Jockin Arputham, 60, has lived in a slum outside Mumbai since As president of the National Slum Dwellers Association and Slum Dwellers International, he is rallying the world's poorest city dwellers to improve their environment. Urban squalor is one of the biggest problems of the age, and by the number of slum dwellers is projected to reach two billion - a recipe for poverty, disease and political instability.
Arputham has pioneered a way to help the poor negotiate with city authorities to secure land ownership - the greatest barrier to improving slums. Dozens of other new urban groups are working in 70 countries and hundreds of thousands of people have benefited. Global urbanisation is inevitable, and these new federations will have more and more ecological influence.
Hermann Scheer, 43, is the MP who persuaded the German government to get rid of nuclear power and invest heavily in renewables such as wind and solar power. As a result, in less than 10 years, Germany is heading towards selfsufficiency in energy. His greatest success has been a "feed in tariff law".
This forces power companies to buy electricity generated by the public at more than triple market prices; , homeowners, farmers and small businesses have leapt in and started selling. Spain, Portugal, Greece, France and Italy are all now introducing their version of Scheer's law and pressure is building in Britain and other countries. Mohammed Valli Moosa, 50, was South Africa's environment minister from to He has campaigned for transnational African "Peace Parks" for wildlife and pushed for reduced use of plastic bags.
But he may play a much greater role in the global environment debate as chairman of Eskom, the state-owned power company that runs South Africa's only nuclear plant and, starting in , is hoping to build dozens of fourth-generation small-scale nuclear stations. Known as pebble bed modular reactors, these are smaller, cheaper and reportedly safer than other designs and Valli Moosa says they could be the base of the 21st eco-economy - ideally for desalination plants and creating the raw material for the heralded but slow to appear hydrogen economy.
South Africa has some of the world's greatest reserves of uranium: put them with the technology and it could start looking like a superpower. Can a year-old South African violinist living in a flat in Willesden, north London, actually change the world?
It's a serious question because the odds are increasing that over the next two years rich and poor countries will come round to Aubrey Meyer's way of thinking if they are to negotiate a half-decent global deal to reduce climate change emissions.
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Nearly 20 years ago, Meyer devised what he believed was the only logical way through the political morass dividing rich and poor countries on climate change. After a letter from him was published in the Guardian, he gave up playing professional music to set up the tiny Global Commons Institute in his bedroom. There he developed the idea that not only did everyone on earth have an equal right to emit CO2, but that all countries should agree to an annual per capita ration or quota of greenhouse gases.
That was the easy bit. But then the musician, who had played with the LPO and had written for the Royal Ballet, went further.
Meyer proposed that each country move progressively to the same allocation per inhabitant by an agreed date. This meant that rich countries would have steadily to cut back their emissions, while poor ones would be allowed steadily to grow theirs, with everyone eventually meeting in the middle at a point where science said the global maximum level of emissions should be set.
Meyer is nothing if not determined. Early opposition came from British civil servants, who said it was akin to communism, and major environmental groups, which were ideologically opposed to any kind of trading emissions.
For many years the US government had no interest in any such deal. But the climate stakes have risen with every new scientific report, and the politicians and environment groups have moved on. It also allows science to set the optimum level of emissions; it gets round long-standing US objections that poor countries should be part of a global agreement; and it is inherently pro-business, because it encourages rich and poor countries to trade emissions between themselves.
The long years of single-minded lobbying mean that Meyer's idea now has some powerful backers, including, in Britain, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution; MPs have supported it in an early day motion, and the government, equivocal so far, is moving towards a version of it. It has become official policy in India, China and most African countries. Germany and India are expected to run with it in UN meetings.
Other proposals are emerging and it will take two more years to thrash out a system that will please everyone. Writing music and calculating emissions have a lot in common, he says. But when you hear it played, then it's beautiful. Equally, when you read the calculations on countries' gases, they mean nothing. But when you work out how you can reduce them, it's clear that it's the best thing for humanity. Meyer still plays the violin every day, but seldom with an orchestra. Monica Howe, 31, is the sharp end of the grassroots debate in Los Angeles, the global car culture's smog- choked, road-raged, increasingly grid locked spiritual home.
Her Bicycling Coalition group is remapping the megalopolis's mean and potholed streets by forging bike routes, organising cycle rallies, helping fledgling cyclists overcome traffic fears, and challenging the mindset at City Hall, where cyclists tend to be greeted with disbelief. Howe says membership is rising, and cyclists are pedalling into the cityscape as public attitudes, swayed by concerns about air quality, traffic congestion and global warming, begin to shift.
She's no Al Gore, but she is winning the battle for American hearts and minds, despite the overwhelming odds. Chris Tuppen Businessman Chris Tuppen, BT's head of sustainable development, wrote the company's first environmental report in Since then his lead has been followed by thousands of other companies, yet BT has managed to stay one step ahead. It was a pioneer in buying electricity from renewable sources and has cut down on travel. Last year the company announced it would build its own windfarms to help meet its mammoth demand for electricity, and published a set of ambitious targets which include reductions in the carbon footprints of its employees.
Freiburg in southern Germany is the most ecologically-aware town in Europe and possibly the rich world. The city of , people dubs itself a "solar region" and gathers nearly as much power from the sun as is collected in all of Britain. It's stacked with research establishments and its solar firms employ thousands of people. It is also the playground of architect Rolf Disch, who builds houses that need to be heated for only a week each year and whose cost is paid for by the electricity generated by the panels on their roofs. To attain this, a huge area of the city centre has been turned into a pedestrian zone and there are km of bike paths.
More than a third of all journeys are made by bike, and there are fewer than parking places for cars in the centre compar ed with 5, for bikes. The snag? The quality of life is so good in Freiburg that too many people want to live there and it's hard for anyone to buy a house.
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Bija Devi saves seeds for future generations. She already has in her "bank" 1, types of cereals, pulses, fruits and vegetables, though she has no idea of their scientific names. She has worked as a farmer since the age of seven, never went to school and has never heard the words "wheat" or "turnip". Yet she now heads a worldwide movement of women trying to rescue and conserve crops and plants that are being pushed to extinction in the rush to modernise farming.
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And in so doing she is helping rejuvenate Indian culture. Apart from collecting and storing seeds from all over the country, Devi is teaching farmers, distributing seeds and experimenting with them. It's called the Navdanya Nine Seeds movement because it was inspired by a southern Indian custom of planting nine seeds in a pot on the first day of the year. Women would take the pots to the river nine days later to compare and exchange seeds so that each family could plant the best seeds, thus optimising food supplies.
Today, Devi has farmers queueing up for seeds at her project's base, a acre farm in the foothills of the Himalayas in Dehradun. When she started 14 years ago, with ecologist Vandana Shiva, she had to plead with the farmers to accept that ecological security was of fundamental importance, and that there were advantages to sowing older, indigenous seeds rather than the newer, high-yielding "hybrid" or GM seeds. These give larger crops but require considerable input of pesticides and fertilisers, and more water. Women are responsible for sowing, harvesting and storing food, while it is up to the men to prepare the soil.
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Now they come to us on their own. She now has varieties of rice seeds alone. There are something like , people benefiting from 34 similar community seed banks set up in 13 states across the country. The banks are seen as an insurance against changing conditions, such as climate, new pests or consumer demand.
People who receive the seeds pay nothing for them, and in return pledge to continue to save and share them. The work is backed by Dr Debal Deb, an ecologist who has established the only gene bank of indigenous rice in India. The Green Revolution was environmentally disastrous in India, he says: "In the 80s, the drastic erosion of the genetic diversity of rice and other crops was irreversible. Thousands of rice varieties no longer exist in the farms where they evolved over centuries. They are extinct for good and not even accessed in the national and international gene banks.
Collecting seeds from a large and diverse country such as India is no easy task. We then collect the seed, cultivate it on an experimental basis and note down the results. If it is satisfactory, we distribute it among the other farmers. We also need to sow the seeds regularly to continue with the strain.
Today, traditional knowledge is almost lost in the euphoria over new varieties. Arguably, the best news of was a promise by China, the world's biggest polluter, to blaze a greener path of development rather than follow in our filthy footsteps. One of the worst was the attempted sidelining of the man who has done more than anyone to secure that promise.
Pan Yue, 47, deputy director of the state environmental protection administration, has become a hero for his willingness to stand up to corporations and local governments that jeopardise public health in the rush for economic growth. In so doing, he has won the ear of the PM and president, whose political mantra of "scientific development" emphasises the need for sustainable, not just rapid, growth, and has helped set ambitious energy efficiency and pollution controls targets.
All this has made him some powerful enemies, particularly in energy, steel and construction, who seemed to have won a victory over Pan late last year at the 17th Communist Party Congress where more business-oriented cadres were promoted, but Pan was left a deputy director and must now fight for his political life. Even so, Pan's warnings that the economic miracle will end soon because the environment can no longer keep pace have goaded China's leadership into action.
The International Energy Agency estimates that China will overtake the US as the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases by the end of next year - some say it's already done so. In November, China belatedly released a five-year plan for environmental protection, for the first time mentioning the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but it gave no targets or deadlines for doing so.