Land and Security: Focus on Migration

CDLS_Plenary_1_2016-31With over 1 million migrants and refugees arriving in Europe, 2015 saw the highest migration flow since World War II according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The degradation of 25% of the most productive lands is forcing farmers and pastoralists to move in search of fertile soil and pasture. These population movements are causing tensions between communities, further degradation of lands and are resulting in conflicts.

The fifth edition of the Caux Dialogue on “Land and Security” thus focused on the potential for land restoration to mitigate migration flows.

A planetary emergency

In his opening keynote, former Secretary-General of the Club of Rome and Gorbachev Climate Change Task Force member Martin Lees, warned that: “failure to take urgent and aggressive on climate change represents a clear and present danger for humanity. The difference of a few degrees can mean our survival as a species”, he added.

With a quarter of human-emissions coming from agriculture, forestry and other land use, the potential for emission reduction and sequestration is enormous. Interestingly, in the US, this is leading to bi-partisan efforts into exploring how to maximize this potential despite political polarization in other areas. Can cooperation over land restoration become a catalyst for bi-partisan climate action?

Land degradation and conflict

As Europe struggles with an unprecedented migration crisis, Grammenos Mastrojeni from the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation warns that: “Europe wants to solve the problems in the Middle-East and Africa, not as a problem for the Middle-East and Africa but as a problem for Europe. That will simply not work”.

The Syrian crisis

A better understanding of what ignited the migration flows is a good place to start.

The Syrian example provides an excellent business case for analysts and geo-political experts. “The policy of promoting water intensive crops like cotton in a dry climate when you are suffering the worst drought in 900 years is a poor strategy” said Adam Koniuszewski from Green Cross. Water over extraction dried up the wells, widespread crop failures ensued and people from rural areas massively moved to the cities as a matter of survival.

For Dina Ionesco who is heading the Migration, Environment and Climate Change section at IOM, the problem is hence not voluntary migration but the forced displacement of people. This is what needs to be addressed and certainly something she understands given her family’s experience fleeing Romania as political refugees to France to escape the oppression of the Ceaușescu regime.


It takes 2,700 liters of water to make a single T-Shirt! Said Adam Koniuszewski

Forced displacement in Africa and elsewhere is often caused by land grabs. Andrea Staeritz, lawyer at Land Justice 4 West Africa, argues that the inability to enforce land ownership rights results in thousands of people being evicted from their lands and deprived of their livelihoods. Sometimes this results from European companies for palm oil plantations, for infrastructure projects or for reforestation projects that will end up in company CSR reports…

Growing action for restoring degraded lands

Thanks to forums like the Caux Dialogue on Land and Security, political concern and attention is growing for restoring degraded lands and halting desertification. Recent initiatives to promote constructive policymaking in this area include:

  • Future Policy Award to Combat Desertification by the World Future Council in cooperation with the UNCCD
  • Carbon Sequestration and Soil Conference to be held in Paris (Spring of 2017) with the participation of representatives from The World Bank, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Food Safety, Oxford University, Carbon Cycle Institute, Marin Carbon Project, The Nature Conservancy, Land Trust Alliance, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, IIAS-Potsdam, Carbon Underground, soil4climate, Healthy Soils Australia, the U.S. Department of Agriculture with the objective of raising the sense of urgency and working to build momentum for carbon sequestration in soils (contact Betsy Taylor)

Around the world momentum is building for soil restoration. The Caux Dialogues and its partners deserve praise for providing an early platform to raise awareness about land degradation and for becoming an extraordinary catalyst for land restoration action and the scaling-up of solutions.

Book launch session: Reclaiming Landscapes for a Sustainable Future, by Martin Frick , Jennifer Helgeson and Ilan Chabay.

61YsZZ-KcGL._SX403_BO1,204,203,200_Many of the experts and practitioners that have contributed to the Caux Dialogues over the years have shared their wisdom and vision in “Reclaiming Landscapes for a Sustainable Future”, a book on land restoration by Martin Frick and Jennifer Helgesson. I am honoured for having been able to contribute a chapter on the impacts of military activities on soil and about promising remediation possibilities. The 600 page book can be ordered directly from the publisher Elsevier.

Montreal, Cycling to Prosperity!


24,000 Montrealers bike to work every day. In North America, only New York, with a population four times greater, has more daily commuters (36,000) according to the latest report of Vélo Quebec.

Montreal, cycling capital of North America

One reason for this success is that over 30 years ago Montreal started investing in segregated bike lanes to make cycling safe and enjoyable. In downtown, 4% of all commutes are by bike. In Plateau Mont-Royal 10.8%! a level comparable with Vienna, Stockholm and Berlin.

A great potential

With every third Montrealer living within 5km from work, a study by the mobility school of Ecole Polytechnique assessed that 22% of all car trips in the city could easily be biked. A huge potential for more cyclists in the Metropole.

Investing $150 million for cyclists!

As part of its sustainable mobility strategy, Montreal is thus planning additional investment that could reach $150 million (with $15 million this year) to grow its already impressive bike lane network from 730km to 1,280km – to the joy of cyclists and the rage of some drivers… But is it worth it?

A wise investment

A recent Lund University (Sweden) study of cycling in Copenhagen concluded that cars impose costs on society from air pollution, climate change, noise, road wear, health and congestion. In economic terms this represents a negatively impact from cars of EUR 0.50 per kilometer vs. only EUR 0.08 for bikes…

When the impact for society as a whole is considered, every kilometer driven costs the community EUR 0.15. Meanwhile, society benefits EUR 0.16 per kilometer cycled! 

Conclusion: Bike for prosperity!

Related links: 

Tour de l’ile de Montreal

Montreal Go for it by night Festival

Montreal biking investments 2016-17

Velo Quebec Report on Biking in Montreal 2015

Road safety: rage agains cyclists

Congrats Montreal! Host of the 2018 ICLEI World Congress!

mtl_vert_375ICLEI, the largest association of local governments for sustainability, just announced that Montréal will host their next world congress in 2018.

With over 54% of the world population already living in cities (UN 2014), including 82% in North America, and other regions including Africa urbanizing rapidly, two-thirds will live in cities by 2050.

Cities are also where 75% of all carbon emissions are generated. Faced with a growing world population and continued migration to urban areas, cities and local governments are the key actors that can drive the course for “globalizing urban sustainability”.

Montreal and sustainability

Montreal was selected for its leadership in driving sustainability policy and commitment to scale-up its initiatives, including planting over 300,000 trees and new sustainable mobility solutions such as bicycle paths, public bike sharing and the electrification of transportation.

Leading congress location in the Americas


With its famous “Palais des Congrès” located in the heart of its lively downtown, meters away from the historic old town and the arts and entertainment district, Montreal ranks  as the premier location in the Americas for large-scale international events and also reflects Montreal’s commitment to sustainabilty. The “greening” of the PCM’s 13,416 m2 (144,386 sq. ft.) roof that is currently in development is a practical example of climate action to   reduce the urban heat island effect.

Capital of the “Vivre Ensemble”

Montreal is the city that welcomed us when my family immigrated to Canada in the early 1970s. Today still, Montreal is one of the most multi-ethnic and multicultural cities in the world – a capital of the “Vivre Ensemble” (Living Together) and a vibrant platform for culture, education and innovation.

Congratulations to Montreal for this brilliant success!

Related links:


Palais des Congrès

Montreal International 

NATO, Justin Trudeau and responsible citizenship

Trudeau_36The heads of state and heads of government of the 28 North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries gathered in Poland last Friday and Saturday (July 8-9) for what many consider the most important NATO meeting since the end of the cold war. Hence, many were surprised to see Canada’s superstar Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arriving with his 9 year old son Xavier.

Early immersion in global affairs

But Justin also got an early introduction to the world of diplomacy and global affairs. Imagine the shock 40 years ago when the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau showed up with eight year-old Justin to meet the Iron Lady, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.


Surely, his father had a profound impact on him and his influence got him to become Prime Minister.

“All my life I had wanted more than anything to become a dad. I was inspired by the extraordinary father I’d had, the example he set for me to follow.”

A man of integrity and conviction, Pierre Trudeau cherished the importance of universal  human rights, responsible citizenship, care for the environment and Canada’s role in the world. These are the focus of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, an independent and non-partisan charity established in memory of the Late Right Honourable Pierre Elliott Trudeau. These priorities also come out as important for Justin Trudeau and we can  foresee that Xavier will someday work towards them as well.

Education about global issues

Not everyone can have a Prime Minister as a parent but all young people should have access to education about global issues. Education is the critical first step to transform individuals into engaged citizens and actors of change in their communities.

The “Education is a Window to the World” program run by The Bridge Foundation engages opinion leaders and youth on sustainable development and global issues.

Was air pollution a factor when Portugal beat Poland?


A research team at the IZA Economic Institute in Bonn (Germany) found that air pollution significantly impacts the performance of football players, even when measured pollution is below what the EU considers “safe level” thresholds. Above those concentrations, the measured decline in performance reached as much as 16%!

The World Health Organization reported that outdoor air pollution in cities for fine particles (called PM2.5 being smaller then 2.5 microns including dust, exhausts and coal combustion) was almost three times higher in Poland than in Portugal (28.7 vs. 10.8 ug/m3). Health effects include asthma and respiratory diseases such as lung cancer – children, the elderly and those with lung or heart disease are most at risk.

Outdoor air pollution causes 3.7 million premature deaths around the world according to Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director for public health, environmental and social determinants of health.

In December 2015, the European Commission referred Poland to the EU Court of Justice for persistently high and dangerous levels of air pollution – mostly coming from household heating and road traffic. The Commission deemed that measures taken by the authorities were inadequate.

While we cannot attribute the victory of Portugal to pollution, it is clear that poor air quality affects more then just the quality of football games. Urgent action is needed!

Happy Canada day to all!

Flag_of_Canada149 years ago on this day, the people of Upper Canada and Lower Canada came together to create one great nation, Canada.

“From the outset, Canada was formed not in spite of differences, but because of them. Thanks to the hard work and understanding between many cultural and religious communities, Canada is the diverse, inclusive, and compassionate country that we are fortunate to call home today”, said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this morning.

Those words were echoed this morning by Canadian Ambassador to Switzerland Jennifer MacIntyre in her talk to the members of the Canadian-Swiss Chamber of Commerce when she said that “Canada is strong precisely because of the diversity of its people. This is not only a source of pride but the reason of our prosperity and success as a nation.”

I can certainly relate to this message. My family escaped the tyranny of the communist regime in Poland in the early 1970’s and we received a wonderful welcome in Montreal (Quebec). That is where I grew up and where my parents and brother still live and celebrate the “vivre ensemble” (Living together).

Four decades later, Canada still is a beacon of hope for refugees escaping the atrocities of the middle-east crisis. The Trudeau administration committed to take in 25,000 Syrians only to increase this number by tens of thousands soon after.

So many Canadians are willing to sponsor them that the government can’t bring them quickly enough. “Where are the refugees that you promised us? When will they arrive? We are waiting for them! is what I hear from the constituents in my Toronto riding” said Minister of International Trade Chrystia Freeland during the Forum of the Americas in Montreal two weeks ago.

And this constructive and solutions-oriented approach extends well beyond the refugee crisis. When the Canadian delegation arrived at the Paris Climate Conference in December, the assembly was chanting: Welcome back Canada! Welcome back Canada! and that was even before the climate minister Catherine McKenna voiced Canada’s commitment to maintaining climate change well-below 2 degrees.

At a time when the dark forces are shaking the world by promoting hate, fear and isolationism, there is a new wind blowing from Canada. One that is supported and celebrated by all Canadians. It is a message of peace and tolerance, a celebration of multiculturalism and diversity and a reason for the whole world to celebrate!

Happy birthday Canada!

Related Links: 

The promise of diversity

COP21 – Paris Climate Conference

For a Carbon Tax by Stephane Dion

Obama Hiroshima visit and hopes for a nuke-free world

Following the April trip to Hiroshima by John Kerry, the scene is set for the first visit of a US President to the sites where America dropped the bomb in August 1945. Having taken the world into the atomic age, America has a special obligation to rid the world of nuclear weapons.

2B1BDF6F00000578-0-image-m-45_1438771097176Tomorrow’s visit (May 27) will be a side-trip to the G7 summit hosted by Japan and is already perceived as a major success for the Japanese Prime Minister and a show of strength of Japanese-American relations in the face of an increasingly assertive Chinese presence in the region. Surely, it will do nothing to appease the Chinese and South Korean grievances for Japanese atrocities inflicted on them in the first half of the 20th century.

In 2009 already, Obama said that achieving a world without nuclear weapons is fundamental for American security and for peace in the world. During the cold war nukes could have erased the world as we know it in a flash of light. Today the cold war is over but the legacy of thousands of nuclear weapons remains with the paradox of a higher risk of a nuclear attack occurring. With the proliferation of nuclear secrets and technology, more countries have nuclear weapons and it is easier for terrorist groups to gain access to them.

President Obama is right that global peace and security demands ridding the world of nuclear weapons and that America has a moral responsibility to lead. How much can be achieved without inflaming existing tensions remains to be seen. Obama’s legacy on peace could be in the making here. With much criticism already voiced back home and more coming from North Korea, we will find out soon enough.

Links of Interest:

Lawyers for a Nuclear Free World

States with Nuclear Weapons

Of Science and Human Values in the Nuclear Age

Parliamentarians for Nuclear Disarmament


Huffington Post: Time To Engage In Nuclear Disarmament