As the Global Environment Facility’s 6th Assembly welcomes over 1,000 delegates and heads of state in Vietnam this week, it seems like a good time to take a step back and consider how we are doing when it comes to environmental action and sustainability.
There is strength in numbers, the old idiom goes. Indeed, history shows that collaboration fosters ideas and results. Next week, the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities, or GPSC, will convene in New Delhi, India, to again share ideas and build on their collective vision: to work towards shaping cities that are sustainable, thriving, and inclusive through the decades ahead.
The gathering starting on October 30 is only the GPSC’s second annual meeting, as we launched the platform just last year in Singapore. Yet the 27 participating cities across 11 countries—and more members are very welcome—are moving ahead with confidence, embarking on innovative programs to realize their vision and galvanizing their national governments to establish platforms of their own. China, Malaysia, and India in Asia, Paraguay and Brazil in Latin America, and other participating cities are actively pursuing sustainable urbanization.
This strength in numbers is made possible by staunch supporters. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) is integral to the progress of the GPSC, and numerous partners such as UN agencies, development banks, and civil society organizations contribute to its success—amongst them the World Resources Institute, ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership group (C40).
What are the aims of the GPSC? Forging a shared vision for urban sustainability is its overarching goal, and this achievement would not be possible without connecting cities.
In more concrete terms, the GPSC aims to be a global knowledge repository on integrated urban planning – both best practices and lessons learned. The newly launched GPSC website, www.thegpsc.org, hosts a collection of datasets, indicators, and analyses on trends in urbanization. This library of information assists cities in identifying the gaps in urban infrastructure and the provision of basic services. The data collected will improve the cities’ capacity to monitor and report the status of their “sustainability,” and to better formulate and implement strategies.
The GPSC’s 2nd annual meeting is organized around the theme of “Better Planning, Better Cities - Smart Solutions to Urban Sustainability,” and this second meeting will focus on using a data-driven approach for planning action. The many scheduled events will follow this approach, including the Mayor’s Roundtable, high-level panel discussions, and in-depth learning events.
October 16 is World Food Day, a day when people come together to declare their commitment to eradicate hunger within a lifetime.
Many school-age children across the globe depend on school feeding programs for morning and mid-day meals. School feeding programs incentivize parents to keep children in school and provide students the essential nutrients to stay healthy and able to learn.
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World Bank Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change Rachel Kyte talks about Brazil's shift toward green, inclusive growth and how innovative practices developed there have gone global. The next challenge: developing business models to invest in the restoration of degraded land.
Early in the morning on Saturday, January 19, 2013, negotiators from around 140 countries completed negotiations for the Mercury Treaty that will be adopted later this year in Japan. It will be known as the Minamata Convention, in deference to the victims of mercury poisoning from industrial pollution that occurred when residents of the Minamata Bay ingested contaminated fish and shellfish in the 1950s.
The Convention that took four years to negotiate under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) joins the ranks of a number of treaties that address chemicals and wastes. It is the first treaty to specifically address heavy metals.
Why is the international community concerned about mercury? Mercury is typically released into the environment in metallic, or “elemental”, form, or as an inorganic salt. In elemental form, it easily vaporises and can be transported great distances worldwide. When deposited in the environment, mercury eventually can be transformed to its organic forms, including Methylmercury, which is highly toxic and readily accumulates and bioconcentrates in animals and humans. Eventually, mercury settles in cold climates and bioconcentrates up the food chains to the point that Indigenous Peoples in the North that rely on traditional foods are exposed to damaging high levels.
One of the reasons heavy metals are difficult to address is that they are mobilised through human activities, but they are also released in the environment through natural processes, for example through volcanic eruptions or in deep-sea vents. Nevertheless, estimates are that at any given time, 90% of the mercury cycling in the environment is linked to human activities – hence the need for action. The recently released UNEP Global Mercury Assessment 2013 outlines major sources of emissions, geographic and temporal trends, and behaviour in the environment.
Moreover, international action is warranted because of the transboundary dimension of the issue. In the United States for example, it is estimated that half the mercury in fish caught in rivers comes from anthropogenic Continental sources – predominantly from coal burning – whilst the other half represents emissions from Asia. At the same time, by some estimates, approximately 50% of US releases are deposited beyond the country’s border. This is textbook justification for international action.
From April 23-25, 2012, a DM team comprised of Ricardo Hernandez (Sr. Environmental Specialist), Angelica Calderon (Information Specialist), Douglas Jimenez (Information Assistant), and Myra Valenzuela (Consultant) visited DM2008 Project “Reducing Impacts of Ranching on Biodiversity.”
With the Rio+20 meetings less than 5 weeks away, climate change has once again taken center stage on the global agenda. Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda IAP (GESG), based in the state of Querétaro, Mexico, is combating climate change through its efforts to establish a conservation-based local economy in the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve (Reserve). At almost 384,000 hectares, the Reserve covers 32% of the state’s territory, and it is jointly managed as a public-private partnership by the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) and GESG.
As a member of UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves, the Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve is one of the most ecologically diverse areas in Mexico and serves as a critical refuge for both migratory and threatened species. However, the practice of extensive cattle grazing by landowners throughout the Reserve poses a threat to the delicate ecosystem. GESG’s GEF-funded project with the Development Marketplace, “Reducing Impacts of Ranching on Biodiversity” addressed just that: financing payments for environmental services to local ranchers in exchange for excluding their cattle from the land and performing conservation activities (e.g. tree planting, soil regeneration, no lumber extraction, no hunting). The DM project also supported 5 pilot farms to showcase best practices for animal husbandry and land management. In addition, GESG pursued certification and verification of sequestered carbon captured in reforestation efforts through the Rainforest Alliance, developing a “gourmet” product of integrated environmental services.
At the C40 Summit in Sao Paolo last week, former President Clinton urged participating cities and the World Bank to make a dramatic reduction in methane and black carbon. He said it would help the earth buy some time on climate change. He has reasons to be worried: In Cancun last year, parties agreed to stabilize average global temperatures at a level not exceeding 2 degree C above pre-industrial levels. This looks difficult as 0.8 degree C warming has already taken place and GHG emissions continue to grow.
Developed countries collectively reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by a mere 6.1% from 1990-2008. Compared to the fast track for warming, humanity is on the slow train to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reductions.
President Clinton’s statement follows two recent reports that point to emerging scientific awareness that a climate change strategy focusing exclusively on carbon dioxide (CO2) is neither the quickest nor the most effective way to achieve long-term climate stabilization. These reports focus on non-CO2 emissions that stay in the atmosphere for a shorter period of time than CO2. As a result, reducing emissions of these non-CO2 gases will result in a slowing of temperature rise over the first half of the 21st century, buying time both to adapt and to transition away from carbon.
The first report, produced by UNEP and WMO, assesses black carbon and tropospheric ozone. Black carbon—basically soot—is produced by incomplete combustion of carbon fuels, particularly diesel, wood, and coal. It is a dark suspended particle or aerosol, technically not a GHG. It is frequently emitted together with light-colored aerosols (sulfates and organic carbon) which cool the climate. The latest research indicates that, on balance, the warming effect of black carbon overpowers the cooling effect of its companions. It stays in the atmosphere for only a few weeks before falling to earth. Its warming contribution comes from its black color, making it absorb heat while in the air. If it falls onto mountain or polar snow, it accelerates glacial melt.
If the proven, certified technology is cheap, makes companies more profitable, and at the same time, more green, then why doesn’t every company use it?
This is the mystery that our team now faces in Guangdong Province, China, where we are leveraging a multi-million dollar grant from the Global Environment Facility to support the retrofitting of freight trucks with Smartway (and similarly) verified Green Freight technologies*. These technologies improve the fuel efficiency of trucks, and their costs are recovered through fuel savings – in some cases, in as little as six months. So, the pervasive question – if they are so cost-effective and improve the competitiveness of businesses, why aren’t these technologies used…everywhere?
It is an interesting question, because its answer points us to the broader issue of market barriers in developing countries. How do we identify these barriers, and what is that "spark" that sets market forces in motion?