Senegal's Plan to Fight Climate Change: A "Great Green Wall"

What the developing world needs to fight climate change is good governance.

With the failure of the world to agree on a holistic plan to halt climate change, talk is turning to how to buttress ourselves against its effects. The industrialized world's early measures are relatively straight-forward, if piecemeal: tougher levees, genetically hardened crops, better emergency response. But in the poorer parts of the globe -- the World Bank estimates that adapting to climate change will cost developing countries up to $100 billion a year -- the plans, when they exist, are both more urgent and more elusive.

Case in point: Senegal's plan to halt the spread of the Sahara, which typifies the grand eco-schemes we can expect to see more of. President Abdoulaye Wade's proposal is as bold as it is simple. He wants to plant a trans-African strip of forest 15 kilometers wide and 7,000 kilometers long -- "a new 'green lung,' " he calls it -- to hold back the dunes. It's among the more sweeping yet least intrusive geo-engineering proposals in the developing world, yet that doesn't mean it has much chance of succeeding.

So far, Wade's "Great Green Wall" has produced only a few stretches of acacia shrubs and lots of derision. As a temporary jobs program -- half of Senegal's populace lacks work -- it has some potential for immediate impact. But such megalithic projects in Africa have a history of failure. "It's a top-down approach that is not likely to be successful," says Jozias Blok, a European Com-mission policy officer in charge of sustainable land management. "The local community might participate because they get money or work, but they will not be motivated to maintain the trees." Even if the "Green Wall" went up, there's little assurance that it wouldn't soon crumble.

What the developing world needs is not a wall of trees but a different sort of climate change: a transformation of governance, with stronger institutions, better leaders, and smarter management of funds and natural resources. "The best resilience strategy is development," says Jonathan Jacoby, senior policy adviser at Oxfam America.

In a climate-stressed world, that will become even clearer. (Cue headlines about the next cyclone or drought-induced famine.) Protecting the world's most vulnerable countries means building them up so that when the CO2 hammer falls, they're ready to withstand it. Obviously that task seems enormous and frighteningly complex, but the easy answers died out long ago. Call them victims of climate change.

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6 Comments

  • Mike Nelson Pedde

    I agree with Mr. Satchu. Examples include Willie Smits' work in Borneo, where he went to the worst, most valueless land he could find and with the help of the local people recreated a self-sustaining ecosystem. He didn't do this alone by any means; he worked with the local people by providing them with a healthy lifestyle, food, housing and income. He also gave them a voice in the operation of their own community. More information here: http://www.masarang.org/ and http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/...
    In Costa Rica a couple there have recreated a rainforest over thousands of acres with the help of local people: http://www.tropicalhardwoods.c...
    In Malawi, Africa, Ripple has worked with villagers to plant over 3 million trees.
    In Kenya, the Green Belt Movement, founded by Wangari Maathai has planted 45 million trees in the past 12 years.

    More is certainly possible.

    Mike.

  • Mike Nelson Pedde

    I agree with Mr. Satchu. Case in point: Willie Smits' project in Borneo, viewable here: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/...

    There's also a couple managing a very large reforested area in Costa Rica, viewable here: http://www.tropicalhardwoods.c... Those are just two examples.

    What Willie Smits did was to provide a way of life as a well as a salary, so the people involved grew food for themselves as well as trees. He also gave them a voice in their own community, providing a form of democracy to the project. In Malawi, Africa another project has created 75 community tree nurseries covering some 4000 sq. km: http://www.rippleafrica.org/ri... The biggest movement of all, started by Wangari Maathai in Kenya, is the Green Belt Movement: http://www.greenbeltmovement.o...

    Mike.

  • Aly-Khan Satchu

    The Overarching Point is that it is an apparently good Idea.

    "It's a top-down approach that is not likely to be successful," says Jozias Blok, a European Com-mission policy officer in charge of sustainable land management. "The local community might participate because they get money or work, but they will not be motivated to maintain the trees." Even if the "Green Wall" went up, there's little assurance that it wouldn't soon crumble.

    The Above Paragraph seems to me wrong headed and outrageously arrogant. It assumes The African is not motivated by what is good for his Environment. That is plain ignorant.

    Aly-Khan Satchu
    www.rich.co.ke