Saving a beloved home along the Luangwa River in Zambia

Saving a beloved home along the Luangwa River in Zambia

What is home?

For women like Helen, it’s a place by the river that she was forced to abandon. That’s where her husband fished, she gathered water, and family was buried for eternal rest. But like most rural Zambians, she didn’t own the land. So when a foreign developer moved in and built a fence along the river, blocking her access to the water, she was forced to leave.

It’s stories like Helen’s that remind Raymond Kaima, Nyimba District Coordinator of Zambia Land Alliance (ZLA), why his job is so critical. “She’s one of the many,” he says, shaking his head. For him, the solution is obvious: “Someone should be secure on their land. They need to feel secure in order to develop the land, build a house, [and] invest in their future. They need to be sure that future generations will have access to that place in order to see the value of maintaining and improving it.”

Through ZLA, which seeks to empower people through land and natural resource management, Kaima and colleagues are piloting “Traditional Land Holding Certificates” that help people become legal landowners—instead of transient custodians—and increase female land ownership.

Since moving to this region in 2015, Kaima has seen positive trends. Traditionally, if a woman’s husband died, she’d be sent back to her parents’ home with no land and no property rights. Now, after awareness-raising campaigns and community meetings, many women co-own land with their husband or have assumed ownership after their husband has died.

In addition, people are building permanent structures instead of palm-leaf huts—a sign that they truly believe the space is theirs and that they care what happens to it. For WWF, a partner of ZLA, this also means that people care about the natural resources and landscape that make their land valuable.

This sense of pride may help save a river. The Luangwa River, one of the longest remaining free-flowing rivers in Southern Africa, flows through the Luembe chiefdom, which boasts some of the most pristine habitats left in Zambia for elephants, lions, leopards and a myriad of other wildlife. A dam has been proposed on the Luangwa that would flood almost the entire Luembe chiefdom, destroying habitats and displacing thousands of people. 

“We’re talking about communities that have spent generations on this river, have built their lives around this stretch, and only know this place,” Kaima explains, adding that the impact and costs associated with moving people would likely be underestimated. “Someone will go in with an economic index and call these livelihoods worthless. We call it development, but behind development, livelihoods will be lost. And that loss is greater than the gain.”

That’s why ZLA and WWF have joined forces to educate and empower these communities, promote sustainable land use, and advocate for hydropower development that minimizes impacts on people and nature. A critical component in the Luangwa campaign will be to ensure people’s rights to natural resources are respected, and that they can mobilize to defend their rights.

“Most of the time our people are left out of decision-making,” Raymond says with a heavy sigh. “I know my rights. The people in the communities may not, but I’m here to help them.”

With this kind of help, Helen may have a brighter future. She now lives in the center of Luembe chiefdom, far from both the water and the main town. Her husband can’t fish. She finds odd jobs to support the family. But if she can fight for her land, she’ll be able to build a new life in a place she’ll someday call home.

Published June 21, 2018 at 05:00AM

Drones provide an up close look at the health of forests

Drones provide an up close look at the health of forests

WWF is on a mission to save the world’s forest land. Success means a lot of land—in the right places—is protected or restored. But we also need to make sure that land is healthy, giving people and wildlife what they need to survive, like clean air and water, food and jobs.

Saving forests means using every tool at our disposal and working with partners around the globe. And that’s where drones come in to play.

The radio-controlled aircraft are capturing images that paint a picture of the forest. Soaring hundreds or thousands of feet above tree tops, they tell us if there are large patches where tree leaves have fallen (during a time of year when they should be covering the branches) or if a tree might have a disease. Big holes in the forest canopy might indicate illegal loggers have stripped trees from part of the forest.

And, most importantly, drones can be used to see if land is being properly managed in accordance with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards. Adopting FSC standards is one of the best ways for landowners to conserve the world’s forests. These standards protect wildlife habitat, limit pollution, safeguard the rights of people living in or near the forest, and much more.

Within 500,000 acres of forest in Arkansas, Domtar is using drones to monitor land that is certified by FSC. Trees from the land—sitting near a mill that produces pulp for the company—are harvested to provide Domtar with much of the pulp it uses to produce things like copy paper, diapers and toilet paper. Although drones are commonly used today, Domtar is the only known US company to use them to monitor FSC-certified land.

Through its participation in WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network, Domtar worked with forest landowners near the mill and spread the word about the significance of FSC standards and why landowners should get their land certified by the FSC.

In the two years since it started using drones in the US, Domtar has been able to spot signs of the invasive engraver beetle much sooner and quicker than it would have if it were monitoring the land by foot or car. By catching this beetle early, the foresters can stop further tree damage through environmentally-friendly techniques.

Domtar also uses drones to calculate the size of wood chip piles that will produce pulp and to check if trees recently planted on FSC-certified land are growing well. With the success of the program in Arkansas, Domtar is now using drones over forests near its mill in Quebec, Canada to combat a new pest—the Emerald Ash Borer—in the area.

A forest-healthy future doesn’t require everyone to go high-tech. There are simple steps all of us can take to make a difference. Look for the FSC label when shopping for products that come from a forest.

Published June 19, 2018 at 05:00AM

International Paper and WWF Join Forces to Help Create First-Ever Science-Based Targets for Forests and Scale-Up Forest Restoration in Brazil

International Paper and WWF Join Forces to Help Create First-Ever Science-Based Targets for Forests and Scale-Up Forest Restoration in Brazil

How much forest land—and what quality—is needed to ensure forests can continue to provide people, plants and animals worldwide with the clean air and water, food and other “services” they need to thrive? In other words, what are the ecological tipping points for forests that we need to stay well above?

Through a new collaboration between WWF and International Paper (IP)—a participant in WWF’s Global Forest & Trade Network program and one of the world’s largest packaging, pulp and paper companies—research and assessments will be undertaken with a number of entities to help come up with the answer. This information will be used to create the world’s first regional and global science-based targets for forests, as well as the first comprehensive set of guidance on actions that can be taken to sustain the world’s forests. We currently refer to these as “forest positive” actions.

Among the actions—which can be taken individually or collectively by companies, governments, NGOs and others—are investing in responsible forest management, supporting jurisdictional approaches to forest conservation, restoring forest land, and raising awareness about forests with consumers.

The collaboration also will bring one such action to life—investing in a new ambitious restoration project in a 5,584 square mile river basin called the Mogi GuaƧu, which is in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. The Atlantic Forest (spanning Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina) is within one of the 11 deforestation fronts identified by WWF, the areas where most deforestation is expected by 2030 if new approaches to forest conservation are not adopted. Yet it is one of the most important forests. It provides water for 60 percent of Brazil’s population and is home to many species, including pumas, anteaters and woolly spider monkeys, as well as several bird species found nowhere else on the planet. The hope of WWF and IP is that the restoration project will inspire other entities to invest in forest restoration in Brazil and beyond.

Through the collaboration, IP demonstrates that investing in the long-term sustainability of natural resources, including forests, makes economic sense. IP, for example, relies on the water and other services that these forests provide to produce paper and other fiber-based products that people depend on every day.

It also highlights the vital role companies play in ensuring forests do not reach their ecological tipping points. It is especially important for US companies to act, as the US is home to some of the world’s largest companies that depend directly or indirectly on forest resources. As a result, they have tremendous power to drive change at the global level—such as in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals—and local level.


Published June 18, 2018 at 05:00AM

US climate action grows stronger despite announcement to leave Paris Agreement

US climate action grows stronger despite announcement to leave Paris Agreement

This month marks one year since the United States confirmed it was pulling out of the Paris Agreement, a historic international accord that demonstrated global willingness to take urgent, decisive action on climate change.

Signed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015, the Paris Agreement pushed countries to reduce their carbon emissions to prevent global temperatures from increasing more than 1.5°C above historical levels, effectively limiting the worst effects of human-caused climate change. The pact was heralded as the world’s first collective commitment to address climate change and an unprecedented victory for the environment.

Less than 18 months later, though, President Trump announced his intent to withdraw the United States from the Agreement. This leaves the United States—the world’s largest economy and second-largest carbon emitter—as the only country in the world not supporting the deal.

“In stepping back from the Paris Climate Agreement, the United States government stands alone among the nations of the world,” said Lou Leonard, senior vice president for climate change and energy at WWF. “No other country followed President Trump and his decision sparked a wave of new climate leadership in the United States.”

Since the US pulled out of the agreement, more than 2,700 leaders from states, cities, and businesses—representing 160 million Americans and $6.2 trillion of the US economy—have ramped up their efforts to curb climate change, sending a resounding message to our federal government and the rest of the world: We are still in. Together, these subnational actors are working to ensure that our country still meets its climate goals by reducing heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions, growing the renewable energy sector, and investing in new jobs and technologies.

A clean energy revolution

Across the country, businesses have doubled down on their pledges to climate action, recognizing that clean energy technologies translate to better business and more American jobs. Today, half of all Fortune 500 companies have set climate or clean energy goals, and the clean energy economy employs more than 3.3 million Americans—a number that’s expected to double in the next ten years.

Subnational leaders, meanwhile, have stepped up their climate action: buying more renewable energy to help clean up our electric grid, setting science-based climate targets consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement, and enacting carbon pricing policies. In doing so, these new American leaders are signaling a deepening commitment to public health and safety.

Because of these crucial investments, energy-related carbon emissions in the US fell to their lowest levels in 25 years in 2017, which was the third consecutive year that they fell below 2005 levels. Last year also marked the fifth year of the last six where approximately half of new electric power capacity added to the grid in the US came from wind and solar. 

“One of the greatest drivers of this progress is the irreversible transformation of the electricity sector towards cleaner, renewable energy, led in large part by American businesses and local leaders,” said Leonard. “These leaders—the vanguard of a new American energy revolution—are demonstrating their ability to help achieve US climate targets under the Paris Agreement, despite what’s happening in Washington, DC.”

Deepening climate commitments

While these efforts offer hope for the future, there’s still more work to be done to make sure the US achieves the ambitious targets set out by the Paris Agreement. WWF urges America’s companies, mayors, governors, communities, and citizens to continue to expand their efforts to address climate change and demonstrate to the rest of the world that America remains dedicated to reducing our carbon emissions.  

This year’s Global Climate Action Summit will be an opportunity to do just that. Held in the US, the event will bring together leaders and citizens from around the world to share their achievements to date and make further commitments under the Agreement. It’s the first time that businesses and local governments will be front and center of the climate conversation, and marks an important milestone in a new era of decarbonization.  

Ultimately, we need the US federal government to reengage in the Paris Agreement and enact strong national climate and energy laws to accelerate our decarbonization and help American communities prepare for climate impacts. By following the example of this new wave of American leaders, the US can again position itself as a leader in climate action.

Published May 30, 2018 at 05:00AM

5 Reasons the Farm Bill Matters to Conservation

5 Reasons the Farm Bill Matters to Conservation

Right now, members of Congress are working out the final details of the 2018 Farm Bill, and the stakes for conservation are huge.

In addition to ensuring America’s farmers can provide food, fiber and fuel to hundreds of millions of Americans and many others around the world, the Farm Bill plays a critical role in conserving America's grasslands, protecting native species that live there, and preserving a rural way of life.

It’s important that the final version of Farm Bill include funding for robust conservation programs, align commodity and crop insurance programs with conservation, and incentivize protection of environmentally sensitive grasslands. Without those measures, we risk losing much of one of the last four intact grasslands in the world.

If Congress passes a Farm Bill that rolls back existing environmental protections and decreases funding by nearly $800 million for conservation programs, Americans risk losing critical ecosystems and economic resources:


1. Wildlife Diversity

When grasslands are plowed or mismanaged, wildlife and plant diversity is lost. Large, healthy grasslands are fundamental to many species including pronghorn, black-footed ferrets, and native pollinators such as bumble bees. Grassland birds, such as chestnut-collared longspurs and lark buntings, are among the fastest-declining bird species in the United States. They nest in prairie grasses, using them as camouflage, and relying on the insects they host for food. The Farm Bill is an opportunity to invest in programs and policies that conserve grasslands and increase biodiversity on working lands across the US.

2. Resilient Land

Growing demand for food and feed puts pressure on farmers and ranchers to use more natural resources that are already strained, like soil and water. Healthy soil helps the land store more carbon and build up nutrients that make it more fertile and resilient. As extreme weather becomes more commonplace across the United States, intact grasslands and conservation practices on farms and ranchland can help soil store and retain water, which helps during floods and droughts alike. We can help farmers and ranchers improve the food system through investments in on-farm conservation and a farm safety net that incentivizes sustainable production.

3. Thriving Rural Communities

People, plants, and wildlife make the Great Plains unique. The Farm Bill offers an opportunity to support rural communities and invest in the conservation of wildlife, their habitats, and other natural resources.

4. Clean Water

The Northern Great Plains form a large part of the Missouri River Basin, which is "the life zone" of the larger Mississippi River Basin. WWF calls this region the life zone because it is made up of largely intact grasslands, which absorb rain like a sponge and keep it from running off into waterways along with soil, sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, and other compounds that endanger aquatic wildlife in rivers, lakes and even all the way down in the Gulf of Mexico. Grassland-friendly policies in the Farm Bill can help to preserve this vital ecosystem. Protecting threatened grasslands can save the same amount of water that's used by 11.6 million households a year.

5. Sustainable Food Production

Farmers and ranchers across the country can use on-farm conservation practices to improve soil health and water quality. While millions of bison used to roam the grasslands, today ranchers often use cattle to provide a similar service—breaking up soil, pruning grasses, and fertilizing the land. The Farm Bill's conservation programs create incentives to keep grasslands intact while also helping farmers and ranchers carry out more sustainable practices that support biodiversity on working lands across the country.

Published April 25, 2018 at 05:00AM

Irrawaddy dolphin numbers increase for the first time in 20 years

Irrawaddy dolphin numbers increase for the first time in 20 years

Following decades of seemingly irreversible decline, the Irrawaddy River dolphin population in the Mekong region is rebounding. According to a recent census released by WWF and the Government of Cambodia, the number of these critically endangered dolphins has risen from 80 to 92 in the past two years—the first increase since scientists began keeping records more than twenty years ago.

This historic population increase can be attributed to several factors, including more effective patrolling by river guards and an increase in the confiscation of illegal gillnets, which can trap and drown dolphins. Over the past two years, guards have confiscated more than 200 miles of illegal gillnets—almost double the length of the dolphins’ remaining home range—from core dolphin habitat.

“Thanks to the combined efforts of the government, WWF, the tourism industry, and local communities, we finally have reason to believe that these iconic dolphins can be protected against extinction,” said Seng Teak, Country Director of WWF Cambodia. “The tour boat operators are the secret ingredient of this success story—they work closely with law enforcement to report poaching and help confiscate illegal gillnets.”

The first official census in 1997 estimated that there were 200 Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong, a figure that fell steadily due to bycatch and habitat loss. By 2015, only 80 dolphins remained.

Now, growing numbers are an encouraging sign for the long-term survival of the species. More dolphins are surviving into adulthood, and there’s been a significant drop in overall deaths. Nine calves were born this year, raising the number of dolphins born in the past three years to 32.


The census also has positive implications for the Greater Mekong region, where countless communities and species rely on healthy river systems and the natural resources they provide.

 “River dolphins are indicators of the health of the Mekong River, and their recovery is a hopeful sign for the river and the millions of people who depend on it,” added Teak. “We celebrate this good news, but we need to re-double our efforts to protect the dolphins—for their future, for the river, and for the communities that live alongside it.”

 Learn more about free-flowing rivers and how they’re essential for the continued survival of species like the Irrawaddy dolphin.

Published April 23, 2018 at 05:00AM

Want to help save the world's forests? Look for the FSC label when you shop

Want to help save the world's forests? Look for the FSC label when you shop

It’s one of the easiest things you can do to help save the world’s forests. Look for the label that says FSC® when you buy paper towels, tissues, furniture or any other products that come from forests.

What does FSC mean?

FSC stands for the Forest Stewardship Council®, a certification system co-founded by WWF 26 years ago. What it really means is that the product you buy comes from a forest that is responsibly managed. Trees in these forests are grown and harvested according to a robust set of guidelines that, ultimately, benefit the environment and economy.

Some of these guidelines include limiting the number of trees cut down, restricting highly hazardous pesticides and protecting the rights of indigenous people, as well as wildlife habitats.

Why it matters

Forests are essential to our survival. They filter the air we breathe and water we drink. And do so much more. Nearly half the world’s wildlife call forests home. Three 300 million people live in forests and more than a billion depend on them for their livelihoods.

Today, trees are being lost at a rate of 27 football fields per minute. Every action we take to protect the world’s forests makes a difference.

This Earth Day, help the world's forests: Look for the label and buy FSC.

Published April 22, 2018 at 05:00AM


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