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May 2009

Mongolia's forests burning: are they good or are they bad?

Tony Whitten's picture

Last weekend a small group of us decided to drive the 8 hours or so to the Khonin Nuga (pronounced Honing Nuk) research station, northwest of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. We had a standing invitation to visit the site for years from Professor Michael Mühlenberg of Georg-August University in Göttingen, Germany, and Professor R. Samiya of National University, Ulaanbaatar – who together run the station. The route took us through the town of Zuun Kharaa, the vodka-producing capital of Mongolia, and off towards the dark-green forested mountains of the western Khentii.  We saw Mongolia’s largest bird, the Black Vulture, and also the respected and graceful Demoiselle Cranes picking up grasshoppers among the wind-blown solid waste around the town. We were going to spend the night in the research station, discuss with Prof. Mühlenberg the possibility of using the site as a training center within the forest landscapes project we are preparing, and find time to explore the taiga forest and steppe by horse. And then we were going to do the bumpy ride home again.

Instead, we found ourselves facing a major forest fire. (Continue reading after the jump)

Carbon Expo: A marketplace to finance environmental change

Florian Kitt's picture

Carbon finance sounds boring and technical and not much fun. However, it actually does a lot of good and can help fund critical environmental preservation projects as well as introduce clean and renewable technologies in both developed and developing countries.

Can China become the engine for world economic growth?

David Dollar's picture

This somewhat provocative question was the title of a conference hosted by Oxford and Standard Charter this week in London.  My answer was: "No, not tomorrow; but yes, eventually – especially if China continues to vigorously pursue economic reform."
 
The reason that China cannot be the engine of global growth tomorrow is straight-forward.  For the last decade an awful lot of the final demand in the world has come from the U.S.  That era is over for the time being as U.S. households now concentrate on rebuilding their savings.  No one country can fill the gap left by the slowdown in U.S. consumption: Japan, Germany, and China together have less consumption than the U.S., so no one of them can replace the U.S. as the major source of demand in the world.  It's not realistic to expect China to play that role.  But we are probably moving into a more multi-polar period in which there is more balanced growth in all of the major economies. 

Shifting wildlife baselines: For the sake of the future, listen to your grandparents

Tony Whitten's picture
"I was swimming in the river near Godmanchester and I got the fright of my life when a large triangular dorsal fin broke the surface of the water just in front of me. It was so close I could have touched it."

Call for a green China: permanent improvement, with room for more

David Dollar's picture

Children perform during "Call for Green China" – a unique cultural tour to raise awareness about pressing environmental issues in China and possible solutions.
The old people in the park are saying that this was the best April in 20-plus years in terms of air quality here in Beijing. There has been permanent improvement based on some of the changes made for the Olympics: some factories relocated to less populous areas, restrictions on private car use, improved public transportation as an alternative.

Other factors are more long term – the sandstorms common when I lived here in 1986 are largely gone, owing to successful re-greening efforts west of here. There was a frenzied pace of construction as modern Beijing was being built, which has naturally slowed down – construction dust was a key part of air pollution here.

There is more room for improvement, but the progress was notable during a lovely April. One key issue going forward will be to continue to control private vehicle use.

Moving sounds from Sichuan to help victims of the earthquake

Claudia Gabarain's picture

Here's a project that makes beauty out of tragedy in the hope of helping alleviate it: an American folk artist and a Chinese electronica producer teamed up to create a unique soundtrack using sounds by survivors of the Sichuan - Wenchuan earthquake. Focusing on children who are still living away from their families, the seven tracks in the EP mix traditional songs by the kids with the sounds their parents make while they are hard at work, rebuilding the homes where they will all live together again.

Day of reflection: One year after Sichuan earthquake, signs of recovery and hope in China

Mara Warwick's picture

We have heard stories of tragedy since the Sichuan - Wenchuan Earthquake, but we have also seen the signs of recovery and hope.
Today is a day of reflection in China. The Sichuan - Wenchuan earthquake on May 12, 2008, was an event of immense significance for the people of China. It was one of those events that occur maybe once in a generation, where for many years to come, much discussion will center on the question "where were you when you heard the news?"

Today is also a day of reflection for me. I am thinking about all of the people we have met in Sichuan over the last year who have been affected by the earthquake – the millions who have lost their homes, their land and their livelihood. I am also thinking about the many, many people who have lost loved ones – their children, parents, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers and friends. I have met and spoken with some of these survivors over the last year and they are in my mind today.

Video: Getting commuters onto bikes in the Philippines

James I Davison's picture

A couple weeks ago, blogger Chris Pablo wrote here about a project designed to get more people in the Philippines riding bicycles by creating and designating separate bike paths in Marikina City, a medium-sized city at the eastern edge of Metro Manila.

Chris writes:

The project, which started in 2001, seems to have achieved its demonstration effect. From a survey done in 2006, the share of bike trips to all trips in the city increased to 9.5%, from 4% in 1999. Bicycle ownership also grew.

The short World Bank-produced video below gives another look at the successful project:

As prices fall internationally, developing countries still face high food costs

James I Davison's picture

A little more than a month ago, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) introduced a database tool and a press release highlighting a rather disconcerting trend. As the global economic crisis worsened, food prices have fallen at an international level. But, surprisingly, the cost of food has not dropped at the same rate, or at all, in poor developing countries, according the FAO.

The new online tool allows for anyone to easily keep track of food prices in 55 developing countries, comparing the data on both domestic and international levels and tracking change over time. In East Asia, the tool includes data from China, Mongolia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

I am struck that the release of this data seems to be the first time I’ve heard of this trend. And apparently, even the experts aren't sure what is causing food prices to stay high for those who can least afford it. On his blog, Oxfam’s Duncan Green quoted FAO's Henri Josserand:

"The reasons for this 'stickiness' are not fully understood at this time. We hypothesize that there are several factors, possibly interacting in complex way. So far, we have not found any set of explanatory variables that apply to the whole sample. Actually, we are pretty sure that understanding the reasons will require in-depth analysis at the national or regional levels."

FAO says it hopes the database will provide information for "policy and decision-makers in agricultural production and trade, development and also humanitarian work." Hopefully, this database will help bring attention to high prices and food shortages in the places that can least afford them.

 

Bangkok's Skytrain an example of the good infrastructure and services Thailand needs

Pichaya Fitts's picture

It takes me just a few minutes to get to my office roughly two kilometers away. Before the Skytrain came along, the very same journey could take anywhere between 15-45 minutes.
At 2:30 p.m. on a weekday, the Skytrain in Bangkok, Thailand, was still pretty crowded. I squeezed myself into a small space near the doors, waiting to exit at the next stop. Suddenly, a cheery sound of music wafted through the air before a woman, standing not far from me, shouted a "Hello" into her tiny cellular phone.

"I'm on the train, two stops away from you," she told the caller. "Will get there in a heartbeat."

That got me thinking. Getting somewhere in a heartbeat was – at least until 1999 – a luxury no Bangkokian could afford (unless they owned a private helicopter). I remembered when this city's traffic jams topped the list of things that would come to mind when people thought of Bangkok. (The next down in that list would probably be air pollution, but that's a subject for a later discussion!).

Regional Finance Roundup: Updates on Indonesia, China, and the Philippines

James Seward's picture

We are finally starting to see some positive news around the East Asia and Pacific region, but it is too soon to begin to speak of "green shoots" of economic activity or reaching the bottom of the economic downturn in Asia. Although the Swine flu (one disease originating from animals that did not come from Asia!) and the nervousness about the condition of U.S. banks had a slightly negative impact on financial markets in Asia this past week, the stock markets are still up by about 12% for the year – led by Indonesia (21.6%), Korea (11.8%), and China (9.4%).