Helping Armenia go green

Meet ‘Planet Doctor’ Hovhannes, National Coordinator for UNDP/Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme in Armenia.

Planet Doctor Hovhannes with his favourite patient — nature.

In one sentence, what do you do at UNDP?

I help disadvantaged communities live more climate-friendly lives. Part of my job is teaching farmers, firstly, how to use their farmland in a more sustainable way; secondly, how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and thirdly, how to adapt to the effects of climate change.

How does your specific project change the lives of people in the developing world?

Over 40% of the total employed population in Armenia works in agriculture.

Many farmers in Armenia rely on a single source of income. If that income fails because of things like drought or flooding, the whole family —and often the whole community — suffers.

Our programme basically helps make farmers’ businesses climate-ready. That means improving the use of solar energy, reducing energy consumption, reforming agricultural practices, restoring degraded forests, implementing land and water conservation, and promoting alternative eco-friendly farming techniques, like beekeeping.

As a result, communities reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and conserve carbon — but they also experience economic gains.

Most importantly, local communities start seeing positive changes in their environment — like improved crops — and become even more committed to going green.

Tell us about a community member you’ve met who has benefited from this project?

Thanks to new solar heating, the students at this boarding school in Gyumri can now finally take hot showers.

Our programme has improved the lives of many people of all ages. But it’s always special when you have the opportunity to help children.

One project that really stuck with me is when we worked with a boarding school for children with special needs in Gyumri. We installed solar heating as well as hot water — so now the children can finally take hot showers. We also improved the buildings’ insulation, which saves the school a lot of money in energy costs — money that they can now use to cover essentials, like nutritious food and health services. Knowing that these kids live and study in better conditions because of my work really inspires me!

If you were president of a climate-vulnerable country in your region, what’s one thing you would do to minimize the threat of climate change?

I would make it easier to receive funding for green projects. It’s so important to encourage financing and investment in community-based projects on climate change, to help people adapt, and ensure they’re better prepared for a changing climate. Not only will this encourage innovative, low-carbon technologies like renewable energy, but it will also ensure energy is available for future generations.

As a child, what did you want to be when you ‘grew up’?

When I was a child, I was dreaming of becoming a doctor and curing sick people for free. Today, I’m also a doctor — a planet doctor.

What was your first-ever job? How did you end up working in climate change?

In my first job I worked at a US non-profit organization that provided schools in Armenia with training, resources and internet access. These schools had a huge network of computer centres with internet, so as a true environmentalist, I started planning extracurricular activities on environmental education. Training on climate change and environment was central in this initiative, as changes in climate patterns were already being felt in the country.

What’s one action that people can take in their everyday lives to minimize the risk of climate change?

Manage your family’s carbon footprint. Reduce energy consumption in your home, switch to a lower or zero-carbon vehicle and convince your friends to do so too.

Finish these sentences:

My colleagues would describe me as…

…a consistent out-of-the-box thinker, who overcomes challenges and difficulties with his subtle sense of humour.

By 2030, I want to live in a world that…

…fully practices a green economy with care for future generations.

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