Friday, November 5, 2010

Upcoming Climate Change Webchat November 10

In late November, representatives from nearly 200 nations will gather in CancĂșn, Mexico, to work toward a global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

The leading U.S. climate change negotiator, Todd Stern, has said that a global deal is possible if nations prove willing to reach compromises that are fair to all parties.

In a November 10 webchat with students and participants worldwide, Jeff Miotke, climate change coordinator for the special envoy for climate change, will answer questions about the United Nations–led summit in Mexico and discuss ways that countries can work together to fight climate change.

Miotke will also talk about U.S. priorities and expectations, and how his office hopes to build on progress made at last year’s climate summit in Copenhagen. The upcoming negotiations, known as Conference of Parties (COP-16), will be held November 29 through December 10.

The webchat, held at 8 a.m. EST (13:00 GMT) on November 10, is titled “COP-16: Collaborating on Climate Change.” It’s the fifth and last program in this season’s webchat series, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State to build a dialogue and spread knowledge about climate change — an issue that affects people worldwide.

If you’d like to participate, please go to No registration is needed.

Simply choose “Enter as a Guest,” type in your preferred screen name, and join the discussion. We accept questions and comments in advance of, and at any time during, the program.

The program will also be webcast in Portuguese at’s online conversations allow people on every continent to interact with climate change experts and activists from the government and nonprofit sectors, and from grass-roots organizations in the United States and beyond.

Miotke is a former State Department foreign service officer who has held positions in Lesotho, Hungary, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. He has also worked in different capacities with the State Department in Washington, including as a senior climate change negotiator for the Office of Global Change. He has earned a number of awards for his work, including the agency’s prestigious Frank Loy Award for Environmental Diplomacy.

Before joining the State Department, Miotke worked with overseas customers for Hewlett-Packard, as a management consultant for SRI International, and as a Peace Corps volunteer in Swaziland.

We hope to see you online November 10!

(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Swapping Kerosene for the Power of el Sol

"We have this enormous opportunity to create new businesses, to create a new more sustainable path towards economic development with energy." - Michael Callahan ||

Meet Michael Callahan. He’s starting a business to introduce renewable energy technology to Peru. He calls his business PowerMundo.

Callahan says there are 7.5 million people in Peru who continue to rely on kerosene lamps for light. Worldwide, he says over three billion people do not have access to appropriate technology to meet their basic needs for simple activities such as cooking meals, lighting homes, or purifying water. As a result, billions of people suffer from energy poverty, preventable illnesses, and deplorable living conditions.

There are hundreds of affordable products, like efficient cook stoves, solar lanterns, and UV water purifiers that can safely meet people’s daily needs and conserve the environment. Callahan says, for example, a $30 solar-powered lantern can light a home and save $15 per month in fuel costs while at the same time reducing carbon emissions. PowerMundo’s goal is to link impoverished populations with these products.

Conservation in a Changing Climate

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service sees firsthand what happens to animals and their habitats when nature reacts to rising temperatures. The federal agency recently unveiled an ambitious plan outlining how it plans to deal with climate change over the next 50 years.

All U.S. government agencies are rethinking how they do business as a rapidly warming climate disturbs natural resources, but few may be as focused on these changes as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Charged with protecting and managing animals and sensitive habitats in America’s vast wilderness areas, many of the agency’s 9,000 employees spent more than 18 months planning and consulting with environmental groups, state wildlife conservation agencies and other outside partners before unveiling an ambitious, long-range climate action plan.

The title of the recently released document — Rising to the Urgent Challenge: Strategic Plan for Responding to Accelerating Climate Change — reflects a growing concern within the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) that new and bold tactics are needed to help preserve species that may otherwise not make it. To view the strategic plan, please visit .

Climate change is already wreaking havoc on wildlife in many areas of the United States, the report shows.

In North Carolina, rising sea levels are pushing salt water into sensitive swamp lands and estuaries such as the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, leading to plant losses on thousands of hectares. Two-thirds of the area’s swamps will be lost within a century if the trend continues, FWS staffers report.

In the Rio Grande, the river marking the border between the United States and Mexico, the water is getting warmer due to hotter air temperatures. This threatens the Rio Grande cutthroat, a fish that depends on cool water.

Across the continent in Minnesota near the Canadian border, FWS reports an alarming decline in the moose population. The Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, once home to as many as 400 moose, now counts fewer than 40. A state study has shown that warmer winter and summer temperatures are causing heat stress in the large animals, making them more prone to parasite-induced, chronic malnutrition.

“Climate change is the driving force for the Fish & Wildlife Service,” said Rowan Gould, the agency’s acting director. “Climate change is real, climate change is something we all need to deal with, climate change is something we need information on. And remember, we’ve got to think not five years from, 10 years from now, but what’s happening that’s going to affect our mission 100 years from now.”

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Photo caption: Melting sea ice forces polar bears to swim longer distances.
Photo courtesty: USFWS

Help for Africa’s Women Farmers Combats Poverty

In Africa, the hand that rocks the cradle also tills the field.

Women grow most of the crops and perform most of the farm labor, as they do in much of the developing world.

It is hard work, and they do it with distinct disadvantages because, as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted in a recent speech, women farmers “are very often denied access to the best seeds and fertilizer and other assets” that would yield bigger crops.

The feminization of agriculture, as academics have called it, is a trend that has accelerated as the AIDS epidemic claims men’s lives and as male breadwinners leave the farm to seek better-paid work in cities. Women “are left managing a very unproductive and risky asset,” said David Kauck of the International Center for Research on Women, a Washington nonprofit that studies how to overcome the problems poor women face.

Women often farm with rudimentary tools and without the advice of government extension agents, who can show farmers how to get more from the land. Often the family farm is not in the woman’s name, so she cannot mortgage the land or get crop insurance, said Kauck, a senior gender and agriculture specialist. “And often they don’t control the sale of their produce. They don’t see what it sells for. They don’t capture the gains of their labor.”

With eradication of extreme hunger and poverty topmost on the list of the Millennium Development Goals, the United States, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), major foundations and development agencies all have made securing equitable help for women farmers a cornerstone of their anti-hunger strategies. It is embedded in Feed the Future, the Obama administration’s $3.5 billion effort to help poor countries provide enough food for their populations, principally by investing in agricultural development.

Women farmers are “the untapped solution to this problem,” said William Garvelink, a senior U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) official who helps coordinate Feed the Future. As their crops and profits grow, women are “far more likely to spend those gains improving their families’ access to health, education and nutrition,” said Garvelink, the former U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

U.S.-supported programs are helping poultry farmers in Kenya such as Eunice Mukai raise healthy chickens. Mukai sells vaccines to farmers throughout her district in eastern Kenya. The Kenyan Ministry of Livestock helped her get electricity so she would be able to refrigerate the vaccine. Jennifer Grems of Winrock International, a nonprofit organization that works with the farmers, said, “Raising chickens is one of the few agricultural activities women in Kenya are able to manage without approval from a husband, father or brother.”

Agnes Moraa, who grows maize and other crops on a .4-hectare farm in Nyansiongo, Kenya, doubled her yields after training by ACDI/VOCA, another nonprofit. “Farming has changed for me,” Moraa said. “Before, I would plant leftover seed. I would put three or four seeds in every hole. I knew nothing about fertilizer, insecticide or herbicide. I have learned the value of good seed.”

A third Kenyan farmer, Evelyne Wanyera, said, “Initially, I didn’t take farming seriously, just grew maize and dry beans for my family’s meals.” But after training by AGMARK and the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture, “I realized that farming can be a business.” She opened a successful farm store in Bungoma County in west Kenya, selling seeds and grinding maize into flour. Instead of growing just five to 10 bags of grain on the family’s small plot, she now leases 4.5 hectares from a neighbor and fills up to 300 bags. And farmers throughout the community now are getting higher prices by doing their own milling at Wanyera’s facility.

One study cited by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute found that when women farmers in Kenya have the same education, experience, seeds and fertilizer as their male counterparts, “they increase their yields for maize, beans and cowpeas by 22 percent.”

“We will integrate gender concerns into all of our investments and help partner countries and implementing partners strengthen their capacity to consider and address the negative impacts of unequal access to and control over assets that affect women involved in all stages of the agricultural value chain,” USAID said in guidance for the Feed the Future initiative.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the WFP last month announced a nearly 10 percent drop in the number of people who live in chronic hunger. But the number still represents almost one-sixth of humankind. The proportion of undernourished people remains highest in sub-Saharan Africa: 30 percent.

Progress is being made, in part with efforts to help small farmers — most of them women — reap more of what they sow, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran told the National Press Club in September.


For more on USAID's programs in Africa, please visit