Michael Kocher is the General Manager of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF). He leads AKF’s multi-sector efforts in agriculture and food security, economic inclusion, education, early childhood development, health and nutrition, and civil society across 20 countries in South and Central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, North America and Western Europe. Within these contexts, Mr Kocher closely engages AKF’s sister agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and a broad range of external partners. Before joining AKF, Mr Kocher was the Vice President of International Programmes at the International Rescue Committee in New York City, where he led efforts in its multi-sector development, emergency response, and support for refugees and internally displaced persons. His field assignments have been extensive, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Indonesia, Kenya, South Sudan, Haiti, and Bosnia, amongst other places.
The AKDN is a founding partner of the Earthshot Prize. Why is it involved in climate change issues?
The AKDN is proud to be a Global Alliance Founding Partner, working with the Earthshot Prize to deliver the ambition, scale and reach of the Prize through both funding and partnership objectives. The shared values between the Earthshot Prize and the AKDN are at the heart of our collaboration. Without question, responsible stewardship of the environment is central to our mission to improve the quality of life and well-being of the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
Prince Rahim Aga Khan, Chair of the AKDN’s Environment and Climate Committee, said: “It is our collective responsibility to be good stewards of the planet. At this critical moment, we must all nurture and invest in solutions that can repair our planet before it is too late.”
He also said “The decades of progress now hang in the balance: environmental degradation and climate change will wipe out these gains entirely unless we act now with urgency and conviction. To do its part, [the] AKDN has a net-zero carbon target for its own operations and will mobilise its agencies to mitigate the effects of climate change and help vulnerable communities to adapt.”
Traditionally, what has the AKDN done in terms of development that could be considered environment friendly?
The AKDN has a number of agencies significantly involved in addressing climate change. Efforts include large-scale clean energy power plants, climate-friendly hospitals and health centres, disaster risk reduction, environmentally conscious tourism, university research on climate and environmentally sound agricultural practices. Additionally, there are ongoing efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of all operations by being more mindful about energy generation and consumption, travel, offsets, single-use plastics and other waste, amongst others.
As General Manager of the Aga Khan Foundation, I am deeply concerned by the impact climate change is already having particularly in the rural and remote settings in which we work. For instance, we are seeing much more frequent and severe weather events such as floods and avalanches in Central Asia. Yet I am also inspired by the innovative community-driven solutions emerging every day which help build resilience towards climate change.
The Foundation’s climate resilience programmes operate in three key ecosystems: (i) mountains, which include parts of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and northern Pakistan; (ii) coastal areas, which include parts of India, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar; and (iii) the plains, which include parts of South Asia and Eastern Africa.
Over the past several decades, we have promoted the community management of natural resources, alongside more than 570,000 farmers and 12,000 local natural resources management institutions (more than 300,000 women are organised into collectives). Engagement with civil society is key in these efforts. We have worked with communities to plant more that 56 million trees and establish over 50 megawatts of clean energy, primarily in mountain ecosystems, which has significantly reduced the pressure on forests. We also have facilitated the irrigation of over 220,000 hectares of land through the establishment of more than 7,000 irrigation schemes.
Further, we continue to strengthen community approaches to livestock support, soil sequestration and watershed management. We have also pioneered models which underwrite community resilience through economic diversification, including non-agriculture employment, alongside more than 6,000 enterprises and local financial institutions.
How has the nature of AKDN programmes shifted to reflect the Network’s future goal of carbon neutrality?
We are evolving our programmes in a number of respects:
- Transitioning towards more sustainable agriculture pathways which protect biodiversity and ensure agriculture is carbon neutral and ideally regenerative, including livestock as well;
- Scaling up carbon sequestration through afforestation, reforestation and environmental protection;
- Replacing fossil fuel energy with affordable and efficient clean energy solutions, and promoting their utilisation;
- Developing innovative climate-responsive financial products and enterprise solutions to promote “green” jobs and an overall “green” economy;
- Leveraging technologies and forming partnerships – for example, markets for voluntary carbon credits – to enhance relevance, effectiveness and sustainability of local institutions, including civil society;
- Preparing the next generation of climate leaders, working alongside education and youth institutions;
- Ensuring gender equality principles are integrated and applied across all actions; and
- Enabling and supporting government policies towards community climate resilience.