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People & Ecosystems

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  • Blog post

    What Woodland Owners Should Know About Forest Carbon Offsets in the U.S. South

    This piece was written with Paula Swedeen of the Pacific Forest Trust

    A new issue brief, released today by the World Resources Institute and the Pacific Forest Trust, looks at the economic opportunities for southern landowners created by emerging forest carbon offset markets. This new revenue stream can offer real rewards to landowners who steward their forests for climate benefits.

    Original economic analysis done by the authors suggests that under current market conditions (offset prices in the $8-$12/metric ton CO2e range), income from carbon offsets may be sufficient in some instances to pay property taxes or the “incremental” costs of sustainable forest management certification. From a purely financial perspective, however, revenue from offsets in today’s still-developing market is not likely sufficient to outcompete real estate development in the region.

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  • Blog post

    Lionfish Invasion Threatens Coral Reefs in the Atlantic and Caribbean

    Recent news reports from Texas to Jamaica to the Bahamas have documented the rapid spread of the lionfish—an invasive marine species. Lionfish have quickly become established across the waters of the southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean. New sightings abound—earlier this month lionfish reached the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. Because of their role in upsetting the ecological balance of coral reef ecosystems, the rapid growth in the populations of these fish poses a grave threat to the region’s coral reefs. Consequently, the region’s fishing and tourism industries, which depend on coral reefs, may also be at risk. Governments across the region are trying to respond to the lionfish invasion by developing new campaigns and cooperation strategies that could pose important lessons for how to deal with invasive marine species in the future.

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  • Blog post

    Encouraging Green Industry Innovation

    Recently, in the New York Times Green Column, Bettina Wassener wrote about the “Plastic Disclosure Project,” which annually surveys industry on their overall plastic use and reports back on consumption trends. The goal of the project is to raise awareness about plastic consumption, create a “plastic footprint” akin to a carbon footprint for business, and hopefully motivate industry to change their consumption habits.

    This innovative idea is just one example of the movement towards “Green Industry,” a term which recognizes that in a world of increasing resource scarcity, climate change, pollution, and depletion of natural capital, economic growth must rely on clean and efficient production processes. But what exactly is “Green industry”? More importantly, given the wide variety of creative and green solutions available, how can national governments foster Green Industry to save natural resources?

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  • Blog post

    The Forest Company of the Future

    This story originally appeared in the Guardian.

    Over the past 150 years, industrialization has taken its toll. All-too-often, forests have been sacrificed in the face of expanding business and national interests. In the future, forests can act as a backbone of a sustainable economy by providing a multitude of renewable goods and services. The successful forest companies of the future will recognize this opportunity, use it to advance their own bottom line, and help ensure that forests survive and thrive.

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  • Blog post

    How to Reduce Your Coral Reef Footprint

    ”Reeling Reefs,” a feature story in the August 15th issue of American Way magazine, showcases Reefs at Risk Revisited, WRI’s map-based global assessment of current and future threats to coral reefs. The article also shows how people in the Dominican Republic and Fiji are working to protect coral reefs and promote human well-being. Below we highlight why coral reefs are important to human society, how they are threatened, and what you can do to reduce your reef footprint and help save coral reefs.

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  • Blog post

    Feeding a Growing Population that Relies on Ecosystem Services (Part II of II)

    This piece was originally posted on www.environmentalleader.com, and was written by Amanda DeSantis, DuPont, and Janet Ranganathan, WRI. This is the second in a two-part series. Read part I here.

    The future of farming, food supply, and protection of natural resources are utterly interdependent.

    While all economic sectors depend to some degree on ecosystem services, agriculture has the most intimate relationship with nature. Agriculture depends on healthy ecosystems for services such as pollination for nearly 75% of the world’s crop species, freshwater, erosion control, and climate and water regulation. It also employs 40% of global population and about 70% at the base of the pyramid.

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  • Blog post

    Ecosystem Markets Conference: Innovative Ideas Drive Ecosystem Markets Forward

    Using markets to protect and restore ecosystems – and the many services they provide – is gradually becoming a reality. Market-based systems have already protected hundreds of thousands of acres of land while still meeting human economic and development needs. They can help ensure that environmental benefits, from wildlife habitat to water purification, will be preserved for future generations.

    But what are the critical elements for success? What progress has been made? What are the innovative ideas that will push these markets forward? The World Resources Institute and the American Forest Foundation recently convened some of the world’s leading experts on ecosystem markets in Madison, Wisconsin to address these questions.

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  • Blog post

    Investing in Nature for Economic Growth (Part I of II)

    This piece was originally posted on www.environmentalleader.com, and was written by Amanda DeSantis, DuPont, and Janet Ranganathan, WRI. Read part II here.

    For many of us, the term “ecosystems” conjures up thoughts of environmental protection and restoration. While that is one part of the picture, this view misses the critical role that ecosystems also play in underpinning economies and the business sector. Ecosystem services—- the benefits that businesses and people derive from nature such as food, freshwater, pollination, and climate regulation— are the link between nature and economic development. This viewpoint enables governments and corporate leaders to move beyond a narrow mindset of protecting nature from economic development to focus on how to invest in nature for development.

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  • Blog post

    WRI and WBCSD Update Guide to Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-Based Products

    Today, WRI and the WBCSD release an update to the guide “Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-Based Products.” The guide is meant to help company managers—who are charged with making large purchases of wood and paper products but may not have the time or the knowledge to navigate all the different resources— as they develop and implement their procurement policies.

    What’s new?

    We have updated the sections on legality and the listing of useful resources, which we call the “guide to the guides." The 12 resources that we highlighted when the guide was first published three years ago have now increased to 47. Resources include publications, projects, rating systems, procurement policies that help people develop and implement forest procurement policies.

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  • Blog post

    New Fact Sheet Helps Chesapeake Bay States Design Nutrient Trading Programs

    2011 will be an important year for the Chesapeake Bay, not only because scientists are predicting an unusually bad “dead zone” this summer.

    Last December, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) that establish the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution that the Bay and its tidal tributaries can safely receive each year. The TMDLs divide the pollution loads among sources, such as urban areas regulated for stormwater runoff, wastewater treatment plants, and agricultural lands.

    Now, responsibility for implementing the TMDLs falls to states in the Bay watershed that have been delegated authority from EPA to run water quality programs. By December 1, 2011, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia will submit plans to EPA that explain how sources within their jurisdiction will meet and maintain the TMDLs.

    The December deadline has states reviewing legislation and regulations that could reduce the amount of nutrient and sediment pollution that impairs Bay water bodies.

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Final Days at Rio+20: Measuring Progress So Far

Rio+20 has not quite concluded, but we’re rapidly approaching the end line. Somewhat unexpectedly, the Rio+20 outcome document was largely finalized yesterday afternoon. NGOs have weighed in on what this means, and most are rightfully frustrated. Almost across the board, the document is much too soft and vague to solve today’s sustainability challenges. Much of the text is merely a reaffirmation of previous agreements or worse, a regression from those agreements.

That said, we’ve believed all along that the more groundbreaking action at Rio+20 would be outside of the formal process. Certainly, after attending many side events and informal meetings this week, I’ve come across numerous examples of civil society organizations, entrepreneurs, companies, and others who are moving forward with innovative approaches to address sustainability. Perhaps more importantly, outside of Rio, many national and local governments are genuinely pushing ahead on sustainability in exciting ways.

The picture at Rio is much like the world today: complex, incremental and not rising to the challenges in front of us.

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Green vs. Gray Infrastructure: When Nature Is Better than Concrete

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).

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How We Can Make Progress on Forests During Rio+20

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.

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Rio+20: Moving Ahead with the Sustainable Development Goals

As the global summit in Rio approaches, negotiations are still in flux, but some ideas that could advance the global sustainability agenda are gaining momentum.

One such idea is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are emerging as a potentially significant outcome with global policy implications for the post-2015 development agenda. With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire in 2015, the idea is for governments to launch a process in Rio to develop broader SDGs that would complement or succeed them.

The MDGs have had a laudable impact on reducing the proportion of the world’s people living in extreme poverty. But they have also been criticized– fairly – for failing to address some key drivers of poverty. These include environmental issues—such as climate change and resource scarcity—that disproportionately impact the poor and most vulnerable, as well as the inequitable distribution of wealth, income, and opportunity.

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Brazilian Business and Ecosystem Services Partnership Launches

Last week, experts from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and our colleagues from Brazilian businesses and organizations gathered at the Botanical Garden in Rio de Janeiro. While the scenery was beautiful, none of us were there to smell the flowers. We were launching a new initiative designed to help Brazilian and international companies incorporate ecosystem services into their business strategies.

WRI, the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS), and the Center for Sustainability Studies at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (GVces) launched the Brazilian Business and Ecosystem Services Partnership (PESE) with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). PESE partners Brazilian companies with sustainability institutions to develop business strategies that improve both corporate performance and stewardship of Brazil’s ecosystems, most notably in the Amazon.

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Eco-Compensation in China: Opportunities for Payments for Watershed Services

Water supply and availability could be the most pressing problem restricting China’s economic growth in the next 10-15 years, according to a new report by the Asian Development Bank. Not only are water resources limited (only about 30 percent of total water resources are available for use), but many surface and groundwater sources are suffering from severe pollution.[^1] The Chinese government is now looking to invest in new ideas to improve water quality and supply, and WRI is using its water quality trading expertise to explore the potential of market-based methods to improve water quality and increase the supply of clean water from Chao Lake, the fifth-largest lake in China.

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Degraded Land for Sustainable Palm Oil in Indonesia: Practical Guidance

This post was co-authored with Anne Rosenbarger, a POTICO Fellow at Sekala.

In Indonesia, policy-makers and industry leaders are developing policies and practices in support of low-carbon palm oil production on “degraded land.”

Such policies and practices have the potential to enable industry expansion while avoiding greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. They also could contribute to poverty reduction if this expansion follows sustainable planning and management practices, including respect for local peoples’ interests and rights.

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How integrated reporting can help companies see the bigger picture

A version of this blog ran on The Guardian Sustainable Business. It is based on Janet Ranganathan’s presentation at a recent event on integrated reporting in New York, hosted by WRI’s Corporate Consultative Group and Context, a sustainability communications company.

The United Nations has put global reporting by companies on sustainability among its proposed key outcomes for the Rio+ 20 summit in June. The "zero draft" policy agenda that negotiators will consider, calls for "a global policy framework requiring all listed and large private companies to consider sustainability issues and to integrate sustainability information within the reporting cycle."

This is a welcome move. Corporate reporting is all too often narrowly limited to financial information. But in our increasingly complex world, a company's finances represent just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface lurk risks that could cause leaks in the most seemingly successful business's operations, reputation or bottom line. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico involving BP and recent issues regarding factory conditions at a Chinese supplier for Apple are cases in point.

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Bringing Ecosystem Markets to Scale in the Southern United States

For the most part, Ecosystem Markets still linger in the early stages of development. There is much more theoretical work to be done to set up environmental credit markets, including carbon offsets and payments for watershed services. But more pilot projects can also help these markets evolve and show how they might work in the real world.

Development pressures in the U.S. South often mean that forests are worth more cut down than left standing. In the U.S. South alone, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that suburban encroachment will convert approximately 31 million acres (approximately 14 percent of 2010 southern forest area) of southern forests to development between 1992 and 2040.

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Protecting the World's Coral Reefs Through Mapping

This post originally appeared as a guest post on the Google Lat Long Blog WRI was the recipient of a Google Earth Outreach Developer Grant, funded through the Google Inc. Charitable Giving Fund at the Tides Foundation.

Since 1998, WRI has been using GIS (Geographic Information System) models to develop map-based assessments of threats to the world’s coral reefs. Reefs at Risk Revisited, released in February 2011, is the latest assessment in the series and is based on a nearly three-year study that produced the most highly-detailed global maps of coral reef threats to date. The study analyzed and mapped threats to coral reefs from local human activities such as coastal development, unsustainable fishing, and marine and land-based pollution, as well as climate-related threats caused by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

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