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People & Ecosystems

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  • Blog post

    Extreme Weather: A Mixed Bag for Dead Zones

    This post was co-authored with Bob Diaz, a WRI partner and professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

    This year’s extreme weather events—a warm winter, even warmer summer, and a drought that covered nearly two-thirds of the continental United States—has certainly caused its fair share of damages. But despite the crop failures, water shortages, and heat waves, extreme weather created at least one benefit: smaller dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico.

    On a normal year, rain washes pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous from farms and urban areas into the two bodies of water, fueling algae growth. When this algae dies, it consumes oxygen and creates hypoxic areas, or “dead zones,” which can kill fish and other marine life. Less rain this year meant fewer pollutants making their way into the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico. The Chesapeake Bay’s summer dead zone was the smallest since record-keeping began in 1985, and the Gulf of Mexico’s covered one of the smallest areas on record.

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    An Inside Look at Latin America’s Illegal Logging – Part Two

    This post was co-authored with Eduardo Arenas Hernández Jr. and Ana Domínguez, who work for Reforestamos Mexico.

    This is the second post in a two-part series on illegal logging in Latin America, with key insights coming from the Forest Legality Alliance’s recent event, “Legal Forest Products and International Trade: A Regional Perspective.” The first installment focuses on the causes of illegal logging in Latin America, while the second highlights potential solutions to this problem.

    Latin America faces significant challenges in addressing illegal logging. As we noted in our previous blog post, several Latin American countries struggle when it comes to ensuring the legality of their forest products. Plus, there are claims that wood from countries with illegal logging problems is imported to Mexico to be processed and re-exported to other nations, including to the United States.

    Combating Illegal Logging in Latin America

    Participants at the Forest Legality Alliance’s (FLA) recent event in Mexico City, “Legal Forest Products and International Trade: A Regional Perspective,” discussed the causes of Latin America’s illegal logging. They also identified potential ways to boost forest protection and sustainable management in the region. These strategies included the following:

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  • Blog post

    An Inside Look at Latin America’s Illegal Logging – Part One

    This post was co-authored with Eduardo Arenas Hernández Jr. and Ana Domínguez, who work for Reforestamos Mexico.

    This is the first post in a two-part series on illegal logging in Latin America, with key insights coming from the Forest Legality Alliance’s recent event, “Legal Forest Products and International Trade: A Regional Perspective.” The first installment focuses on the root causes of Latin America’s illegal wood trade, while the second highlights potential solutions to the problem.

    Mexico exports a significant amount of wood, especially to the United States. In fact, based on data from the U.S. International Trade Commission, the United States imported an estimated $1.4 billion worth of paper and timber products from Mexico in 2011.[^1]

    But Mexico—and Latin America as a whole—struggle when it comes to ensuring legality in forest activities. Illegal logging is documented throughout several Latin American nations and prevalent in some, and there is a risk of importing products to the United States that are tainted with illegality.

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  • Blog post

    Tools to Improve Water Quality

    This post is part of a series on World Water Week, an annual event designed to draw attention to and discuss global water issues. Read more posts in this series.

    Agricultural production often comes at the expense of water quality. As my colleague, Mindy Selman, noted in a recent blog post, “Agriculture is the leading source of nutrient pollution in waterways—a situation that’s expected to worsen as the global population increases and the demand for food grows.”

    But food security shouldn’t come at the expense of water quality—and in fact, it doesn’t have to. This is a topic I’m discussing at a World Water Week side event, “Securing Water Quality While Providing Food Security: The Nutrient Question.” Through the use of effective tools and strategies, we have the power to uphold water quality while still feeding a population that’s expected to reach 9 billion by 2050.

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  • Blog post

    Big Business and the Amazon: Protecting Nature’s Benefits

    This post originally appeared on Forbes.com

    The Amazon rainforest boasts incomparable biodiversity– home to one in 10 of all known species— and plays a vital role in regional water supply and global climate regulation. Yet, it is also a profitable working forest, benefitting both local businesses and international corporations.

    Trying to reconcile the conservation and commercial roles of such biodiversity hotspots is no easy matter. But a group of multinational corporations— Anglo American, Danone, Grupo Maggi, PepsiCo, Natura, Vale, Votorantim, and Walmart— are attempting to do just that in Brazil.

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  • Blog post

    How Food Production Impacts Water Quality

    This post is part of a series on World Water Week, an annual event designed to draw attention to and discuss global water issues. Read more posts in this series.

    Our water systems are currently being threatened by the crops we grow and food we produce. In many countries, agriculture is the leading source of nutrient pollution in waterways—a situation that’s expected to worsen as the global population increases and the demand for food grows.

    So it’s timely that next week’s World Water Week, an annual conference organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute, is focusing on water and food security.

    WRI’s water quality team will be in Stockholm next week to discuss this very topic at a side event entitled, “Securing Water Quality While Providing Food Security: The Nutrient Question,” an event co-organized by Water Environment Federation and Environmental Defense Fund. This session, which takes place on August 29th, will build on the work WRI’s water quality team has done with its partner, Dr. Bob Diaz at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, to evaluate the scale and scope of global nutrient-related water quality challenges, including how these issues are driven by agriculture.

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  • Blog post

    Gibson Guitar Logging Bust Demonstrates Lacey Act’s Effectiveness

    On August 6, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it reached a criminal enforcement agreement with Gibson Guitar Corp., resolving two investigations into allegations that Gibson violated the Lacey Act by purchasing and importing illegally harvested wood materials into the United States from Madagascar and India. Because this is the first major set of investigations to be publicly resolved under the new amendments to the Lacey Act, the agreement will help set precedents important to the U.S. and the global wood products industry. The announcement puts to rest nearly three years of investigation and speculation, and it has significant implications for future implementation of the Lacey Act and forest legality regulations across the world.

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  • Blog post

    Slideshow: New Report Reveals Threats to Reefs in the Coral Triangle

    The Coral Triangle, an area stretching from southeast Asia to the edge of the western Pacific, is one of the most biologically diverse marine regions on earth. The area holds 30 percent of the world’s coral reefs and 75 percent of all known coral species. The region’s coral reefs provide food and livelihoods to more than 130 million people living within the Coral Triangle, as well to millions more worldwide.

    Despite its importance, the Coral Triangle is the most endangered coral region on earth, with 85 percent of its reefs threatened by local activities like overfishing and destructive fishing, coastal development, and pollution. WRI and partners recently released a new report documenting this situation, Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle. The report provides both a region-wide and country-level perspective on the status of and threats to coral reefs off the coasts of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. It also calls attention to the vulnerability of coral reefs in the Coral Triangle and factors leading to degradation and loss. The report aims to set priorities for management of reefs in the region.

    This slideshow highlights images from the Reefs at Risk Revisited in the Coral Triangle report. Scroll through the photos and maps to learn more about the value coral reefs have for countries in the Coral Triangle, the threats reefs face, and actions that can help protect these vital ecosystems.

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  • Blog post

    Q&A: What Céline Cousteau and Jim Toomey Want You to Know About Coral Reefs

    Ever wonder how coral reefs contribute to the economy and human health? Or how 60 percent of these "rainforests of the sea" came to be so threatened by local activities? Or what, exactly, a coral polyp is? WRI's Reefs at Risk team, along with two renowned ocean advocates, have the answers to these questions and many more in the new video, Coral Reefs: Polyps in Peril.

    WRI worked with Céline Cousteau, founder of CauseCentric Productions and granddaughter of ocean explorer, Jacques Cousteau; and Jim Toomey, creator of the Sherman’s Lagoon comic strip, to create the video. Through Cousteau’s narration and Toomey’s colorful fish animations, viewers can learn about the vital role reefs play in the health of the planet and important economies, the threats these coastal and marine ecosystems face, and how people can help save invaluable corals.

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Making the Right Choice on Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium

This piece originally appeared in the Jakarta Post. It was co-written with Dino Patti Djalal, Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia and WRI Board member.

Ending months of uncertainty, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia made a courageous decision last week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. The new Presidential Instruction adds another two years of protection for over 43 million hectares of primary forests and peat land — an area the size of Japan.

This was a bold decision by a leader known for his commitment to sustainability. Extending the moratorium is a victory for the Indonesian people, business, and the planet.

The moratorium will directly benefit more than 80 million Indonesians who rely on forests for their livelihood. Many of these people are extremely poor and have struggled to gain recognition for their land rights. Extending the moratorium provides an opportunity to address these crucial issues.

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The Great Balancing Act: 3 Needs for a Sustainable Food Future

This post is the first installment of WRI’s blog series, “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.” The series explores strategies to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050. All pieces are based on research being conducted for the forthcoming World Resources Report.

How can the world feed more than 9 billion people by 2050 in a manner that advances economic development and reduces pressure on the environment? This is one of the paramount questions the world faces over the next four decades.

Answering it requires a “great balancing act” of three needs—all of which must be met simultaneously.

Balancing 3 Needs

  1. The world needs to close the gap between the amount of food available today and the amount required in 2050. According to new WRI analysis, we’ll need about 60 percent more food calories in 2050 than in 2006 if global demand continues on its current trajectory. This gap is in part a function of increasing population and wealth. The United Nations projects that the global population will likely grow from 7 billion in 2012 to 9.3 billion by 2050. At least 3 billion more people are likely to enter the global middle class by 2030, and they will almost certainly demand more resource-intensive foods like meat and vegetable oils. At the same time, approximately 870 million of the world's poorest people remain undernourished even today.

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Indonesia Extends its Forest Moratorium: What Comes Next?

Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono made a bold and courageous decision this week to extend the country’s forest moratorium. With this decision, which aims to prevent new clearing of primary forests and peat lands for another two years, the government could help protect valuable forests and drive sustainable development.

Enacted two years ago, Indonesia’s forest moratorium has already made some progress in improving forest management. However, much more can be done. The extension offers Indonesia a tremendous opportunity: a chance to reduce emissions, curb deforestation, and greatly strengthen forest governance in a country that holds some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems.

Boosting Achievements from Indonesia’s Forest Moratorium

Indonesia ranks as one of world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, largely due to the clearing of forest and peat lands. The forest moratorium aims to address this problem by prohibiting the award of new licenses to clear or convert primary natural forests and peat lands to agriculture or other uses. This will encompass an area of over 43 million hectares of land. Forest users with existing licenses are still allowed to operate in these regions, and there are several exceptions to the rule.

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A Conversation with Nirarta “Koni” Samadhi on Indonesia’s Forests

How can Indonesia—the world’s fourth-most populous country and an emerging economic powerhouse—reduce deforestation and promote sustainable development across its vast, rapidly changing landscape?

That was a question recently posed by Nirarta “Koni” Samadhi, Deputy for the Indonesian President's Delivery Unit on Development Monitoring and Oversight and Chair of the REDD+ Task Force Working Group on Forest Monitoring. At an informal meeting of forest and development experts at WRI’s offices in Washington, D.C., Koni explored possible answers, while reporting on the Indonesian government’s efforts to map and monitor forests and improve land use policies across the country.

Koni shared some of his insights with us in a video interview. Check it out below.

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Food and Fuel: 2 Grand Challenges Facing Us this Earth Day

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.

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Can Nutrient Trading Shrink the Gulf of Mexico's Dead Zone?

The Gulf of Mexico has the largest dead zone in the United States and the second-largest in the world. Dead zones form when excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorous wash into waterways and spur algal blooms, depleting the water of oxygen and killing fish, shrimp, and other marine life. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone can range between an astounding 3,000 and 8,000 square miles. At its largest, it’s about the size of Massachusetts.

Reducing this growing dead zone problem is a huge scientific, technical, economic, and political challenge. It’s a conundrum that agricultural and environmental experts from across the United States will deliberate this week at the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force meeting in Louisville, Kentucky.

One new approach they’ll discuss is voluntary nutrient trading. According to a new study conducted by WRI staff for the EPA, this strategy could be used in the Mississippi River Basin to cost-effectively reduce nitrogen and phosphorous pollution and shrink the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.

  • LEARN MORE: Download the full study on the economic feasibility of nutrient trading in the Mississippi River Basin.

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Saving the World's Forests: A Technology Revolution to Curb Illegal Logging

This piece was co-authored with Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and executive director of UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

This piece explores how advances in technology can curb illegal logging, written in honor of the first International Day of Forests. It originally appeared on The Guardian's Sustainable Business Blog.

Our future is inextricably linked to forests. The social and economic benefits they provide are essential to realizing a sustainable century. A key litmus test of our commitment to this future is our response to a growing, global threat: illegal logging and the criminal timber trade.

Forests are a vital source of biodiversity and livelihoods. More than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods, including 60 million indigenous people who are wholly dependent on forests. They are also natural carbon storage systems and key allies in combating climate change. They are vast, nature-based water utilities assisting in the storage and release of freshwater to lakes and river networks.

While deforestation is slowing in some places – most notably Brazil – it still remains far too high. The loss of forests is responsible for up to 17 percent of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions, 50 percent more than that from ships, aviation and land transport combined.

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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.

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Asia Pulp & Paper's Anti-Deforestation Pledge: Sign of a Changing Industry?

Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the world’s largest paper companies, announced earlier this month that it will no longer cut down natural forests in Indonesia and will demand similar commitments from its suppliers. The announcement was received with guarded optimism by Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, World Wildlife Fund, and other NGOs who have waged a persistent campaign to change APP’s forest policies.

Indeed, APP’s new policy—which includes sourcing all material from plantation-grown trees, ceasing clearing of carbon-rich peatland, and engaging more with local communities—is significant, both for the business world and forest conservation. APP and its suppliers manage more than 2.5 million hectares of land in Indonesia and produce more than 15 million tons of pulp, paper, and packaging globally every year. Strong action by APP could indicate that the industry is heading for a more sustainable future.

The question is whether APP will follow this positive announcement with action. The company does not have a strong track record, having defaulted on past commitments to end deforestation.

But APP has something else going for it this time around. A rapidly evolving world of improving corporate practices and powerful technology could provide the right enabling environment for APP’s commitment—and others like it—to succeed.

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