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5 Lessons for Sustaining Global Forests

As the old adage suggests, it is important to see the forests for more than just the trees. While an estimated 500 million people depend directly on forests for their livelihoods, the entire world depends on them for food, water, clean air, and vital medicines. Forests also absorb carbon dioxide, making them critical to curbing climate change.

Despite some encouraging anti-deforestation efforts in places like Brazil, Indonesia, and Africa, globally, forests are under threat, particularly in the tropics. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly 13 million hectares of forests were lost every year. About 30 percent of the global forest cover has been completely cleared, and 20 percent has been degraded.

This dilemma begs the question: What is the outlook for forests in 2030? Are we missing the opportunity to preserve forests and ensure they continue to deliver the goods and services we need for a growing global population? How can we use forests to build a thriving global green economy?

Asking these questions is important. Finding answers to the challenges they raise is imperative.

Time to Get Serious About the Future of UNEP

This post originally appeared in UNEP's magazine, "Our Planet."

“This gathering represents man’s earnest endeavor to understand his own condition and to prolong his tenancy of this planet.”

With these stirring words, Indira Gandhi, India’s Prime Minister, galvanized the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. A wake-up call to the state of our planet, Stockholm gave birth to the UN Environment Programme, amid high hopes that humanity could together curb alarming trends in pollution and natural resource loss.

Hopes were high when a 43-year-old Maurice Strong took the reins of the new institution – the first UN body to be located in a developing country. UNEP’s remit was simple: to be the world’s lead institution on the global environment. Its mandate included compiling much-needed environmental data, coordinating international activities, developing international agreements, and providing capacity development and technical assistance, especially to developing countries.

Forty years on, UNEP has made some vital contributions. It has played a key role in creating dozens of institutions and agreements that have advanced understanding of global challenges and propelled international action. These include such game-changers as the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which led to a 98 percent drop in controlled ozone depleting gases; the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), since 1988 the leading global body on climate science; the 1992 Earth Summit, and its associated global treaties on climate and biodiversity; and the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the first ever survey of the health of the world’s biological resources.

And yet, as it enters its fifth decade, few can believe that UNEP is equipped for the magnitude of the task ahead.

Civil Society Groups Help Make Electricity Affordable and Sustainable

Worldwide, one out of every five people lacks access to modern electricity. Affordability, quality of service, and social and environmental impacts pose great challenges in providing people with the power they need for lighting, cooking, and other activities. Good governance involving open and inclusive practices is essential to overcoming these pressing obstacles.

This is part one of a four-part blog series, “Improving Electricity Governance,” which explores the key components involved in making electricity decision-making more open, inclusive, and fair. The series draws on the experiences of WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative, which are documented in a new report, “Shining a Light on Electricity Governance.”

Access to electricity poses major challenges in India. Service varies considerably across the country. In some regions, fewer than 40 percent of people have access to electricity, while half of all rural households lack access to power. These issues will become more challenging as demand for energy is expected to double by 2020. The country will need to figure out how to provide affordable, reliable power in ways that benefit both people and the planet.

But India has a powerful ally in overcoming these electricity challenges: civil society organizations (CSOs).

People’s Monitoring Group on Electricity Regulation Steps In

In the state of Andhra Pradesh, the People’s Monitoring Group on Electricity Regulation (PMGER), a partner with WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI), acts as an advocate for affordable, reliable power. The organization is a consortium of NGOs whose constituencies include farmers’ organizations, environmental and development advocacy groups, electricity advocacy groups, workers’ unions, and research organizations. PMGER ensures that Andhra Pradesh’s electricity decisions are fair, effective, and made with citizens’ best interests in mind.

4 Grand Challenges to Energy, Food, and Water

The world is on track to become a very different place in the next two decades. Per capita income levels are rising, the global middle class is expanding, and the population is set to hit 8.3 billion people by 2030. At the same time, urbanization is happening at an accelerated pace—the volume of urban construction over the next 40 years could equal that which has occurred throughout history to date.

While these projections would bring benefits like reduced poverty and individual empowerment, they have serious implications for the world’s natural resources. Global growth will likely increase the demand for food, water, and energy by 35, 40, and 50 percent respectively by 2030. Add continued climate change to the equation, and the struggle for resources only becomes more intense.

These are just a few of the estimates included in the new Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report from the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC) that was released last month. The assessment, which the NIC puts out every four years, reflects in-depth research on trends and geopolitical changes that may unfold in the next 15-20 years—everything from urbanization to conflict to resource scarcity.

Assessments like the NIC’s are invaluable in providing decision makers with forward-looking insights and analysis. But while the report offers a glimpse into the future, what’s more important is how we respond today to the questions these “megatrends” raise.

Why Africa Needs Open Legislatures

This post was co-written with Gilbert Sendugwa, Coordinator and Head of Secretariat for the Africa Freedom of Information Centre.

Open government requires an open executive branch, an open legislature, and an open judiciary. Historically, however, global attention to government transparency and access to information has focused on the executive branch.

But this may finally be changing. In April of this year, 38 civil society organizations from around the world convened in Washington, D.C. and agreed to work together to advance open parliaments. In September, more than 90 civil society organizations from more than 60 countries launched the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness in Rome.

Civil society attention on lawmakers and legislatures is critically important—especially in Africa, where parliaments have long worked behind closed doors (most legislatures on the continent are parliaments). Transparency is needed for civil society to hold legislators accountable for their decisions and actions, and to ensure they are responsive to the needs and concerns of their constituents.

A Closer Look at China’s Overseas Investment

When it comes to overseas development finance, China is definitely a country to watch. Due to the country’s unprecedented economic growth, China’s overseas investments have increased exponentially in recent years. Between 2009 and 2010, two Chinese state-owned banks lent more money to other developing nations than the World Bank did. In fact, between 2002 and 2011, China’s outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) stock grew from $29 billion to more than $424 billion.

But what factors are driving all of this growth? What areas of the world are on the receiving end of China’s OFDI flows? And what sorts of social and environmental standards are in place for banks’ and enterprises’ investments? WRI seeks to answer these questions and provide additional background information in its recently updated slide deck, “Emerging Actors in Development Finance: A Closer Look at China’s Overseas Investment.”

Interactive Forest Atlas of Congo - Atlas Forestier Interactif du Congo (Version 3.0)

Please see our Congo Basin Forest Atlases page for the latest versions of our Congo Basin Atlases, along with links to interactive maps, desktop mapping applications, GIS data, posters...

Expanding Environmental Democracy: Latin American Countries Move Forward with Principle 10

A number of Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries recently took a huge step forward in ensuring environmental democracy for their citizens. At a UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) meeting in early November, these countries agreed on a road map to ensure full implementation of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration.

Principle 10, otherwise known as the environmental democracy principle, affirms that all citizens have a say in the environmental and development decisions that directly impact them. In one of the few bright spots of the Rio+20 sustainable development conference this past June, 10 LAC countries—Ecuador, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay—adopted and publicly signed the Principle 10 Declaration. This month’s ECLAC meeting in Santiago, Chile marked the first gathering of Government representatives after this historic Declaration. Most importantly, governments adopted an agreed-upon road map defining a process to draft a Principle 10 Action Plan, which will be submitted for adoption in early April 2013.

Silence on Climate Change Is Deafening

This post originally appeared in the National Journal's Energy Experts blog as a response to the question: "What Is Climate Silence Costing Us?"

The recent silence on climate change in the U.S. political discourse is extremely troubling. As we can see from the recent spate of extreme weather events, the costs of inaction are clear in terms of both environmental and economic impacts. If we are going to meet the challenge of the global climate threat, we need to have a real, rational discussion about climate change. Having that discussion requires national leadership on this issue.

The irony is that despite the relative silence on the campaign trail, U.S. public opinion on climate change is shifting, with a growing number of people recognizing that more needs to be done to address this issue. As WRI’s president Andrew Steer said in a recent New York Times interview, “On climate change, the political discourse here is massively out of step with the rest of the world, but also with the citizens of this country. Polls show very clearly that two-thirds of Americans think this is a real problem and needs to be addressed.”

Using Partnerships and Governance to Solve the Energy "Trilemma"

This post was co-written with Sarah Martin, an intern with WRI's Electricity Governance Initiative.

The theme of today’s Blog Action Day is the “Power of We,” a celebration of people working together to make a positive difference in the world. The idea of partnership is at the core of WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI), a network of civil society organizations dedicated to promoting transparent, inclusive, and accountable decision-making in the electricity sector. In honor of Blog Action Day, this post outlines some of EGI’s most recent work towards finding new responses to the emerging energy “Trilemma.”

The energy “Trilemma” is a newly developed concept outlining the main hurdles to achieving universal access to clean, reliable, and affordable energy. The Trilemma involves three interrelated challenges: meeting the growing demand for clean, affordable, and reliable electricity; ensuring economic growth and energy security; and developing a low-carbon growth strategy.

WRI’s Electricity Governance Initiative (EGI) is a network of more than 30 organizations from 10 countries dedicated to promoting transparent, inclusive, and accountable decision-making in the electricity sector. EGI recently held its annual retreat, where partners representing 10 countries discussed how good governance and collaboration can help tackle the energy Trilemma.

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