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People & Ecosystems

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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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.

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Climate Change Adaptation in Rural India: A Green Infrastructure Approach

Water is a scarce resource in India, especially in the state of Maharashtra, where most rainfall is limited to the monsoon season from June through September. The Government of India has long promoted a Participatory Watershed Development (PWD) approach to deal with this scarcity.

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6 Top Environment and Development Stories to Watch in 2013

This post originally appeared on Bloomberg.com.

As we enter 2013, there are signs of growth and economic advancement around the world. The global middle class is booming. More people are moving into cities. And the quality of life for millions is improving at an unprecedented pace.

Yet, there are also stark warnings of mounting pressures on natural resources and the climate. Consider: 2012 was the hottest year on recordfor the continental United States. There have been 36 consecutive years in which global temperatures have been above normal. Carbon dioxide emissions are on the rise – last year the world added about 3 percent more carbon emissions to the atmosphere. All of these pressures are bringing more climate impacts: droughts, wildfires, rising seas, and intense storms.

All is not lost, but the window for action is rapidly closing. This decade--and this year--will be critical.

Against that backdrop, experts at WRI have analyzed trends, observations, and data to highlight six key environmental and development stories we’ll be watching in 2013.

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A Critical Moment to Harness Green Infrastructure—Not Concrete—to Secure Clean Water

This post was co-written with James Mulligan, Executive Director at Green Community Ventures.

Natural ecosystems provide essential services for our communities. Forests and wetlands, for example, filter the water we drink, protect neighborhoods from floods and droughts, and shade aquatic habitat for fish populations.

While nature provides this “green infrastructure,” water utilities and other decision-makers often attempt to replicate these services with concrete-and-steel “gray infrastructure”—usually at a much greater cost. Particularly where the equivalent natural ecosystems are degraded, we build filtration plants to clean water, reservoirs to regulate water flow, and mechanical chillers to protect fish from increasing stream temperatures. And even though healthy ecosystems can reduce the operational costs of these structures, investing in restoring or enhancing various types of green infrastructure is rarely pursued—either as a substitute for or complement to gray infrastructure.

Despite America’s history of reliance on gray infrastructure, now is a critical time to tip the scales in favor of a green infrastructure approach to water-resource management. Investing in the conservation and improved management of natural ecosystems to secure and protect water systems can keep costs down and create jobs. Green infrastructure can also provide a suite of co-benefits for the air we breathe, the places we play, the wildlife we share our landscapes with, and the climate we live in.

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