Quantcast
Sun setting behind the Fawley Oil Refinery in Fawley, England. Clive G' / CC BY-ND 2.0

By Jessica Corbett

Ahead of the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland next week—which convenes the world's wealthiest and most powerful for a summit that's been called both the "money Oscars" and a "threat to democracy"—the group published a report declaring, "Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe."

Read More Show Less

By Joel Scata

Extreme weather, failure to adapt to climate impacts, and failure to combat climate change all top the World Economic Forum's list of Global Risks.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Twenty-four hours of inspiring stories of regular people taking their future into their hands and taking action on climate.

Twenty-four hours of eye-opening conversations with the business innovators, government leaders, scientists, community voices and more leading the fight for solutions all around the planet. Names like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, California Gov. Jerry Brown and World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.

Read More Show Less

Twenty-four hours of inspiring stories of regular people taking their future into their hands and taking action on climate.

Twenty-four hours of eye-opening conversations with the business innovators, government leaders, scientists, community voices and more leading the fight for solutions all around the planet. Names like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, California Gov. Jerry Brown and World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.

Read More Show Less
March for Science. Molly Adams / Flickr

Far and wide, young people consider climate change to be the world's most serious issue, according to the World Economic Forum's 2017 Global Shaper Survey of more than 31,000 millennials from 186 countries and territories.

Close to half (48.8 percent) of those surveyed chose "climate change/destruction of nature" as their No. 1 concern. This is the third year in a row that 18-to-35-year-olds declared the issue as their biggest global concern.

Read More Show Less
Wikimedia Commons

By Ariana López Peña

Costa Rica was the most environmentally advanced and happiest place on Earth last year, followed by Mexico, Colombia, Vanuatu and Vietnam.

So concluded the Happy Planet Index, which recently released its 2016 ranking of "where in the world people are using ecological resources most efficiently to live long, happy lives."

That neither the U.S. nor any European nations make the top ten may be surprising, but Costa Rica's winning position is not; this small Central American nation also topped the 2009 and 2012 rankings.

The Happy Planet Index measures life expectancy, well-being, environmental footprint and inequality to calculate nations' success—all areas where Costa Rica's government has made significant effort and investment.

Less War, More Health

In 1949, Costa Rica took a big gamble eliminating its army and investing military funds into health and education. The decision has paid off on numerous fronts.

By 2016, education comprised 8 percent of Costa Rica's national budget—up from 2.6 percent in 1994 and 5.9 percent 2014, according to a 2014 study.

By comparison, nearby El Salvador spends 3.42 percent of GDP on education, the U.S. spends 5.22 percent and Colombia allocates 4.67 percent.

In the environmental realm, Costa Rica has long been a pioneer. In the 1990s, the country passed a series of "green culture" laws including the tax-funded National Forests law that protects forests, waters, biodiversity and natural beauty as both tourist attractions and scientific resources. It also developed a financing system, supported by both the government and by international organizations, such as the World Bank, to pay for environmental protection programs.

Other green initiatives include the Eco-Marchamo, which is a voluntary complementary tax that allows drivers to offset 100 percent of the emissions generated by fuel consumption for one year and the Carbon Neutral Framework that incentives good environmental practice by Costa Rican companies.

Under President Luis Guillermo Solís, Costa Rica's national health policy also now includes the explicit goal of achieving "environmentally sustainable socio-economic development," based on the theory that such growth will better position the small country to face big international challenges, such as health crises, increasing violence and climate change.

In short, Costa Rica has built into its whole governance model the ability to face the major environmental and health challenges facing the world.

As a result, in addition to its top ranking on the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica also does very well on the Global Index of Happy Workers (at number three), in Doing Business 2017 (at number five) in the region Latin American and on the Individual Liberties Index. Costa Rica is also a leader within Central America in labour rights and ranks among the most competitive economies in Latin America. (There's more, too—you can find it here).

This reveals a key issue highlighted by the Happy Place Index: public policies have a great impact on the well-being of a populace.

Limits to the Rankings

But they're not the only factor and such rankings, while perhaps a point of pride for a tiny Central American nation, have serious limitations.

First, global indexes inevitably include certain indicators and exclude others. This can lead to certain cognitive dissonance. It is notable that among the WEF's top ten "happiest" places are two highly under-developed nations, Vanuatu and Bangladesh. Both not only have low global competitiveness but also do badly on the UN's Human Development Index (134th and 142nd, respectively).

How is it possible for a country to be eco-happy but underdeveloped?

Well, the Happy Planet Index does not look at such indicators as education, income, access to water and electricity or poverty rates. Accounting for those facts would create a more complete, and probably very different, perception of happiness.

Vanuatu, which the Happy Planet Index ranks fourth happiest in terms of sustainability, comes in 134th on Yale University's Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which examines how countries protect human health and the ecosystem. Costa Rica, first on the 2016 Happy Planet Index, ranks 42 place on the EPI. Meanwhile, Ecuador, tenth on the Happy Planet Index, is 76th in global competitiveness, according to the CDI's 2016-2017 rankings, and 103rd on Yale's EPI.

According to the UN's Conference on Trade and Development, the world's least-developed countries are characterized by having deficient per capita income and economic vulnerability. That is, at least 50 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. They're also the countries that are most exposed to climate change and its consequences.

So is a country that's green necessarily a happy place?

What is Happiness?

The Happy Planet Index is useful in reconceptualizing happiness in terms of environmental well-being and sustainable practices, but it needs fine-tuning.

In underdeveloped countries, a low carbon footprint clearly has more to do with the lack of industry than with environmental policy. These countries simply didn't undergo the same economic growth processes that the rich world did, from the Industrial Revolution through to the second world war.

And it is confusing to talk about happiness in countries where life conditions are not even minimally acceptable. Even the authors of the report on the Happy Planet Index note when discussing Costa Rica that despite its environmental commitment, Costa Rica's ecological footprint is not small enough to be totally sustainable and that its income inequality remains quite high.

The same could be noted of the other top countries in the Happy Planet Index, Mexico and Colombia, whose 2014 GINI ratings of 48.2 and 53.5, respectively, reflect starkly uneven wealth distribution. In fact, Colombia is the second-most unequal country in Latin America, a region characterized by its wealth gap.

Costa Rica has achieved a lot since it turned away from war and toward national well-being a half century ago. But many challenges – from preventing violence to increasing income equality—remain for it to become both green and truly happy.

To create the kind of sustainability that fundamentally links human, environmental and social development, policy, science, education and citizen activism must all work together.

That's how we'll redefine the meaning of happiness—in Costa Rica and beyond.

Ariana López Peña is a professor at the School of International Relations, Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica. Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

Sponsored

The combined wealth of eight men is greater than the poorest 3.6 billion people, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam International.

This is a massive jump from last year's estimate, which cited the world's 62 richest people having a combined wealth equal to the poorest 50 percent of the population on the planet.

Read More Show Less
Solar farm at the Topaz Solar Farm in California. Photo credit: Sarah Swenty / USFWS

Renewable energy has reached an important milestone. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has determined that in many parts of the world, solar energy is now the same price or even cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time.

In a handbook released this month, the WEF observed how the price of renewable technologies, particularly solar, has declined to unprecedented lows.

While the average global LCOE [levelized cost of electricity] for coal and natural gas is around $100 per megawatt-hour, the price for solar has plummeted from $600 a decade ago to $300 only five years later, and now close to or below $100 for utility-scale photovoltaic. For wind, the LCOE is around $50.

According to the WEF, more than 30 countries have already reached grid parity—even without subsidies. ("Grid parity" is the point when an alternative energy source, say solar, can generate power at a LCOE that's equal or even less than the price of traditional grid power.)

"It is relevant to note that the mentioned evolution, market share gain and continued potential for renewable energy do not hinge on a subsidy advantage," the report added. "In fact, according to [International Energy Agency], fossil-fuel consumption has received $493 billion in subsidies in 2014, more than four times the value of subsidies to renewable energy."

The WEF highlighted how the unsubsidized LCOE for utility-scale solar photovoltaic—which was not competitive even five years ago—has declined at a 20 percent compounded annual rate, "making it not only viable but also more attractive than coal in a wide range of countries."

Countries that have already reached grid parity include Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Australia with many more countries also on the same track. The WEF projects that two thirds of the world will reach grid parity in the next couple of years, and by 2020, solar photovoltaic energy is projected to have a lower LCOE than coal or natural gas-fired generation throughout the world.

"Renewable energy has reached a tipping point," Michael Drexler, who leads infrastructure and development investing at the WEF, told Quartz. "It is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns."

The report follows a recent analysis from the IEA which revealed that total clean power capacity increased by 153 gigawatts, overtaking coal for the first time. To illustrate, about 500,000 solar panels installed were installed around the world every day.

EcoWatch

Each year since 1981, to counterbalance the seemingly never-ending awards ceremonies honoring the film industry, a different kind of award has cropped up—the Golden Raspberries, better known as the Razzies.

The day before the Academy Awards ceremony, the Razzies honor the worst performances in film. And to show the rest of the world that they don't take themselves too seriously, actors—for the most part—take the dubious Razzie nominations and awards in stride.

In fact, Sandra Bullock appeared at the Razzies to accept her "win" for worst actress of 2009 just the day before winning an Academy Award for best actress for her work in The Blind Side. Fortunately for her, no one remembered her other major release—All About Steve, which garnered her a Golden Raspberry.

Today, the corporate-world's version of the Razzie—The Public Eye Award—was awarded in Davos, Switzerland (in time with the World Economic Forum currently taking place there) to honor the corporation with the most "contempt for the environment and human rights" in the world.

But unlike the Razzies, where everything has the sparkle of humor in the cozy world of make-believe, the Public Eye Awards shed light on very real atrocities. And so this year's winner, Vale, a Brazilian multi-national mining corporation, won't have a spokesman on hand to accept the award.

By staging the Public Eye Award announcement at the world's largest gathering of leaders from politics, business, media and civil society, the impact is magnified "to remind corporations of their social and environmental responsibility."

The Public Eye Awards website has this to say about Vale:

Mines, steel plants, railroads, ports and hydroelectric dams at the expense of people and the environment—Vale is the second-largest corporation in Brazil, the second-largest mining corporation worldwide, operating in nearly 40 countries, and the largest global producer of iron ore. The corporation’s 70-year history is tarnished by repeated human rights abuses, inhumane working conditions, pillaging of the public heritage and the ruthless exploitation of nature.  An international network linking communities and workers affected by Vale was created in 2010. It recently launched a dossiê describing several of the worst cases of Vale’s disregard for people and the environment in eight countries. One such example is the company’s recent purchase of a major stake in the consortium engaged in building the notorious Belo Monte Dam Complex in the Amazon. If the massive dam project continues, it will have disastrous social and environmental consequences, including the forced relocation of 40,000 people and devastation of a riverine ecosystem that is the basis of survival for indigenous communities, riverbank communities and fisherfolk—who have not had a voice in the matter, nor will they receive adequate compensation.

Vale received more than 25,000 votes to win the Public Eye Award of 2012. Other frontrunners included:

  • Barclay's
  • Tepco
  • Samsung
  • Syngento
  • Freeport

For more information about the awards and other finalists, click here.

World Wildlife Fund Global

The World Economic Forum (WEF), meeting this week in Davos, Switzerland, is the biggest annual gathering of influential thinkers and leaders from the worlds of business, politics, media and civil society. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Director General Jim Leape explains why WWF is there.

What are the main environmental issues on your mind going into this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos?

There is an ever greater need for a sustainable approach to business—especially regarding resource use, in a world of rapidly increasing consumption. Humanity is already using the equivalent of over 1.5 planets—yet for life we all rely on clean air and healthy freshwater resources, abundant forests and thriving natural ecosystems.

WWF is active in preserving freshwater systems, ocean life and forests; encouraging the use and development of renewable energy; reducing the impact on natural resources of major commodity supply chains like paper, palm oil and soy; and generally lightening humanity’s footprint on the natural world. We envision a future where humans live in harmony with nature, and we partner with major players on the world stage—politicians, civil society, faith groups, labour unions, businesses and many others—in achieving that goal.

The theme of this year’s Davos event is ‘The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models," and this links closely with WWF’s vision of change that makes room for both social and environmental sustainability. We only have one planet, and a finite bank of precious natural resources. But with bold and thoughtful solutions, there is ample room for green businesses to thrive within a model of global sustainable development.

In recent years, WEF has proved to be an increasingly important place to engage with companies on sustainability. Good initiatives have started to emerge regarding water, agriculture and sustainable consumption—and I look forward to see how these good intentions can become more concrete in the coming days and weeks.

The WEF event in Davos is an opportunity to catch up with business and corporate contacts. How important is WWF’s work with the private sector, and why should businesses care about the environment?

Business and industry have a massive impact on natural resources, and companies have a duty to ensure that they use those resources sustainably. We all benefit from products and services in our daily lives, but the private sector should be encouraged to conduct its business in a way that entails a minimum impact on the natural world and the ecosystems on which we all depend.

Companies that want to be competitive today and tomorrow should be concerned about sustainability. Licence to operate is being increasingly influenced by environmental and social performance—and this trend will only continue.

WWF engages with corporate partners to bring about real change on the ground—supporting responsible businesses to reduce their ecological footprint.

The next big event this year is the Rio+20 summit on sustainable development in Brazil in June. What does WWF hope will come out of that global gathering?

Two decades after the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this year’s Rio+20 conference is a major opportunity for the world to commit to charting a course for creating shared prosperity within the limits of this one planet. Twenty years ago the term ‘sustainable development’ came into currency, but this has still not been followed by sufficient action in making the concept a reality. Rio is an opportunity to put things back on track.

I am hopeful that Rio+20 will prove a catalyst in sparking new commitments and urging major players—including governments, businesses and others—to stretch themselves in aiming for a more sustainable approach to what they do. The WEF in Davos this week is an ideal platform to inspire governments, corporate players and others to step up and prepare the road to Rio.

For more information, click here.

Sponsored