This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded today to three remarkable women who have dedicated their lives to promoting peace and gender equality in their home countries. The recipients — Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Yemeni democracy activist Tawakkul Karman and Liberian women’s right activist Leyma Gbowee — are the first women to receive the prize since 2004, when it went to environmentalist Wangari Maathai.
At CI, we are especially thrilled by the recognition of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state, who not only has set a great example for women in Africa and around the world, but also has been one of the developing world’s most ardent environmental advocates.
Elected in 2005, Sirleaf took control of a country battered by nearly two decades of civil war. Emerging from a struggling post-conflict economy, Liberia’s 3.2 million people continue to be plagued by poverty. Yet, partially as a result of past political instability that prevented economic development, much of Liberia’s natural resources remain intact. Forty-five percent of the country remains forested — among the highest rates in Africa.
Sirleaf has recognized that in order to develop her country’s economy sustainably, protection of natural resources is essential. Aside from providing timber, fresh water, bushmeat, medicine and numerous other resources for Liberians, the country’s forests also could generate income through the growing international carbon market, in which landowners in forested countries are paid to conserve their trees for their global climate change mitigation benefits.
In 2009, the Liberian government requested assistance from CI to conduct a low-carbon economy analysis — one which considers the impacts of various policy scenarios to both mitigate climate change and provide benefits for Liberians. The results have prompted further consideration of the policy actions that would be required to make the Liberian low-carbon economy strategy a reality.
In the words of Jessica Donovan, country program director of CI-Liberia, “Liberia can be rebuilt as a ‘green’ nation — an inspiration to the rest of Africa and the world … We can do it on the industrial scale and at a village level, too. If we all do this right — the government, the local people, the NGOs, the businesses and the international community — we can make a new Liberia.”
Next Tuesday, Liberia will hold its presidential elections, where Sirleaf is running for a second term. Hopefully, with this encouragement from the international community, Liberia’s people will support her in her continued efforts to make this small West African country a model for poverty reduction.
Molly Bergen is managing editor on CI’s communications team.