Infrastructure is essential for economic growth. But as governments debate the future of sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference, there is one infrastructure solution that can provide a good return on investment: nature.
People often don’t think of forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other natural ecosystems as forms of infrastructure. But they are. Forests, for instance, can prevent silt and pollutants from entering streams that supply freshwater to downstream cities and businesses. They can act as natural water filtration plants. As such, they are a form of “green infrastructure” that can serve the same function as “gray infrastructure,” the human-engineered solutions that often involve concrete and steel. This example is not alone (see Table 1).
When it comes to the fate of forests, Rio+20 and the official negotiations risk becoming a side event. Instead, the main show is playing out in countless boardrooms, communities, parliaments, and villages around the world. From Brazil to Bangladesh, Canada to Cambodia, these organizations have made dramatic progress with efforts to reverse forest decline.
Of course, much remains to be done: globally, forests continue to decline at the rate of about 13 million hectares each year, according to the United Nations. But many successes help illuminate a path forward.
This piece was written with Vinod Thomas, Director General, Independent Evaluation, Asian Development Bank. It originally appeared in The Guardian.
As we enter a new year, the world continues to be in the grips of dual crises. A stubborn economic downturn with widespread job losses combined with accelerating global warming threatening vulnerable communities. Many argue that dealing with climate change in the midst of an economic slump will hurt recovery efforts. The underlying reality, however, is quite the opposite. Not only can preparing for climate change offer opportunities for economic growth, it would be unwise to pursue one without the other.
Can the current food production system feed a growing population in a changing climate while sustaining ecosystems? The answer is an emphatic “no.”
A new approach is imperative and overdue, one in which the world feeds more people—an estimated 9 billion by 2050—with less ecological impact. To be successful, this new approach must address both how we produce and how we use food.
The fate of heads of state across the globe is tied in large part to their ability to ensure employment, economic growth, and access to cheap food and clean water. Rising food prices have helped topple dictators across the Middle East. Europe, the United States, Japan and other major economies are spending trillions of dollars to restore growth and jobs.
Too often, efforts to address environmental challenges such as pollution, habitat loss and global warming are seen as in conflict with job creation, economic growth and development. Some have suggested that protecting forests will lead to scarcity of land for farming, exacerbating the rise in food prices.
Trees are being cut down for farming, but a new study shows that a lot of land already cleared could be used instead.
"We are one shock away from a full-blown crisis," stated Robert Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, at a recent meeting of the bank and the IMF. He was referring to a critical increase in poverty, resulting from the escalating cost of food. The UN's food price index has risen 37% since March 2010. Basic cereal prices are up 60% over this period. Wheat is up 63%, and maize 83%.