma sits in the Cauca Mountains of southwest Colombia, at the epicenter of the country’s illegal gold mining epidemic. The region is home to a quarter million Afro-Colombians, originally brought as slaves from Africa. The Afro-Colombian community has practiced agriculture and artisanal mining for generations, panning for gold in the Ovejas River. The Ovejas is the lifeblood of the community, providing water to drink and fish to eat year-round.

In 2014, illegal miners began operating 14 backhoes on the banks of the Ovejas River near La Toma, wreaking havoc on the local environment. They cleared forests and dug deep open pits, destroying the natural flow of the river and killing fish. About 2,000 backhoes dotted the Cauca region.

Hordes of illegal miners, numbering in the thousands, descended on the open pits in a rush for gold. Illegal miners used mercury and cyanide to extract the gold, and these toxic chemicals flowed into the Ovejas River, contaminating the community’s only source of fresh water.

Mining camps became small cities, with populations of up to 5,000 people. These cities gave rise to prostitution, illegal drug use, and rampant violence as miners preyed upon and clashed with local residents.

Márquez, 36, is a single mother of two who was born in Yolombo, a village in the Cauca region. She first became an activist at 13, when construction of a dam threatened her community.

As a young woman, Márquez took on the struggle for environmental and ancestral land rights, beating back incursions into La Toma by multi-national mining companies. She educated farmers in her region on sustainable agricultural techniques and joined the national Afro-Colombian network to promote Afro-Colombian cultural and land rights. She is now studying law at Santiago de Cali University.

In 2014, the first backhoes arrived in La Toma. Márquez put her legal studies on hold and returned to La Toma. She directly confronted the backhoe operators, to no avail. Undeterred, she gathered community members to plan a strategy.

Márquez appealed to the UN High Commissioner for Colombia, then organized a 10-day, 350-kilometer march of 80 women who trekked from the Cauca Mountains to the capital city Bogota in November 2014. In Bogota, Márquez and the women protested on the streets for 22 days. The march and protest brought national attention to the environmental and social destruction that illegal mining was causing.

In December 2014, Márquez and the community of La Toma reached an agreement with the Colombian government to eradicate illegal mining there. All machinery and backhoes found to be operating illegally would be seized and destroyed. As a direct result of Márquez’s work, by the end of 2016, all illegal mining machinery operating in La Toma had been physically removed or destroyed by Colombian security forces.

In 2015, the government created a national task force on illegal mining, the first of its kind in Colombia.

Throughout the 2014-2016 campaign to combat illegal mining in La Toma, Márquez was harassed, disrespected, and threatened. She was forced to move to Cali for her safety. Still, Márquez continues to press the government to study the effects of illegal mining in the northern Cauca region, especially the contamination of the Ovejas and other rivers.

Independent reports show mercury levels of up to 500 parts per billion in those critical water sources, while Colombian standards permit up to one part per billion in drinking water. Mercury and cyanide contamination of water continues to cause serious health problems for the people of La Toma and the wider region.

Márquez is now seeking to represent the Afro-Colombian community, and its stewardship of its ancestral land, in the Colombian House of Representatives.

Featured Image:2018 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners from Africa, Liziwe McDaid, left, and Makoma Lekalakala. (Photo courtesy Goldman Environmental Foundation) Posted for media use

Earth Day 2018 Targets Plastic Pollution

by Sunny Lewis

WASHINGTON, DC, April 19, 2018 ( News) – Celebrated on Sunday, April 22, this year’s Earth Day theme is End Plastic Pollution. Poisoning marine life, disrupting human hormones, littering beaches, clogging waste streams and landfills – waste plastics threaten to overwhelm the planet.

In response, Earth Day 2018 is focusing on fundamentally changing human attitudes and behaviors around plastics to reduce plastic pollution.

“There is a growing tidal wave of interest in ending plastic pollution and some countries and governments are already in the vanguard. Earth Day Network believes we can turn that tidal wave into a permanent solution to plastics pollution,” said Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network.

Based in Washington, DC, the Earth Day Network, global coordinator of Earth Day, is building toward the world’s largest-ever coalition of people united to ensure a healthy planet.

Working year-round with 50,000 partner organizations in 192 countries, the Earth Day Network is bringing new voices into the environmental movement, representing youth and faculty, the faith community, minority groups, women, teachers, students and many others.

This poster gives reasons for refusing single use plastics. It was created by Less Plastic, a beach-loving, family-run organization based in South Devon, UK. Posted for media use

This poster gives reasons for refusing single use plastics. It was created by Less Plastic, a beach-loving, family-run organization based in South Devon, UK. Posted for media use.

EDN is educating, mobilizing and activating people across the globe to demand that governments and corporations control and clean up plastic pollution. And when they do, EDN is promoting their efforts.

EDN is also educating people worldwide to take personal responsibility for plastic pollution by choosing to reject, reduce, reuse and recycle plastics.

And EDN is working with other organizations and networks to extend the End Plastic Pollution campaign by developing resources that others can use and build partnerships.

“We will mobilize our global network of NGOs, grassroots organizations, campus youth, mayors and other local elected leaders, faith leaders, artists and athletes, and students and teachers to build a world of educated consumers, voters and activists of all ages who understand the environmental, climate and health consequences of using plastic,” said Rogers.

Some governments now are responding to the plastics crisis.

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced April 15 that New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Ghana have joined the UK and Vanuatu-led Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance (CCOA), an agreement between member states to join forces in the fight against plastic pollution.

Britain, together with CCOA joint chair Vanuatu, will call on other countries to pledge action on plastics, be this by a ban on microbeads, a commitment to cutting down on single use plastic bags, or other steps to eliminate avoidable plastic waste.

To drive this forward, Prime Minister May has announced a £61.4 million package of funding to boost global research and help countries across the Commonwealth stop plastic waste from entering the oceans in the first place.

British Environment Secretary Michael Gove said, “When it comes to our seas and oceans, the challenge is global so the answer must be too.”

“Through this ambitious alliance we will build on the UK’s world-leading microbeads ban and 5p plastic bag charge to harness the full power of the Commonwealth in pushing for global change and safeguarding our marine environment for future generations,” said Gove.

Furthermore, the UK will commit £25 million to help researchers approach the scourge of marine plastic waste from a scientific, technical, economic and social perspective. It will also spend £20 million to prevent plastic and other environmental pollution from manufacturing in developing countries.

To further support the work of the CCOA, £16.4 million will be used to improve waste management at a national and a city level.

The Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance will work in partnership with businesses and NGOs, including the World Economic Forum, Sky, Fauna and Flora International, the Coca-Cola Company and WWF to share expertise and experience and push for global change.

The Washington, DC-based Plastics Industry Association  has heard the Earth Day message and responded with a statement. “As the association that represents companies who make plastic products, we don’t like to see litter and recognize that it is everyone’s responsibility to help make sure plastic products are made responsibly and disposed of properly.”

In addition to a Twitter chat about the issues, the Plastics Industry Association is encouraging its member companies to plan a company-wide cleanup of a beach, river or community; hold educational facility tours for the community and communicate sustainability messages; promote your company’s recycling efforts such as bottle and film recycling in the break room; and encourage employees to take a recycling pledge.

As part of Earth Day 2018, Earth Day Network has released an online Plastics Pollution Calculator  for consumers to calculate the amount of disposable plastic they use in a year and make plans to reduce their individual contribution to that waste stream.

At least 9.1 billion tons of virgin, non-recycled plastic has been produced to date, generating 6.9 billion tons of plastic waste, and only nine percent has been recycled.

The world is already incapable of properly managing this enormous amount of waste, and the production of plastic is predicted to increase three times in the next 25 years.

Valeria Merino, vice-president of Global Earth Day at Earth Day Network, said, “Plastic pollution is now an ever-present challenge. We can see plastics floating in our rivers, ocean, and lagoons, littering our landscapes and affecting our health and, the future of billions of children and youth. We have all contributed to this problem, mostly unknowingly, and we must work to reduce and ultimately to End Plastic Pollution.”

“You first need to know where you stand,” said Merino. “This plastic pollution calculator will help you determine your total yearly consumption of disposable plastic items.”

The Plastic Pollution Primer and Action Toolkit , will help consumers determine actions they can take to reduce their plastic pollution footprint. EDN’s efforts center around the Five Rs: “Reduce, Refuse, Reuse, Recycle and Remove” actions.

“Once you have learned the benefits of embracing the 5 Rs in your daily lives,” Merino said, “we hope you will create a goal for decreasing your yearly plastic pollution using the Plastic Pollution Tracker  also available in the Toolkit.”

While recycling plastic waste is important, it is not nearly enough, says Merino. “You may be lulled into thinking it is OK to consume disposable plastic products because you plan to recycle them, but many plastics can’t be efficiently recycled and will end up in the landfill or littering the planet, even in the most remote places.”

“Also, some localities lack the most basic infrastructure to manage waste and to sort and recycle plastics. For this reason, it is much more important to focus on reducing your own level of plastic consumption,” she advises.

Here’s the Earth Day Network’s advice on lessening your individual plastics impact:

  • Ask yourself every time that you are considering buying a disposable plastic item: Do I absolutely need this? Can I use something else that I already have? Could I buy something that I can use long-term instead?
  • Prevent the creation of micro-plastics by properly disposing of plastic products and being careful not to toss plastic products near waterways, beaches or in open spaces.
  • Pick up plastic trash whenever you see it, especially in ponds, streams, rivers, and beaches.
  • Look up products on the internet and choose not to buy products containing microbeads. Choose products that have natural exfoliators instead.
  • Consider changing the way you wash your clothing to reduce the number of microfibers that are released, wash synthetic clothes less frequently, purchasing items made of natural fibers when possible.

Featured Image: Plastic debris lines a beach in Sulawesi, Indonesia, November 7, 2014. (Photo by Joleah Lamb / Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Live Online Training

Local People Know Best

Members of a fishing village in Pagudpud, Philippines untangle and prepare their fishing nets for late evening fishing off shore to catch small tuna. May 2015 (Photo by Wayne S. Grazio) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Members of a fishing village in Pagudpud, Philippines untangle and prepare their fishing nets for late evening fishing off shore to catch small tuna. May 2015 (Photo by Wayne S. Grazio) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, October 24, 2017 (  News) – Standard ways of measuring community well-being and sustainability used by global organizations may be missing critical information that could lead to missteps in management actions, finds research that emerged this week from years of study and collaboration among people of many differing disciplines and cultures.

An international team of 40 scientists, policy-makers and on-the-ground practitioners published the paper  “Biocultural approaches to well-being and sustainability indicators across scales” October 23 in the journal “Nature Ecology & Evolution.”

The authors believe that the world views of local people should be the foundation of global and national approaches that address sustainability issues.

They say that “biocultural approaches” are critical to understanding social-ecological systems and the development of locally relevant sustainability indicators.

Biocultural, or ecocultural, approaches are those that start with and build on place-based cultural perspectives – encompassing indigenous values, knowledges, and needs – and recognize feedbacks between the state of the natural world and human well-being.

The authors say they recognize that choosing indicators of sustainability is a subjective process and that the decisions around which indicators are measured, and how they are measured, can impact management approaches and outcomes.

They suggest that evaluators add to the sustainability indicators already on their list standards that are grounded in the biocultural values of each unique community being evaluated.

“Well-being is a universally applicable concept, yet because it can mean so many different things to different people, pinning down an exact definition is difficult,” said lead author Eleanor Sterling, a conservation scientist at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation in the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

“This paper is the result of years of collaboration among people from diverse disciplines and cultures to investigate methods and approaches to creating place-based indicators of well-being relevant for local communities,” said Sterling.

The research had its genesis in work the authors did in the Pacific. Scientists met with community members and local, regional, and national government experts to examine issues such as food security, access to fresh water, quality education, sustainable tourism, and protection of marine and terrestrial resources.

For instance, a common way to assess the sustainability of marine resources is to measure the extent of marine protected area (MPA) coverage.

But this metric ignores the appropriateness of the MPA’s location, design, or management effectiveness and may even exclude sustainably managed areas not formally considered as MPAs.

The authors suggest capturing these other crucial aspects of marine management, including customary and traditional management systems.

They cite a 2014 study about the experience of a Canadian First Nation, the Heiltsuk, in coastal British Columbia.

A collaborative team of Heiltsuk First Nation youth & leadership and scientists from elsewhere placed Heiltsuk observations of grizzly bear (Ursus arctos) in the context of Gvi’ilas – customary law in which bear behavior is recognized as a voice to guide decision-making about whole ecosystems.

In this project, the Heiltsuk framed the research questions that shaped the basic bear studies and led the partnership to carry out data collection and communicate the findings to the broader community.

The research relied both on population and landscape genetics and on Heiltsuk ways of knowing. As it was embedded in Heiltsuk governance structures, the research led to changes in bear management objectives, sanctions on trophy hunting and outlines for a multi-nation grizzly bear sanctuary under formal co-management frameworks.

Another example of the disconnect between locally appropriate indicators and those used by many large organizations is the issue of food security.

One way some global organizations assess food security is to interview community members with a series of standardized questions, which includes the following, “During the last 12 months, was there a time when your household ran out of food because of a lack of money or other resources?”

But the researchers found that questions about food security that are framed around vulnerability may be inappropriate and not generate accurate data due to a strong cultural reluctance to admit to food shortages because of deep obligation felt by some communities to share food with their families and guests.

More appropriate questions could focus on resilience, by looking at the percentage of households that report having a stable food supply throughout the year and the average length of time for which households in the community have an emergency food supply after a disaster.

Biodiversity International is one of the organizations that took part in the study. Since 2009, Bioversity International has been working in many countries to mainstream community-based biocultural landscape approaches, designing incentive schemes to conserve priority threatened species, while also supporting indigenous farmer livelihoods and existing community institutions of collective action.

“This paper distills our thinking around how to approach environmental challenges in a way that is responsible, effective, and ethical,” Sterling said.

Sustainability is built right into community-based irrigation systems, community seedbanks, participatory plant breeding, community-supported agriculture, and the development of biocultural products and services.

“We discuss why inclusion of local peoples’ knowledges and myriad perspectives is crucial to developing appropriate indicators and management approaches for the intricately linked concepts of sustainability and well-being, and suggest ways to bridge between these locally derived solutions and broader scale efforts.”

The authors conclude that, “Global targets such as sustainability and well-being are best addressed through multi-level governance…” They argue that “biocultural approaches can create space for meaningful local metrics while supporting cross-scale application” from local to global.

They suggest that, “Future work could find ways to compare results from biocultural approaches to indicator development with those that did not include cultural aspects or feedbacks between humans and their environments, to see if outcomes differ.”

Institutions involved in this work include the American Museum of Natural History, Pace University, Australian Museum, The University of Queensland, The Field Museum, Bioversity International, Ecological Solutions Solomon Islands, Yale University, French National Center for Scientific Research, University of California Santa Barbara, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, Michigan State University, Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries-United Nations, USDA Forest Service, Brown University, Kamehameha Schools, Solomon Islands Community Conservation Partnership, NYC Urban Field Station, Department of Natural Resource and Environmental Management, Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, Solomon Islands Ministry of Forests and Research, College of the Marshall Islands, MarTina Corporation, Barnard College, National Tropical Botanical Garden, and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

This work is supported by the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Lynette and Richard Jaffe, and the Jaffe Family Foundation.

Featured Image: Drummers of the Heiltsuk nation in Bella Bella, British Columbia, Canada, 2014 (Photo by Kris Krüg) Creative Commons license via Flickr


Equator Prize Winners Demonstrate Maximum Impact


2017 Equator Prize winners celebrate together on the stage at New York’s Town Hall Theatre to the music of American singer-songwriter Morley, September 17, 2017 (Photo by Arnaldo Vargas courtesy UNDP) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, September 19, 2017 ( News) – Outstanding local and indigenous community initiatives that resolve climate, environment and poverty issues are honored with the Equator Prize, just as the United Nations General Assembly opens at UN headquarters in New York.

This year, on the 15th anniversary of the biennial Equator Prize, 15 community groups from 12 countries each was awarded a $10,000 prize at a gala celebration Sunday at The Town Hall theater, hosted by the Equator Initiative, a part of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). All the winners were supported to attend the award ceremony.

The Equator Initiative brings together the United Nations, governments, civil society, businesses and grassroots organizations to recognize and advance local sustainable development solutions for people, nature and resilient communities.

This year’s winners are protecting, restoring and sustainably managing marine, forest, grassland, dryland and wetland ecosystems, while creating jobs, protecting endangered wildlife, and decreasing risks from natural disasters.

Achim Steiner, UNDP administrator, presented the awards to the 15 winners, who hail from: Belize, Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Mali, Pakistan and Thailand.

Steiner, a former head of the UN Environment Programme, said, “The 15 communities we honor tonight, together with the more than 200 previous prize winners, and more than 5,000 nominations we have received to date, are weaving together a global tapestry of local solutions to tackle some of the biggest global challenges we face.”

“These solutions show us that when we invest in nature, we can achieve our global goals of obtaining food, water, peace, gender parity, and security in a truly sustainable manne,” Steiner said. “By thinking globally and acting locally, the 2017 Equator Prize Winners helped not only their communities but also communities worldwide facing sustainable development challenges.”

The winners called on governments, civil society, donors and all stakeholders to “join hands in protecting Mother Earth, our shared heritage.”

“By safeguarding nature we are investing in sustainable development,” they said.

The winners also expressed the belief that without empowering women there can be no social change; they emphasized the need of land rights for women farmers and entrepreneurs.

Vidar Helgesen, Norway’s minister of climate and environment, reminded the audience of the fearful price paid every day by defenders and protectors of the Earth.

“The remarkable communities here tonight demonstrate that indigenous and local communities, working together, can safeguard their lands and forests, and realize their own sustainable development goals,” said Helgesen. “However, we must recognize that protecting forests and traditional lands comes at a steep price. Nearly four people were killed every week last year defending their land rights against destructive industries and illegal activities. This must end.”

Equator Prize winners are selected based on the impact they have, and also the partnerships they build with other community groups, the private sector, governments, research and academic institutions, as well as public or private foundations

To qualify for the prize, the groups must demonstrate that their practical, innovative solutions result in at least three years of successful changes in local socio-economic conditions and have positive impacts on biodiversity.

Their initiatives must demonstrate new and adaptable approaches that overcome prevailing constraints, incorporate social and cultural diversity, promote gender equality, and empower local people, especially marginalized groups.

They must demonstrate leadership that inspires action and change consistent with the vision of the Equator Initiative – of “sustainably managing nature to achieve local sustainable development, such as food security, water security, sustainable jobs and livelihoods, and disaster risk reduction.”

Crosscutting issues include advocacy for land and water rights, social and environmental justice, and gender equality.

Naoko Ishii, CEO and chairperson, Global Environment Facility, said at the awards gala, “Communities have shown that they can be an engine of innovation and learning, and for that reason, the GEF has invested $450 million to support over 14,500 community-based projects in over 125 countries. It gives me great pleasure to see that six of the Equator Prize winners tonight are recipients of SGP [Small Grants Programme] awards, demonstrating that by investing in communities, we can achieve lasting results that help provide a pathway toward a just, resilient and sustainable future.”

Following a global call for nominations, the Equator Initiative received a 806 nominations from 120 countries.

The winners were selected during an extensive months-long review process guided by a Technical Advisory Committee of international experts.

And the Winners Are:

Sub-Saharan Africa

1. Mikoko Pamoja, Kenya

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, oceans, coasts, wetlands, wildlife

Started in 2013, Mikoko Pamoja brings together two communities in southern Kenya’s Gazi Bay to sell carbon credits from mangrove conservation, trading 3,000 tons CO2-equivalent per year in the voluntary carbon market.

Mikoko Pamoja is the first community-based project of this kind in the world to successfully trade mangrove carbon credits.

Benefits are reinvested in the community to improve clean water access for 3,500 community members, provide educational materials to 700 school children, and to ensure the 117 hectare mangrove forest remains protected.

Ecotourism provides a further source of income for this initiative, which is in the process of being replicated in other regions in Kenya and other countries.

2. The Kuruwitu Conservation & Welfare Association, Kenya

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: ocean restoration, coasts

The Kuruwitu Conservation & Welfare Association (KCWA) was set up in 2003 by community members concerned about the degradation of their seas by overfishing, climate change and uncontrolled fish and coral collection by the aquarium trade.

In Vipingo, Kilifi County, Kenya, elders who could recall how healthy and productive the sea had been decades ago felt it necessary to take restorative action before it was too late.

In 2005 they set aside a 30 hectare Marine Protected Area (MPA), the first coral-based Locally Managed Marine Area in Kenya. Twelve years later, the area has recovered.

With fishing prohibited within the MPA, fish have grown in abundance, size and diversity. The area has become a breeding ground, leading to an increase in fish outside the MPA. Local fishermen see greater catches and at the same time, biodiversity has blossomed.

Kuruwitu has become an eco-tourism destination, creating jobs for guides, boat captains and rangers.

KCWA is working with the local Beach Management Unit, the Kenyan State Department of Fisheries, and the Wildlife Conservation Society to develop a co-management plan that will cover a 800 hectare area of ocean off the Kenyan coast. With this co-management plan, KCWA will collaborate with local fishermen to promote the sustainable use of marine resources, to reduce post-harvest losses and improve fish marketing.

3. The Mali Elephant Project, Mali

Area of Focus: Wildlife

In a drought-prone zone rife with resource conflicts and violent extremism, the Mali Elephant Project brings together various ethnic groups to manage local resources and protect an internationally important population of 350 endangered African elephants.

Through the formation of community-based natural resource management committees, the provision of additional income through support for women’s groups engaged in sustainable harvest of non-timber forest products, and anti-poaching measures involving ‘eco-guardian’ youth community members, the initiative has reduced poaching of elephants in the 32,000 km² area.

The Elephant Project has improved social cohesion between different local communities, and contributed to peace-building efforts by providing alternatives to joining extremist groups.

Communities have created rules for local use of natural resources, set aside forests for elephant use, formed pasture reserves, and designated seasonal water sources to be shared by people, livestock, and elephants.

Latin America and the Caribbean

4. Alianza Internacional de Reforestación (AIRES), Guatemala

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, mountains

For 24 years, AIRES has utilized the expertise of indigenous Maya forestry professionals to support more than 130 low-income communities in Guatemala’s Chimaltenango province to fight erosion and prevent deadly mudslides, improve food crops and nutrition, and prevent lung disease.

Working with community members, AIRES promotes sustainable farming methods and environmental education programs, builds efficient stoves, and has planted almost five million trees.

Almost 3,000 farmers, 70 percent of them women, have been trained by indigenous peers, 200 nurseries established, and 860 cook stoves built.

5. Associação Ashaninka do Rio Amônia Apiwtxa, Brazil

Area of Focus: Sustainable Forestry

To protect their 87,205-hectare territory Terra Kampa do Rio Amônia from deforestation and to defend Ashaninka rights and culture, Apiwtxa has used participatory 3D mapping to demarcate and support community-based management of indigenous lands.

With this innovative technology and broad community engagement, Apiwtxa has created a management plan for the Ashaninka territory.

The group has also set up an educational center that promotes sustainable agroforestry practices with Ashaninka communities in Brazil and Peru as well as other indigenous and non-indigenous groups and educational centers.

The schools place cultural exchange and social inclusion at the heart of environmental education, while leading restoration activities, and selling handicrafts and non-timber forest products through a cooperative in a cohesive strategy to defend indigenous lands and enhance community livelihoods.

6. Associação Terra Indígena Xingu (ATIX), Brazil

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests

Founded 22 years ago by 16 indigenous communities in the 27,000 km² Terra Indígena Xingu to manage their land and defend their rights, Associação Terra Indígena Xingu is the first community-based organization in Brazil to obtain permits from the Ministry of Agriculture as a certifying entity for community-based organic products.

Two tons of honey are sold every year, and the organization has developed a new certification called ‘Selo dos Origens Brasil,’ highlighting the preservation of traditional knowledge and customs.

ATIX advocates for the recognition of indigenous land rights in the face of powerful pressures on the forest.

7. Community Baboon Sanctuary Women’s Conservation Group (CBSWCG), Belize

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, Wetlands, Rivers, Wildlife

Led by women from seven communities in the northern coastal plain of Belize, the Community Baboon Sactuary Women’s Conservation Group (CBSWCG) supports the conservation of the black howler monkey, or baboon, in the 6,000-hectare Community Baboon Sanctuary.

CBSWCG brings together 240 landowners, each of whom voluntarily participates in conservation efforts through a pledge system.

The sanctuary has produced a sustainable land management plan with environmental, economic and social benefits.

Maintaining interconnected wildlife corridor integrity and a comprehensive sustainable natural resource management strategy are among CBSWCG’s achievements.

A micro-credit fund has backed projects in sustainable oil harvesting, tilapia farming, organic agriculture, and livestock rearing while the Bel-riv Commerce and Eco-Tourism Expo, created by the group in 2013, offers improved market access for farmers, small-scale entrepreneurs, and artisans.

The successful protection of the sanctuary has led not only to an increase in the baboon population from 800 in 1985 to 6,000 in 2011, but also to the recovery of vulnerable populations of jaguar, ocelot, margay, puma and over 200 species of birds.

8. Federacion Tribus Pech de Honduras (FETRIPH), Honduras

Area of Focus: Sustainable Forestry

Federación Tribus Pech de Honduras unites 12 Pech communities in northeastern Honduras to fight for the protection of their forests against illegal occupation by settlers and to promote alternative livelihoods in a unique Access and Benefit Sharing scheme.

The group has founded a cooperative to sell liquidambar, an ingredient important in the fragrance and flavor industry, and has set production standards that ensure sustainability while addressing scarcity concerns in the international market, as well as guaranteeing a fair income for producers and the protection of Pech traditional knowledge.

Sixty percent of revenues directly benefit producers, providing a stable income for 60 families; the remaining 40 percent of revenues are directed to a community social fund that promotes education and public health.

FETRIPH successfully opposed the creation of a ‘people free’ national park, which would have stripped the Pech from the right to sustainably use liquidambar trees.

The government has instead signed an agreement with FETRIPH for co-management of the 34,000-hectare Anthropological and Forest Reserve ‘Montaña del Carbón,’ which provides the community with stewardship over their forest.

9. Organización para la Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag (DECOIN), Ecuador

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, Mountains, Rivers, Wildlife

Founded in 1995 to confront a big mining project threatening communities and environment in the Intag Valley, DECOIN promotes alternative livelihoods and measures to advance conservation of the area’s Andean biodiversity.

Over the past 22 years, the organization has created community-based forest reserves to protect watersheds in 38 communities, totaling 12,000 hectares.

Sustainable agricultural activities such as small holder organic coffee production, aquaculture, poultry farming, and egg production, as well as eco-tourism ventures, provide additional income and viable alternatives to mining, which remains a strong pressure in the area.

Eastern Europe & Central Asia

10. Public Foundation “Zhassyl Azyk,” Kazakhstan

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Drylands, ecosystem restoration

Concerned with extensive soil degradation, five farming communities near Almaty, Kazakhstan created the Community Fund ‘Zhasil Azik’ to restore the productivity of low-fertility lands by sustainably cultivating alfalfa.

Alfalfa cultivation serves as an entry point to restore soil fertility, counter the effects of monoculture, make more efficient use of scarce water supplies, and improve smallholder income.

New opportunities for livestock breeding through the availability of alfalfa have further enhanced food security.

The innovative approaches utilized by the group accelerate recovery of soil fertility, do not require large financial investments, are technologically accessible for smallholder agricultural producers, and have increased income by 20 percent.

More than 200 jobs have been created through the initiative’s work, and the national government has integrated these techniques into the National Program for the Development of Agro-industrial Complex, effectively providing the support to scale up these practices to the national level.

Community Fund ‘Zhasil Azik’ mobilizes local communities to deliver on solutions that address global challengess of food security, land degradation, water scarcity, and adaptation to climate change.

Asia & the Pacific

11. Asosiasi Usaha Homestay Lokal Kabupaten Raja Ampat (AUHLKRA), Indonesia

AUHLKRA is a growing network of 84 community-owned businesses in Papua and West Papua, offering ecotourism services that connect tourists directly with family-run homestays through a user-friendly web portal, Stay Raja Ampat, and an SMS booking system.

More than 600 new jobs have been created in homestays, fishing, and agriculture, including for youth and women, providing viable alternatives to the resort industry. The association sets hospitality and environmental standards for all member community-owned businesses.

Pressures on ecosystems have been reduced through community forest patrols, peer-pressure enforcement of no-take fishery zones, and a participatory system to report illegal activities.

12. Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization (BWCDO), Pakistan

The Baltistan Wildlife Conservation and Development Organization protects Baltistan’s snow leopards by providing economic incentives to local farmers in 17 villages through insurance schemes and financial compensation against livestock losses following snow leopard attacks.

Damages are paid after verification through joint decisions between BWCDO and Village Insurance Committees established for this purpose.

Communities have also set up predator-proof fencing, and received training to improve herding techniques. Vaccination campaigns protect both livestock and wildlife.

BWCDO’s achievements have reduced economic losses to farmers. An educational program raises awareness and provides opportunities for girls, proactively engaging youth in conservation and development.

13. Community Mangrove Forest Conservation of Baan Bang La, Thailand

Area of Focus: Forests, oceans, coasts, wetlands, wildlife

In 2004, Bang La was protected from the worst of a catastrophic tsunami by a 192-hectare mangrove forest. Recognizing the importance of this natural habitat for disaster risk reduction, Bang La community residents formed an association to advance the protection of mangroves through co-management, community dialogues, and education programs. This enabled them to resist the expansion of urban housing developments into the publically-owned land.

The community has secured a Memorandum of Understanding from the provincial government, which provides them with the rights to establish a community-managed mangrove forest conservation area.

The community’s sustainable management of this area has triggered the return of the protected Phuket Sea Otter, and places this endangered species at the center of awareness campaigns that engage women and youth in natural resource management.

The group has established a savings and microcredit scheme to support small-business opportunities and retain the traditional character of the community.

14. Swayam Shikshan Prayog, India

Area of Focus: Grasslands, drylands

Swayam Shikshan Prayog empowers 72,000 women in the drought-prone state of Maharashtra to act as decision-makers, improving their health and economic well-being.

At the nexus of nutrition, sustainable agriculture, and gender, SSP has created 5,500 self-help and saving groups that support women to engage as farmers, entrepreneurs, and leaders.

SSP trains women to negotiate with their families to obtain their own plot of land for cultivation, usually about 0.4 hectares each. Low-input sustainable farming techniques, including efficient water use, organic farming, mixed cropping, and increased crop cycles, enable the women to improve food security, increase climate resilience, enhance agrobiodiversity, and reduce stress on water resources.

Through these projects, women develop capacity to influence household decision-making, improve nutrition, and increase water availablity in the region. The initiative provides a space for local women to co-create their own development solutions and to connect with likeminded women and organizations to spread their knowledge and experise in a broader network, creating a mechaism for widespread sustainable change.

15. Yayasan Planet Indonesia

Area of Focus: Biodiversity: Forests, coasts

Fighting economic activities detrimental to the environment, Planet Indonesia identifies, led by the benefiting Dayak communities, sustainable livelihood opportunities through the development of conservation compacts and community businesses.

Activities range from forest protection to anti-wildlife trafficking to securing land rights.

Business groups have been set up in more than 50 villages, comprising 2,100 members, more than two-thirds of whom are women and/or indigenous.

Community members are trained to run small-scale businesses, savings and loans programs build community capital, a revolving fund covers damages and operational costs, and coaching and mentoring ensures long-term sustainability of each community business.

An annual fellowship program provides 50 high school students with funds to conduct adaptation and mitigation projects. To date, 30,000 hectares of forest have been protected and over 40,000 seedlings planted.

Since its inception in 2002, the Equator Prize has recognized the innovative work of 223 community initiatives that are helping to protect the environment and tackle climate change while advancing their sustainable development priorities.

This year’s Equator Prize was made possible by the generous support of the Governments of Germany, Norway, and Sweden, National Geographic, Pvblic Foundation, Conservation International, the Global Environment Facility, Rainforest Norway, The Nature Conservancy, and the individuals who contributed to the Equator Initiative crowdfunding campaign.

Featured image: Equator Prize 2017, Equator Initiative

Empowering Cities With the New Urban Agenda

Johannesburg, South Africa, July 26, 2015 (Photo by Paul Saad) Creative Comons license via Flickr

Johannesburg, South Africa, July 26, 2015 (Photo by Paul Saad) Creative Comons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

NEW YORK, New York, September 14, 2017 ( News) – Regions, cities, towns, localities – this is where people live and as local people they want their voices heard not only locally, but nationally and around the world. Now, they are making new strides towards recognition and power by implementing the New Urban Agenda.

In October 2016, at the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, Habitat III, in Quita, Ecuador, member states signed the New Urban Agenda, an action-oriented document that sets global standards of achievement for sustainable urban development.

Ani Dasupta, global director, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities, said then, “The world took a step forward today in its journey to create cities where all can live, move and thrive. Tens of thousands of people—leaders, citizens, community organizers, business women and men, youth and urban planning experts—came together here in Quito to recognize that sustainable, livable cities for all are not only a moral imperative, but also a scientific one.”

Adopted by a resolution of the UN General Assembly in December 2016, the New Urban Agenda is aimed at “readdressing the way cities and human settlements are planned, designed, financed, developed, governed and managed…”

The Resolution of adoption reads, “While the specific circumstances of cities of all sizes, towns and villages vary, we affirm that the New Urban Agenda is universal in scope, participatory and people-centred, protects the planet and has a long-term vision, setting out priorities and actions at the global, regional, national, subnational and local levels that

Governments and other relevant stakeholders in every country can adopt based on their needs.”

Rethinking the way we build, manage, and live in cities is center stage as the UN General Assembly embarks on its 72nd session, which opened September 12.

Miroslav Lajčák (right), president of the seventy-second session of the General Assembly, with Secretary-General António Guterres during the opening meeting of the session. September 12, 2017 United Nations, New York (UN photo by Kim Haughton) Posted for media use

Miroslav Lajčák (right), president of the seventy-second session of the General Assembly, with Secretary-General António Guterres during the opening meeting of the session. September 12, 2017 United Nations, New York (UN photo by Kim Haughton) Posted for media use

“The UN was created for people,” Miroslav Lajčák of Slovakia said in his first address as President of the General Assembly. “The people who need the UN the most are not sitting in this hall today. They are not involved in the negotiation of resolutions. They do not take the floor at high-level events. It is one of the tasks of the General Assembly to make sure that their voices can still be heard.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres also emphasized the importance of focusing on people in the UN’s work.

“People around the world are rightly demanding change and looking for governments and institutions to deliver,” he said. “We all agree that the United Nations must do even more to adapt and deliver. That is the aim of the reform proposals that this Assembly will consider.”

Guterres said that one key change within and beyond the UN must be the empowerment of women and girls around the world, an important part of the New Urban Agenda.

As part of the reforms planned for the coming year, the effectiveness of UN-Habitat, the UN agency for human settlements and sustainable urban development, is under scrutiny.

To that end, mayors, local and regional leaders and representatives of the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments took part in the high-level meeting on September 5-6 in New York, convened by then President of the UN General Assembly Peter Thomson of Fiji on the New Urban Agenda.

The meeting was called to discuss the report of the Independent Panel to Assess, Enhance Effectiveness of UN-Habitat after the Adoption of the New Urban Agenda. And then, to try to map out the next steps towards achievement of that agenda.

The panel’s report calls for a formal role for a Local Government Committee in a renewed UN Habitat governance structure. It acknowledges that, to date, the UN system has failed to recognize the “fundamental role” played by local governments in urban development.

The eight-member panel includes Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, and, in the role of co-chair, the new United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) President Parks Tau, who was the mayor of the city of Johannesburg, South Africa from 2011-2016.

Presenting the panel’s report in the High Level Meeting, Tau told the conference, “The challenges are so great that there needs to be total change in the way we approach development and we will need to include a greater number of actors.”

“Our report makes a clear case for universality and for taking the involvement of non-state actors and local governments to a different level,” Tau said.

Panel Co-Chair and Mexico’s Secretary of Agrarian, Territorial and Urban Development Rosario Robles, said, “By its very nature the New Urban Agenda is a territorial agenda, an agenda that deals with towns, cities and their rural surroundings. It therefore cannot be achieved without the active commitment and participation of local and regional governments who are in direct contract with territories.”

The local leaders met with UN Secretary-General António Guterres to emphasize the contributions of local and regional governments to the overall UN sustainable development agenda.

Guterres expressed appreciation for the support of local and regional governments and his will for the United Nations to explore new ways of collaboration with this constituency to achieve the successful implementation of the New Urban Agenda.

What is it then, this New Urban Agenda?

First, it is intended to aid in the implementation and localization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in an integrated manner, and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and targets, especially Goal 11 of making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The problems are many. By 2050, the world’s urban population is expected to nearly double, making urbanization one of the 21st century’s most transformative trends.

Populations, economic activities, social and cultural interactions, environmental and humanitarian impacts, are increasingly urban.

And in our cities massive sustainability challenges arise when needs for housing, infrastructure, basic services, food security, health, education, decent jobs, safety and natural resources must be met for the millions of new urban residents.

The General Assembly hopes the ambitious new agenda will make life better for all city residents.

The UN Resolution of adoption reads, “The New Urban Agenda will help to end poverty and hunger in all its forms and dimensions; reduce inequalities; promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth; achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in order to fully harness their vital contribution to sustainable development; improve human health and wellbeing; foster resilience; and protect the environment.”

The New Urban Agenda “recognizes that culture should be taken into account in the promotion and implementation of new sustainable consumption and production patterns that contribute to the responsible use of resources and address the adverse impact of climate change.”

Throughout the world, organizations that represent cities and regions are already moving toward the concepts embodied in the New Urban Agenda, dealing with climate change as a priority.

Cities already account for more than 70 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. With urbanization on the rise, at least 66 percent of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050, making cities the potential epicenters of climate solutions.

Plans are now underway for phasing out greenhouse gas emissions in cities with local solutions to limit climate change.

Japanese local and regional governments released the Nagano Declaration September 8 at the Local Renewables Conference 2017 in Nagano, Japan in support of a future in which Japanese cities and regions are fully powered by renewable energy.

With some 500 participants from across Japan and elsewhere, the Local Renewables Conference 2017 offered a stage for local and regional governments, energy service providers, business reps and experts to plan the switch from imported, fossil-fuel energy sources to local renewable energy resources.

This conference was a special edition of the Local Renewables Conference Series initiated and organized biannually in Europe by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and the City of Freiburg, Germany. This one was hosted by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment, Nagano Prefecture and ICLEI.

Last December, the newly created Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy was introduced during the C40 Cities Mayors Summit in Mexico City.

“The leadership of cities is more important than ever in the fight against climate change,” said Michael Bloomberg, three-term mayor of New York City, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and Co-Chair of the new Global Covenant of Mayors.

“This group’s diverse experience from cities on every continent will help support local action and speed global progress,” Bloomberg said.

Maroš Šefčovič of Slovakia, a vice president of the European Commission and co-chair of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, said, “Bringing together the EU Covenant of Mayors with the Compact of Mayors was a step forward for both coalitions, as it allowed us to expand our global reach to mobilize and galvanize local leadership in every corner of the world.”

The new emphasis on local governments, means more opportunities for impact investors.

Writing on the International Institute for Environment and Development website, Katharina Neureiter said September 7, “It’s 10 years since the term ‘impact investing’ was coined to reflect investments that bring about social and environmental benefits alongside financial returns. Since then, the impact investing sector has grown to US$77 billion.”

Examining the pros and cons of investing in underserved localities, Neureiter writes, “Engaging with residents could solve many problems. Locals can help prospective investors understand land use patterns. If residents see the benefits of an investment in their area they might be prepared to mediate between developers and local governments, clarify land access, and use their relationships to advocate on behalf of the investor.”

Featured image: Cityscape (Photo by Lau_wo) Creative Comons license via Pixabay


Jordan Cycles Into Business Adventures


Used bikes arrive in Jordan, shipped from the United States. (Photo courtesy Wheels of Change) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

AMMAN, Jordan, June 1, 2017 ( News) – Malia Asfour, Jordan Tourism Board director for North America, has inspired travel professionals from across the United States to help rural communities in Jordan by donating used bicycles, building bike shops and supporting tour guide training.

The plan was conceived around a dinner table about as far away from the sunny Middle Eastern country of Jordan as anyone could get – chilly Anchorage, Alaska.

In September 2016, a small group of travel professionals, in Anchorage for the annual Adventure Travel World Summit, gathered for dinner.

At the table that night was Keith Sproule, executive director of A&K Philanthropy, associated with the American luxury travel agency Abercrombie & Kent with its global network of 52 offices.

Also at the table was Dan Austin, founder of Austin Adventures and the nonprofit Wheels of Change that began donating bikes and operational skills to remote communities in Africa in 2010.

Muna Haddad was there. She serves as director of the Jordan-based social enterprise Baraka, whose mission is to support sustainable tourism while conserving and protecting cultural heritage and natural resources.

They listened intently as Asfour told how Jordan is seeing an increasing interest in cycling, but currently only the affluent can afford to own a bike. In rural areas bikes are very scarce.


Starting at the basalt ruins of the Decapolis of Um Qais overlooking the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan Trail heads down towards the Arab Dam. (Photo courtesy Jordan Trail) Posted for media use

Asfour explained that Jordan is actively building partnerships with adventure travel companies, introducing new cycling itineraries and mapping out adventurous bike trails nationwide, including the newly completed Jordan Trail, which runs the entire length of the country, 650 kilometers, from Um Qais in the north to Aqaba in the south.

Once the idea of bikes for Jordan took hold of their imaginations, the people in this core group around the Anchorage dinner table began to reach out to other tourism professionals for support.

They received commitments from the travel insurance company World Nomads through its online philanthropy project Footprint Network, which agreed to help provide funding.

Tourism Cares, the nonprofit, philanthropic arm of the travel and tourism industry, also committed funds to help establish community bicycle enterprises in Jordan.

Jordan suffers from a high unemployment rate, officially at 15 percent. Residents of remote villages often do not have the transportation they need to reach employment and educational opportunities.

To overcome these problems, the tourism professionals plan to establish two bike shops in Um Qais Village at one end of the Jordan Trail and in Feynan.

Used bikes are being shipped to Jordan from the United States. The shipping containers will be repurposed as bike rental, sales and repair shops.

Each shop will include a bike tour component, serving as a starting point for local bike tours. Four people from Um Qais are now being trained as tour guides.

The new bike shops can provide steady employment for up to eight people, and will give others the means to travel farther for jobs or school, to reach their livestock, or have better access to health care.

This project will tie into the Jordan Trail initiative, enabling locals and visitors to bike between villages along the trail.

In December 2016, four months after the plan was conceived in Alaska, the first container of 260 mountain bikes, spare parts and tools organized by Wheels of Change departed Billings, Montana. It was bound for Feynan, Jordan in the Dana Biosphere Reserve with its historic ruins and ecolodge on the Jordan Trail.

The Jordan Tourism Board has committed to securing duty import exemptions for the shipping containers full of bikes

On April 26, 2017, the first container was officially opened. Present for the festivities were Andy Austin and Corey Meyer, two Austin Adventures guides assigned to do much of the mechanical training, along with Muna Haddad of Baraka, who will be the on-ground project manager.

Haddad and her staff will work with the beneficiary communities, investing in setting up the shops, conducting training, overseeing facilities and handling the logistics of ground transport into and around Jordan.

A second container of 412 mountain bikes, spare parts and wheels sent by A&K Philanthropy in partnership with Working Bikes in Chicago was shipped on March 13. It is scheduled to arrive on or about May 28th in Madaba, central Jordan.

Baraka will help set up another bike shop in Madaba as well as a bike share program at Petra University, making it the first bicycle-friendly campus in Jordan.

There is a recycle and reuse component to the venture built in from the start to keep donated bikes from ending up in a landfill.

Once all of the elements are in place, the shops are designed to be sustainable, paying for the costs of resupplying their stock of bikes with money earned through the sales and repair of bikes and the rental of bikes for tours.

Another positive element to the bike shop operation is its mission to give back to the community. After all wages and business expenses are paid, the remaining funds are set aside to fund local charitable projects.

“It’s beautiful to see an idea come to life,” posted Haddad on Facebook. “This is how we change the world, one idea at a time and a lot of hard work in between.”

This project was showcased at the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s AdventureNEXT Near East, held from May 15 to 17 on the shore of the Dead Sea in Jordan, the first event of its kind to highlight adventure travel in the Near East.

Sproule presented the bike donation initiative at the conference to demonstrate how such strategic partnerships can successfully benefit grassroots development and tourism, helping to create new skills and business opportunities.


Earth Day Global March for Science


Academy Award winning actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio visited NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He interviewed Dr. Piers Sellers, right, an Earth scientist, former astronaut and current deputy director of Goddard’s Sciences and Exploration Directorate. They discussed the different missions NASA has underway to study changes in the Earth’s atmosphere, water and land masses for DiCaprio’s climate change documentary. April 23, 2016. (Photo by Rebecca Roth / NASA Goddard) Public domain

By Sunny Lewis

WASHINGTON, DC, April 20, 2017 ( News) – The importance of science is the rallying point for activities on Earth Day‘s 47th anniversary, Saturday April 22. Earth Day 2017 will open in grand resistance style with a worldwide March for Science to counter the denial of well-established climate science and other scientific facts affecting the environment.

Marches for Science are happening in Washington and in 517 communities across the United States and around the world, including in: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Ghana, India, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Nepal, Nigeria, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea, and throughout the European Union.

Each satellite march is organized independently, but all are united under shared principles and goals . Click here to read the Marchers’ Pledge.

We are growing a global grassroots movement for science, and we are all in this together,” say the March for Science organizers.

We’re excited for this event that brings together people from all walks of life to stand up for science together,” said Valorie Aquino, co-chair of the March for Science. “Through my work as a scientific researcher, I see how sound science and the relationship of science’s services to society are at risk.

Science can improve and save lives, and that’s why scientists, doctors, mothers and fathers, teachers, students, and concerned folks around the globe feel compelled to act on April 22. So much is at stake,” said Aquino, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico.

It is no coincidence that Earth Day, April 22, marks the March for Science and the first anniversary of the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement,” said Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network.

Since its inception, Earth Day has served as a day of action and mobilization. Without science, there would be no Earth Day, which is why Earth Day Network is partnering with March for Science for the Earth Day March for Science Rally and Teach-Ins on the National Mall,” Rogers said.

Using the teach-in concept deployed during the first Earth Day in 1970, Earth Day Network and the March for Science are co-organizing a rally and teach-in on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

The rally and teach-in will focus on the need to hold political and scientific leaders accountable to the highest standards of honesty, fairness, and integrity.

Speeches and trainings with scientists and civic organizers, musical performances, and a march through the streets of the nation’s capital are all on the agenda. In Washington, DC, the crowd will gather at 8:00 in the morning at the Washington Monument, and the teach-in will begin at 9:00.

March for Science organizers say they want a wholly peaceful expression of the marchers’ support for science and do not condone violence.

We value inclusion, diversity, equity, and access,” organizers declare. “We do not condone harassment within or without the March for Science community. This includes expressions of sexism, ableism, racism, xenophobia, intolerance regarding religious, agnostic and atheistic beliefs, and other forms of abuse in person, online, or in signage.

We request that supporters at the D.C. march and satellite marches respect all relevant laws where they are participating as they exercise their right to assemble, speak out, and petition their leaders for change,” the organizers say.

One important change the Earth Day Network is seeking is for the Trump administration to reconsider its threat to back out of the Paris Agreement on Climate, unanimously agreed by world leaders in December 2015. It took effect at record speed in November 2016.

The Earth Day Network is gathering signatures on a petition to the Trump administration to support the Paris Agreement.

In a message today, the Earth Day Network said, “The United States was a leader in crafting the historic Paris Climate Agreement – now the Trump administration is reviewing whether or not to back out of it. It’s up to us to urge U.S. leaders to maintain our momentum in this vital climate accord.

The Paris Agreement unites all nations around a common cause for our planet – to reduce the pollution changing the Earth’s climate and causing dangerous global warming that affects human health and our environment… The United States can’t afford for other countries to take the lead on the new climate economy, and the world cannot afford for the United States to abandon its role as a global leader in meeting this challenge,” said the Earth Day Network.

Ken Kimmell, president of the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists, is a former commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and chair of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first U.S. cap-and-trade program to cut heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Reacting to President Donald Trump’s executive order in March directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to rewrite President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the nation’s first-ever limits on global warming emissions from power plants, Kimmell said, “We estimate the cumulative effect of repealing the Clean Power Plan and the vehicle standards will be a nine percent increase in energy-related emissions in 2030, or 439 million metric tons. That means emissions will go up in the U.S., just when the rest of the world is transitioning to a cleaner, healthier economy.”

This is terribly irresponsible. But it won’t alter the scientific reality – that climate change is real, already happening, caused by burning fossil fuels, and requires immediate action to limit its worst impacts,” said Kimmell.

Another supporter of the March for Science is Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., head of the Hip Hop Caucus, who is marching in support of black scientists.

From George Washington Carver to Mae Jemison African American scientists have made tremendous contributions to America since its inception. That is why it is imperative and critical for the Hip Hop Caucus and young people of color to not only stand up for scientists but to ensure that their work is protected and respected for future generations,” Yearwood said.

We march for countless individual reasons, but gather together as the March for Science to envision and sustain an unbroken chain of inquiry, knowledge, and public benefit for all,” said March for Science organizers.

Yet the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) is warning that contrary to the March’s stated aims, some people still believe that the March is a partisan statement.

CSLDF has seen well-meaning scientists and academics experience problems after advocating for science or taking a personal political stance, so the organization has suggestions for scientists to help them avoid ending up in the political crosshairs.

First, scientists must separate their work and private lives. They must participate in demonstrations as private citizens and make statements on their own behalf, and not on behalf of their employers.

Maintain distinct personal and professional email accounts. Even discussions with work colleagues about the March should take place via private email. Engage in organizations or discussion about the March after work hours.

Check out whether your institution or employer is supporting the March. The best approach is to directly ask the employer.

Do not use government-funded computers, printers, or other supplies to prepare for the March. When marching, says CSLDF, do not wear a university sweatshirt or a work-issued lab coat.

Click here for a complete list of suggestions.

March for Science organizers say they are taking a decisive step “toward ensuring a future where the fullness of scientific knowledge benefits all people, and where everyone is empowered to ask new scientific questions.

Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, and a former director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under President Bill Clinton, is supporting the March for Science.

Scientific research is critical to ensuring that our water is safe to drink, our food is safe to eat, our air is safe to breathe and that our environment is free of toxic chemicals,” she said. “It is essential to helping us understand and respond to the effects of climate change and plan for its impacts on people, communities and wildlife.

Put simply,” said Clark, “the public benefit of sound science is immeasurable. Yet science is being attacked by those who don’t like or don’t agree with what we’re learning.”

Growing out of the first Earth Day in 1970, Earth Day Network works year-round with tens of thousands of partners in 192 countries to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement. More than one billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

Featured Image: Chemist Karena Chapman peers inside the vacuum tank of the new high-energy Si Laue monochromator installed to increase the number of photons focused on a sample being studied by a factor of 17. Argonne National Laboratory, Chicago, Illinois, USA (Photo by Peter Chupas / Argonne National Laboratory) Public domain


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American Voters Fill Congress With Female Firsts


Elizabeth Cheney, Nanette Barragán, Ilhan Omar and Pramila Jayapal. Images taken from their campaign sites.

By Sunny Lewis

WASHINGTON, DC, November 26, 2016 ( News) – Republican Donald Trump laid claim to the prize of President-elect earlier this month, accompanied by a Republican sweep of both Houses of Congress, so one might think the United States is united in its political will. Not so.

While President-elect Trump – who has often publicly denigrated women, threatened to punish women as criminals for having abortions, and has, by his own admission on tape, grabbed women’s privates without asking – consolidates his power and plans his strategies, the incoming Congress is brimming with strong females who are already first in some important way.

During the 2016 election, history was not made at the presidential level, although a ballot recount in three states, funded by the crowdsourcing efforts of Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein, has a small chance of changing the outcome. That could happen only if all three states – Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan – are found to have elected Hillary Clinton instead of Donald Trump.

The number of women in Congress will remain static at 104 or 19 percent – 78 Democrats and 26 Republicans. In the Senate, a record number of 21 women will serve, 16 Democrats and five Republicans, one more than in the past two Congresses.

That’s far less than the overall American population, which is half female.

The only landmark for women’s participation is the election to Congress of more women of color than ever before, finds the Center for American Women and Politics  at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey.

The incoming Congress is set to be the most racially diverse in history.

A total of 38 women of color will serve in the 115th Congress. Nine newly-elected women of color, all Democrats, will enter Congress on January 3, 2017 – three in the Senate and six in the House.

Powerful Women Ascend to the Senate


Catherine Cortez Masto is the first woman elected to represent Nevada and first Latina elected to serve in the United States Senate. (Photo courtesy Catherine Cortez Masto) Posted for media use.

Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, elected to the U.S. Senate from Nevada to replace outgoing Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, has chalked up two firsts. She is the first woman elected to represent Nevada and first Latina elected to serve in the United States Senate.

She is one of two women who come to the Senate directly from serving as attorney general in their states. Cortez Masto was the Attorney General of Nevada from 2007 to 2015, where she worked for women and children.

As attorney general,” she has said, “I made protecting Nevada women my top priority and I won’t stop until paycheck fairness is a reality for all women.

Kamala Harris will be one of two U.S. senators representing California, and she comes to the Senate directly from six years as California’s attorney general.

Back in 2010, Harris was the first female, the first African-American, and the first Indian-American person to become attorney general in California.

Born in Oakland, California, Harris is the daughter of an Indian-American mother, a breast cancer specialist who immigrated from India in 1960, and a Jamaican-American father, a Stanford University economics professor.

Harris has been an outspoken proponent for gun control her entire career. While serving as district attorney in Alameda County Harris recruited other district attorneys and filed a brief in court arguing that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not protect an individual’s right to own firearms.

In 2009, Harris wrote “Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer,” where she looks at criminal justice from an economic perspective and attempts to reduce temptation and access for criminals. The book goes through a series of “myths” surrounding the criminal justice system and presents proposals to reduce and prevent crime.


Tammy Duckworth, the first female double amputee from the Iraq war, is moving into the Senate from the House of Representatives. (Photo courtesy U.S. Institute of Peace) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Tammy Duckworth, the first female double amputee from the Iraq war, is not new to Congress. She is moving into the Senate from the House of Representatives where she has fought for veterans’ rights, as she has always done. “Serving my fellow Veterans is my life’s work,” she says.

Duckworth is the first military veteran elected to the Senate as a Democrat. She joins holdover Joni Ernst, an Iowa Republican, the first woman veteran elected to the Senate.

Born in Bangkok, Thailand, Duckworth lost her right leg near the hip and her left leg below the knee from injuries sustained on November 12, 2004, when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents.

I know what it’s like to fight for your life behind enemy lines and I know what it’s like to not be left behind,” Duckworth said on the campaign trail. “If you elect me to the Senate I’ll be guided by the simple notion that if you don’t give up on yourself, America won’t give up on you. I will fight for every kid trying to pay for college, for every small business trying to grow, and for every family working hard just trying to catch a break.

Then there’s Senator-elect from New Hampshire, Margaret “Maggie” Hassan, who is the current Governor of the State of New Hampshire.

A Democrat, Hassan defeated incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte in a close race considered one of the most competitive of the year. It is the first time this Senate seat has been won by a Democrat for more than 40 years.

Hassan will serve with Senator Jeanne Shaheen; both politicians have served as New Hampshire Governor prior to unseating an incumbent senator.

Hassan has said climate change and reproductive rights would be her top priorities if elected to the Senate.

New Hampshire will once again be represented by an all women congressional delegation, as it was 2013-2015, with two women in the Senate and two in the House. All of the Granite State women are Democrats.

 When the 115th Congress opens in January, female representation in the House will drop slightly. The number of women will go from 84 to 83 as a result of the retirement of 11 female lawmakers, some of whom are being replaced by men.

A record number of 108 women currently serve in the 114th Congress, which opened in January 2015, seven more than at the beginning of the 113th Congress, which opened January 2013 at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s second term

Americans elected three new Republican Congresswomen to the House of Representatives, and two in this freshman class are also first in some important way.

Elizabeth Cheney is the first daughter of a former U.S. vice president to be elected to Congress. Congresswoman-elect Cheney is the elder daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served in the George W. Bush administration. She won Wyoming’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Liz Cheney held several positions in the U.S. State Department during the George W. Bush administration. Cheney headed the Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group, established in March 2006, a unit within the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.

She is a co-founder of Keep America Safe, a nonprofit group founded in 2009, whose key aim appears to be to pressure the United States to remain in a state of constant military mobilization.

Before law school, Cheney worked for the State Department and for the U.S. Agency for International Development, as a USAID officer in U.S. embassies in Budapest and Warsaw. After graduating, Cheney practiced law in the private sector and as an international law attorney and consultant at the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group.

In January 2012, Cheney was hired as a contributor for Fox News, providing analysis for the Republican primaries and serving as substitute host of Fox News’ programs.

On November 8, Republican Jenniffer González, 40, became the first woman and youngest person to be elected as Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in the U.S. Congress.

An attorney, González comes to the House of Representatives from three prominent roles: as Minority Leader of the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, as vice-chair of the PNP, and as chairwoman of the Puerto Rico Republican Party.

At the age of 32, she was elected House Speaker by members of her New Party for Progress delegation, becoming the youngest person in Puerto Rican history to be elected Speaker of the House.

Republican Claudia Tenney comes to the House from New York’s 22nd district in the central part of the state.

 Currently an Assemblywoman in the New York State Legislature, she is the daughter of the late Judge John R. Tenney, who served as a Justice of the Supreme Court of New York from 1969 through 2003.

 Tenney says she wants “to unleash free market principles by getting big government off our backs.” She opposes Obamacare and has signed a pledge to oppose all tax increases in Congress.

On the Democrat side of the aisle, Congresswoman-elect Nanette Barragán is the youngest of 11 children raised by immigrants from Mexico. Barragán beat the odds and put herself through University of California at Los Angeles and University of Southern California Law School.

Barragán has worked as a community advocate in Los Angeles. In Washington, she worked in President Bill Clinton’s White House and then at the NAACP – focusing on racial and social justice issues.

 She stood up to the big oil companies to keep them from drilling in neighborhoods and on beaches. In Congress, Barragán has pledged to keep up the fight to protect air and water.


Democrat Valdez Venita “Val” Demings was elected to the House of Representatives from Orlando, Florida. She served as Chief of the Orlando Police Department, the first woman to hold the position. (Photo by RotaryDistrict6980) Posted for media use.

Democrat Valdez Venita “Val” Demings was elected to the House from Orlando, Florida. A police officer, she served as Chief of the Orlando Police Department, the first woman to hold the position.

As Orlando’s Police Chief, her holistic approach and leadership led to a 40 percent drop in violent crime. She founded Operation Positive Direction, a mentoring program that empowers at-risk students through tutoring, community service, and positive incentives.

Democrat Pramila Jayapal is the first Indian-American woman to serve in the House of Representatives and the first woman to represent Washington’s largest city, Seattle, in Congress.

 Jayapal was born in Chennai, India to a Tamil family and raised in Indonesia and Singapore. She came to the United States in 1982, at the age of 16, to attend college. She graduated from Georgetown University, and earned an MBA from Northwestern University. She became a U.S. citizen in the year 2000.

Jayapal founded Hate Free Zone after the 2001 September 11 attacks as an advocacy group for immigrant groups. Hate Free Zone registered new American citizens to vote and lobbied on immigration reform. They successfully sued the Bush Administration’s Immigration and Naturalization Services to prevent the deportation of over 4,000 Somalis.

The group changed its name to OneAmerica in 2008. Jayapal stepped down from her leadership position in May 2012. In 2013 she was recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change.”

Democrat Stephanie Murphy is making history as the first Vietnamese-American woman elected to Congress. She is a business consultant, professor, and former national security specialist from the state of Florida.

Born in 1978 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Murphy currently lives in Winter Park, Florida. She works as an executive at Sungate Capital, where she leads investment efforts and implements government affairs initiatives. She also teaches business and social entrepreneurship at Rollins College.

Murphy has said that in Congress she will be a strong advocate for environmental protection, for clean air and water, and for smart investments in green energy that reduce dependence on fossil fuels and make energy affordable for Florida families.

 Democrat Jacky Rosen, a computer software developer who cares about the environment, was elected to the House from Nevada’s largest city, Las Vegas.

She sees the seat as providing, “opportunities to invest in solar and renewable energy, protect our environment and reduce utility bills.” She also sees educational opportunities that will create a prepared workforce to attract business and investment, as well as opportunities “to protect our seniors and their retirement.

A leader in her synagogue, Rosen supports programs that provide meals and housing to the homeless.


Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester, center, will be the first woman and the first person of color to represent Delaware in the halls of Congress. Campaigning June 26, 2016. (Photo courtesy Lisa Blunt Rochester campaign) posted for media use.

Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester is the member-elect for the House seat representing Delaware’s at-large congressional district.  She is the first woman and the first person of color to represent Delaware in the halls of Congress.

Rochester grew up in Wilmington, majored in International Relations at Fairleigh Dickinson University and later earned a Master’s in Urban Affairs and Public Policy from the University of Delaware.

Believing that national security requires a strong understanding of the rest of the world has helped women enter the workforce in the Middle East, provided vaccines to children in Africa, and co-authored a book while living in China with her late husband Charles. Her book, “THRIVE: 34 Women, 19 Countries, One Goal,” profiles women who reinvented themselves while living in a foreign country.

On the state level, too, women of color are carving out places for themselves.

Former Somali refugee and executive director of the Minneapolis group Women Organizing Women Network , Ilhan Omar, for instance, has won the Democratic seat for Minnesota House Representative, District 60B.

She is the first Somali-American, Muslim woman in the nation to hold an office at this level.

The WOW Network aims to empower all women, specifically first–generation and second-generation immigrants, to become engaged citizens and community leaders.

Omar holds degrees in business administration, political science and international studies. She completed a Policy Fellowship at University Of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and she has served on numerous nonprofit boards.

Committed to unity and justice, Omar is focused on advancing issues such as raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, closing the opportunity gap, and fighting for environmental justice and racial equity.

 Omar last week spoke out against hate. “Somehow, we must confront the racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia that plagues this country,” she said. “There are no easy answers, but we must find ways to try to end this cycle of hate.

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Six CSR Strategies for Startups


Silicon Valley Community Foundation Board of Directors. Back Row from left: Eduardo Rallo, Jayne Battey, Tom Stocky, Thurman V. White, Jr., Dan’l Lewin, Catherine A. Molnar, Erik Dryburgh Middle Row: Marie Oh Huber, Julie Miraglia Kwon, Rose Jacobs Gibson, Kate Mitchell, Lynn A. McGovern Seated left to right: David P. Lopez, Emmett D. Carson (CEO and President), C.S. Park (Chair), Samuel Johnson, Jr. (Vice Chair) Not Pictured: Carol Bartz, Robert A. Keller, Wade W. Loo, Anne F. Macdonald, Laura Miele (Photo courtesy SVCF) Posted for media use

By Sunny Lewis

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California, October 18, 2016 ( News) – Startups now have a new strategic guide to help them build a record of social responsibility, courtesy of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The philanthropic SVCF is located in Mountain View, where many of the world’s largest technology companies – Google, Symantec, Intuit – are also headquartered.

 In the course of its work of supporting companies and foundations to drive social impact locally and globally, the the foundation says it often is approached by startups asking how they can use their energy and vision for the social good.

To translate a company’s purpose into social responsibility practices, SVCF has compiled six strategies that startups can consider and published them in a new guide, “Starting with Purpose,” based on experiences and insights of startups and industry leaders.

Startups looking for guidance in creating a social responsibility plan – to give back to the community, engage employees in meaningful causes, and instill responsible business practices in operations – are encouraged to work with SVCF’s team of social responsibility experts.

Their Six Social Responsibility Strategies Are:

 1. Cultivate a Culture Committed to Social Change

 As startups have multiplied and flourished, so have stories of the “startup culture,” with flexible hours, unlimited free snacks and catered lunches, permission to bring dogs to work, and open-office seating adjacent to their CEO. This vision has become a stereotype, but the effort many startups put into cultivating a strong culture is substantial and can be productive.

SVCF says, “When a culture includes empathy and awareness of social impacts, it can be an extremely powerful tool for building a commitment to social responsibility.”

2. Connect with Local Communities

Be a good neighbor. Social responsibility need not mean attempting to solve national challenges or donating millions of dollars. It can mean rallying employees to support local businesses or opening a company’s doors to the community.

3. Donate or Discount Products or Services to Drive Social Change

Many businesses have products and services that can help support nonprofit organizations as effectively as cash donations can.

4. Lay the Groundwork for a Sustainable Supply Chain

Increasingly, consumers want to know where a product comes from; what environmental burden results from its manufacture; and under what working conditions the product is made.

Knowing the business practices of partners and suppliers – and deciding how to influence them – is an important consideration for any startup’s social responsibility strategy,” the foundation advises.

5. Translate Diversity Values into Practice

Diversity is part of social responsibility, and a commitment to diversity is not optional. Many startups believe diversity is a business imperative and necessary core value.

SVCF writes, “We include it here for two reasons: The startup struggle for diverse talent has been widely publicized and scrutinized; and many of the startups SVCF spoke to are working to balance competition for talent and diversity.

As startups work to develop or implement a diversity strategy, they should consider how to ensure diversity in their leadership, how to make diversity a priority and how to work with their communities to build a pipeline of talent,” the foundation advises.

6. Make a Public and Formal Commitment to Social Responsibility

While some companies bake a social commitment directly into their mission (think of TOMS’ one-for-one model), others layer on more formal public commitments or adhere to business structures to build momentum behind their social impact strategies. Companies can consider a formal commitment such as Pledge 1% or certification as a B Corp to direct their social responsibility program.

More details on these strategies are outlined in the guide, “Starting with Purpose.

In partnership with its individual and corporate donors, Silicon Valley Community Foundation awarded a total of $823 million to charities in 2015, benefiting thousands of people and causes in the Bay Area, across the United States and around the world.

SVCF made a total of 122,000 grants in 2015, including those awarded by individuals, families and companies through advised funds, and grants awarded through corporate matching gift programs.

SVCF received $1.2 billion in new gifts from individual and corporate donors in 2015, bringing its charitable assets under management to approximately $7.3 billion.

Said the foundation, “These results demonstrate the tremendous generosity of Silicon Valley philanthropists and their desire to make a positive difference in their local communities and around the world.”

For more information on how SVCF can assist startups, contact


Group from the startup Angelcam shows their security camera apps and cloud storage at ISC WEST, the largest security industry trade show in the United States, April 17, 2015 (Photo by Petr Ocasek) Creative Commons license via Flickr

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China & USA: Green Health Care Partners


Yang Hongwei of the China National Health Development Research Center speaks at a forum on the Construction and Development Strategy of a Green Health Care System, March 23, 2016, Beijing, China (Photo courtesy China National Health Development Research Center) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

 SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 13, 2016 ( News) – A delegation from the Chinese health sector came to the Bay Area in September to identify strategies that can address the health effects of climate change and foster green, environmentally sustainable, climate-resilient health care in both China and the United States.

 The Chinese group was hosted by Health Care Without Harm, a U.S.-based international coalition of more than 250 organizations. Their collaborative campaign for environmentally responsible health care aims to transform health care worldwide so that it reduces its environmental footprint and becomes a community anchor for sustainability and a leader in the global movement for environmental health and justice.

Health Care Without Harm programs include: medical waste, toxic materials, safer chemicals, green building and energy, healthy food, pharmaceuticals, green purchasing, climate and health, transportation, and clean water.


Hosted by Health Care Without Harm, a group of Chinese health experts hammers out strategies with their U.S. counterparts, San Francisco, California, September 2016 (Photo courtesy Health Care Without Harm) Posted for media use.

The visit was supported in part by the U.S. State Department’s People to People Exchange program.

 Around the table were the members of Chinese delegation headed by Yang Hongwei of the China National Health Development Research Center, and representatives from members of the U.S. Health Care Climate Council, including Dignity Health, Gundersen Health System, Kaiser Permanente, Partners Healthcare, and Virginia Mason.

In addition to meeting with the health system leaders, the Chinese delegation toured Bay Area hospitals to learn how U.S. health care systems are implementing sustainability strategies while working for better health outcomes.

This marks the beginning of a collaboration between health sectors in our two countries to make health care greener and more environmentally friendly, while protecting public health from climate change,” said Josh Karliner, international director of program and strategy for Health Care Without Harm.

 “The fact that the presidents of both countries have prioritized addressing climate change creates space for the health sectors in China and the United States to step up together to address one of the greatest health challenges of our time,” said Karliner.

He is referring to an event in November 2014, when President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping stood together in Beijing to make a historic U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change, emphasizing their personal commitment to a successful climate agreement in Paris and marking a new era of multilateral climate diplomacy as well as a new pillar in their bilateral relationship.

They are not alone. Many scientists and public health experts recognize that climate change will impact the health of billions of people around the world.

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan told a WHO Western Pacific regional meeting in Manila on Monday, “…health has some of the most compelling evidence-based arguments for interpreting climate change as a potential catastrophe. Simply stated, the Earth is losing its capacity to sustain human life in good health.

 “The challenge, of course, is to convince officials in energy, agriculture, transport, housing, and urban design to pay attention to the health consequences of their policies that affect the environment,” said Dr. Chan.

Health Care Without Harm warns that a crisis could arise over heat-related deaths, respiratory diseases, the spread of malaria, Zika virus and Dengue fever, water-borne diseases, or the prospect of millions more refugees.

Climate change is no longer an environmental problem in the distant future, says the health organization. It is now an immediate global health threat affecting everyone.

Historically, the United States has been the top emitter of greenhouse gases and has led the world in per capita emissions. Today, the U.S. is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, after China.

U.S. health care is responsible for nearly 10 percent of current emissions – or 655 million metric tons – the equivalent of the entire United Kingdom’s contribution to climate change. China faces similar problems.

Representing close to six percent of China’s economy and 18 percent of the U.S. economy, the health care sector can play a leading role in moving both societies toward a more sustainable, environmentally friendly future.

In China we have launched several research projects to identify a route map to greener health care buildings, operations and service delivery in our national system,” said Yang Hongwei, who serves as deputy director general of the National Health Development Research Center, a national research institution established in 1991.

After decades of development, the National Health Development Research Center has become an institution of scale with over 100 researchers and research fellows. It works as a national think-tank providing technical consultancy to health policy-makers.

Health Care Without Harm has been working with the National Health Development Research Center since late 2015. Since then the National Health Development Research Center has joined Health Care Without Harm’s Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network.

The Global Green and Healthy Hospitals community has 702 members in 39 countries who represent the interests of over 20,800 hospitals and health centers.

We are pleased to visit San Francisco, share our experiences, and learn from health systems here,” said Yang. “We look forward to more cooperation in the future.

In addition to identifying opportunities for health systems in both countries to grow toward greener health development, meeting participants explored future joint actions.

They agreed to organize a follow-up meeting in Beijing on green health care, and build a health care component into the 2017 U.S. – China Climate Leaders Summit in Boston.

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What Is Capacity Building … and How Does It Improve Overall Business Performance?

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Capacity building refers to the activities that help an organization accomplish its mission and maintain itself in a fast-changing business environment. The individual activities vary widely and can include  institutional strengthening, the development of mission-focused communications, recruiting new talent, upgrading skills of existing staff, keeping sound financial records, adopting efficient technologies or creating key partnerships.

From private to nonprofit and government departments, capacity building has proven itself to be an important part of business implementation.

  • It starts at the initial phase of a project or business, where the focus is on creation.
  • Later, to improve mid- or long-term success, capacity building focuses on efficiency and effectiveness.

At its best, capacity building allows you to drive your mission forward, meet your goals and have a real impact on the community you serve.

How Maximpact Builds the Capacity of Corporate and Non-Governmental Sector

When your project or business faces challenges that require expert solutions, Maximpact offers a unique combination of capacity building resources.

  • Multiple services across 20 business sectors are available through our easy-to-use platform,
  • Our expert staff will help you understand each capacity need and show you which resources will make the difference in your workplace.

Take an important step toward optimizing your business performance. Contact us today at  

Areas of Intervention

Throughout all areas of business – corporate, governmental or nonprofit – experts agree that organizational capacity should be addressed in six fundamental areas, all of which are critical in building and maintaining an efficient structure and strong impact .

1. Mission, vision and strategy

2. Governance and leadership

3. Program delivery and impact

4. Strategic relationships

5. Resource development

6. Internal operations and management 

Maximpact’s sector-specific expertise in each of these areas empowers you to realize maximum efficiency, fostering better business development and project implementation.

Common Types of Capacity Building Activities MAXIMPACT Offers You


Maximpact is about maximizing potential 

Clarity of mission and objectives, effective leadership, the ability to learn, self-assessment and optimized processes are all part of effective capacity building. At Maximpact, we make it our priority to deliver all the assistance you need to succeed in your project or business.

Use our resources and expertise to reduce downtime while creating a stronger organization that points toward a more sustainable future for us all. Visit


Rio Summer Olympics ‘Embrace’ Sustainability


The Estádio do Maracanã is a 78,838 seat open-air stadium in the city of Rio owned by the Rio de Janeiro state government. South America’s largest stadium, it will be the venue for the Rio Olympics opening ceremonies on August 5 and closing ceremonies on August 21. (Photo by Luciano Silva) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

RIO de JANEIRO, Brazil, July 14, 2016 ( News) – A new set of sustainability measures to support the greening of the Rio Summer Olympic Games were agreed by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics Organizing Committee as far back as 2013.

Expressing its commitment to achieving sustainability, the “Embrace” Rio 2016 plan is based on three pillars: Planet, People and Prosperity, and has been established with the input of the federal, state and municipal governments.

The slogan “Embrace” Rio 2016 is being used in all Games communications related to the Sustainability Plan. The idea behind the name is to engage people, inviting them to be part of the transformation promoted by the event, which opens on Friday, August 5 and ends on Sunday, August 21.

A technical cooperation agreement with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was signed at the launch of the sustainability program in August 2013. It expected to provide an evaluation plan and mediation around the subject of sustainability between Rio 2016 and the people of Brazil.

Denise Hamú, UNEP’s representative in Brazil, said, “Our goal is to integrate sustainability in all organizational processes, reducing the impact of the Games and setting an example of good practice for society as a whole. Together, sports and environment are powerful tools for sustainable development. For this reason, the UNEP has worked in partnership with the Olympic Movement over the last two decades.

Sustainability round tables originated during dialogue between the Organizing Committee and civil society groups in 2013. They began in 2014 and examined six topics in depth: urban mobility, climate change, sustainability education, protection of children and teenagers, diversity and inclusion, and transparency.

The Games will inevitably generate environmental impacts,” says the Organizing Committee. “We are talking about high consumption of water, energy, raw materials, food and so on. Rio 2016 undertakes to use all resources conscientiously and rationally, prioritizing certified, reusable and recyclable materials.”

 Discussions led to awareness, and the Organizing Committee has acted responsibly in many ways during planning and preparation for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

  • 100 percent certified wood: Rio 2016 undertook to buy all the timber items required for the Games from sources with chain of custody certification. That means that the timber is logged sustainably and traceability is guaranteed from the time the timber leaves the forest through to the end user.
  • Sustainable headquarters: Rio 2016 has its headquarters in a temporary building. After the Olympics are over, it will be taken down, and 80 percent of the material will be reused in future structures. While in use, the building consumes 70 percent less energy than ordinary buildings. Timers on bathroom wash basins, intelligent flushes and a rainwater collection system enables the Organizing Committee to cut water consumption.
  • Material life-cycle analysis: The Organizing Committee has analyzed the life-cycles of 106 materials being used by the Games visual identity team to ensure conscientious and sustainable choices and minimize their environmental impact.

With the intention of delivering low-impact Games, the Organizing Committee has completed a study of the carbon footprint of the Rio Games and defined an emissions management strategy, based on impact measurement, cutting emissions, mitigation where possible and offsetting what cannot be mitigated.

To avert some of the consequences of energy use at the Games, Rio 2016 and Worldwide TOP Partner Dow announced the most comprehensive carbon dioxide (CO2) offset program in Olympic Games history. As the Official Carbon Partner of Rio 2016, Dow will mitigate 500,000 tons of CO2 equivalents through third party-verified emissions reductions somewhere else.

  • Technology-based carbon mitigation plan: This plan aims to mitigate 100 percent of the emissions generated by the Rio 2016 Games, which will amount to 500,000 tonnes of co2eq direct emissions from operation of the Games and 1.5 million tonnes of co2eq from spectators. Mitigation projects involve the agriculture, manufacturing and civil engineering sectors, and they will reap short, medium and long-term benefits.

One of Rio’s new state-of-the-art trams makes its way through the new-look waterfront district (Photo by Bruno Bartholini / Porto Maravilha) Posted for media use

Known as the VLT, Rio’s new light rail system started running in June. The high-tech trams have transformed public transport in the city center and given a futuristic look to the business district. The trams connect Santos Dumont domestic airport to the long-distance bus station, running through the waterfront district and stopping along the way at new museums and the busy cruise ship terminal. More than 200,000 people have already used the service.

Fleets of buses and trucks will be fueled by diesel containing 20 percent recycled cooking oil. Biodiesel emits less carbon and sulphur than petroleum diesel. It is estimated that 20,000 oil collectors will be involved, boosting the development of this production chain.

  • Logistics efficiency program: Logistics are a major factor in boosting the Games’ CO2 emissions. Rio 2016 is designing an intelligent route model to cut transportation time, fuel consumption and carbon emissions for the more than 30 million items to be brought in for the Games.

Allowing for public involvement has been an key part of the Organizing Committee’s work. Initial dialogue with civil society took place in 2013 and brought together 34 representatives of 24 organizations to assess the content of the Sustainability Management Plan. These meetings were held annually until this year. Organizers hope they will encourage a strong and effective post-Games transformation network.

  • Rio Alimentação Sustentável: Since 2013, Rio 2016 has been working in partnership with this voluntary organization focusing on healthy, sustainable foods. It is proposed that the Games act as a driving force to improve this sector in Brazil.

Rio 2016 has entered into partnerships with the Marine Stewardship Council and Aquaculture Stewardship Council so that suppliers can obtain sustainability certification for fish and seafood to be eaten during the Games.

For Rio 2016, one of the key points is waste management, since large volumes of waste will be generated daily during the Games. The great challenge is to minimize waste and raise awareness among spectators, athletes, volunteers about the best way to dispose of and recycle waste.

  • Rio 2016 headquarters waste management: The Organizing Committee has been operating without buying plastic cups, reducing the number of printers available and not providing individual waste bins.
  • Guide to sustainability for packaging: One of the critical points in the generation of waste is packaging. With this in mind, in April 2013, Rio 2016 published a guide to sustainable packaging, in which the committee laid down sustainability options and mandatory requirements for this category of items, including labeling, eco-design, accessibility of information and packaging materials.
  • Games waste management strategies: The strategy began during the preparatory phase and will end when the venues are dismantled. Recycling cooperatives will be involved, and the strategy is based on this sequence: waste generation avoidance → minimizing volume → managing inevitable waste → promoting behavioral change. The strategy also includes treatment of organic waste through composting, in order to reduce the amount that is sent to landfills.
  • Olympic Games Impact (OGI) study: In 2014, the Organizing Committee published its first OGI study, carried out by the Rio de Janeiro Federal University School of Engineering and containing an analysis of 22 environmental, 76 socio-cultural and 25 economic indicators. The first edition relates to the period 2007-2013. A further three reports are to be published, covering impacts up to 2019.

After successfully hosting 44 test events, the Rio 2016 team and the venues are ready for action, with all the facilities receiving their final Olympic touches before the athletes start to arrive. The velodrome and equestrian venues, which were being monitored closely by the organizers, are in the final stage of preparation, and will be ready for the Games.

Golf as an Olympic sport was added just this year, and Rio created a golf course in the previously degraded area of Marapendi, west of Rio to host the new sport. Before the start of work, about 80 percent of the golf course land was degraded by sand extraction, and by the manufacturing and storage of pre-cast concrete.

Over at the Olympic Golf Course, Rio 2016 Sustainability Coordinator Carina Flores says the fresh vegetation has led to “a positive spiral for the development of wildlife.”

 Records indicate the presence of 263 animal species in the region today, as compared with 118 mapped before construction.

 An inspection of the golf course was conducted in December 2015, after a public civil action was filed by state prosecutors who questioned the environmental impact of the golf course construction work. Prosecutors, legal advisors and technicians environmentalists were among the inspectors.

 The forensic report from Brazil’s Court of Justice concluded, “The environmental gain in the region with the construction of the golf course is visible. In addition to the flora, which increased extensively, we can observe the different animal species that have returned to the area.

Rio 2016 is ready to welcome the world,” said International Olympic Committee Coordination Commission Chair Nawal el Moutawakel.

The Olympians of 2016 can look forward to living in an outstanding Olympic Village and competing in absolutely stunning venues,” she said. “From views of the Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain to the new state-of-the-art facilities in Barra or Deodoro and the iconic Maracanã Stadium and Copacabana Beach, I cannot imagine more spectacular backdrops for the world’s top sportsmen and women to showcase their talents to a watching world.

Hope for Cancer Patients in Genomic Data Sharing

By Sunny Lewis

BELFAST, Northern Ireland, May 23, 2016 ( News) – Oncologists share information about their cancer cases through medical journals and conferences, but now cancer experts want to assemble big data files on millions of cancer patients from around the world for high-performance computers to analyze.


Professor Mark Lawler of Queen’s University Belfast’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology is leading the genomic data-sharing movement. (Photo courtesy Queen’s University Belfast) Posted for media use.

Professor Mark Lawler of Queen’s University Belfast’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology believes analysis of patients’ genetic information will reveal relationships that could hold the keys to revolutionizing cancer prevention and care.

“Cancer is an incredibly complex disease, and it is constantly changing. Each person’s cancer is different,” Lawler said. “The key to staying ahead in the fight against cancer is to properly understand how the disease evolves. We need to look at the big picture and identify patterns between groups of patients, whose information currently resides in different databases and institutions.”

Professor Lawler is corresponding author of a paper on the subject published last week in the international journal “Nature Medicine.

“The term ‘big data’ refers to huge amounts of information that can be analyzed by high-performance computers to reveal patterns, trends and associations,” said Lawler. “In medical terms, this includes clinical and genomic data that is derived from patients during, for example, diagnostic testing and treatment.”

“Imagine if we could create a searchable cancer database that allowed doctors to match patients from different parts of the world with suitable clinical trials,” Lawler said. “This genetic matchmaking approach would allow us to develop personalized treatments for each individual’s cancer, precisely targeting rogue cells and improving outcomes for patients.”

 Professor Lillian Siu from Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and the University of Toronto is joint lead author on this study. “With the development of new technologies that have enabled the rapid and affordable profiling of cancer tumors, there has been an explosion of clinical and genomic data,” she explained.

 “Hospitals, laboratories and research facilities around the world hold huge amounts of this data from cancer patients. But this information is currently held in isolated ‘silos’ that don’t talk to each other,” said Siu. “It is this lack of information sharing that threatens the advancement of tailored patient care.”

The paper by Lawler and Siu highlights the potential of ‘big data’ to unlock the secrets inside cancer cells and enable the development of more effective personalized treatments.

“To do this,” said Lawler, “we must break down the ‘data silos’ that Professor Siu refers to and ensure that genetic and clinical information is shared.”

For example, an experimental drug that stimulates the immune system, used in combination with chemotherapy, shrank tumors in patients with pancreatic cancer, according to a preliminary U.S. clinical trial of 47 patients published in April in “The Lancet Oncology.”

Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed too late for patients to have surgery, as their disease has started to spread. At this point, doctors can use chemotherapy and combinations of other therapies to control the disease, but survival remains low for these patients.

 The immunotherapy drug, known as PF-04136309, attacks certain immune cells found in pancreatic tumors. These cells prevent other parts of the immune system from attacking the cancer. Research has shown that the drug can alter this response, and help turn the immune system on again.

Professor Andrew Biankin, a Cancer Research UK expert in pancreatic cancer based in Glasgow, said, “There is a desperate need for new ways to treat pancreatic cancer. And this promising early stage study suggests that treatments that harness the power of the immune system may be of benefit to people with pancreatic cancer when combined with chemotherapy.”

If shared, the genomic data from the 47 test patients in this initial study could be of great help to others with similar pancreatic cancers.

Lawler also co-chairs the Cancer Task Team of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH), established in 2013 to create a common framework for the responsible, voluntary and secure sharing of patients’ clinical and genomic data.

GA4GH’s founder, David Haussler of the Genomics Institute at the University of California Santa Cruz, is a co-author of the genomics data-sharing paper with Lawler and Siu.

Growing quickly, GA4GH is a partnership among scientists, clinicians, patients and the IT and Life Sciences industry involving more than 400 organizations in over 40 countries.

Members range from small hospitals and laboratories to major genomic centers like the Broad Institute in the United States, BGI in China, and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom, even Google and Amazon.

Writing in Bio-IT World, Aaron Krol points out, “These members have signed on to GA4GH out of recognition that, twelve years after the completion of the Human Genome Project, the growth of genomic data has outstripped the containers built to hold it. Most of the computational structures that scientists use to deal with DNA data were invented ad hoc, at a time when sequencing even the genome of a single bacterium was a huge accomplishment. Through its Data Working Group, GA4GH wants to replace many existing standards, conventions, and file formats with new ones that will scale to searching through genomes at the level of whole populations – and, crucially, make it easier for separate organizations to share data.”

It may be a good idea to share genomic data in an effort to conquer cancer, but there are many challenges, as Professor Lawler acknowledges.

“This data sharing presents logistical, technical and ethical challenges. Our paper highlights these challenges and proposes potential solutions to allow the sharing of data in a timely, responsible and effective manner,” Lawler said. “We hope this blueprint will be adopted by researchers around the world and enable a unified global approach to unlocking the value of data for enhanced patient care.”

Professor Lawler is funded by the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK. The paper, entitled ‘Facilitating a culture of responsible and effective sharing of cancer genome data’ is published in “Nature Medicine,” Volume 22, Number 5, pp 464-471 May 2016.

Video by David Haussler: The Quest to Conquer Cancer: Computer Geeks to the Rescue! (14 minutes)

Featured Image : Scanning electron micrograph of a multi-cellular prostate tumor treated with nanomedicines carrying the anticancer drug doxorubicin. The purple regions show areas of cells dying through programmed cell death, or apoptosis, while the yellow-green regions are healthy cells. (Photo by Khuloud T. Al-Jamal & Izzat Suffian / Wellcome Images) Creative Commons license via Flickr

EU Warns of Toxic Toys, Clothes


Workers assemble children’s wear in a textile factory in Huzhou, China. Greenpeace tested the garments for hazardous residues of nonylphenol ethoxylates, phthalates, antimony and other toxics and found plenty of chemical risks. (Photo by Greenpeace International)


By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, April 28, 2016 ( News) – Buyers beware! The European Commission has published new figures showing that last year more than 2,000 dangerous products triggered EU-wide alerts. Coping with the threats involves stemming the rising tide of products bought online from outside the European Union.

In 2015, there were 2,072 alerts and 2,745 follow-up actions registered in the Rapid Alert system. Since 2003, the system ensures that information about dangerous non-food products withdrawn from the market and/or recalled anywhere in Europe is quickly circulated between Member States and the European Commission.

Last year, the most frequently notified risk – 25 percent of the total of all notifications – was chemical risk, in toys, clothing and jewelry.

Last year, toys (27 percent) and clothing, textiles and fashion items (17 percent) were the two main product categories for which corrective measures had to be taken. These were also the most notified products in 2014, but that year the risk of injuries, rather than chemical risk, was the most frequently notified.

The most frequent chemical risks notified in 2015 related to products such as fashion jewelry, contaminated with harmful heavy metals like nickel and lead, and toys containing phthalates – a family of industrial chemicals used to soften PVC plastic. Phthalates can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system, particularly the developing testes.

With 62 percent of the notified dangerous products coming from China, this country remains the number one country of origin in the alert system. It is the EU’s largest source of imports.

The Commission, EU Member States and businesses are working together to ensure that these unsafe consumer goods are removed from the European market.

Věra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, says she plans to go to China in June to advance cooperation with the Chinese authorities on product safety.

“Two challenges lie ahead of us: online sales bringing products directly to consumer’s houses through mail, and the strong presence of Chinese products signaled through the Rapid Alert system,” said the commissioner.

“The Rapid Alert system has helped coordinate quick reactions between consumer protection authorities to remove dangerous products across Europe,” she said.

This way, appropriate follow-up action, such as a ban on sales, withdrawal, recall or import rejection by Customs authorities, can be taken anywhere in the EU.

Thirty-one countries – the 28 EU Member States together with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, currently participate in the system.

When one Member State posts an alert on the system, other countries can spot the product on their market and react to this initial alert.

Over 65 percent of Europeans buy products online and the number of online shoppers has grown by 27 percent between 2006 and 2015. A new challenge is now to address the online channel, which also brings products from outside the EU through mail into consumers’ households that may not have been subjected to safety verification.

The Commission is working on further improving the Rapid Alert system to include online purchases.

Collaboration with the Chinese authorities continues to be a priority for the EU and, more specifically, takes place within the Rapid Alert System China mechanism.

Each notification concerning a product of Chinese origin is sent to the Chinese administration, so that they address the issue with the manufacturer or exporter directly if these economic operators are traceable.

To date, China has followed up on as many as 11,540 notifications and has been able to take corrective measures in 3,748 cases. In many cases, tracing the source of the product remains difficult.

Featured image: Soft plastic toys are softened with phthlates, exposure to which can cause serious health problems. (Photo by bergerbot)



Act Local, Think Global: Three Ways to Ignite Positive Environmental Change

 Arlington, VA – Friday, April 22, 2016 – In observance of Earth Day, the international conservation organization Rare is offering up three easy ways you can be a catalyst for global change.

The strain on the Earth’s natural resources poses an increasing threat to the well-being of both people and nature. Though people are often the source of these pressures, they also hold the solutions – and it all starts with behavior.

Salmon_for_sale1.  Ensure your seafood is sourced sustainably.

42% of people worldwide rely on fish as an important source of protein.

Most of the world’s fisheries are unmanaged and overexploited, and are in serious decline. This puts our food supply in jeopardy and makes ecosystems less healthy and more vulnerable to climate and other changes. A compelling action a single consumer can take is purchasing local, sustainably caught seafood. Check packaging labels, diversify your selection, and seek out seafood guides that list which fish that are caught and sourced sustainably.

Helpful articles on Sustainable Seafood:

2.  Organize or join a community-led clean up near waterways to prevent contamination to rivers, lakes and other fresh water sources.

 Freshwater ecosystems cover less than 1% of the Earth’s surface, but are home to 35% of all vertebrate species.

A healthy watershed, with its forests and unique biodiversity, provides water storage, regulates and filters fresh water and is critical to flood management to surrounding areas. By removing plastics bottles, bags, and other debris along the waterway, you ensure the watershed ecosystem remains healthy and productive.

Helpful Waterways Cleanup resources: 


3.    Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and get to know your local farmer, what they grow, and how they grow it.Agriculture is one of the leading sources of water pollution worldwide.

Small-scale farmers often overuse fertilizer, pesticides and other harmful chemicals. This pollution leaches into streams and aquifers with dangerous effects, finding ways into wetland and river ecosystems. Community Supported Agriculture Networks are an easy and delicious way to engage in your community, and encourage others to adopt more sustainable behaviors. Ensuring that your food is grown locally and pesticide-free benefits the health of both people and nature alike.

Helpful Community Supported Agriculture resources: 

“We believe that conservation’s greatest challenges are the result of human behaviors. And, so too are the solutions,” said Brett Jenks, CEO of Rare. “Rare’s signature Pride campaigns inspire pride around unique natural assets and create a clear path for local change.  By empowering communities to seek their own solutions, the change tends to stick.”

Rare has been implementing proven conservation solutions and training local leaders in communities worldwide for more than 25 years.  Rare’s hope is to inspire people to take pride in their community, not just on Earth Day but all year, and suggests these practical alternatives to environmentally destructive practices.


Rare-Logo-FullColorABOUT RARE

Rare is an innovative conservation organization that implements proven conservation solutions and trains local leaders in communities worldwide.  Through its signature Pride campaigns, Rare inspires people to take pride in the species and habitats that make their community unique, while also introducing practical alternatives to environmentally destructive practices. Employees of local governments or non-profit organizations receive extensive training on fisheries management, campaign planning and social marketing to communities.  They are equipped to deliver community-based solutions based on natural and social science, while leveraging policy and market forces to accelerate change through programs such as Fish Forever.  To learn more about Rare.


Images: Creative commons license via Wikipedia and free stock photos 

Smartphones, Wearables Empower Health Providers

Paper Skin is a simple paper-based device that detects changes in electrical conductivity. (Photo courtesy King Abdullah University of Science and Technology)

By Sunny Lewis

CYBERSPACE, April 7, 2016 ( News) – Device development at the intersection of smartphones, wearable and flexible electronics, everyday materials and healthcare is advancing quickly.

Scientists are working on smartphone microscopes to detect skin cancers, smartphone software to diagnose ear infections, and smart contact lenses to track blood sugar levels.

Wearable electronics show promise for wireless health monitoring and touch-free computer interfaces. One lab is making paper skin that can detect touch, pressure, temperature and acidity.

And then, of course, there’s the Apple watch.

Skin Cancers Show Up Under Smartphone Microscopes

Smartphone microscopes could improve detection of skin cancers in developing countries, dermatologists at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston (UTHealth) said in February.

SmartphoneMicroscope“Doctors in some remote areas don’t have access to the high-powered microscopes we use to evaluate skin samples,” said Richard Jahan-Tigh, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “Doctors there could conceivably use their smartphones to photograph growths and forward them for examination.”

A smartphone microscope can be made with a 3 mm ball lens, a tiny piece of plastic to hold the ball lens over the smartphone lens and tape to grip everything in place. Typically used for laser optics, a ball lens costs about $14 at an electronics store in the USA.

A doctor or technician holds a smartphone microscope over a skin sample on a slide. The doctor then either reads the sample or takes a photo and emails it to a pathologist for interpretation.

A study conducted by Jahan-Tigh and colleagues at McGovern Medical School and Harvard Medical School found smartphone microscopes to be “reasonably accurate.”

Findings appear in the journal “Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine.”

The World Health Organization reports between two and three million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 deadly melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year.

Ear Infection Detection

Researchers at Sweden’s Umeå University, collaborating with scientists at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, have developed a way to simplify the diagnosis of ear infections, which annually affect half a billion children worldwide.

The software-based method is a cloud-based analysis of eardrum images taken using an otoscope, an instrument normally used in the medical examination of ears.

Images of eardrums, taken with a digital otoscope connected to a smartphone, are compared to high-resolution images in an archive and automatically categorized into diagnostic groups.

The method is described in “EBioMedicine,” a new publication of the British medical journal “The Lancet.”

Accuracy is as good or better than the rate of 64 to 80 percent achieved by doctors using traditional otoscopes for diagnosis.

“Because of lack of health personnel in many developing countries, ear infections are often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. This may lead to hearing impairments, and even to life-threatening complications,” said co-author Claude Laurent, researcher at the Department of Clinical Sciences at Umeå University.

“This method has great potential to ensure accurate diagnoses of ear infections in countries where such opportunities are not available at present.”

Smart Contact Lenses Help Diabetics

Samsung has applied for a patent in South Korea for contact lenses that can project images into a wearer’s eyes. The lenses embed a camera, an antenna and sensors controlled by blinking. A smartphone is needed for processing.

The South Korean copyright authority has published the application made by the consumer electronics firm in September 2014, reports the technology blog Sammobile this week.

Under the Samsung patent application a sensor on the lens is usable as a monitor for blood glucose levels.

Now, diabetics prick themselves to get a blood sample that they test for blood sugar with a portable electronic device. But many grow weary of puncturing their skin on a daily basis.

Samsung applied for its smart contacts patent in 2014, the same year Google received patents  in the United States for its smart contact lenses.

In July 2014, the Swiss healthcare company Novartis announced that its eye care division, Alcon, would license the smart lens from a division of Google Inc.

Google and Novartis now are collaborating on a glucose-monitoring contact lens for diabetics that can detect the glucose in tears.

A smartphone or wearable computer, eyeglasses, jewelry, a scarf, hat or headband can incorporate a reader for the lens-embedded sensor.

Human trials of the Google-Novartis smart contact lenses are expected to begin this year.

Smart Scalpels

To make the removal of brain tumors more precise, David Oliva Uribe designed a “smart scalpel.”

While not wearable, this scalpel is smart enough to locate cancerous tumors in the brain. It contains sensors that by wiping a surface can determine whether the area is healthy or tumorous.

President of Mexican Talent Network Abroad chapter Belgium, Oliva said the device took six years to design. The mechanical and sensory parts were made at the University of Hannover, Germany, and neurosurgery hospitals, and the digital processing developed at the Free University of Brussels.

The smart scalpel is designed to be used in the operating room when a brain tumor is diagnosed and must be removed.

Sensors in the scalpel warn the neurosurgeon with visual and/or auditory displays about the status of the tissue. Results are obtained in less than half a second, saving vital time during an operation.

The prototype has been tested in artificial tumors and brain tissue from pigs. Human trials are next.

Oliva says the sensor technology can be miniaturized and adapted to detect tumors in the stomach or intestine. He foresees the use of smart scalpels in robot-assisted surgeries.

Test Papers

Everyday materials such as aluminum foil, sticky note paper, sponges and tape, are being used by electrical engineers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia to develop a low-cost sensor that can detect touch, pressure, temperature, acidity and humidity.

Their work was published on February 19 in the inaugural issue of the German journal “Advanced Materials Technologies.”

Current research employs expensive and sophisticated materials and processes. But this sensor, called Paper Skin, performs just as well, integrating multiple functions using ordinary, inexpensive materials, its developers say.

“Our work has the potential to revolutionize the electronics industry and opens the door to commercializing affordable high-performance sensing devices,” said Muhammad Mustafa Hussain, KAUST associate professor of electrical engineering from the University’s Integrated Nanotechnology Lab.

” Here we show a scalable ‘garage’ fabrication approach using off-the-shelf and inexpensive household elements.”

The team used sticky note paper to detect humidity, sponges and wipes to detect pressure and aluminum foil to detect motion. Coloring a sticky note with a pencil enables the paper to detect acidity levels, while aluminum foil and conductive silver ink were used to detect temperature differences.

At Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Swedish researchers have a new synthetic paper that allows simultaneous screenings for multiple conditions.

Unlike standard paper-based diagnostic materials, the structure of the synthetic paper is predetermined, not random.

“We also eliminate the variation between different sheets of paper because of differences in the structure, so all the medical tests will be as accurate,” said Dr. Jonas Hansson in the Micro and Nanosystems department at KTH.

The synthetic paper can tell more than whether a person has a disease or not. It can enable a user to determine the concentration of one or more biomarkers in a body fluid.

A combined pregnancy and HIV self-test could be conducted with a single sample on the synthetic paper because different parts of the paper can be used for different types of tests.

The KTH researchers say heart attack screening is one future possibility, helping patients get test results within 20 to 30 minutes, not the much longer wait times common in hospitals today.

Watching Your Heart

The best known wearable healthcare device is the smartwatch developed by Apple Inc. The Apple Watch incorporates fitness tracking and health-oriented features integrated with iOS and other Apple products and services.

The heart rate sensor in Apple Watch uses technology known as photoplethysmography. Difficult to pronounce, the science behind it is simple. Blood is red because it reflects red light and absorbs green light.

Apple Watch uses green LED lights paired with light‑sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through a wrist. When a heart beats, the blood flow in the wearer’s wrist – and the green light absorption – is greater. Between beats, it’s less.

By flashing LED lights hundreds of times per second, Apple Watch can calculate the number of times the heart beats each minute.

Relying on a wirelessly connected iPhone, an Apple Watch selects the best inputs for whatever the wearer is doing. When running indoors, it uses the accelerometer. When cycling outdoors, it uses the GPS in the phone.

Even when the wearer is not in a dedicated workout, the Apple Watch tracks movement, supplying – as with all these technologies – information key to improving fitness and health.

Main image: Paper Skin is a simple paper-based platform that detects changes in electrical conductivity according to external stimuli. (Photo courtesy King Abdullah University of Science and Technology)

Image 01: Using a smartphone microscope, UTHealth’s Richard Jahan-Tigh, M.D., is able to detect non-melanoma skin cancer about 90 percent of the time. (Photo courtesy UTHealth)

Featured image:  Google and Novartis are collaborating on a glucose-monitoring contact lens for diabetics. (Photo courtesy Google, Novartis)

Earth Hour: Going Dark to ‘Change Climate Change’


Engro Green Office Program personnel celebrate Earth Hour 2015 with a candlelight vigil in Karachi, Pakistan. March 27, 2015. (Photo by Green Office Engro) creative commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

SINGAPORE, March 17, 2016 ( News) – On Saturday evening, March 19 at exactly 20:30 local time, millions of people around the world will switch off their non-essential lights for one hour to show their commitment to cooling the over-heated planet. This is Earth Hour, a WWF initiative to inspire climate change action.


Earth Hour Global Executive Director Sid Das joined Earth Hour from Google in 2009, when he lived in Sydney, Australia. He moved to Singapore with the Earth Hour organizing team in 2012. (Photo courtesy Earth Hour)

“The world is at a climate crossroads,” said Siddarth Das, executive director, Earth Hour Global, based in Singapore. “While we are experiencing the impacts of climate change more than ever, we are also witnessing a new momentum in climate action transcending borders and generations.”

“From living rooms to classrooms and conference rooms, people are demanding climate action,” said Das. “This 10th edition of Earth Hour is our time to ensure people are empowered to be a part of climate solutions.”

In 2007, WWF-Australia inspired Sydney residents to show their support for climate change action in the first Earth Hour event. More than 2,000 businesses and 2.2 million individuals turned their lights out for an hour to take a stand against runaway climate change.

Over Earth Hour’s 10-year history, an increasing number of businesses, individuals, institutions and landmarks have participated.

Last year, 7,000 cities in more than 170 countries and territories got involved.

This year, WWF Earth Hour organizers believe their campaign has helped persuade people to cool their demand for electricity generated by fossil fuels after 195 nations agreed in December to limit their greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations Paris Climate Agreement.


As Vice President of the WWF Climate Change Program, Lou Leonard is the organization’s strategic leader on fighting climate change. (Photo courtesy WWF-US)

Based in Washington, DC, Lou Leonard is vice president, climate and energy, World Wildlife Fund, which is WWF in the United States. “Earth Hour arrives at a pivotal moment. The threat has never been clearer but the momentum has never been so clearly on our side,” he said. “Last year was the warmest year on record and the first year the entire world agreed to act together to turn back the climate threat.”

“But we can’t stop here,” warned Leonard. “As the lights go out from New Zealand to New York, it’s time to do the work needed to make the Paris Agreement come alive. From the Clean Power Plan in America to a national cap-and-trade law in China, to a global system to tackle international aviation pollution, 2016 is the year where we can prove that a zero-carbon future is within our grasp. It’s up to all of us to do our part.”

In the United States alone, many landmarks and businesses have pledged to go dark for Earth Hour. They include: the Empire State Building and many Broadway theatres in New York City, the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, the Space Needle in Seattle, and dozens of the casinos on the Las Vegas Strip and in other cities across the country. See a complete list here.

Around the world, more than 350 of the world’s most iconic landmarks will be turning out the lights on Saturday evening, including the Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and Taipei 101 in Taiwan.

WWF’s Earth Hour City Challenge is mobilizing action and support from cities throughout the world in the global transition towards a climate-friendly future by offering recognition as a reward.

Cities are invited to report inspiring and credible commitments and actions that build climate resilient communities based on renewable energy and low carbon development.

One city will be crowned as the 2016 global Earth Hour Capital, selected by an international jury of experts from among 124 participating cities across 21 countries.

The Earth Hour City Challenge began in 2012, when WWF invited cities from six countries – Canada, India, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the United States – to participate. A total of 66 cities accepted WWF’s challenge – the winner, announced in 2013, was Vancouver, Canada.

Last year, Seoul, South Korea was the global winner of WWF’s Earth Hour City Challenge out of 166 participating cities in 17 countries. An ambitious initiative by the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 million tons and to achieve 20 percent electricity self-reliance by 2020 was acclaimed by the international jury of experts.

As part of the 2015 Earth Hour City Challenge, the city of Balikpapan, Indonesia was recognized as the Most Loveable City. Balikpapan was one of 47 green city finalists selected through the social media platform We Love Cities . The We Love Cities site enables visitors to vote for the city they love the most this year. The most loveable city will be announced April 9.

WWF explains, “The Earth Hour City Challenge is not about rewarding cities for the most impressive, hi-tech plans, but about commitment and innovative thinking that promotes attractive, one-planet lifestyles, and provides solutions to the challenges of food, water and energy security.”

To date, Earth Hour has powered more than 530,000 individual actions taken “to help change climate change.”

WWF and Earth Hour teams across six continents are working right now to mobilize public action on climate change in the lead-up to the hour and throughout the year.

They are rallying individuals to participate in reforestation efforts in Georgia and Indonesia, promoting a switch to renewables in Uganda and India, spreading awareness on sustainable food in Italy and Australia and encouraging sustainable lifestyles in Chile and China.

For the first time this year, supporters have been invited to share their commitment to the planet by donating their own personal landmarks – their Facebook feeds and social media profile pictures – to Earth Hour to inspire their friends and communities to join the movement. Click here to donate.

Follow Earth Hour and/or comment on Twitter at #ChangeClimateChange.

Das said, “Whether it is the flick of a switch or the click of a mouse, Earth Hour’s enduring appeal lies in its ability to connect people and show them that we all stand united in our ambition to change climate change.”EarthHourWebBanner

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.


Zika Virus ‘Spreading Explosively’ Across the Americas


Microcephaly is a birth defect where a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly. (Drawings courtesy Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Public domain.

By Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, February 2, 2016 ( News) – The head of the World Health Organization Monday declared the spread of the Zika virus to 24 countries in the Americas “a public health emergency of international concern.”

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that is new to the Americas. Since Brazil reported the first cases of local transmission of the virus in May 2015, it has spread within Brazil and to 23 other countries and territories in the region.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that four million people could be affected by the Zika virus over the next 12 months.

Arrival of the virus in Brazil its spread across the Americas has been associated with a steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and incomplete brain development, a condition called microcephaly.

The Brazilian government has confirmed that the Zika virus infection in pregnant women can cause microcephaly in the fetus, but not every pregnant woman who is infected will have the baby with a small head.

Also associated with Zika infection is an increase in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a poorly understood condition in which the immune system attacks the nervous system, sometimes resulting in paralysis.

“A causal relationship between Zika virus infection and birth defects and neurological syndromes has not been established, but is strongly suspected,” says the WHO.

WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan Monday convened an Emergency Committee meeting of 18 experts and advisers via teleconference to gather advice on the severity of the health threat associated with the continuing spread of Zika virus disease in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Acting on the advice of the Emergency Committee, Dr. Chan Monday declared that the recent cluster of microcephaly cases and other neurological disorders reported in Brazil, following a similar cluster in French Polynesia in 2014, constitutes “a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”

No vaccines exist to prevent infection with the virus. It is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also spreads dengue fever. There are no specific treatments or rapid diagnostic tests for Zika.

Dr. Chan said WHO will prioritize the development of vaccines and new tools to control mosquito populations, as well as improving diagnostic tests.

“A coordinated international response is needed to improve surveillance, the detection of infections, congenital malformations, and neurological complications, to intensify the control of mosquito populations, and to expedite the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines to protect people at risk, especially during pregnancy,” she said.

At present, the most important protective measures are the control of mosquito populations and the prevention of mosquito bites in at-risk individuals, especially pregnant women.

“The Zika virus was first isolated in 1947 from a monkey in the Zika forest of Uganda. Its historical home has been in a narrow equatorial belt stretching across Africa and into equatorial Asia,” Dr. Chan told the WHO Executive Board in a January 28 briefing.

“For decades, the disease, transmitted by the Aedes genus of mosquito, slumbered, affecting mainly monkeys. In humans, Zika occasionally caused a mild disease of low concern,” Chan explained.

In 2007, Zika expanded its geographical range to cause the first documented outbreak in the Pacific islands, in the Federated States of Micronesia. From 2013-2014, four additional Pacific island nations documented large Zika outbreaks.

“The situation today is dramatically different,” said Dr. Chan. “Last year, the virus was detected in the Americas, where it is now spreading explosively. As of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the region. The level of alarm is extremely high.”

WHO is “deeply concerned” about this rapidly evolving situation, in part because conditions associated with this year’s El Nino weather pattern are expected to greatly increase mosquito populations in many areas.

PAHO anticipates that Zika virus will continue to spread and will likely reach all countries and territories of the region where Aedes mosquitoes are found.

Yet, the Emergency Committee found no public health justification for restrictions on travel or trade to prevent the spread of the Zika virus.

Only about one in five people infected with the Zika virus will feel sick. In those that do, symptoms are usually mild and can include fever, rash, joint pain and red eye.

The role of Aedes mosquitoes in transmitting Zika is documented and well understood, while evidence about other transmission routes is limited, says the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the regional office of the World Health Organization for the Americas.

Zika has been isolated in human semen, and one case of possible person-to-person sexual transmission has been described. However, says PAHO, more evidence is needed to confirm whether sexual contact is a means of Zika transmission.

Zika can be transmitted through blood, but this is an infrequent mechanism. Standard precautions that are already in place for ensuring safe blood donations and transfusions should be followed, PAHO advises.

Evidence on mother-to-child transmission of Zika during pregnancy or childbirth is also limited. Research is currently under way to generate more evidence regarding perinatal transmission and to better understand how the virus affects babies.

There is currently no evidence that Zika can be transmitted to babies through breast milk.

In the coming weeks, the World Health Organization will convene experts to address critical gaps in scientific knowledge about the virus and its potential effects on fetuses, children and adults.

In Brazil the number of Zika infections is estimated to top 1.3 million cases, according to the medical journal “The Lancet.”

President Dilma Rousseff will broadcast a plea to all Brazilians to wipe out the Aedes mosquito in a video recorded Monday for broadcast nationwide on Wednesday.

Brazilian government officials are even considering cancelling this summer’s Olympic Games, just seven months away.

Presidential Chief of Staff Jacques Wagner said Monday that “there is the possibility of cancellation of the Olympics in August because of the seriousness of the problem.”

In the United States, President Barack Obama is taking steps to warn the American people and help them to protect themselves.

The U.S. mainland does have Aedes species mosquitoes that can become infected with and spread Zika virus. U.S. travelers who visit a country where Zika is found could become infected if bitten by a mosquito.

In a meeting with Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, and other health and national security advisors, Obama emphasized the need to accelerate research efforts on diagnostic tests, to develop vaccines and therapeutics, and to ensure that all Americans have information about the Zika virus and steps they can take to better protect themselves.


Mosquito populations should be reduced and controlled by eliminating breeding sites, authorities advise. Containers that can hold even small amounts of water where mosquitoes can breed, such as buckets, flower pots or tires, should be emptied, cleaned or covered to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in them. Larvicide can be used to treat standing waters.

All people living in or visiting areas with Aedes mosquitoes should protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellent; wearing clothes that cover as much of the body as possible; using physical barriers such as screens, closed doors and windows; and sleeping under mosquito nets, especially during the day when Aedes mosquitoes are most active.

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image:  The Aedes aegypti mosquito spreads Zika and dengue fever, among other illnesses. (Photo by James Gathany) Public domain.

Cities Show Strong Climate Leadership in Paris

ParisGreening copy

UPDATE December 4, 2015 : For 2015 winners list visit: City Climate Leadership Awards 2015

PARIS, France, December 3, 2015 (Maximpact News) – Cities consume roughly 80 percent of the world’s energy production, and they are responsible for up to 70 percent of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, according to German government figures. So, while cities are big contributors to climate change, at the same time they offer great potential for emission reductions.

At the UN climate talks in Paris, known as COP21, short for 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, cities and their mayors are playing a leading role.

Demonstrating their commitment to an ambitious global climate solution, the Compact of Mayors is the world’s largest coalition of city leaders addressing climate change. They are pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, tracking their progress and preparing for the impacts of climate change.

The Compact of Mayors was launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City.

The Compact of Mayors operates under the leadership of the world’s global city networks – C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group , ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, and the UCLG – United Cities and Local Governments, with support from UN-Habitat, the UN’s lead agency on urban issues.

Thousands of mayors and local leaders will come together in Paris, from December 3-8, to strengthen the voices of local and regional governments, mobilized by the UCLG network of Regional Sections, Committees and partners.

“In cities, the Road to Paris began more than a decade ago. In 2015, as we come together as a global community around the COP21 negotiating table, cities are factoring into the climate equation in a big way,” said Eduardo Paes, C40 Chair and Mayor of Rio de Janeiro.

In August, Rio became the world’s first city to be fully compliant with the Compact of Mayors, the world’s largest common platform for cities to report their emissions, set targets and develop plans to cut emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change.

“This past year has seen the global significance of cities brought to the fore, with much applause for the decisive work of mayors, and the crucial impact the world’s megacities have on our global future,” said Paes.

Now that Rio has led the way, other cities are following the low-carbon path.

Late last month, ICLEI announced the full compliance of 20 local governments, who join the previous 11 cities that have achieved this status – Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Melbourne, New York, Oslo, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, Stockholm, Sydney and Washington, DC.

These 20 new cities and towns, supported by ICLEI in reporting full compliance, represent 30.77 million inhabitants from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and Oceania.

Among them, Seoul is the city of Mayor Park Won-soon, the president of ICLEI who has been advocating for cities and towns around the globe to join the Compact of Mayors since taking on his presidency in April.

Another highlight is New Taipei City on the island of Taiwan, the first city in Asia to achieve full compliance.

This year’s annual C40 Cities Awards will be handed out during the COP21 meeting in Paris. Their goal is to share replicable best practices across cities, while drawing attention to outstanding performances that have achieved a high level of environmental success in a challenging context.

The C40 Cites Award winner will be announced at the gala event tonight in Paris. Whichever city, wins, each of the 33 finalists, including Paris, is extraordinary in its own way.

The Paris Greening Program is a key part of Paris’s Climate and Energy action plan, its first city-wide adaptation plan.

Creating more green spaces in one of the densest cities in the world is both a challenge and an opportunity to tackle the urban heat island effect, grow food, develop biodiversity corridors and create new social spaces.

The Paris Greening Program requires green roofs on all new buildings. One hundred additional hectares of roofs and facades will be green, and a third of them will be used for the production of fruit and vegetables. There will be 30 hectares of new green spaces, and 20,000 more trees will be planted in Paris.

Cities have been early adopters of low-carbon standards. By June 2015 cities and regions had reported over 1,000 energy and climate commitments, 5,201 climate actions and 1,099 inventories of greenhouse gas emissions.

The aggregated greenhouse gas emissions from local and subnational government operations are greater than those of any of the corporations in the top 10 of the UK Emissions Trading Scheme.

Fifteen local governments have committed to carbon neutrality or 100 percent renewable energy between 2020 and 2050, including Copenhagen, Denmark and Vancouver, Canada.

Mayor Gregor Robertson, just elected for his third term as mayor of Vancouver, says that Vancouver can meet all of its energy needs with 100 percent renewable sources of power, as part of becoming the greenest city in the world by 2020.

Even though Vancouver is already recognized as one of the most livable cities in the world, its environmental footprint is currently three times larger than the planet can sustain. Robertson and his team began their work at the beginning of 2009, when he assembled the Greenest City Action Team.

Today, the Greenest City Action Plan is one of the most rigorous roadmaps of any city in the world, ensuring transparency and accountability as it follows 10 long-term goals, with 15 measurable and ambitious targets for 2020.

Robertson wants to ensure that citizens are guaranteed clean air, a healthy economy, strong communities and energy security.

Robertson’s plan is also a beacon for cities around the world by demonstrating how going green is good for the economy, the community and the environment. Mayor Robertson’s work has received international recognition, as demonstrated by his recent invitation to join Pope Francis and other world mayors at the Vatican to address climate change and social justice.

Vijay Nehra, Municipal Commissioner of Rajkot, India, underlined the urgency of action by citing the recent casulties in his city due to heat waves.

Rajkot is currently addressing the problem by analyzing its greenhouse gas inventory which pointed out that 68 percent of the city’s energy is used in the provision of water, noting that much needs to be done to make the system more efficient. Rajkot is one of the model cities of Urban LEDS Project and District Energy Cities initiative of the UN Environment Programme and has already expressed intent to comply with the Compact of Mayors.

Mercè Rius, president for the environment of Barcelona, Spain said, “Barcelona and Catalonia are committed to further strengthen partnerships and cooperation across cities and regions and various cross-cutting initiatives, including the Compact of Mayors and actively contribute in the global advocacy of local and subnational governments.”

Local and subnational governments are leading the way at COP21 in Paris through the Transformative Actions Program – a new initiative to accelerate ambitious, cross-cutting and inclusive local climate actions by supporting climate investment in urban areas over the next 10 years.

The TAP is acting to create trust among sub-national governments, financing institutions and investors to lower the current perception of risk.

The TAP has selected 100 projects from cities around the world to be presented at the COP21, attracting and increasing funding for transformative actions.

At COP21, the TAP’s first pavilion provides a physical space for exchange, with selected presentations of the first 100 proposed projects to national delegations, private and international donors and financing agencies.

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

Featured image: Vancouver City And Park. Photo courtesy of Commons Wikimedia
Main image: The Paris Greening Programme is a key part of Paris’s Climate and Energy action plan, its first city-wide climate adaptation plan. Photo courtesy C40 Cities

Solar-Powered Lights Flick On Across Nigeria


By Sunny Lewis

WASHINGTON, DC, November 4, 2015 (Maximpact News) – The U.S. government’s development finance institution, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), has signed a US$15 million commitment to finance a business that provides solar electricity to homes and small business throughout Nigeria.

The off-grid electricity provider is Txtlight Power Solutions, Ltd. doing business as Nova-Lumos, and the signing took place on October 21 as part of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Climate and Clean Energy Investment Forum.

“Lumos brings vision, innovation, and sound business sense to address the power access challenge in Africa,” said Elizabeth Littlefield, OPIC’s president and chief executive.

“With a dedication to those who live off-grid or have unreliable power access,” she said, “Lumos’ creative business model will positively impact millions with new affordable electricity access in homes, businesses, medical facilities, and schools.”

This is the largest OPIC investment in Africa’s off-grid power sector, a key component of increasing energy access in a region where people are not grid-connected and the need for reliable power is especially acute.

Based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Nova-Lumos is the world’s first distributed utility provider, bringing affordable, modern and clean electricity to communities that have been living off the grid.

With this OPIC financing, Lumos will be able to increase power access to the nearly 90 million Nigerians who currently live without any connection to the electric grid.

Lumos connects the mobile payment revolution and solar energy. Through partnerships with mobile operators, Lumos provides electricity on a lease to own basis, purchased by mobile phone.

Lumos customers replace kerosene and candles with solar-powered electricity that can allows them to turn on lights, cellphones, fans, computers and TVs – all at once.

Lumos offers a patented, self-deployable mobile energy system, with integrated cellular payment and advanced security mechanisms. The service includes a home solar panel linked to an indoor storage and connection unit.

And it’s affordable. Lumos customers utilize a “pay-as-you-go” model, buying power in small amounts, by text message.

One the corporate level, it’s the $15 million in funding from OPIC that makes it possible for Lumos customers to make small, affordable payments.

David Vortman, Lumos chief executive and co-founder, said, “We are very excited about this major financing milestone in partnership with OPIC, which will enable us to accelerate our growth in Nigeria and improve the lives of millions.”

“Having the backing of an institution such as OPIC provides a vote of confidence in Lumos’ innovative core technology and our unique business model that drives most of our value as a company,” Vortman said.

Lumos’ business model is scalable in large part due to the company’s partnerships with mobile communications operators.

In Nigeria, Lumos has partnered with MTN, Nigeria largest telecommunications company with a subscriber base of over 60 million people.

Lumos was also a recipient of early-stage catalytic funding through OPIC and the Africa Clean Energy Finance initiative. This partnership with the U.S. State Department provided start-up capital for 30 innovative clean energy projects across 10 African countries.

Lumos recently became an official private sector partner of President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative, a partnership among more than 100 public and private sector partners to bring new power access to the more than 600 million Sub-Saharan Africans that currently live without electricity.

As a key part of Power Africa, OPIC financing allows private companies like Lumos to scale up business models and broadly increase new power access across Africa.

Vortman and other Lumos executives believe the Nigerian project is just the beginning of the company’s relationship with OPIC as it grows in Nigeria and elsewhere across the developing world.

OPIC declares that all its projects “adhere to high environmental and social standards and respect human rights, including worker’s rights.”

By mandating high standards, OPIC says it helps to raise the industry and regional standards of the more than 160 countries in which its projects operate.


A young girl in Nigeria is able to do her homework after dark with the help of a solar light powered by Lumos, an OPIC partner that provides off-grid solar solutions to remote communities.

(Photo courtesy OPIC)
Featured image: Nigerian man installs a Lumos solar system. Customers will pay by cellphone as they consume the power. (Photo courtesy Nova-Lumos)

Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.