10 May 2018 Story Disasters & conflicts

Champion of the Earth Fatima Jibrell attends high-level talks on Somalia’s illegal charcoal trade


2014 UN Environment Champion of the Earth Fatima Jibrell once said: “People are fighting about limited resources, destroyed by displaced youth: a ready pool for hire for war lords, companies of charcoal; for piracy and for every other evil thing that they could find.”

It is up to us to come together and find constructive employment for our young people, she said. “We don’t want to be dependent on aid.” This week she was among experts gathering in Mogadishu this week for the first Somali Government-led conference, continuing the fight to stop the illegal charcoal trade and prevent charcoal production.

The conference from May 7-8 took place as deforestation, soil erosion and drought continue to grip the country. The high-level meeting brought together government officials, senior UN representatives, environmental advocates and donors to support implementation of the ban on importing Somali charcoal.  

Throughout her career, Fatima Jibrell has challenged the status quo to protect ordinary Somalis and their way of life, while working to end the unsustainable charcoal trade. Born into a nomadic pastoralist family in Somalia, she is focused on her vision of peace and conservation. A leading environmental activist and founder of Adeso Africa – a non-profit organization established in 1991 – she has fought bravely to protect Somalia’s fragile environment.  

Instrumental in bringing about a ban on the export of charcoal in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region, she has also co-funded Sun Fire Cooking, which promotes widespread use of solar cookers as an alternative to charcoal. In 2002 her work won her the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize and in 2007, the National Geographic/Buffet Award for Leadership in African Conservation. 

Exporting charcoal from Somalia was banned in 2012, but an illicit trade has decimated ancient acacia tree populations across the country. Since ordinary Somalis are often not aware of the long-term consequences of deforestation and desertification, they become perpetrators of their environment’s own demise, with harsh economic and social repercussions.

Deputy Prime Minister Mahdi Mohamed Guled said in his opening remarks: “We need a holistic response to address the issues of charcoal in Somalia. Both the demand and supply side have to be tackled – to do this we need cooperation to implement the UN Security Council Resolution and ensure the environmental, economic and human losses that happen because of illegal charcoal trade are curbed.” 

Erik Solheim, UN Environment’s Executive Director, said: “Destruction of trees for charcoal leads to degradation of land, destruction of ecosystems and causes greater susceptibility to flooding and drought. This leads to loss of livelihoods and food insecurity, which are contributing to the humanitarian crises in Somalia.

“The charcoal trade contributes to and funds insecurity and conflict as it exacerbates inter-clan tension over control of land and trade and acts as a major source of funding for armed groups which illegally tax exports of the commodity. Somalia needs the support of the international community and the private sector to curb this unsustainable livelihood and to provide viable alternatives,” he added. 

Charcoal production – an economic activity that dates to pre-colonial times – has long served communities to meet energy requirements and provide livelihood opportunities. The market value of the exported commodity was estimated to be more than $250 million dollars over two years following the ban.

“The environmental destruction brought on by the charcoal trade contributes to drought, flooding, the loss of livelihoods and increase in food insecurity. Together with conflict, this exacerbates the humanitarian situation in Somalia,” said the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Peter de Clercq.

Consequently, the trade in charcoal has accelerated environmental degradation and conflict over the control of resultant revenue. Fatima Jibrell will join delegates to strengthen institutional support to ensure the ban is finally upheld.

The two-day conference was supported by the UN Development Program (UNDP), UN Environment and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), with funding from the European Union, Sweden and Italy.

Learn more about UN Environment’s work on the environmental causes and consequences of disasters and conflicts.

More information about UN Environment’s Young Champion’s work is available here

Contact Russel Galt (Coordinator of the Champions of the Earth) russel.galt[at]un.org  or Saidou Hamani  saidou.hamani[at]un.org  (Regional Coordinator of the Resilience to Disasters and Conflicts Programme Africa Office)