Land & Environment

Seeing REDD: USU Geographer Aids Mekong Curricula Development Project

Utah State University geographer Claudia Radel recently added another continent to her impressive list of travel destinations. A faculty member in USU’s Department of Environment and Society, Radel has conducted extensive study in Africa and areas of Latin America. In Oct. 2012, she traveled to Southeast Asia, an area new to her, to participate in a multinational, multi-institution effort to develop university-level climate change curricula.

Radel traveled to the Lower Mekong River Basin, visiting universities in Thailand and Vietnam, as part of a six-member U.S. delegation participating in the “Integrating Climate Change into Forestry and Natural Resource Management Curricula” workshop led by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Forest Service International Programs office. In addition to the U.S. delegation, workshop participants included government officials and university personnel from the region.

“It was a fascinating experience,” says Radel, associate professor of international development, political ecology and feminist geography. “It was especially interesting to see the incredible transition taking place in Vietnam, as it moves from a communist system to a more market-based economy.”   

The curricula development effort, which involves eight universities in the Lower Mekong, is part of USAID’s “Lowering Emissions in Asia’s Forests” or “LEAF” program. Launched in 2011, LEAF is a five-year, $20 million initiative aimed at engaging regional governments, forestry and climate mitigation specialists and universities in technical capacity-building focused on “REDD-readiness.”

“REDD,” which stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation,” refers to the United Nations’ program for developing nations, initiated in 2008, that promotes use of market and financial incentives, such as sale and purchase of carbon shares, to reduce greenhouse gases.

“We had the opportunity to visit three of the universities involved in the curricula development project – one in Thailand and two in Vietnam,” Radel says. “One of these, Kasetsart University in Bangkok, is where USU professor Roger Kjelgren has established a longstanding partnership with Utah State.”

She says workshop participants identified four focus areas or “modules” for curricula development: 1) Basic Climate Change; 2) Social and Environmental Soundness; 3) Land Use Planning and Climate Change and 4) Carbon Measurement and Monitoring. Workshop teams, with U.S. and Mekong co-leaders, were assigned to the development of each module.

“Because of my expertise in gender studies, I was assigned to the Social and Environmental Soundness,” Radel says.

Among the highlights of her visit, were trips to university campuses in Hanoi in northern Vietnam and Dalat, a city in the southern part of Vietnam’s central highlands.

“Dalat, with its cool temperatures and pine trees, surprised me,” Radel says. “I envisioned Vietnam as mostly tropical.”

Now that she’s back in Utah, Radel will work with her curricula development colleagues by email and videoconferencing.

“It was a bit daunting getting everyone connected and meeting across time zones, but it’s working out well,” she says. “It’s exciting to be involved in a multinational, applied effort that will address real social needs.”

Related Links

“USU Geographer Explores Making a Living in an Interconnected World,” Utah State Today

USU Department of Environment and Society

USU Quinney College of Natural Resources

Contact: Claudia Radel, 435-797-0516,

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517,

Claudia Radel with fellow delegates at a USAID

USU geographer Claudia Radel, first row, third from right, gathers with fellow delegates at a USAID, U.S. Forest Service-sponsored curricula development workshop in Bangkok. The Oct. 2012 gathering was part of USAID's LEAF project.

Claudia Radel and an environmental science student in Vietnam

Claudia Radel, left, and an environmental science student at Vietnam's University of Dalat share a light moment during the USAID LEAF delegation’s campus visit. Radel toured three universities, two in Vietnam and one in Thailand, during her trip.


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