This year International Day for Biodiversity (May 22) is focused on “Water and Biodiversity” to coincide with the United Nations declaration of 2013 as the International Year for Water Cooperation. Effective water management has traditionally been viewed as an important factor in maintaining biodiversity in ecosystems. The opposite is increasingly viewed as critical: biodiversity can provide the basis for effective water management.
To increase awareness and understanding about the many ways forests contribute to improving food security and nutrition, especially in developing countries, the FAO hosted an International Conference on Forests for Food Security and Nutrition (May 13-15) in collaboration with the World Bank and with PROFOR.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle… Recover. As the population in large cities worldwide grows, waste management becomes an even bigger challenge. Recycling programs can divert large amounts of materials from landfills but some garbage still needs to be disposed of in landfills or Energy From Waste (EFW) sites. EFW facilities are capable of recovering energy from garbage that would otherwise be unused in landfills.
EFW and landfill gas capture systems operate on similar principles: produce steam to turn a turbine which generates electricity. The difference is the fuel used to produce the steam. Landfill gas based electricity generation relies on methane from the decomposition of organic material, while EFW facilities combust the solid waste. Both are good options as they prevent methane gas from escaping into the atmosphere. Methane has a global warming potential 72 times that of carbon dioxide. Both options sound good, so which is better? The better question is: ‘How much land and money do you have’?
Film is a powerful tool for explaining environmental issues. I first learnt this lesson while trying to enlist local communities in northern Vietnam to help protect a strange blue faced and critically endangered primate called the Tonkin Snub Nosed Monkey. After a morning spent bombarding local leaders with facts and figures, they were polite but unmoved.
Graph shows concentrations of atmospheric Co2 for the last 800,000 years, with measurements, starting from 1958, made at Mauna Loa in Hawaii. - Image courtesy of World Meteorological Organization
Scientists monitoring atmospheric concentrations of CO2 from a mountaintop in Hawaii recently reported that the presence of this greenhouse gas exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in at least three million years – a period when temperatures were much warmer than today. The significance of this seemingly dry statistical trend is stunning as reported in the New York Times:
From studying air bubbles trapped in Antarctic ice, scientists know that going back 800,000 years, the carbon dioxide level oscillated in a tight band, from about 180 parts per million in the depths of ice ages to about 280 during the warm periods between. The evidence shows that global temperatures and CO2 levels are tightly linked.
In addition to the location in Hawaii, several other Global Atmosphere Watch stations from the Arctic to the Equator reported CO2 concentrations exceeding 400ppm.
Experts believe that in order to limit warming to 2°C – a goal based on expected impacts – concentrations should rise to no more than 450 ppm, a level we may reach in only about 25 years based on current trends.
There is little empirical regularity that is as universal as the following: no matter what the path of economic development a country has followed, urbanization has been an inevitable consequence across the world. Already half the world’s population is urban. Currently, Asia and Africa are the least urbanized regions, but they are expected to reach their respective tipping points–that is when their urban populations will exceed the rural population–in 2023 and 2030. While the urban transition occurs with diverse growth patterns at different times, the real challenge for governments is to take actions that allow residents to make the most of living in cities.
The relationship between urbanization and economic development has long been a popular issue of debate. Should a developing country encourage urbanization? While this is a real dilemma in Bangladesh, because of a highly unfavorable land-population balance, the only alternative Bangladesh has to urbanization is urbanization. The question is not whether Bangladesh should urbanize; the question is how Bangladesh will handle the challenges of urbanization.
The latest science, described in the World Bank report “Turn Down the Heat,” indicates that we are heading toward a 4° C warmer world, with catastrophic consequences in this century. While carbon dioxide (CO2) is still the No. 1 threat, there is another category of warming agent called short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). Mitigating these pollutants is a must if we want to avoid the 4° C warmer future.
The main SLCPs are black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons. They are potentially responsible for more than one-third of the current warming. Because SLCPs have a much shorter lifetime in the air than CO2; reducing their emissions can create almost immediate reduction of global/regional warming, which is not possible by reducing CO2 emissions alone. According to one U.N. report, full implementation of 16 identified measures to mitigate SLCPs would reduce future global warming by about 0.5˚C.
In this blog, we will focus on one SLCP – black carbon. Black carbon is a primary component of particulate matter (PM), the major environmental cause of premature deaths globally. As a climate pollutant, black carbon’s global warming effects are multi-faceted. It can warm the atmosphere directly by absorbing radiation. When deposited on ice and snow, black carbon reduces their reflecting power and increases their melting rate. At the regional level, it also influences cloud formation and impacts regional circulation and rainfall patterns such as the monsoon in South Asia.
A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the opening of the 10th Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests, in Istanbul, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s impassioned challenge to the global community to get serious about stopping the loss of forests. Unusually, he did this without reference to the usual concerns about climate change or biodiversity loss, but instead quite simply said – we have a moral responsibility to stop this.
"The global threats which humanity faces eliminate the luxury of saying, ‘What do I care?’” Erdoğan said. “We are not only creatures of bodies, heads, and brains. We carry hearts, we carry souls, and we carry a conscience.”
So what did the UN Forum accomplish after days of discussions and negotiations? Did the Forum rise to Erdoğan's challenge?
Also available in Chinese
Last month, China was granted US$95 million to reduce its production of hydro-chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), substances that are used primarily for cooling, refrigeration, and the manufacture of foam products. The funding comes from the Multilateral Fund (MLF) of the Montreal Protocol, because HCFCs deplete the ozone layer and are controlled under the Protocol. With access to these funds, between now and 2015 China will reduce its production of HCFCs by 10%, or 47,000 metric tons from 2010 levels, allowing it to meet the first reduction targets set by the Protocol.
This alone is worth celebrating because China is the world's largest producer of HCFCs. Nearly 50% of its production is consumed by other developing countries, all of whom also face HCFC consumption reduction targets under the Protocol. Herein lies one secret to the Protocol’s success: its ability to regulate both production and consumption worldwide simultaneously, putting into practice an economist’s dream to tackle both supply and demand in tandem. By addressing the supply side of the problem through support to China’s production phase-out, the demand side - in China and in developing countries around the world - can build a sustainable HCFC consumption phase-out response. The ozone layer, and human and environmental health, will all be the better for it.
Tiny homes made of non-reinforced concrete blocks, without columns in the corners or ties where the walls and roof and the walls and foundation meet. These are dwellings that can collapse like a deck of cards in the event of an earthquake. Photo: World Bank.
I have lived in Panama City for nearly two years and there are two things that still capture my attention: the traffic that gets worse by the day due to the more than 36,000 new vehicles on the road every year and the pace of construction.
The number of new buildings popping up in the city daily is amazing.
Huge, luxurious, expensive buildings in fashionable areas, but also housing projects promoted by the national government and a large supply of houses for the Panamanian middle class responsible for the private sector.
Last week, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography released data showing that CO2 atmospheric levels had briefly passed 400 parts per million (ppm) and were close to surpassing that level for sustained periods of time. This is bad news. At 450 ppm, scientists anticipate the world will be 2 degrees Celsius warmer than pre-industrial times, and world leaders have agreed that’s a point of dangerous consequences.
Along with this grim news came important new research findings from Professor V. Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution at the University of California, San Diego, and other researchers regarding short-lived climate pollutants – black carbon, methane tropospheric ozone and some hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). While we continue – and must continue – to hammer away at reducing CO2 emissions, their work supports the argument that also reducing these short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) can have an immediate effect on slowing warming and the resulting sea-level rise.
- CO2 emissions
- Black Carbon
- Climate Change
- short-lived climate pollutants
- Communities and Human Settlements
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- The World Region
- South Asia
- Middle East and North Africa
- Latin America & Caribbean
- Europe and Central Asia
- East Asia and Pacific
Coal has been a mainstay of Indian energy. It accounts for 63% of India’s energy consumption, and demand is set to grow dramatically over the coming decades. Coal use for electricity generation is projected to grow 2% every year, almost doubling its share of India’s generating capacity by 2030. According to the International Energy Agency, India is likely to become the second-largest consumer of coal, surpassing the United States in the next five years.
Because coal is both cheap and abundant domestically, it may seem like the perfect solution to India’s energy and electricity woes. However, using coal comes with severe health, environmental, and economic effects. As quality of life improves for most Indians on one hand from economic progress, many could be subject to the vagaries of this dirty pollutant. Also, as the world moves closer to a consensus on climate change, using coal at this growing rate may become untenable.
Two recent studies shed light on the huge environmental damage that is done by coal-fired power plants in India. Professor Maureen Cropper and her co-authors at the University of Maryland estimated premature cardiopulmonary deaths associated with air emissions from 89 power plants from all over India. Last week, Professor Cropper presented their analysis in a World Bank seminar. Their study attributes on average 650 deaths per plant per year to directly emitted sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate emissions from coal plants.
Another recent study published by Greenpeace and authored by Sarath Guttikunda and Puja Jawahar presents more dramatic results than the Cropper study. It suggests that in 2011-2012, emissions from Indian coal plants resulted in 80,000 to 115,000 premature deaths and more than 20 million asthma cases from exposure to particulate pollution with an associated cost of $3.3 billion to $4.6 billion.
É conveniente pensar que este é apenas mais um Dia da Terra – afinal, a data tem sido celebrada desde 1970. Mas talvez este ano seja diferente, pelo menos na América Latina e no Caribe (i).
No nordeste do Brasil, este é o terceiro ano de uma seca que, segundo informações recentes, ainda afeta 10 milhões de pessoas; ao mesmo tempo, Buenos Aires e Rio de Janeiro sofreram com chuvas torrenciais e enchentes que afligiram centenas de habitantes dessas grandes áreas metropolitanas.
Only a few years ago, the failure to properly quantify and communicate the risks of a widely traded commodity, mortgage-backed securities, caused major damage to the US and ultimately the global economy. According to the IMF, total losses will approach $4 trillion (pdf). A significant share of the losses were incurred by pension funds and insurance companies typically viewed as among the more risk-averse and cautious segments of the investment community.
A new report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Grantham Research Institute on the Environment and Climate Change evaluates the failure to properly value the risks of climate policy to companies with major fossil fuel reserves and finds a similar potential for massive financial fall-out. They conclude that “Between 60-80% of coal, oil and gas reserves of publicly listed companies are ‘unburnable’ if the world is to have a chance of not exceeding global warming of 2°C.” (A short video explaining the research and mapping the amounts of investment at stake in different countries is available online).
I’m consistently astonished by how little we know about the important stuff in development. Take the Millennium Development Goals – the basis for innumerable aid debates, campaigns, and negotiations. A large chunk of the MDG agenda concerns the size and quality of public spending – on health, education, water, sanitation etc. So obviously, the first thing we need is to know how much governments are spending on these things, right?
Well no actually, because we don’t have those numbers. Until now. Oxfam has teamed up with an influential and well-connected NGO, Development Finance International, which advises developing country governments around the world. Working with a network of government officials, DFI has pulled together and analysed the budgets of 52 low and middle income countries (With another 34 to follow). The result is a new database, called Government Spending Watch, (summary of overall project here) and a report ‘Progress at Risk’, previewed in Washington last Friday in a joint DFI/Oxfam America event to coincide with the IMF and World Bank Spring meetings. The full report won’t be ready ‘til May, but an initial draft exec sum is available, and here’s what it says.