“We children want to talk about forests, monkeys and mosquitoes,” began Felix Finkbeiner, a 10-year-old who moved the adults attending a recent UN event that formally launched the International Year of the Forests.
This week I was at the UN Forum on Forests meeting in New York where the International Year of the Forests was formally launched.
The Year of the Forests starts with a cautiously optimistic message: FAO’s report on the State of the World’s Forests released at the forum says that the forest loss across the world has slowed down over the last decade. Now the pattern of deforestation varies and is country-specific rather than being negative across the board. China, Vietnam and Costa Rica among others are countries where the forest cover is actually going up.
More importantly, I see an opening in how the problems of deforestation and forest degradation are being addressed internationally. Like the logo of the International Year of Forests, people are seen at the heart of this effort now. This has not always been the norm. Take the case of REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) which was debated in Bali at the first Forest Day in 2007. At that time, reducing emissions meant simply putting up fences to conserve the last pristine forests in the Amazon, the Congo basin and in Indonesia.
Now our understanding of how to address deforestation has evolved. Forests today are more strongly linked in people’s minds to questions of food security, improved livelihoods and the general resilience of the people. This is where REDD + comes in, with approaches that go beyond restrictive approaches and focus now more and more on approaches to enhance forest stocks and restore degraded landscapes. It is good news for people and forests that the role of forests in climate change mitigation is being understood in a much broader context.
10-year-old Felix Finkbeiner speaks at the United Nations Forum on Forests. Watch the full speech here.
While attending the CITES (Convention on Trade in Endangered Species) biodiversity summit in Nagoya, Japan, late last year, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said that we must foster development and reduce poverty, and at the same time preserve and improve the planet’s biodiversity and ecological resilience.
He noted during a speech at the Cancun COP16 Climate Convention that “empty forests are greatly diminished.” He is completely right, but globally efforts to achieve ecologically sustainable development have been difficult and fraught with failure. Sadly, to some the issue is yet another complication to be ignored or avoided.
I spent this weekend at the Mpala Research Center, in Laikipia, central Kenya, which is a remarkable partnership with the National Museums of Kenya, its local partners in Laikipia district, the Smithsonian Institution, and Princeton University in the United States.
Mpala is very dear to me. Working more than a decade ago with a remarkable doctoral student of mine who is now a professor, Majid Ezzati, and a fabulous team of local Kenyan medical and energy researchers and extension officers, we completed a detailed “dose-response” study of the health benefits of improved cookstoves. We found that while initial particulate levels were very high–7,000 or more micrograms of particulates per cubic meter (mg/m3)–combinations of improved stoves and clean burning fuels could reduce the incidence of acute respiratory illness by 50%.
When Chinese president Hu Jintao visited the US this month, many issues made headlines, but one that didn’t is nonetheless important: clean energy cooperation, competition, or both. This issue is a litmus test for the two superpowers’ ability to build a partnership based on mutual needs and opportunities. The outcome will affect our global economic, environmental and geopolitical future, and may influence the range of clean energy opportunities for emerging economies in fundamental ways.
Cooperation does exist between the US and China, with longstanding joint work on energy efficiency standards, and through a new but underfunded US-China Clean Energy Research Center. But the game has to be raised with higher-profile actions. Far more can be gained globally if a spirit of cooperation permeates the high-level political dialogue. These are not the only two nations to watch, but because they are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, and the two largest economies on the planet, signs of a shared vision of the future would mean a great deal.
The two countries need each other to build the clean energy economy. China needs energy to grow, and can drive the exponential growth needed to move renewable energy to the center of the global energy system. The US has a nimble and deep research and development system, and serial innovators and entrepreneurs whose Silicon Valley mentality has created wealth many times over. US capital market and enterprise management capacities are huge.
|Rainfall is essential to recharge the freshwater lens that lies beneath coral atolls in Kiribati. Without it, the i-Kiribati people would not be able to grow plants and crops vital to their livelihood.|
Freshwater can be extremely scarce in the Republic of Kiribati, home to over 100,000 people scattered across 22 islands in the Central Pacific. Each year after a long dry season, significant rainfall is generally expected to arrive during November or December. Yet over the last few months only a tiny amount of rain has fallen. The islands are dry.
This is consistent with forecasts that predict La Niña conditions will result in below normal rainfall during the 2010-11 wet season across the Gilbert Islands of Kiribati.
Presidents Hu and Obama created buzz earlier this week in Washington when they met on pressing bilateral issues, including US-China business and investment regulation, trade, currency imbalances and security concerns. US-China clean energy cooperation is an important part of that bilateral dialogue (see transcript of my intervention at a January 18 US-China Strategic Forum hosted by Brookings).
Cooperation between the two countries can yield big economic benefits. The world is recovering from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In this context, taking advantage of clean energy opportunities is crucial to fueling a sustained global recovery.
They inhabit two different worlds—buildings and climate change—both outside and within the World Bank. It should not be that way as the building sector could be central to both mitigation and adaptation efforts.
Buildings are important for climate mitigation because they account for about 30% of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Energy agency (IEA), energy use in this sector is expected to increase globally about 30 % over the next two decades if recent trends continue; however, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report concludes buildings offer by far the largest potential source for low cost reductions in CO2 emissions. The World Bank has many projects and analyses addressing this opportunity including a recent ESMAP (Energy Sector Management Assistance Program) report on the benefits and obstacles to effective building codes. These could address over 60 % of building energy use but remain weak and often unenforced in most Bank client countries.
As surprising as it may seem, there is a deep dark secret at the core of the System of National Accounts (SNA) – the accounts used by Finance ministries worldwide to measure economic performance. The numbers don’t add up. We can see this in the table below, showing the net worth of Brazil and its composition in 2005. The final two lines in the table report a measure of Brazil’s net national income and the implicit rate of return on wealth (the ratio of income to net worth). The return to Brazil’s produced and natural capital is over 18%! As good economists, we should all be investing our pension funds in Brazil. Why? Because financial market data tell us that the long run real rate of return across the broad range of assets averages only about 5% a year.
|Table – Net worth and net national
Income (NNI) in Brazil, 2005, $million
|Net financial assets||-117,221|
|Implicit rate of return||18.2%|
|Source: The Changing Wealth of Nations
World Bank (2011)
If you closely read the 20-page draft decision on the Clean Development Mechanism prepared at COP16 in Cancun, you will see a tiny reference to the possibility of including ``city-wide programs’’.Those few words represent an enormous effort: mainly championed by Amman, Jordan, with support from the World Bank, the European Union, UN-HABITAT, C40 Cities, ICLEI, United Cities and Local Government(UCLG) and others.
There is reason to be excited. Cities are the every-day face of civilization, the rough and tumble, action oriented arm of government: The ones you call when you need to get things done. And in Cancun they got the call.
Making sense of the COP, the ‘Conference of the Parties’ (cities would call it a meeting, ‘fiesta’ if you added beer and a beach) is a full time job. Thousands of people jet across the planet arguing over commas and clauses while climate change waits for true political will. But that political will does not come from countries at a COP. No, first and foremost it needs to be understood, nurtured, and acted-upon in cities. Countries get their marching orders mainly from urban residents, not the other way round.
This season in Bangladesh marks the 40th anniversary of the 1970 cyclone which ravaged the southern coast and killed over half a million people, decimated the homes of countless families, destroyed millions of livestock, key infrastructure, and damaged productive land. The recent cyclones Sidr in 2007 and Aila in 2008 also claimed the lives of over 3000 people each, leaving millions of poor more vulnerable to climate change than ever before. In the wake of all these cyclones, questions were raised about how to build resilience to climate change impacts without compromising national development goals. Is Bangladesh developing differently? What lessons can be learned from experience of Bangladesh to reframe development and climate action as mutually supportive objectives?