Since the very first Earth Day more than four decades ago, the environmental movement has tackled a wide range of problems, including air pollution, contaminated water, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and more. But this Earth Day, I propose that there are two fundamental issues the movement must address over the coming decade if it is ever to defuse the tension between development and the environment. In fact, these two issues underlie many, if not most, of the world’s environmental challenges.
I’m referring here to the human quest for food and the human quest for fuel.
Unsustainable Food Production
Food production has significant―but often underestimated―impacts on the environment. Take climate, for instance: About one-quarter of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are agriculture-related. In particular, nearly 13 percent of global emissions comes from livestock, fertilizer use, and farm-related energy consumption, while another 11 percent results from the clearing of forests and other ecosystems, primarily for agriculture.
The World Bank’s annual spring meetings take place this week in Washington, D.C. One big topic on the agenda is how to update the World Bank’s “safeguard” policies. Created in the early 1990s, these policies ensure that the Bank considers the social and environmental effects of proposed projects. For example, the safeguards require those borrowing money to assess the project’s environmental impacts and to compensate households who are negatively affected.
The full suite of safeguards is now under review for the first time. Among other things, the Bank hopes to make its safeguard policies reflect changes in the global economic and political landscape that have occurred in recent decades.
World Bank Safeguards vs. National Safeguards
One question on the table is how the World Bank safeguards should interact with national systems already in place in recipient countries. Since the creation of the Bank’s safeguards, many countries have strengthened their own rules and institutions to ensure that large-scale projects are implemented in a manner that protects people and the environment. These include, for instance, laws requiring environmental impact assessments, or government agencies to oversee land use changes. Relying on these domestic systems can potentially improve protection of people and the environment. National laws, for example, allow governments and citizens to work within their own familiar structures, and they’re sometimes more appropriate for local circumstances than Bank policies.
This post also appears on TheCityFix.com.
In 2011, nearly 350 million people lived in Indian cities. More than 300 million new residents will join them over the next few decades to become part of the new urban India. This population boom will stress an already-pressured urban infrastructure system, especially with regard to transportation.
Indeed, Indian cities have become synonymous with congestion, noise, and air pollution. Each year, 135,000 people die in traffic crashes on Indian roads. Currently, India has 120 million vehicles, a number that is steadily growing. In 2010, outdoor air pollution contributed to more than 620,000 premature deaths. Plus, urban transport’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions are set to increase almost seven-fold in the next 20 years.
This trend is clearly not sustainable if India’s city residents want to have any sort of quality of life in the future. In order to reverse course, the country must begin scaling sustainable transport and ensuring that it is integrated with land development. This is a topic we’ll discuss extensively during next week’s CONNECTKaro, a sustainable transport and urban development conference co-hosted by EMBARQ India, WRI’s center for sustainable transport in India.
Six years after the release of the landmark Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, Lord Nicholas Stern revealed yesterday the most challenging hurdle ahead for international climate action. Overcoming this obstacle is not a matter of figuring out the scientific or policy pathways needed to curb climate change—nor is it determining what technologies to adopt or what investments must be made. “What’s missing is the political will,” said Stern.
The famed economist elaborated on this problem during an address yesterday hosted by WRI and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “Fostering Growth and Poverty Reduction in a World of Immense Risk.” Dr. Andrew Steer, WRI’s president, and Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, provided opening remarks, articulating the serious economic and human risks climate change poses. Stern focused on the main hurdle to mitigating these risks—political will.
The problem, according to Stern, reflects a lack of understanding in three main areas: climate change’s real risks, the benefits of an alternative pathway, and the need for collaboration and mutual understanding.
The private sector is a crucial partner in advancing sustainable development, and bilateral aid agencies are grappling with ways to learn from and leverage the activities of companies and markets. As the worlds of business and of aid increasingly intersect—and as development budgets are reined in even as demands on them grow—the pressure is to do more in partnership with the private sector. The real challenge, though, is to do better.
This was the headline message from a recent roundtable discussion with representatives from nine bilateral donor agencies and invitees from the private sector, co-organized by WRI and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London (see notes from the roundtable).
Both sides desire a strengthened relationship. Donor agencies see the private sector as an indispensable partner for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of aid. Agencies are looking for important sources of ideas, technology, and financing to scale up development solutions.
One example is the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF), which is funded by the Australian, British, Danish, Dutch, and Swedish aid agencies. AECF is improving livelihoods of poor people in rural Africa by supporting innovation and new business models to help small-scale farmers adapt to climate change and promote investment in the generation of low-cost, clean, renewable energy.
Private sector actors seek clearer policy signals and more consistent support from donor agencies, particularly in understanding and navigating local politics. They also seek opportunities to develop new products and new markets, benefiting from the “de-risking” role that the public sector can play.
As the world continues to feel the effects of drought, sea level rise, and more volatile weather, it’s clear that adaptation efforts have never been more imperative. These initiatives are critically important in order to protect communities—especially in impoverished places—from the worsening impacts of climate change.
WRI’s Vulnerability & Adaptation team has been working to ensure that adaptation is a central component of the international development agenda. Over the past few years, WRI and its partners have conducted practical research and analysis on three continents across a broad spectrum of adaptation topics, including monitoring and evaluation; case studies on information use for adaptation; the role of national institutions; and a broad set of decision-making principles for a changing climate. But what have we learned from the results of these efforts? And how can we ensure that global adaptation efforts are conducted effectively and efficiently?
We recently stepped back and evaluated the work we’ve done to try and answer these questions. One of our clearest conclusions is that much remains to be learned about “what works” in adaptation. The results of our efforts point toward five areas of long-term, practical, applied research that could help provide a foundation for effective adaptation moving forward: adaptation success, critical thresholds, adaptation options, information systems, and institutions.
Research shows that developing countries will need about $531 billion of additional investments in clean energy technologies each year in order to limit global temperature rise to 2° C above pre-industrial levels, thus preventing climate change’s worst impacts. While developed countries have pledged to provide $100 billion of climate finance per year, this amount is well below what’s needed to help developing nations mitigate and adapt to climate change.
So how can countries bridge this funding gap? The answer lies in part on how well developing countries implement “readiness” activities, as well how effectively developed nations and international institutions like the Green Climate Fund (GCF) can mobilize finance to support them.
The Need for Readiness
To attract investments on the scale required, developing country governments must provide an attractive investment climate—one that encourages public and private sector investors to put their money into climate-friendly projects like solar and wind energy. On their end, developed countries need to offer financial and technical support for “readiness” activities that create the right conditions for said investments. Readiness includes any activity that makes a country better positioned to attract investments in climate-friendly projects or technologies. A few examples include: developing a policy to promote energy efficiency in industry; passing a law that gives a new or existing institution the mandate to promote renewable energy; conducting an assessment of a country’s wind energy resources; or strengthening a bank’s capacity to lend to small businesses in low-carbon sectors. International institutions such as the GCF can play a big role in supporting readiness activities, thereby helping developing nations attract the investments that will help them transition onto a low-carbon, climate-resilient development path.
This post originally appeared on ChinaFAQs.org.
Leading China experts and top media representatives participated in a ChinaFAQs briefing this past Friday to discuss how the country will address pressing environmental, climate, and energy challenges at home and globally in the coming years. At the National People’s Congress beginning March 5, 2013, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are expected to formally become China’s president and premier, respectively. Other top spots in China’s ministries will also be assigned, with implications for China’s future of low-carbon development and for the United States.
The briefing was one of ChinaFAQs’ events highlighting the reasons for China’s action on low-carbon energy, including: energy security, economic competitiveness through technological innovation, and climate and environmental impacts.
Listen to the recording:
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.