Coherence despite all odds

In contrast to the physical distance we all need to keep these days, here is another example of the persistence of team spirit and the power of relationships. Recently there was a spontaneous online get-together of alumni of the 71st UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services, which took place in September 2017:

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Also the ongoing 43rd UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Postgraduate Course on Environmental Management for Developing Countries had to adapt its character and after most of the participants returned home, it’s now continued as an “online only” effort. Nevertheless there was, despite the significant differences among time zones, a first complete reunion of all fellows last Wednesday (April 15th):

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Once me and a friend and former colleague tried to come up with a fancy catchphrase for CIPSEM to be used for public relation purposes – we inoffically ended up with “CIPSEM – we open worlds” … and we still do, despite a global shut-down.

Take care and stay safe!

From a learner to a key actor

From where I come from, it is often said “if mountains can meet, then men shall always meet”. I always thought it was a consolatory statement whenever we had to go away from a friend or someone we cherish, but little did I know a famous re-union will proof to me how true the statement is. The short story started last August 2019 when I was privileged to be one of the 21 participants who attended the “77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services”. Spending almost a month with 20 young talented and inspiring professionals from diverse countries around the world, dedicated and sacrificing every minute of their life’s in fighting for the conservation of our biodiversity was a unique experience for me.

The various course lectures, group works, field and study trips were just awesome. Nevertheless, I thought I was at the end of my excitement until we had a study trip at the Isle of Vilm, words can’t explain the experience. However, one of the main highlights of the stay at Vilm was the course on “CBD-COP negotiation simulation”. Under the coordination of Dr. Axel Paulsch, a seasoned CBD-COP negotiator, we were drilled on negotiation skills, language alignment, getting what we want via compromise, pressure building….. Passionate on issues relating to blending science and policy as far as biodiversity conservation is concerned, I found my world during the simulation exercise. Futhermore, I was boosted when Dr. Paulsch at the end of the exercise said and I quote “Simon, I am convinced soon, very soon, you will be at the international stage, this time around in the real, negotiating for your country”. Those were just words isn’t it??? Yes they were, but never underestimate the strength of words.

Last February to March 2020, 1000 delegates from 142 countries met in Rome-Italy for the Second Meeting of the Open-ended Working Group of the CBD on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. The main aim of the meeting was for parties to engage in negotiations towards the elaboration of an agreed main text of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

I was greatly privileged to be designated as one of the two delegates who represented Cameroon to the negotiations. But this privilege was amplified when I met one special personality in the meeting. Guess who??? – Dr. Axel Paulsch – The famous re-union took place. I was full of emotions when I met this wonderful professional who across CIPSEM and the SC77 course, empowered me with innovative negotiating skills.

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Our re-union was smooth, humble, peaceful and quiet just like nature itself. The humble character of the re-union was expressed when Dr. Paulsch told  me as we met and I quote “yesterday you were a learner but today you are my colleague and I will be honoured to get your perspectives relating to the negotiations we are about to embark in”. The words say it all. On my side, whenever I had to speak either in the name of my country or the African group, I felt the weight of the responsibility and the unique privilege I had not only as a delegate from my country, but as a CIPSEM SC77 Alumnus having his course instructor in the same conference hall listening to him participating in the development of a new biodiversity framework that shall re-shape life on earth and participate the sustainable well-being of hundreds of millions of people.

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Meeting Dr. Paulsch gave me the opportunity to finally accept the statement that “if mountains can meet, then men shall always meet”. But beyond statements, participating in the Rome negotiations was another proof of the skills learned, knowledge gained and senses built during the CIPSEM experience, which goes a long way to highlight the rich and innovative content of the CIPSEM course programs.

At the certificate award ceremony of the CIPSEM SC77 course, I had the honour to be one of the two speakers who spoke on behalf of our fellow course mates. I remember telling them that, “if we don’t want to be victims of the destruction of biodiversity, we should be actors of its conservation and to do this, rather than trying to do things right, we should always do the right things”. CIPSEM has done its part and I’m convinced we SC77 Alumni are doing our everyday in our universities, government agencies, NGOs, CSOs, businesses, etc.. And this is true because the re-union at the Rome meeting wasn’t only with Dr. Paulsch but I also met my SC77 course mate Mr. Yew Aun Quek, who was part of the Malaysian Delegation.

 

by Mr. PATAMAKEN ANECK Simon Ndibnuh,

Senior Environmental Engineer, Ministry of Environment, Protection of Nature and Sustainable Development-Cameroon, SC77 CIPSEM Alumnus

Rising from the ashes: A panoramic view of German history or futuristic outlook of mankind?

Looking in from the outside, it can be simple for one to so easily misinterpret or even blatantly disregard the history of another. This is because “history” is often viewed as an entirely independent factor of past – a past which is often unwanted for repetition in the future. Though history is taught as a lesson, it is extremely crucial to also realize that history plays a fundamental role when applied in trying to understand a person, country or pattern.

Over the past couple decades, Germany has become one of the role model developed countries of the world due to its thriving economy and relatively high standard of living for its residents. Present day Germany, in most parts, has developed rather quickly, boasting efficiency as well as maintaining priorities in sustainable transport, renewable energy and waste management. The easy access to resources via the internet is irrefutably impressive and effective in maintaining a booming economy. Need to catch a train but don’t have time to stop at the ticket station? Click! Done! Do you want food delivered to your door-step? Click! Done! Need to make an appointment with the doctor? Click! Done! For someone who doesn’t readily have these amenities available, this is seemingly remarkable.

Slow down for a minute though… The fact is, not all roads to such simplicities were so effortless. Germany had to forge its own path and its people made some hard choices, some which proved beneficial and others destructive in nature. On one excursion to the Dresden Panometer, the class of EM43, if they hadn’t already, would soon realize at the bare minimum what it took to become present day Germany. So let’s turn the clock back about 75 years ago to Dresden, Germany, 1945.

Dresden, February 15, 1945

Bright orange flames produce thick black smoke, giving off embers and ashes rising high into what is now a seemingly pitch black sky. The air, hardly breathable, is regrettably the only thing left to be taken away from the regular man and as far as the eyes can see, the once bustling city centre of Dresden, lay in rubbles after three long hellish days of bomb raids from the Allied Forces. Thousands of civilian lives were lost during the three-day airstrike, leaving thousands of others mourning the loss of their loved ones and quite some years of “cleaning” and rebuilding to restore the City of Dresden.

Dresden, was not a city for military defense at the time, but became targeted for bombing to allegedly disrupt communication among the Nazi Party, which was being ran by Adolf Hitler since 1933. Under Hitler’s Chancellorship, approximately 6 million Jews were killed and millions of other people, whom he deemed politically, religiously or racially “unfit” to live among the German population. These persons were often segregated and taken to extermination camps where they would face certain death at the hands of Hitler’s soldiers. This was a tremendously dark time for Germany, one in which being different was a crime and the mere thought of this invoked fear in the heart of millions of people who took refuge there. Hitler’s rule was ended at a great cost of the lives of German civilians in order to save the lives many more.

Moving forward

So, not everything can be taken for face value. Thereafter, Germany sought out progressiveness through economic growth, which not immediately but eventually welcomed diversity, literacy and now the concept of sustainability and environmental cohesiveness. The last factor, more than anything else, is probably what will make us or break us as a people! For years, mankind has struggled to accept diversity and individuality-history lesson #1. However, lesson #2 is ours for the taking, in deciding how our personal choices in the use of our natural resources will affect each other and our children! Each person, each ethnicity, each country has either chosen or needs to choose soon how to live so as to not lead to the demise of mankind through our destructive nature in the unwise and over exploitive use of our natural resources. Yadegar Asisi’s Panometer of Dresden 1945 is not just history. Under different circumstances it is provides a definite insight of mankind’s future should we not understand our weighty dependence on maintaining healthy environmental ecosystems!

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One of the old gas storages in Dresden saved as a historical monument

by Ms. Deidra Mahler, Belize

Working hard for restoration

CIPSEM alumna Dr. Adejoke Olukemi Akinyele was hosting the “Forest and Landscape Restoration (FLR)” side event at the XXV IUFRO World Congress in Curitiba, Brazil.

In this 11-episode series, you’ll have the chance to follow the “Forest Landscape Restoration Implementation: Progress on the Ground” side-event hosted October 1st, 2019 at the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO) XXV World Congress in Curitiba, Brazil. The side-event is a milestone in the IUFRO-led forest landscape restoration (FLR) snapshot analysis, a project that aims at an independent scientific exploration of efforts contributing to forest landscape restoration (FLR) in selected landscapes in nine Bonn Challenge countries, three each in Africa, Asia and Latin America. This project is generously funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

Experience, Participation & Action: UN Youth Summit 2019

The recently concluded UN Climate Action Summit 2019 and UN Youth Climate Summit in New York were proof that youth are increasingly becoming a catalyst to progressing climate change action. The Youth Summit which was the first ever of its kind provided an opportunity for young leaders who are spearheading climate action in their respective countries to showcase creative solutions contributing towards climate action at the United Nations. I was privileged to participate at the UN Youth Summit as part of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) Youth Delegation, representing the youth, my initiative TLC4Environment, my country Kenya, the MAB programme and other institutions that have propelled me towards this commitment such as the Centre for International Postgraduate Studies of Environmental Management (CIPSEM) and the Youth Encounter on Sustainability (YES).

Alongside the MAB delegates, youth from various parts of the globe thronged the streets of New York and other towns in several countries on 20th September 2019 for the #GlobalClimateStrike in support of the urgent climate action call to world leaders. In New York the strike was led by Greta Thunberg; who also went ahead to address the youth and the Secretary-General of the United Nations during the opening of the Youth Summit the following day, including giving a worldwide impactful but emotional speech condemning world leaders for failing to address climate change and for stealing the youth’s dreams and childhood.

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Attending the Summit positioned me on the global stage for a historic moment which allowed me to give my voice and discuss efforts in addressing climate change including an opportunity to actively engage and contribute to further climate action. The Summit also fostered youth ownership of the dire need to #ActNow in order to secure their future as cities all over the world realize they are facing increased impacts from climate-related disasters. Notably, as a MAB delegate, it is important to highlight the importance of nature-based solutions in addressing the climate crises. Nature Based Solutions jointly address not only climate change but also biodiversity loss impacts and therefore their implementation both within and outside of protected areas is crucial as a holistic transformational action. In our participation, we ensured to give our voices rooted in the reality of the role of biosphere reserves in climate change adaptation, mitigation and resilience, such as implementing widespread ecosystem restoration and enhancing resilience of nature’s benefits to people. Also, we actively participated in the session on the role of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) towards combating climate change and the importance of education as an effective tool in addressing climate change. Overall, I enjoyed the Summit and found it of value especially in current and future plans in addressing climate change.

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Ms. Louisa Chinyavu Mwenda, Kenya, SC68 CIPSEM Alumna

Saxon Switzerland: A journey through space and time

The SC77 group was on the move again!

This time to the Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) National Park located in the Elbe Mountains, about an hour away from  Dresden. While it wasn’t our first visit to a nature reserve, Saxon Switzerland was going to be our first National Park, one of Germany’s 16, and the only one in Saxony. We were all naturally very excited. This deal was sweetened with news that there was going to be hiking and breathtaking views involved.

So on Friday the 13th, the group (and their packed lunches) boarded the bus and made our way up the meandering Elbe River. We could see the landscape change as we approached the park – urban jungles and sparse agriculture pastures slowly transitioning into more forested areas punctuated by hills. And as we neared the park gates, we were greeted by several towering sandstone structures; a landscape unfamiliar to the most of us.

At Bad Schandau, the foothill town, we were welcomed by a one-storey mural of the Lynx (Lynx lynx) – no doubt the most charismatic species of the national park. Images of this felid species also adorned the walls of the national park center (that we later visited) and many park promotional brochures. It made me reflect on the many identities of large cats.

Not unlike the Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), an endemic of my home country, the Lynx represents wilderness in the eyes of the public – a flagship species that people could rally around. More importantly though, the Lynx has a role to play in the nature. Occupying the highest echelon of the food chain, they regulate prey population numbers – a keystone species in ensuring activities like grazing is under control.

Upon arrival at the national park centre, we were taken on a journey back in time. The interactive exhibits explained that the mountains we see today was actually the sea floor and that the sandstone was a result of 100 million years of compaction. It is the crumbling of such structures that have made the landscape so iconic. We are indeed lucky to be living in the space and time where its beauty can be fully appreciated. The center also featured various plant and animal species that could be found in the park.

As interesting as the national park center was, it was not what we were there for. Our restless souls were uplifted when we were allowed to enter the park, chaperoned by our very able guide Johanna. With over 400km of trails in the entire park, we were spoiled for choice. In this regard, I felt Johanna did an amazing job choosing a trail that we could all summit but at the same time keeping track of time (an admirable trait of the Germans).

In the short time we had with her, she explained that the porous nature of sandstone provided for diverse ecosystems. Dry, desert like conditions at the peak and wet, humid conditions at the base. And in this ecosystem diversity sprouted ample biodiversity. Though we did not manage to spot any large vertebrates, there were many macro-life living on the sides of the sandstone, which included various beetle, moss, liverwort and fungi species.

The ascent to the peak was undeniably easy on the eyes. However as we reached the midpoint, most of us noticed dying Spruce trees in the vicinity. Johanna stopped to explain to us that these were trees infested by European spruce bark beetles (Ips typographus). In the past, park management would chop down such trees to stop the infestation. However, Saxon Switzerland today has decided to adopt a laissez-faire management approach to core zones within the park. This is because studies have shown that native Beech trees will eventually replace the planted Spruce trees, reverting the park into its past state.

I found this counter-intuitive to existing conservation practices (i.e. encourage a pest within core zones). But it just goes to show that for positive conservation outcomes to be achieved, one must have an open mind for creative solutions and most importantly trust of the science behind them.

We finally reached the peak at about 3.00pm. A good 20 minutes later, rainclouds signaled that it was time for us to return to Dresden. We duly obliged.

As we journeyed through the prehistory of Germany in Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz, I’m heartened to know that the park is on its own voyage to a more natural state; thanks to the conservation and minimal management models of the park managers. May the force be with them.

by Mr. Yew Aun Quek, Malaysia

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at the summit

Inside CIPSEM – a look behind the scenes …

… of the ongoing 77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services

Well, the course already started August 29th and a lot happened inside and outside the classroom. Here are some insights …

by Ms. Moselantja Rahlao, Lesotho:

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Hello I am Moselantja Rahlao and I work for the Department of Range Resources Management, Ministry of Forestry and Soil Conservation, Lesotho. Welcome to the Kingdom in the Sky in Germany. Lesotho is a tiny country enclaved by another in Southern Africa.

It takes courage and passion to write application essays for the 77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International short course on Ecosystem management- Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services. Biophysical assessments are energy demanding. I do that on horseback, yes I am a rider. During data collection, I find myself staying uncomfortably in poky shelters of Lesotho. However, streams of passion to learn and be exposed never run dry. Usually after a completion of a hectic day, one wants only a good bath, food and sleep or entertainment at least. When everyone else prioritized the aforementioned and took a well-deserved break, I chose to sacrifice and compromise to achieve. However, my inquisitive nature coupled with thirst for knowledge sets me apart and makes me competent. I thrived because I dreamed, planned and acted “If you want to live your dreams, deny yourself any type of excuse”. I always apply effort and energy in things that I believe in for my growth. Then I work to proof myself to myself not anyone.

It was a heap of applications received (off course I knew this on arrival at CIPSEM) with very slim chances of being selected. This is a challenge of survival of the fittest measured by how logical one is, relevant content matters and what CIPSEM decides. Once this phase is passed, one can celebrate yippee. It was a moment of excitement and boosted confidence.

Logistically ready and hip-hip hooray! I landed in Dresden. The first day was tiresome after about 20hours flight (including layovers). A brief orientation done blah-blah-blah… and my heart began to palpitate faster. Next day, as the sun rose, I smiled and patted myself as I whispered “well done you are finally here”. Now ready to meet my fellow participants and the CIPSEM team. I take pride in my achievement to represent the Mountain Kingdom in Germany and interact with international fellows on the short course. It is exactly twenty (20) countries represented, namely: Indonesia, Cameroon, Guatemala, Mexico, Vietnam, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Ghana, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Haiti, Argentina, Brazil, Bhutan, El Salvador, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Armenia and of course Lesotho. Wow! What a diversity of culture, experience and knowledge.

Now anxiety and enthusiasm knocks daily to learn, network, exchange knowledge through participation throughout the course. We are here, stood out to be counted. Thinking individually but together towards conservation of biological diversity for enhancement of human wellbeing. The program runs from lecture hall with various experts to field excursion to get in depth knowledge. It is impossible to walk in nature and be in a bad mood. My best highlight was the stay on Isle of Vilm. The simulation on CBD-COP negotiation was eye opening to all participants. It went from just a practice to real emotional involvement, very defensive and argumentative. It takes the trophy. It was also a pleasure to celebrate my birthday at Baltic Sea Island. Surely, the course objectives will be accomplished by end of September, 2019. Yes, the course will end but never the memories with a good company. Never! We will go back to our countries and apply the knowledge, skills and experience gained. Lastly, “in a changing environment one either adapts, moves or die”. What an honor to be swimming in this pool of knowledge. A well-organized course and great gratitude to the sponsors. It would not be possible without them. Salute!

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Nature Talks – Experiencing the International “Nature” of Negotiations

by Ms. Fitria Rinawati, Indonesia et.al.:

“You cannot negotiate with people who say what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable” – John F. Kennedy

One among many highlights of the CIPSEM 77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services is how we can experience such negotiations related to biodiversity conservation in international events. This time we had the opportunity to do a negotiation simulation “CBD-COP decision on biofuels”. What a topic! It is so current that most countries are paying attention to it. Including small – fragile – island countries which are not necessarily able to produce it but might be impacted from it.
The simulation was set to get an agreement of the drafted decision text. Participants were grouped as delegations into 6 countries that have the right to vote: Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, European Union, Ethiopia and Tuvalu, and 2 observers consisting in the United States and Greenpeace. One can imagine the dynamic of such a simulation when biofuels talk is involving the main producer countries like Indonesia and Brazil, the opposer of biofuels production – Saudi Arabia (main fossil fuels producer) and free riders such as the United States and Tuvalu – a very-very small island country that might face sinking due to climate change as a result of biofuels production practices.
Negotiation skills, wording the talks, emotional statements, creative compromises, building up pressure…were among the things we practiced and learned. Another main thing we learned was that every country has its interests and the delegations try to defend them – as it is well said in JFK above quote.
Further, we watched the movie “Guardians of the Earth”, a movie on UNFCCC – COP21 (Paris Agreement) which pictured clearly the above described negotiation processes. An interesting point, raised from a Bahrain young woman negotiator in the movie, was that all the international nature talks and negotiations were not about nature but but on economic interests of each country. Above all, we understand the great responsibility of the delegates to defend their country’s interests as well as the chairman – the president – the secretariat to come to such consensus and agreements. Last but not least, the importance of NGOs and other parties that influence these talks is also something that we can’t diminish.
I believe that among us the participants of CIPSEM 77th International Short Course, – there are possible future leaders of our countries. Thus, with the skills we learned, the knowledge we gained and the senses we built up through this course, we would be empowered to negotiate more reasonable in an international event and manage the ecosystem and the earth in a better way.
“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate” – John F. Kennedy

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The “CBD-COP decisions on biofuels” negotiations – simulation chaired by Dr. Axel Paulsch (photo by Mr. Yew Aun Quek)