So where exactly to begin explaining the last 48 hours?
A roller coaster of experiences on my birthday in Zambia topped off with one of the biggest presentations I’ve ever had in my life.
And I know many of you have been been asking how my actual work is going, what exactly is REDD+, and what impact (if any) my project is actually having. So let’s start there…
REDD+ is ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’. The ‘+’ goes beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
REDD is actually a UN based program and has roots from the Kyoto Protocol whereby industrialized countries committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% below the levels in 1990 between the years of 2008-2012.
As an incentive to lower the emissions, the Kyoto Protocol developed a ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ (CDM) whereby developed countries can reduce their emissions, and at the same time create a sustainable way of development in developing countries, through certified carbon credits. Simply put, the idea is that a developed country (or organization within that country) can ‘offset’ their excess emissions and buy carbon credits from developing countries. It supports economic growth and incentive in developing countries because these countries can receive financial compensation for preventative measures they are taking in emitting CO2 into the atmosphere. To say the concept is controversial is an understatement (essentially you are creating a new, tradeable currency) but nonetheless the intentions of the programs do make sense and does have the potential to drive growth.
REDD+ is one of the means of creating certifiable carbon credits (though it is not the only way). REDD+ and carbon credits are (for the time being) primarily a ‘voluntary’ market (ie through CSR, etc).
Now theres a few really interesting things about the Kyoto Protocol, REDD+ and carbon credits:
1. USA is the only major developed country to NOT sign on to the protocol
2. As of Dec 2011, Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol
3. The Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012. There are many discussions in place for what happens next but nothing is official and with less than 2 months left there will most likely be a gap until the next one is signed.
4. Carbon credits are at an all time low (trading at just over $1USD/credit)
5. REDD+ projects are required to last a minimum of 30 years. Basically the protected forest under your project area cannot be damaged/harvested/deforested etc for 30 years.
With these points in mind, the future is very up in the air…a sad fact since we are talking about a massive global problem that needs to be addressed collectively by all of us. Although the immediate future is not clear, to say we live in a world where nobody looks after the consequences of their waste is also something that I believe is not true.
For my placement with BioCarbon Partners (BCP), our initiative, ‘The Lower Zambezi REDD+ Project’, is actually the first REDD+ project in the history of the country. With major REDD+ support from the govt it puts us at an interesting spot in the limelight! At the same time, we are tackling one of the main roots of deforestation – charcoaling – head on. The 30 year minimum, in an area where there is so much generational change and volatility (esp around govt and policy) also puts an added pressure on the entire project!
My specific focus on the project is in tackling the problem of charcoaling, and its root causes. Over the last few months I have worked with BCP to develop innovative ways in achieving a more efficient and sustainable way of charcoaling, and a business plan around it, that doesn’t contribute to deforestation. A combination of on-the-ground field work with local villagers, applying some of my chemical engineering background in understanding how kilns work, and helping to develop a business strategy on how we can implement the project has been unbelievable. We have made significant progress, topped off with a presentation to officially kick-off our project this past Thursday to our biggest stakeholders (incl. USAID, senior Forest Department officials, UN representatives, the District Council, The Royal Chief of the Soli Tribe, our partner organization Musika, just to name a few). Now the stressful part was that I was helping to organize the entire event (with dreams of EWB National Conference 2012 still swirling in my head) as well as delivering a 45min presentation on how we intend to sustainable charcoal, or as we call it ‘eco-charcoal’. To say it would be the biggest presentation of my life is an understatement!
So I woke up on Thursday morning here:
As of the night before, this is my new place in Lusaka for the next few weeks as I set up a few protocols/training docs/etc for our eco-charcoal project. Yes it’s the living room/dining room and my bedroom! It is also the legendary Kabwata Flats where EWBers have been staying for years while on placements here in Zambia…and the other two EWBers here now, Katie and Chelsea, are also staying here!
And before I knew it I was jumping in a mini-bus on the way to my presentation!
Surprisingly, ‘Zambian Time’ did not exist that day and we actually managed to start on time. After a welcoming speech from the Guest of Honour – (the Royal Chief of the Soli tribe), an introduction from the Forest Department, and a few presentations from the BCP Directors I was up next…And here is my presentation (I hope it makes sense without the commentary but please ask me any questions if you have any):
And I’m glad to say that everything went without a hitch (yes I know there are a couple of typos)….but it went exactly as planned with high interest and open interaction from all of the attendees. And with that BCP, the community, the District, and the Forest Department are now all on the same page and they are on board with our project. Now just to implement…which is obviously not as simple as it sounds but with govt backing, community engagement, and a deeper understanding and support from our investors things are definitely looking up!
So with my biggest presentation successfully passed, it was now time to relax and celebrate!
Waiting for a couple of friends to finish off work before grabbing dinner, Chelsea, Katie and I decided to check out the brand spanking new ‘Radisson BLU’. Probably the most luxurious hotel in the city that just recently opened after taking 4+ years to build. As you can tell at a place like this you can hardly believe you’re in Zambia:
Walking to the restaurant for dinner along the main road, Great East Rd, traffic was blaring as usual on a weeknight. But before we knew it, the next thing we heard less than 10 metres in front of us was a massive accident. A car trying to beat the oncoming traffic had rushed and indadvertedly hit a motorcycle. One of the scariest things I have ever seen, the motorcycle was literally torn to shreds with pieces of the bike actually flying towards us. The next thing we see is the cyclist 5ft in the air and skidding towards us along the pavement. After 20-30min which seemed like an eternity, we were glad to see that, except for a few cuts and slightly injured leg (not cuts), the motorcyclist seemed ok (speaking normally and was present) and he was taken to the hospital just to double check things. The situation could’ve turned out MUCH worst but luckily no one was severely injured. An extremely scary site to witness as road accidents are rampant in the country and also for the fact that the next day I was going to the Road Safety Transport Authority (RTSA) to get my provisional motorbike license.
With the three of us a bit shaken up about what had just happened we slowly headed to dinner to meet Jeffrey and Brian. A very surreal dinner seeing how unpredictable life can be, but at the same time, an extreme blessing to have the opportunity to celebrate a birthday around the world with close friends.
And so with one of the most unpredictable days I’ve ever had closing off the first 25 years of my life, I was back ‘home’ safe and sound. My new roommates had also decided to spare me from the ‘traditional Zambian birthday’ of dumping a huge bucket of water on me after such a crazy day.
The next day I spent walking 6km in the 35C and about 5 hours at the RTSA office. After seeing about 15 different staff members trying to get a provisional permit, it was only then found out that you can’t receive a Zambian provisional license if you are in the country for less than a year! But at the same time, found out that my Canadian license should be fine for the time I am here!
So after having to keep my patience up I made it back to the office where my client had treated me to a special birthday cake!
Coming home from work Kabwata had our regular Friday night 5pm-8pm power outage. And this meant spending some hanging out with the kids in the Flats. Maybe the cutest kids I’ve ever met, Joy and Samual, I spent the evening with them and their mom, Inivea, chatting and finding out what games they like to play.
Once power was back on we made our way to the market to get some food for a Braai that we were invited to by our Zambian friend Daisy. Taking out some money from the local bank, Zanaco, proved to be an issue as the power again cut while in the middle of my transaction and my Visa got eaten by the machine. Luckily this is a pretty common thing so on Monday I should hopefully get it back without any issues.
As I pass the halfway point in my placement, I can’t believe I’ve already been here for over 10 weeks. The amount of experiences (both personal and work) have been incredible. Literally anything and everything could happen on a given day, and its been an exciting shift to learning how to ‘roll with the punches’ and be ready and open-minded for anything that comes your way. A huge test on patience on some days but also an exciting ride! Definitely a big shift from the very structured and organized life of North America.
There is also still so much to achieve in my project as I shift from working in the business to on the business to make sure the BDS work has an ‘exit-strategy’ where we are not engrained in the business but allow it to thrive and carry on without us.
And as much as I look forward to coming home for Christmas, it also sad to know that I will be leaving here soon, a place that has quickly begun to feel like home in its own way.