How can we turn the African environment tragedy into an opportunity for good?


A man helps a woman cross a log bridge after the flash flood washed away a concrete bridge at Pentagon, in Freetown August 18, 2017. Source: Reuters.


Hannington Muyenje, a Senior Campaigner with Tearfund, reflects on how the climate tragedy can be turned into an opportunity.

Oscar Wilde, one of London’s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s said, ‘Behind every exquisite thing that happens, there was a tragedy.’ We have all heard about the pacifying clichés like, ‘bad things can lead to good’, ‘A blessing in disguise’ or ‘beauty from ashes’.

For people in low-income settings, the tragedy of poverty has been turned into a case of double jeopardy by climate change. It is as if people in poverty are being punished twice for the same crime: that they are poor and that due to their poverty, they are unable to address the effects of climate change. This double tragedy has shattered whole economies and forced many poor people into all forms of slavery. I regarded Tearfund’s annual international gathering that took place in June – a platform that brings together experienced and passionate leaders from over 30 poor countries – as an opportunity to grapple with ways of turning this climate tragedy into economic growth prospects.  [Read more…]


An economy where both people and nature thrive


In 2016 Tearfund and the St Paul’s Institute held a programme of roundtables exploring global development and the green economy. Barbara Ridpath, Director of the Institute, and I explore inequality and the economy, and the recommendations from the programme in our follow up paper, ‘Going Full Circle:  tackling resource reduction and inequality’.

Look around your office floor or the train you’re travelling in. Can you count eight people? That’s the number of men who own the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people in the world this year. This inequality is extreme and it’s down to a broken economic system.  [Read more…]

Why advocate on waste and a circular economy?

RS67759_LEB2015_DXC_R_0162Well, we’ve produced a guide which aims to answer just that question. We’ve explored in previous posts (in particular here, here and here) how the current approach to resources is creating mountains of waste, which are harming some of the most vulnerable communities in low- and middle-income countries. This waste could instead be re-used or eliminated; this circular economy approach – keeping resources in use for as long as possible – would: [Read more…]

The sky’s the limit for the circular economy


On the 30th March, the first ‘second-hand’ rocket was launched into our skies. Rockets – like many products in our current economy – are traditionally one-use only items. They are made, used and, with their mission complete, discarded. SpaceX have made history by finding a way for their boosters to return safely to Earth to be used again. Through this new approach, rockets can return to the skies again. [Read more…]

Waste Less, Warm Less: Building A ‘Circular’ Economy Would Take Us A Long Way Towards Achieving The Paris Climate Agreement

At this critical time for action on climate change, Richard Gower, Tearfund’s Senior Economics and Policy Associate, explores how the circular economy can play a big part in a low-carbon future.

It’s been a momentous but mixed two weeks for the climate and clean energy agenda. At the beginning of the month, the Paris Agreement – a global compact negotiated in December 2015 – came into force, following much faster ratification by the world’s big players than anyone dared hope. Then a few days later, the US elected a man who has threatened to pull out of the agreement and reverse Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce emissions (thankfully, the US has already ratified the Paris Agreement and can’t pull out for four years). [Read more…]

The waste that creates disease can save lives instead


Staff from across Tearfund teams gathered recently to discuss how using resources differently can create jobs, reduce waste and and the associated health problems. The circular economy is a new way to think about how we use products and services. In our linear economy, we take natural resources, make items, use them, then throw them away when we’re done with them. The circular economy instead keeps resources in use for as long as possible. As outlined in Tearfund’s recent policy report, Virtuous Circle, this can save lives (around 9 million people die of diseases linked to mismanagement of waste and pollutants every year) and create job opportunities. [Read more…]

Healthy climate and healthy economy: friends not enemies!

Can we have a healthy planet and a healthy economy at the same time?

One thing is certain, there will be no healthy economy without a healthy climate. To get both we need to get the framework right. At Tearfund we’ve been lobbying and campaigning on climate for years. Throughout my time there have been notable contributions to help move us forward from the deadlock of negotiations. Today we may have another such contribution. ‘Better Growth, Better Climate’ is a ‘New Climate Economy’ report which concludes “countries at all levels of income now have the opportunity to build lasting economic growth at the same time as reducing the immense risks of climate change”. Let’s hope they can deliver and that governments and businesses are listening.

The report caught my eye because it very much mirrors Tearfund’s own emerging thinking in this area.  Our current high carbon, high physical consumption, global economy has been great at driving down poverty around the world over the past 100 years, but has done so at enormous environmental cost.  In the future such a model is not desirable or possible, instead we need to transition to a just and sustainable economy which is still effective at eliminating extreme poverty and reducing inequality but is also driven by, for example, clean energy and economic models based on services and knowledge rather than being resource-intensive.

Better Growth, Better Climate raises a myriad of proposals around compact cities, food production, energy systems, raising resource efficiency, investment in infrastructure, carbon prices, technology innovation and a host of other measures.  No doubt many of these will be hotly debated in the coming weeks, questions like: how far are win-wins possible in all these areas; is the role envisioned for GM crops helpful; is the proposed phased shift away from fossil fuels far or fast enough?

Whatever the details of these discussions, they should not be allowed to detract from the overriding message of the report – a healthy climate or a healthy economy are not choices or contradictions, the two belong together round the same side of the table. They are essential for each other! Business as usual, in our high carbon, high consumption global economy, is not an option.  My visit to Zimbabwe three weeks ago reminded me all over again why.

“We used to get five months of rain a year, now we get three and people are starving.”

Climate change is a very real economic reality for poor farmers like Joe in Zimbabwe. Joe and his neighbours tell the same story that can now be heard all over the world: “the weather is changing, seasons are no longer predictable, droughts, floods and severe storms are increasing.”  Traditional small-holders and commercial farming practices in Zimbabwe are struggling to cope with both less rainfall overall and heavier isolated downpours which result in the loss of nutrient-rich topsoil.

Fortunately Joe and his neighbours are now practising ‘Foundations for Farming’ methods pioneered by Tearfund partners.  By adopting natural approaches to farming such as reduced ploughing, leaving a layer of mulch on the topsoil and rotating crops, Joe and his neighbours are experiencing amazing yields, much better than through standard commercial farming methods. For example average yields of 3-5 tonnes per hectare can be expected compared to 1 tonne per hectare as a country average. The fruits of this labour can not only feed Joe’s family, but also be sold and reinvested.  I was struck by how incredibly hard working and entrepreneurial Joe and his neighbours were and their approach was both environmentally sustainable and profitable.  They were living examples of how a healthy climate and healthy economy are friends not enemies.

Escalating climate change will result in both environmental devastation and economic poverty for all of us.  As Joe and his friends have discovered in Zimbabwe, the just and sustainable  businesses of the future are both better for the environment and more prosperous.  We will be launching a report in early 2015 on what key shifts are necessary to help make this transition. We hope these will contribute to the debate that the New Climate Economy report has begun and demonstrate what people like Joe are already living out.  We’ll not only be addressing the regulation and legislative solutions, but the role civil society has to play in changing the tide of high resource-consumption behaviour. As Tolstoy reminds us in his epic, War and Peace: “it’s hard to thank any single individual for altering history; more often, the ship of state alters course only because tides are vastly shifting underneath.”