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Human wellbeing depends on a functioning planet—the Pope’s call

Paula Caballero's picture
Children in Bhutan look out on terraced fields. (Photo by Curt Carnemark / World Bank)The papal encyclical “on care for our common home” reflects the kind of insightful and decisive leadership that will be needed to reverse trends that will affect humanity’s capacity to feed itself and provide for collective well-being. The encyclical is not only a sobering call to address climate change, but also a manifesto for environmental stewardship and action. It touches on topics that we, as earth’s dominant species, need to urgently care about if we are to keep millions out of poverty today and tomorrow, and deliver on the rising expectations of a global middle class.

At the core of the encyclical is both a concern for the health of the planet and for the earth’s poor, reflected in a commitment to social values and integrity, environmental resilience, and economic inclusion.

The stock-taking begins, aptly, with pollution: “Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths.” The World Bank’s latest edition of the Little Green Data Book finds indeed that in low and middle-income countries, 86% of the residents are exposed to air pollution levels (measured in exposure particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter) that exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The WHO last year made headlines when it calculated that 7 million people had died prematurely from indoor and outdoor air pollution in 2012. From safer cookstoves in rural areas, to better air quality management in fast growing cities, this is an area where solutions are known and must be urgently applied.

Connecting the dots in 2015 for sustainable development

Paula Caballero's picture
View from the River Congo between Kinshasa and Lukolela, DR Congo. Photo by Ollivier Girard for CIFOR via Creative CommonsWhat will 2015 stand for? Only half-way through the year, it may be risky to make predictions. But 2015, a year in which the international community is supposed to forge new deals for climate action and sustainable development, should be a year rich in connections. A year in which the health of the planet is finally understood to be of central concern to the future of people. A year in which the management of natural resources – from fish stocks and fresh water, to fertile soil, forest habitats and the carbon in the atmosphere - is understood to have significant national, international and inter-generational consequences.

Awareness is certainly progressing. From the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil - a country that hosts nothing less than the mighty Amazon River, to the farmlands of California, people are coming to the realization that resources such as water are not limitless. More and more businesses are looking at the security of their supply chains and the footprint of their operations with zeal fueled by self-interest. And countries seem poised to adopt Sustainable Development Goals that signal an understanding that economic, social and environmental issues are inherently interdependent.

Climate change, water shortages and other environmental crises are bringing home the message loud and clear: we need to connect the dots between human actions across the landscape and seascape, or the earth will cease to care for us. It will cease to grow food, to store water, to host fish and pollinators, to provide energy, medicine and timber. Changing temperatures will stress systems already overwhelmed by unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, while a growing middle class will further strain planetary boundaries.

How can we help economies develop better, for lasting poverty reduction and prosperity, within the limits of natural resources? How can we make more rational use of natural and financial resources to maximize social and economic benefits and reduce carbon emissions while increasing our resilience to climate extremes?

Global citizens call and act to end pollution

Andy Shuai Liu's picture
Earth Day serves as a reminder each year that protecting the environment and working toward a cleaner, healthier planet not only benefits people nowbut also helps us leave a safer home for future generations. This year, nearly 300,000 people from all walks of life took to the U.S. National Mall in Washington D.C. on April 18 to mark the day as “global citizens” rallying for people and the planet.

Musicians, politicians, and non-profit leaders joined thousands of people to emphasize a message that relates both to poverty and environmental concerns:

Pollution kills and it hits the poor the hardest. To protect our lives and our planet, we must act now to end pollution.  

The World Bank talked to people at the event to see what types of pollution they see around them and what actions, however small, they take to reduce pollution on a daily basis.

Get inspired by their words and actions:
 
Patrick Quackenbush. Photo by World Bank

“I see pollution more in the air and water—in the creeks and in the sea. Pollution brings damage to nature and animals’ habitats. 

“I walk a lot. A lot of people may drive, but I am used to walking on campus. Subconsciously, it makes me feel I’m contributing [to the cause of ending pollution].”

– Patrick Quackenbush, a student at the University of Maryland

A Food System that can feed everyone, everyday, everywhere

Juergen Voegele's picture
Also available in: العربية | Français | Español



Whether you’re a food producer or consumer, and no matter what part of the world you live in, I’m sure we can agree: The world needs a food system that can feed everyone, everyday, everywhere.

A food system that works for everyone can also create jobs and raise the incomes of smallholder farmers and rural residents who are 78 percent of the world’s poor people. After all, growth originating in agriculture is proven to be 2 to 4 times more effective at reducing poverty than growth originating in other sectors. An effective food system can also provide better nutrition, steward the world’s natural resources, and even be a part of the solution to climate change.
 

Snowmelt, climate change and urban pollution—new perspectives

Tracy Hart's picture
Image by U.S. National Climate Assessment via Washington PostIt's been a snowy winter—not only here in Washington D.C., but also in places I travel, namely Jerusalem and Amman. The past week, the snowmelt runoff into Rock Creek in D.C. has been a sight to watch. It's also been a teachable moment for my daughter: we've talked about how snowmelt contributes to surface water flows.

Actually I talk, and she goes "okay, okay" looking out the window.

She and I have learned a few new facts to share: one is the linkage of irregular precipitation associated with global climate change.

Chris Mooney, the environment and climate change writer for the Washington Post, recently wrote a great article explaining why more snow is another result of climate change. D.C. is on the south border of the NE of the United States, where, as you can see from the map, (provided by the US National Climate Assessment), extreme rain/snow events have increased dramatically. Similarly, in Jerusalem three weeks ago, the snow came with sleet, blueberry-size hailstones (see below) and lightning.

#BestOf2014: Six Popular Environmental Stories You Shouldn’t Miss

Andy Shuai Liu's picture
As we get ready to kick off the new year, let’s recount the voices and stories about how we can enhance the way we interact with our planet. From Ethiopia to Indonesia, we’ve seen our efforts improve lives and help incomes grow as countries and communities strive for greener landscapes, healthier oceans and cleaner air.
 
Take a look back at some of the most popular stories you may have missed in 2014:
 
1. Raising More Fish to Meet Rising DemandPhoto by Nathan Jones via Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Aquaculture is on the rise to help feed a growing population. New #Fish2030 report: http://t.co/0fbH4fLDJO http://t.co/Lm5eHsGZaR

— World Bank (@WorldBank) February 6, 2014

Climate smart management for farms, forests and everything in between

Diji Chandrasekharan Behr's picture
A high-level panel on adaptation-based mitigation at the Global Landscape Forum 2014 in Lima, Peru. (Photo by PROFOR)The energy at the Global Landscapes Forum held alongside the UNFCCC climate negotiations in Lima was electric—charged by the enthusiasm of the scientists, practitioners, indigenous peoples, investors, policy makers, youth and government negotiators who came together to share their latest innovations, tools and ideas for tackling climate change across land uses—from farms to forests and everything in between. Conversations were passionate as we discussed how to bring together our efforts to address climate change and achieve sustainable development at the landscape level—by working in a coordinated manner on agriculture, forests, water and more. 

A notable shift at the 2014 Forum from previous ones, in addition to the mounting numbers in attendance (the event “sold out” with registration closing weeks early), was the buzz about adaptation. It permeated across panels and speakers, making clear the conversation on land-based sectors and climate change has moved well beyond mitigation. The Program on Forests (PROFOR) contributed to advancing the conversation by convening a high-level panel on “Moving forward with adaptation-based mitigation.”    

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.


 

Better Understanding Disaster Risk: A New Dataset Is Set to Make a Difference

Alanna Simpson's picture
 USGS
These maps of the Niger Delta show the increased detail through higher-resolution datasets newly released by the U.S. Geological Survey. Credit: USGS

​​Imagine you are a city official who wants to ensure all future infrastructure and urban development in your city is climate- and disaster-sensitive. The first step is to understand the natural hazards of today and tomorrow—flood, storm surge, sea level rise, etc.—and how they could impact your city. Thanks to higher-resolution geospatial datasets released this week by the U.S. Government, you will now be able to have a better understanding of the risks your city faces and how to manage them. 


These newly available Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) were developed by the U.S. Government and detail the surface of the earth in 3D. By illustrating the geography and topography of an area, they enable users to quantify the potential destructive impact of water-related hazards. As a city official, you will be able to base your analyses on 3D maps showing the natural terrain and elevation of your city, which determine the path of the water. 

Done Right, Hydropower Can Help Fight Energy and Water Poverty

Anita Marangoly George's picture
Water and energy are inseparable. An increase or decrease in one immediately affects the other. The interdependence of water and energy is the topic of the moment in Stockholm right now at World Water Week. Forums large and small are focusing on the energy we need to pump, store, transport and treat water and the water we need to produce almost all sorts of energy.
 

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