Hope in a Changing Climate

NGO participation at COP15 has been cut from 7,000 allowed in the Bella Center Tuesday and Wednesday of this week to 1,000 today and 500 Friday. As a result, side events have sprung up all around Copenhagen as delegates look for ways to continue to be engaged in climate change discussions and activities even though they are no longer officially allowed into the Bella Center.

Tonight I attended such an event. It was a movie premier held by the Environmental Education Media Project (EEMP) at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in the Geological History section. There, among remains of a tyrannosaurus rex and prehistoric cavemen, John Liu showed his brilliant 30 minute documentary, Hope in a Changing Climate, to a mixed assortment of UN personnel, World Bank employees, NGO delegates to COP15, the official Rwandan delegation to COP15, Americans, Tanzanians, and self-proclaimed concerned citizens of Copenhagen and others.

The film sent the first positive message I’ve seen since Tuesday, when it became ominously apparent that the much-anticipated COP15 climate treaty negotiations had taken a serious turn for the ugly. His film follows a 12 year environmental restoration project on the Loess Plateau of China, the wetlands of Rwanda and the drought-stricken lands of Ethiopia.

In each country, the project recruited local citizens to help restore natural vegetation to change the landscape from barren, low crop yield territory to lush, highly arable land. In China’s Loess Plateau for example, before the project, 90% of the land was being farmed but yields were still low. After the project, local trees and grasses planted there helped to retain water, stop mud slides and droughts. Now in the same area, only 15% of the land is being farmed but yields have increased. Farmers income has increased by 3 times. The projects in Rwanda and Ethiopia have produced similar results.

The project has produced international results as well. Restoration of native plants to a region creates root systems and greenery that naturally absorb carbon dioxide. The Loess Plateau spans 4 of China’s provinces and covers 640,000 km2 of land. Restoring even a part of that land to its natural ecological system produces huge results and helps contain carbon that would otherwise stay in the atmosphere in the world’s number one polluter country.

Jonathan J. Halperin, Executive Director of the Environmental Education Media Project, suggests the continuation of similar projects. John Liu waited patiently after the screening and discussion to listen to gracious viewers’ remarks and thanks and happily distributed his business cards to those bending his ear about doing similar projects and films in their home countries. And I had to say, I know there are similar projects and research being conducted at Iowa State….

With the world’s leaders deadlocked in COP15 negotiations the eve to the end of the Conference, it gives me hope again in Copenhagen that if governments cannot agree to be bound by an international treaty to combat climate change, citizens like John Liu and Jonathan Halperin, the people of the Loess Plateau, citizens in Rwanda and Ethiopia are taking matters into their own hands and finding solutions that work. For anyone that needs a little hope in a changing climate, I encourage you to watch the film at: http://hopeinachangingclimate.org/

Andrea Niehaus, Co-Director, Iowa UNA

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