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New directions in the economics of agricultural water conservation

Susanne M. Scheierling's picture

A challenging area in agricultural water management is the assessment of policy and investment options in irrigated agriculture for conserving water and adapting to increasing water scarcity, in particular when the linkages to groundwater resources and their management are to be considered and incorporated. 

However, this is an increasingly important area of research for a number of reasons.  First, irrigated agriculture accounts for about 70% of global freshwater withdrawals, and is a major contributing factor to the water scarcity situation in many countries.  Second, with almost a quarter of freshwater withdrawals for irrigated agriculture being made up of groundwater supplies—corresponding to 70% of total groundwater withdrawals—, agricultural water use is also a major contributing factor to aquifer overexploitation.  And, third, surface water and groundwater are closely linked in most parts of the world, with groundwater discharge contributing to the base flow of streams and surface water contributing to groundwater recharge, and these interactions are intensified by human action, in particular water withdrawals for irrigated agriculture.  Even in cases where irrigated agriculture depends mostly on surface water, groundwater impacts therefore need to be accounted for when assessing water conservation efforts (and vice versa).

Ensuring a sustainable development path

Augusto Lopez-Claros's picture

I’ve suggested recently that although high economic growth in recent decades has greatly improved average life expectancy, infant mortality, and other leading indicators policymakers and development practitioners were still worried about the sustainability of these trends and whether people in developing countries would eventually enjoy the high standards of living of high-income countries. This, against the background of a planet under increasing stress, particularly as a result of climate change. In this blog, I explore some of the actions needed to sustain our global economy.

What does Teddy Roosevelt have to do with PPPs? Thinking about the origin — and the future — of conservation

M. Sanjayan's picture
Editor's note: M. Sanjayan is a conservation scientist and writer, and serves as Executive Vice President and Senior Scientist at Conservation International. He is host of the PBS live television event Big Blue Live, which debuts on August 31, 2015. 
President Teddy Roosevelt.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Teddy Roosevelt, the U.S. President from 1901-1909, was an unlikely conservationist. He traveled to the Western states as a big game hunter in 1883, and during his time there saw the disappearance of the last large herds of bison, along with widespread damage and destruction to wildlife. It made an indelible impact.

With his firsthand experience of nature and as a witness to its decimation, his interest in preserving flora, fauna and animals grew as he ascended the political hierarchy, and he’s now known in some circles as the “Conservationist President.”
It’s a well-deserved honorific: as 26th president, Teddy Roosevelt created the U.S. Forest Service and established 51 Federal Bird Reservations, four National Game Preserves, 150 National Forests, and five National Parks.  He enabled the 1906 American Antiquities Act, which he used to proclaim 18 National Monuments. In total, Roosevelt protected approximately 230,000,000 acres of public land in the United States during his presidency.
What does this have to do with PPPs? Everything. Because it’s almost impossible to do conservation the old way, as Roosevelt pulled it off, which is essentially declaring a place off limits. You just can’t do that anymore. Instead, virtually everything I’ve ever been able to do in the field of conservation over the last decade has had a very big element of public-private partnerships, and all the big nonprofits understand this right now.

The things we do: How our competitive natures may help reduce our carbon footprints

Roxanne Bauer's picture

adjusting a home thermostat to save energyIn order to tackle the adverse effects of climate change in our lifetimes, the global community will need all hands on deck. One software company has found a way of reducing energy consumption by tapping into social psychology.

One way of thinking about how to approach climate change is to divide the issue into ‘wedges’.  One wedge would be to increase renewable energy production, another would be to increase energy efficiency in the electric grid, and a third, to make buildings more energy efficient. Along with these other improvements, changing human behavior is another, very important wedge. 

Two families that are demographically similar, living side by side, in similar apartments, can use dramatically different amounts of energy— the difference of which can be attributed to behavioral differences.

Keeping up with the Neighbors

These behavioral differences were demonstrated in a famous psychology experiment that focused on home energy use. The research team, led by two psychologists, Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University and Wesley Schultz of California State University, San Marcos, hung a series of five door hangers with energy-saving messages on several hundred homes in a San Diego suburb in 2004.   One hanger encouraged people to "join their neighbors" in conserving energy, one appealed to their self-interest to save money, another called on them to save energy to protect the environment, and a fourth asked them to conserve energy for future generations and the benefit of society. A fifth and final message simply stated that summer is here and it’s a time to save energy with no underlying reason.

The researchers measured the effectiveness of the messages by obtaining meter readings before and after the door hangers were distributed. They found that the last four had minimal effect. But the first, which mentioned the neighbors, produced a significant 10% reduction in home energy usage.

Why We’re Making a Stand for Resilient Landscapes in Lima

Magda Lovei's picture
Photo by Andrea Borgarello / TerrAfrica, World Bank)​World leaders and land actors are in Lima this week to help advance climate action. Climate resilience—including the resilience of African landscapes—will be at center of the agenda as they define the role of sustainable, resilient landscapes for a new development agenda.
Why should the world—and Africa in particular—care about resilience?
The importance of resilience as an imperative for development is nowhere as obvious as in Africa. Fragile natural resources—at the core of livelihoods and economic opportunities—are under increasing pressure from unsustainable use, population pressure, and the impacts of climate change.
Sustainable development will only be possible in Africa if natural resources are valued and protected. It will only be possible if their resilience to shocks such as climate change is improved. ​Resilient landscapes—where natural resources and biodiversity thrive in interconnected ecosystems that can adapt to change and protect people from losses—are important to the work of ending poverty and boosting prosperity.


Campaign Art: Nature Is Speaking

Roxanne Bauer's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

“Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.” The message is blunt and ominous. The imagery is beautiful. It’s is the new campaign from Conservative International, Nature Is Speaking, which introduces the idea that it's in our own enlightened self interest as humans to take care of the environment because we need it to survive. 

The campaign rebrands the conservation movement from one that discusses the environment as fragile and separate from humans to a force that is wholly inseparable from the future of mankind.

It contains seven short films in which Nature is personified by celebrities, including Penélope Cruz, Harrison Ford, Edward Norton, Robert Redford, Julia Roberts, Ian Somerhalder and Kevin Spacey who all give voice to a different element of the environment.

In the following video Julia Roberts gives Mother Nature a voice: "I've been here for aeons. I have fed species greater than you, and I have starved species greater than you,” she warns. “My oceans. My soil. My flowing streams. My forests. They all can take you. Or leave you.”
Nature Is Speaking – Julia Roberts is Mother Nature

Empowering new generations to act

Paula Caballero's picture
Photo by CIAT via CIFOR FlickrWhen I look at the rate of resource depletion, at soil erosion and declining fish stocks, at climate change’s impacts on nearly every ecosystem, I see a physical world that is slowly but inexorably degrading. I call it the "receding reality"—the new normal—slow onset phenomena that lull us into passivity and acceptance of a less rich and diverse world.

In my lifetime, I have seen waters that were teeming with multi-colored fish, turn dead like an empty aquarium. I have seen the streets of Bogota, my home town, lose thousands of trees in a matter of years.

It’s tempting to feel demoralized. But as the world’s protected area specialists, conservationists and decision makers gather in Sydney, Australia, this week for the World Parks Congress, there is also much to hope for.


Conservation and Economic Development: Is it a Forked Road?

Anupam Joshi's picture

It was getting dark and the mist engulfing the jungle made the challenge of spotting the stripes even harder. My guide, a trained local tribal youth, was excited and kept telling stories about the sights and sounds of the jungle. In all fairness, I had enjoyed the trek. Every turn or straight path presented a beautiful landscape, majestic trees, bamboo thickets, gurgling streams, colorful birds, distant animal calls and the gentle fresh breeze. Sighting a tiger would only complete the experience. Will we? Won’t we, see one?
In many ways, the experience of sighting a tiger reflects the challenge its very survival is facing! Will it? Won’t it, survive? But more importantly, will someone notice if it is not around? Fortunately, I was in Periyar Tiger Reserve in the southern Indian State of Kerala, a turnaround success story where the World Bank’s India Ecodevelopment Project significantly increased income opportunities for the locals, improved reserve management and encouraged community participation in co-managing the reserve. Though this happened a decade ago, even today the incomes are sustained and communities are closely engaged! But such success stories are few and far between.

Why We Need to Count Elephants (and Other Natural Resources)

Julian Lee's picture

Elephants with Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. Curt Carnemark / World BankLate last year, ministers and delegates from some 30 countries met in Botswana to discuss how to fight the booming illegal trade in ivory that is decimating Africa’s elephant population.
CITES estimates that 22,000 elephants were killed in Central and East Africa in just the year 2012. Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda are just a few of the countries affected by elephant poaching. The poached ivory is used for ornamental carvings that serve as status symbols, religious icons, and collector’s items for buyers across East Asia, Europe, and North America. This is not just a conservation issue. Wildlife crime is also a development and security challenge: It undermines government authority, breeds corruption, increases the supply of small arms, and destroys valuable natural resources. So the growing political attention wildlife crime is receiving – British Prime Minister David Cameron will host the next summit in February – is a welcome sign of high-level political commitment to address the crisis.

Why I’m More Optimistic than Ever about Biodiversity Conservation

Valerie Hickey's picture
Conservation biology was baptized as an interdisciplinary problem science in 1978 at a University of California San Diego conference. But the conservation movement precedes this conference by at least a century, when the first national park was established in Yellowstone in 1872 and signed into law by U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant. Both the academic discipline and the practice of conservation have had two things in common for a long time: they remained steadfast to their original mission to protect nature and their proponents were largely American and European and mostly middle class. 
But nothing stays the same forever.