Forest fires ran rampant across Indonesia in the summer of 2013, spreading a toxic haze across South East Asia. Governments and NGOs are using WRI’s data and analysis to hold palm oil and timber companies accountable for these damaging forest and peat fires.
Burning forest is illegal in Indonesia. Yet June 2013 was one of the worst months for Indonesia’s fires in more than a decade, spreading an enormous cloud of haze and unhealthy pollution across the country and into Malaysia and Singapore. However, the governments of South East Asia didn’t have access to the same forest data, making it difficult to know where the fires were located and who might be responsible.
Using data from NASA and the Indonesian government, WRI was able to show within a few hours that half of the fires were within the boundaries of timber plantations and oil palm concessions. We leveraged our deep expertise on Indonesian forest and land issues, strong data analysis, and communications expertise to frame the issues around the fires and encourage governments to hold specific companies accountable. Our experts provided in-depth background information, clarified the facts where possible, and offered ongoing insights to media, resulting in coverage in more than 200 local and international outlets, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Guardian, Jakarta Post, Jakarta Globe, and Straits Times. The fires analysis became the most viewed blog series in WRI history, with more than 27,000 page views. This significant media outreach and attention improved the understanding of the crisis internationally, and helped build momentum to solve the problem.
The Indonesian and Singaporean governments have stated at the highest levels that they will prosecute major companies accused of setting illegal fires to clear land for palm oil and pulpwood plantations. Crucially, the governments of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Thailand agreed at an ASEAN international summit to establish a joint platform for monitoring fires using satellite technology. They will also share company concession data among governments in order to hold companies accountable when fires are detected on their land. Improved data availability, law enforcement, and government cooperation could dramatically reduce the occurrence of forest and peat land fires in Indonesia, enhancing local communities’ health and the economy.
Moving forward, WRI will use Global Forest Watch, a soon-to-be-launched forest monitoring system, to push for strong natural resource management on a worldwide scale.
Wading through the vast sea of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data can be a real challenge. To help simplify the process and make such data more accessible, today the World Resources Institute is launching the Climate Analysis Indicators Tool, or CAIT 2.0.
The free, online portal provides data on GHG emissions from 186 countries and all 50 U.S. states, as well as other climate data. CAIT 2.0 allows users to view, sort, visualize, and download data sets for comparative analysis. By providing comprehensive emissions data in an easy-to-use tool, users from government, business, academia, the media, and civil society can more effectively explore, understand, and communicate climate change issues.
I recently had a frustrating experience. It all started during a casual conversation with one of my mother’s friends. After hearing a bit about my role as CFO of the World Resources Institute, my mother’s friend informed me that she regularly contributes to charities. In fact, she stated proudly, she only donates to organizations with “low overhead”-- that is, to groups that spend the lion’s share of their funding on program expenses and only a small amount on fundraising and administrative costs. I couldn’t help but shake my head--not only because I disagreed with her, but because it’s a sentiment we hear all too often in the non-profit world.
Activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta articulated this problem well in his March TED Talk, “The way we think about charity is dead wrong.” Pallotta explained that there are separate rulebooks for for-profit and non-profit companies in the United States. For-profits are judged on their growth and the quality of their products—which have the cost of necessary infrastructure or overhead baked into the cost of each product. Non-profits are evaluated on how little they invest in infrastructure rather than the quality of their work.
At WRI--and at all non-profits, for that matter--scrimping on essential infrastructure is short-sighted. This practice negatively impacts our work, our growth, and ultimately, our ability to change the world.
Now is a critically important time for the world to focus on climate finance. Developing nations—those least responsible for causing global warming but most vulnerable to its impacts—need funding to adopt clean energy, protect infrastructure from sea level rise, and engage in other adaptation and mitigation strategies. But these activities are costly—the world will need to figure out how to fund them now in order to protect countries from future climate change.
The problem is that it’s hard to draw attention to a topic that’s difficult to understand. The issue of climate finance is decidedly complex. Several entities--think-tanks, banks and other financial institutions, international institutions, governments, and public sector agencies--are involved in myriad activities related to climate finance. Understanding how they operate, interact, and contribute can be confusing. Even the vocabulary that defines climate finance can be inconsistent, abstract, and nebulous at times. These complexities make climate finance an issue that’s hard for people--even experts, sometimes --to wrap their heads around.
Introducing the Climate Finance FAQs Series
That’s where WRI’s new blog series, Climate Finance FAQs, comes in. Our experts will attempt to shed light on basic climate finance issues through a series of blog posts. By explaining these topics in plain language, we can make climate finance more accessible--and hopefully, draw broader attention to the pressing issue of how to pay for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
There’s a popular saying in the news that two events are a coincidence, but three make a trend. Over the past few days, there have been two major developments in the national media that will likely have a big impact on coverage of environmental issues. It’s clear that a troubling trend is already underway.
First, the New York Timesannounced on Friday that it will discontinue its environmental “Green Blog.” (See good pieces by Columbia Journalism Review and the Times’ Dot Earth blog.) This was a pretty shocking development, given that most media outlets are expanding their blogging platforms and online integration. In a sign of the times, the Times editors later posted a list of Twitter handles for some of its top environmental reporters. This news came on the heels of the newspaper’s earlier announcement that it was disbanding its environment desk and reassigning its environmental reporters.
Then, yesterday, the Washington Postannounced that it is creating a new “online strike force” to expand its political coverage. One consequence is that the newspaper’s leading environmental reporter, Juliet Eilperin, will be moving to the White House beat. This, too, will be a loss for serious environmental news coverage. While it’s perhaps unfair to compare Eilperin’s work to that of the Times’ entire environment desk, it’s hard to argue that there’s a more influential national reporter on environmental issues.
Consider this blog post to have been written hastily on the back of a cocktail napkin. Not really, of course, as my handwriting is increasingly poor in this digital age. But I’m in acceptance-speech mode, as WRI just won the 2012 EthicMark Award for its environmental justice film, Sunita.
WRI’s The Access Initiative created its “Sunita” video to bring attention to the environmental injustices that countless impoverished communities face. But recently, it’s the video itself that’s getting all the attention.
WRI co-hosted a dinner last week to honor Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for advancing sustainability, especially in the Coral Triangle. The event took place at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York City, where more than 300 guests from government, business, and the non-profit sector gathered to recognize Indonesia’s president.
WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, opened the event by reminding guests that President Yudhoyono is a “different kind of leader.” Earlier in his career, Steer spent eight years in Indonesia, and he’s seen firsthand how the country has approached its economic and environmental challenges.
“We live in perilous times,” Steer said. “We need innovative thinking and we need out-of-the-box thinking. Today, we have a leader who is an out-of-the-box leader.”
China and the United States have a lot in common. China’s rapid economic development and America’s industry have turned the two nations into world’s largest energy users, as well as the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. So it’s fitting that experts from these two countries share ideas on how to grow their economies in ways that also protect the environment.
That’s exactly what happened this week when WRI hosted a high-level Chinese delegation in Washington, D.C. The event was part of a larger study tour organized by MIT, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China. More than 20 representatives from Chinese research institutions and central and local government gathered to learn about low-carbon development strategies and policies, with WRI serving as one of the tour’s first stops.
“I spent a great deal of time in China, and I believe very strongly that we have as much or more to learn from you as you have to learn from us,” said WRI’s president, Andrew Steer, to the Chinese delegation.
Just as he prepared to slide into WRI’s president’s seat, Andrew Steer spoke with Eric Roston, Sustainability Editor of Bloomberg News, about the big environment and development issues of the day. He talked about the role of the business, reporting on carbon emissions, Rio+20, and whether environmentalists are “apocaholics” (that is, addicted to an apocalyptic world view, as suggested recently by Wired magazine).