Wanjira Mathai is the Director of Partnerships for Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables (wPOWER) at the Wangari Maathai Institute (WMI). She previously directed International Affairs at Green Belt Movement (GBM), which was founded by her mother, the late Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai.
She spoke to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) at the Global Landscapes Forum about gender and climate change, and the need to empower women in order to achieve the targets set out by the Paris Agreement.
As co-chair of the Global Restoration Council, Mathai also discussed the importance of landscape restoration and why it is crucial for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
CIFOR's Leona Liu: Is there enough being done to include women in the recent climate talks?
Wanjira Maathai: It is a slow burner. We’ve seen the gender agenda no longer being discussed as whether it should be center stage, but rather how and what we need to do to take it to the next level. So we have succeeded in some ways, but in other ways it is still quite slow.
We made clear demands for women’s involvement in the negotiations and we were happy to see some of the gains of the Paris Agreement. But we still have a ways to go. We’re moving towards action now and there’s the nationally determined contributions (NDC) process and engaging women at that level, at the national level, and ensuring that they are involved in the solutions that are pitched to make sure that we get to the ambitions of our NDCs is equally important. Keeping women energized and engaged is going to be the next big thing.
What is your approach to getting women excited about this issue through your work?
The most important thing for us is evidence. You need to have strong enough evidence that makes the case for the prominence of women’s engagement.
Women don’t want handouts. Women want to be engaged because it makes sense for their achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, and because it makes sense for business. We want to make sure that we have strong evidence that is making that case for the prominence of women’s engagement.
And then of course the value of women’s engagement. Not because it’s just nice to do. So we want to make sure that evidence is in place. It’s a major pillar of the wPOWER Hub.
Let’s talk about landscape restoration. In your view, why has it received so much attention, and why is it important?
I think landscape restoration is in many ways, the biggest response to the Sustainable Development Goals. Four direct Sustainable Development Goals are addressed, but I think even beyond that, there are multiple connections to almost all of them. Addressing the integrity of our landscapes is about addressing food security; it’s about addressing water security and energy security, and with that, women’s equality.
The integrity of our landscapes is about how we sustain life as we know it. We know that water and systems like pollination and others that depend on healthy landscapes are under threat.
I think landscape restoration is very quickly becoming one of the ways that climate action can be achieved at scale. This is about scaling up.
You have the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), an initiative that was launched with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD Agency), the World Resources Institute and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
It’s an ambitious African initiative to restore one hundred million hectares by 2030. This will not happen through silo-ed initiatives. It will be landscape-scale work, a mosaic of restoration involving all landscapes that are productive: rivers, mountains, indigenous forests, and commercial plantations; essentially ensuring the integrity of landscapes.
The same thing is going on in Latin America. We have these ambitious global targets like Initiative 20×20in Latin America that is responding to the Bonn Challenge – 150 million hectares by 2020- and then of course the New York Declaration on Forests that is mandating 350 million hectares by 2030.
So we have clear ambitious targets and we must begin to get granular now. With the NDCs now moving into action, we should be asking how these targets fit into our national priorities.
What have you observed in terms of actually implementing this and translating this into action on the ground?
I’m heartened certainly by my own country Kenya, which is probably one of the very first countries of those that made commitments to AFR100 to present a very clear plan of action that was launched about a month ago.
The national landscape restoration plan for Kenya shows very clearly how Kenya is going to achieve its 5 million hectares target.
And those are the sorts of commitments that we need to start moving to the granular level. Where are these 5 million hectares located? What does it look like? It’s rangelands, it’s grasslands, it’s waterways, it’s forests, it’s commercial plantations, it’s the whole mosaic of landscape agroforestry systems. This is really where the rubber begins to hit the road.
And then of course, we have to see how this will be achieved. You need inter-ministerial collaboration, and certainly resources. You need funds that will make this a reality.
*This is part of a series of interviews from the 2016 Global Landscapes Forum: Climate Action for Sustainable Development in Marrakesh, Morocco