Earth Day 2016: Working Together to Fight Climate Change

By: Matthew T. Harrington, United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Lesotho

President Barack Obama once said of climate change, “Someday, our children, and our children’s children, will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us, did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safe, more stable world?”

Today, as people around the globe observe Earth Day, world leaders from more than 100 countries, including the United States and Lesotho, are gathering at the United Nations in New York.  There, they will sign the Paris Agreement on climate change. This marks a turning point in the story of our planet—the day when we take a critical step together to ensure we can tell our children we tackled the problem of climate change and left them a clean environment.

A greener future is already in sight. Government and private sector leaders from around the globe are increasingly moving toward the use of clean energy. For example, in the United States, since 2009 there has been a twenty-fold increase in solar power and triple the amount of wind power generated.   But the fight against climate change should not just be waged by governments and business owners. As caretakers of our planet, we all have an obligation to protect our earth for the next generation.  The decisions each of us makes today and in the years to come will have a profound impact on the world we leave behind, and we must each do our part.

Here in Lesotho, the U.S. Embassy has collaborated with the Government of Lesotho to address the effects of climate change and ensure access to clean water. For example, to mitigate the effects of the current drought, the United States Government recently provided $50,000 to improve access to safe drinking water and provide hygiene education through World Vision in Mafeteng and Mohale’s Hoek. This assistance complemented several earlier U.S.-supported activities to improve the availability of potable water and help communities adapt to the impact of climate change, including the use of conservation agriculture.

In 2013, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) completed a five-year compact with the Government of Lesotho to increase economic growth and reduce poverty.  Under that agreement, the United States provided $150 million (approximately M2.3 billion) to support projects in the water sector.  MCC support aimed to improve access to a secure and clean water supply and sanitation services, including through construction of one of the largest infrastructure projects in Lesotho’s history, Metolong Dam.  The dam, which began operations at the end of last year, has ensured a regular supply of water to the urban centers of Maseru, Roma, and Teyateyaneng, even during the recent severe drought conditions.

And in towns and villages throughout Lesotho, Basotho are doing their part. They are cultivating keyhole gardens to produce healthy and nutritious food for their families and communities. These small gardens are a form of conservation agriculture that allows for the planting of carrot, beetroot, spinach and other vegetables next to each other in a way that can improve soil fertility and capture moisture.  The keyhole garden reduces the amount of water needed for growing vegetables and increases the quality and quantity of food produced. The United States Government is proud to have worked with the Government of Lesotho, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the European Union, and other partners to teach Basotho to build keyhole gardens at home and at school to improve the availability, diversity and nutritional content of food.  During my travels across the beautiful Mountain Kingdom, I have seen first-hand the positive impact of keyhole gardens both on people’s lives and on efforts to preserve and protect Lesotho’s spectacular environment and precious natural resources.

Today, on Earth Day, the signing of the Paris Agreement in New York is a cause for celebration and hope.   I hope we will all take this opportunity to recommit ourselves to building a cleaner, safer, more stable world for our children, and our children’s children.