By Dan Lashof
The Green New Deal means different things to different people. In some ways, that's part of its appeal. On the other hand, a Green New Deal can't mean anything anyone wants it to, or it will come to mean nothing at all.
More concept than concrete plan so far, the Green New Deal would fight climate change while simultaneously creating good jobs and reducing economic inequality. Described in such broad terms, more than 80 percent of U.S. registered voters support it, including majorities across the political spectrum, according to a survey conducted by Yale and George Mason universities. (Most respondents had never heard of the Green New Deal when the survey was conducted, so these findings no doubt depend on how the question was worded and will change as specific proposals are fleshed out and debated.)
Green New Deal standard-bearer Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and longtime clean energy champion Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) are reportedly teaming up on a bill that may begin to define core principles that guide the Green New Deal from concept to concrete proposal. Some media outlets report that lawmakers will introduce a resolution this week.
Here are five questions legislators will need to consider for developing any plan that transitions the nation to a zero-carbon economy:
1. What does "clean energy" mean, and how quickly can we get to 100 percent?
The scientific imperative made clear by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) recent report is to achieve zero net emissions globally by 2050. Richer countries with the greatest technological capabilities and the longest history of spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (I'm looking at us, United States) have a responsibility to get there sooner. Hence, leading states such as California and Hawaii have adopted a goal of zero net emissions by 2045.
Fossil fuel combustion is far and away the largest source of carbon dioxide and a myriad of more localized pollutants. Substituting wind and solar energy for coal, oil and gas will be at the heart of any global warming solution. But it's important not to confuse means with ends. The goal has to be to get to zero net emissions as quickly as possible while inclusively increasing prosperity. In addition to setting this long-term target, we will need interim targets to make sure we are on track along the way.
As we embark on this project, we can't know in advance which combination of tools will allow us to complete it most easily, so it would be foolish to preemptively discard any from the toolbox. For example, a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that early retirement of existing economically vulnerable nuclear power plants would increase pollution from coal and natural gas plants, while the IPCC report finds that carbon capture and storage will almost certainly be needed to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). Excluding these technologies from consideration would be like throwing away your Phillips head screwdriver and circular saw before completing the blueprints for a house you are trying to build.
To be clear, our task is to build a whole clean energy house, not just the foundation. The foundation is a zero-emissions electricity system. The house is a zero-emissions energy system, including transportation, heating and industry. Clean electricity can be used to help power other floors, but it doesn't finish the project.
We also need to pay attention to the yard. Farms and forests are currently major net sources of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. Shifting to a sustainable food system, boosting soil health and improving forest management could turn that around so that natural and working lands become a net sink for carbon dioxide. When we consider the need to feed almost 10 billion people globally by 2050 and preserve natural ecosystems to protect biodiversity, WRI's research suggests that we will also need to use new technologies to directly capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and put it back underground where it came from (in some cases literally, in depleted oil fields, and in other cases in similar geologic reservoirs that never contained fossil fuels).
2. What kind of infrastructure do we need to support a clean energy economy?
America's roads and bridges are crumbling, and there is broad agreement on the need to upgrade our infrastructure for the 21st century. There is less agreement about what to build, where to build it and how to pay for it. Mayors across the political spectrum know that we need infrastructure improvements, and that they need to increase their resilience so that they are good investments and uses of tax dollars. The Trump administration laid out an infrastructure plan last year. Senator Schumer outlined essential criteria for any infrastructure bill he would support in a letter to the president in December. And last week, the Center for American Progress offered their vision for how an infrastructure bill can create jobs, strengthen communities and tackle the climate crisis. But so far there has been lots of talk about an infrastructure bill and no action.
Getting it right is essential. Most infrastructure projects initiated today will still be in use in 2050. If we simply rebuild the infrastructure that carried us through the 20th century, we won't get where we need to go in the 21st. Investments in climate-smart infrastructure, on the other hand, can create millions of good jobs, pave the way (so to speak) to a clean energy economy, and increase the resilience of vulnerable communities to climate change impacts that can no longer be avoided.
Key elements of climate-smart infrastructure would include things like: incentives for clean electricity, electricity storage, electric vehicles and energy efficiency; investments to upgrade the electricity transmission and distribution system to accommodate more renewable energy; investments in smart, clean, public transportation systems; investments in zero-emission freight systems, linking ports, distribution centers and rail lines; investments in resilient natural infrastructure, such as wetlands and floodplains, as well as public lands and wildlife habitat; and investments to reduce methane leaks.
3. Should the Green New Deal include a carbon tax?
A carbon tax or cap should be a part of any comprehensive response to climate change, whether the revenue is designated to pay for climate-smart infrastructure, rebates to households, tax cuts or anything else. (Interestingly, Representative Francis Rooney (R-FL) has cosponsored one carbon tax bill that would invest most of the revenue in climate-resilient infrastructure, and another bill that would return all the revenue to households.) Putting a price on carbon pollution is a cost-effective way to reduce emissions, spur greater innovation and allow businesses and households to choose how they decrease emissions. It is increasingly being used in countries around the world, including for example in Canada, Mexico, Chile, Colombia and shortly Argentina. Carbon pricing, like renewable energy, should not be seen as an end in itself. The U.S. will need a portfolio of policies to ensure that it is on track to zero net emissions, including carbon pricing, climate-smart infrastructure investments, and well-designed and targeted regulations to address the emissions that may not be very responsive to a carbon price.
In addition, the revenue produced by carbon pricing can help support spending on the clean energy transition, such as investments in climate-smart infrastructure, education and workforce development. However, priority spending need not be linked to any particular revenue source.
4. How do we ensure that the Green New Deal benefits all Americans?
Climate change harms low-income and disadvantaged communities first and worst. Solutions to climate change shouldn't do the same.
The consequences of implementing policy measures that large segments of the population consider unfair were evident in the Yellow Vests protests in France. Avoiding this outcome has many facets.
First, whether the revenue from carbon pricing is returned directly to households or used in some other way, carbon pricing can be designed to reduce emissions while benefiting low- and moderate-income families.
Second, investments in climate solutions should be designed to ensure that disadvantaged communities have a voice and are not left behind. This includes low-income communities of color in the inner city, as well as rural areas suffering from declining and aging populations. California's climate laws, for example, require that at least 35 percent of investments made from its greenhouse gas reduction fund go to projects that benefit disadvantaged communities, with at least 25 percent of the investments going to projects located within these communities. Similarly, policies can be designed to ensure that local pollution reductions benefit communities with the highest pollution burdens, such as those located near power plants and refineries.
5. What happens to fossil fuel industry workers?
Building a clean energy economy will create far more jobs than attempting to retain the fossil fuel-dependent energy system we have today. There are already more than 3 million jobs in the U.S. clean energy industry, outnumbering fossil fuel jobs 3-to-1. But that fact will be cold comfort for workers who lose their jobs in coal mines, oil refineries and gas pipeline construction unless they are able to access well-paying jobs in the wind, solar, electric vehicle and energy efficiency industries or elsewhere.
Giving workers false hope that lost coal mining or power plant jobs are coming back is no solution. Mechanization and energy market trends will continue to displace many workers regardless of climate measures. Policymakers will need to manage the transition, provide training in new skills needed in the clean energy economy, and ensure that the pensions and health care promised to workers who spent much of their careers in the fossil fuel industry are protected.
This is not just the right thing to do for workers affected by the clean energy transition, as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told delegates at the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. It is the right thing to do to build the broad-based political coalition needed to solve the climate crisis. He said:
"Climate strategies that leave coal miners' pension funds bankrupt, power plant workers unemployed, construction workers making less than they do now ... plans that devastate communities today, while offering vague promises about the future … they are more than unjust ... they fundamentally undermine the power of the political coalition needed to address the climate crisis."
Direct financial support can also help replace tax revenue and incomes in communities that are currently heavily dependent on the fossil fuel industry. Spain offers one example of how a collaborative process can accelerate progress: The government recently reached agreement with unions on a plan to close the country's coal mines, and is now pursuing an ambitious plan to transition to 100 percent clean electricity. The deal includes early retirement payments for workers, job training and mine land reclamation.
The idea of a Green New Deal has catapulted to center stage in the aftermath of the 2018 midterm elections. The challenge now is to add flesh to the bones of the Green New Deal concept in a deliberate, thoughtful manner that builds on current momentum and delivers a new vision for strong, sustainable and inclusive growth in America.
Could a Green New Deal Boost the Farm and Food Justice Movement? - EcoWatch https://t.co/Jh5u5wkebg— Green Energy (@Green Energy)1545845169.0
- The Green New Deal, explained - Vox ›
- Why the Best New Deal Is a Green New Deal | The Nation ›
- Analyst Roundtable: Breaking Down the Green New Deal (Part 1 ... ›
- With a Green New Deal, Here's What the World Could Look Like for ... ›
- The First Fight About Democrats' Climate Green New Deal - The ... ›
Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images News
By Edward Davey
The world is vastly underestimating the benefits of acting on climate change. Recent research from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate finds that bold climate action could deliver at least $26 trillion in economic benefits through 2030. This ground-breaking research, produced by the Global Commission and more than 200 experts, highlights proof points of the global shift to a low-carbon economy, and identifies ways to accelerate action in five sectors: energy, cities, food and land use, water and industry. Our blog series, The $26 Trillion Opportunity, explores these economic opportunities in greater detail.
There's a "forgotten solution" for achieving major economic, development and climate gains—transforming the way the world feeds itself and manages its land.
At this week's UN General Assembly, members of the Food and Land Use Coalition will meet with heads of state and CEOs to raise the profile of this issue and encourage greater action. They have new research to support their case. The food and land use chapter of the New Climate Economy's Global Opportunities Report sets out how decisive action on food and land use is at the heart of the inclusive growth story of the 21st century. The report finds that more sustainable food and land use business models could be worth up to $2.3 trillion, and that they're critical to delivering a more climate-secure and resilient world.
Five areas offer the most opportunity for action:
1. Avoid deforestation and close the forest frontier.
The first-order priority is to end deforestation by closing the "forest frontier" or intact forests, to development. If the world fails to protect its remaining tropical forests, keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 or 2 degrees C (2.7-3.6 degrees F)—the level the international community has agreed is necessary to prevent the worst climate impacts—becomes almost impossible.
Increased support for protected areas, indigenous peoples' rights and better land use planning and enforcement are fundamental steps. Securing indigenous rights to land tenure makes strong economic (as well as moral) sense. Further progress on the deforestation-free supply chain movement is also urgently needed, both in terms of scaling up implementation by companies that have already made commitments, as well as in bringing new companies and markets on board.
2. Increase agricultural productivity.
There are significant gains to be made in increasing agricultural productivity and ensuring greater uptake of climate-smart agriculture. Across the world, farming practices can be made much more efficient and resilient by providing training services for farmers, strengthening smallholder cooperatives and investing in state-of-the art farming techniques. The closure of the forest frontier provides farmers with the incentive to intensify their production on existing land. Reforming global agricultural subsidies, currently worth $519 billion per year, could also lead to vastly better outcomes from the farming system. For example, incentives for cattle expansion in the Amazon could instead be reformed to support investment in forest restoration or raising livestock in harmony with forests and other ecosystems.
3. Restore forests and landscapes.
There is a major economic prize to be won in restoring degraded forests and agricultural land. By allowing degraded forests to recover to natural forest, supporting agroforestry and other strategies, restoration could lead to economic gains of $35–40 billion per year within 15 years, as well as a myriad of social and environmental benefits. There are a number of measures to spur public and private sector investment in restoration, including incentives from national governments and multilateral development banks providing "first-loss guarantees" to investors committed to restoration.
4. Reduce food loss and waste.
One-third of all food produced is lost or wasted along the food chain, costing the global economy an estimated $940 billion annually and producing about 8 percent of global emissions. If food loss and waste were a country, it would rank as the world's third-largest emitter after China and the U.S.
Saving just one-quarter of the food currently lost or wasted would be equivalent to the amount of food needed to feed 870 million people annually. It also makes good business sense: Recent research found that companies investing in food loss and waste reduction saw a median benefit-cost ratio of 14:1. Coalitions such as Champion 12.3, which brings together executives from business, government and organizations, have a critical role to play here.
5. Improve diets.
A comprehensive global effort to address the double burden of malnutrition and obesity will be critical to securing better and more inclusive growth in the 21st century. Across the world, almost a billion people suffer from inadequate diets and insecure food supplies. At the same time, current trends towards diets high in processed foods, refined sugars, fats, oils and red meat have resulted in more than 2.1 billion people becoming overweight or obese. This increase in collective body mass is strongly associated with the increased incidence worldwide of chronic non-communicable diseases, especially type II diabetes, coronary heart disease and some cancers. If current trends continue, these chronic diseases are predicted to account for two-thirds of the global burden of disease. The global economic cost of obesity alone was estimated to be around $2 trillion in 2012, roughly equivalent to the global cost of armed conflict or smoking.
Public policy and private sector action can deliver major changes here, whether through the use of economic instruments such as a "sugar tax," the issuance of public health guidelines such as the Chinese government's advice on reduced meat consumption, or through innovative private-sector approaches such as The Cool Food Pledge, the Better Buying Lab or blending mushrooms into burgers.
Better Economic Growth
Action across these five areas would lead to better and more resilient economic growth. It would also make it more likely that the world will meet the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. Despite much progress, there is still a great deal to be done—and a massive prize to be won.
Main image: A worker carries a Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) as being prepared to be released into the wild at Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme's rehabilitation center on Nov.14, 2016 in Kuta Mbelin, North Sumatra, Indonesia. The Orangutans in Indonesia have been known to be on the verge of extinction as a result of deforestation and poaching. Found mostly in South-East Asia, where they live on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, the endangered species continue to lose their habitat as a result of corporate expansion in a developing economy. Indonesia approved palm oil concessions on nearly 15 million acres of peatlands over the past years and thousands of square miles have been cleared for plantations, including the lowland areas that are the prime habitat for orangutans.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
International Peace Day is Sept. 21. Mekela Panditharatne, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, submitted the following op-ed to EcoWatch in commemoration.
In drought-ravaged East Africa, the cracks in the plains echo the fault lines splitting tribes.
Across the globe, the devastation of deadly brawls is being exacerbated by tensions over access to water. Water crises, often worsened by governance failures, can portend warning signs for instability and conflict. This year, the World Resources Institute cautioned that water stress is growing globally, "with 33 countries projected to face extremely high stress in 2040." The effects of such water stress span the gamut from civil unrest to open warfare.
Water alone does not explain why a polity erupts into conflict; other factors often play a role. But water scarcity can provide a tangible marker of the government's failure to deliver basic services, and spur movements of people that overburden cities and exacerbate tensions.
In India, for example, irrigation is causing social unrest and water distribution has become a flashpoint between farmers and the government. In Somalia, communities affected by drought have been exploited by Al-Shabab, a militant group. The recent water restrictions in Cape Town, South Africa, inflamed old racial fault lines in the city. In Niger, Chad and Nigeria water scarcity has fed a dangerous insurgency.
As the Syrian conflict churns towards what is likely to be a brutal climax in Idlib, it's worth remembering that the country's bitter civil war may be linked to climate change-induced drought. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2015 states that an extreme drought that occurred in Syria between 2007 and 2010 was likely contributed to by climate change, and that the drought was a key factor in the violent uprising which erupted there in 2011. The researchers stated that in Syria the drought had a "catalytic effect," prompting crop failures and the mass migration of more than one million people to urban areas, intensifying existing social stressors.
These issues are beginning to touch the U.S. in myriad ways. The lead crisis in Flint, Michigan demonstrated how democracy is implicated by water quality. In Puerto Rico, a lack of access to safe water is intimately tied to a legacy of poverty and a lack of full representation in Congress. In the parched American west, drought has sparked legal and political contests over ownership of water.
Today, vulnerable communities around the world are agitating for a human right to water that has real, practical meaning. Arid, drought-ridden cities will survive only through their ability to create economic, technical and political means to dispense water equitably and safely. Developing such innovations will be one of the most important projects of the 21st century.
India Suffers 'Worst Water Crisis in Its History' https://t.co/r6zm9xlID4 @foodandwater @waterforpeople— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1529459403.0
By Hidayah Hamzah, Reidinar Juliane, Tjokorda Nirarta "Koni" Samadhi and Arief Wijaya
In the midst of the second-worst year for tropical tree cover loss in 2017, Indonesia saw an encouraging sign: a 60 percent drop in tree cover loss in primary forests compared with 2016. That's the difference in carbon dioxide emissions from primary forest loss equivalent to 0.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide, or about the same emissions released from burning over 199 billion pounds of coal.
New data from the University of Maryland, released on Global Forest Watch, calculated tree cover loss—defined as the loss of any trees, regardless of cause or type, from tropical rainforest to tree plantation—within Indonesia's primary forest and protected peatland. The decline in tree cover loss in Indonesia was at odds with other countries' experiences last year, with record-high loss of tree cover in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the second-highest level in Brazil, a spike in Colombia and forest disruption caused by storms in the Caribbean.
The decrease in Indonesia's tree cover loss is likely due in part to the national peat drainage moratorium, in effect since 2016. Primary forest loss in protected peat areas went down by 88 percent between 2016 and 2017, to the lowest level ever recorded. Additionally, 2017 was a non-El Niño year, which brought wetter conditions and fewer fires compared to past years. Educational campaigns and increased enforcement of forest laws from local police have also helped prevent land-clearing by fire.
Kalimantan and Sumatra experienced the largest reduction in primary forest loss between 2016 and 2017 by 68 percent and 51 percent respectively, with the largest reduction seen in South Sumatra, Central Kalimantan and Jambi. On the other hand, West Sumatra and North Sumatra saw an increase in forest cover loss.
Protecting Indonesia's Peatlands
Protected peat areas, made up of over 3-meters (10-foot) deep carbon-rich organic soil, covered 12.2 million hectares (30 million acres), half of Indonesia's peatland hydrological area. The avoided emission from peat decomposition and peat conversion is equivalent to emission from burning 630 billion pounds of coal. Provinces with the greatest decrease of forest cover loss in protected peat areas are Central Kalimantan, Jambi and South Sumatra, provinces which experienced worst fires in 2015.
Such decrease may be partially driven by a longer wet season in 2017, resulting in fewer fires in peat and avoiding the 2015 fires crisis from happening again. However, the decrease also coincides with a number of government actions to curb land clearing in peatland and forests.
First, Indonesia's president established the Peatland Restoration Agency, tasked to coordinate the restoration of 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres) of peatland in Indonesia. Second, the government issued a regulation to ensure a suitable water level in peatland and ban all new land clearing and canal building on peatland, even in existing concession areas. Sub-national elections, which took place in June, may have also contributed to less peatland and forest fires as local politicians have greater incentive to prevent fires. This year's Asian Games, to be hosted in both Jakarta and Palembang (the capital of South Sumatra) in August, has also driven the government to intensify efforts to prevent the burning of forests and peatland.
Despite this progress, threats remain. Companies secured concession permits in large areas of protected peatland before recent protection efforts. More than a quarter of the 12.2 million hectares (30 million acres) of protected peatland has already got concession areas, dominated by pulpwood and palm oil plantations, or has the potential to be converted to plantations or agriculture.
To this end, the government issued a land swap program that obliges companies whose concessions contain at least 40 percent of protected peatland to protect and restore those areas of their concessions. In exchange, the government will compensate them with land elsewhere. The plan drew criticism from civil society organizations, which voiced concerns that more forests could be opened without clear and transparent data and land criteria, and from companies concerned that the regulations would be bad for business.
How Can Indonesia Leverage This Momentum?
First, international support for emissions reduction and green growth must be further strengthened, with this year's international climate meeting in Poland as a venue for all countries to evaluate and log a more ambitious emission reduction target. Indonesia's significant decrease in deforestation allows it to launch a more ambitious emissions reduction target and contribute to the global effort in raising ambition.
Second, sub-national governments need more political support for sustainable development. There is already evidence that this is on the rise in Indonesia, with the introduction of Lingkar Temu Kabupaten Lestari (sustainable district platforms) and green growth programs in South Sumatra and East Kalimantan.
Third, monitoring deforestation can be a valuable tool. Spatial data tools such as Global Forest Watch provide tree cover loss alerts in near real time, enabling the government and public to prevent the clearing of protected peat areas and forests. In Peru, weekly deforestation alerts help identify forest encroachment and construction of illegal logging roads in the Peruvian Amazon.
In Indonesia, monitoring government commitment to peatland protection is also part of the public's responsibility to ensure a healthy environment. Pantau Gambut, an Indonesian civil society coalition platform that provides information on the commitments from government, public, and companies, enables public to ask stakeholders to fulfill their pledges.
Finally, as a variation on the land swap, proposing a 'new scheme' of concessions by converting existing license on peatland into ecosystem restoration concessions could better meet the needs of all stakeholders, if it has a firm legal foundation and support from green business incentives.
If Indonesia keeps strengthening its forest protection and climate action, 2018 could be another promising year for Indonesia's primary forests, even when the dry season returns and the Asian Games are over.
Dora Hutajulu contributed to the analysis for this post.
- Historic Verdict in Indonesia's Fight Against Deforestation ›
- Exclusive New Video From Greenpeace Reveals Massive ... ›
By Peter Veit
Much of the world's land is occupied and used by Indigenous Peoples and communities—about 50 percent of it, involving more than 2.5 billion people. But these groups are increasingly losing their ancestral lands—their primary source of livelihood, income and social identity.
Governments, corporations and local elites are eager to acquire land to extract natural resources; grow food, fibers and biofuels; or simply hold it for speculative purposes. Most communities hold land under customary tenure systems and lack formal titles for it. While national laws in many countries recognize customary rights, the legal protections are often weak and poorly enforced, making community land especially vulnerable to being taken by more powerful actors.
Communities, however, are not standing by idly. They're increasingly taking action to protect their lands.
Here are five ways communities are defending their land rights:
Children living in Kenya's Mau ForestPatrick Shepherd / CIFOR
As Indigenous Peoples and communities learn of their rights, more are turning to the courts to help realize them. In 2008, the Kenyan government began a campaign to evict the Ogiek, an indigenous group of hunters and gatherers, from their ancestral home, the Mau Forest in the Rift Valley. The following year, the Ogiek filed a complaint against the government to the African Commission on Human and People's Rights which referred it to the African Court on Human and People's Rights, a continental court based in neighboring Tanzania. Last month, the Court delivered its judgment, ruling that the government had violated several articles of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, of which Kenya is a signatory. It recognized the Ogiek's indigenous status and their right to the forest, and awarded reparations for forcible evictions. The ruling from Africa's highest institutional human rights body sends a powerful message to all African governments of the need to respect indigenous rights.
Protestors in Ecuadorpato chavez / Flickr
2. Demonstrations and Protests
Community members are marching to state capitals, staging protests and meeting directly with government leaders. In December 2017, following a two-week march by hundreds of indigenous people in Quito, Ecuador, President Lenin Moreno agreed to a moratorium on new auctions of oil and mining concessions without the consent of local communities. When the government then announced a new oil auction and handed out several new mining concessions in February 2018, protestors returned. In March, nearly 100 indigenous women camped out for five days in front of the government palace in Quito's central plaza. Moreno granted them a meeting, and the women pressed him again to limit oil drilling and mining in their territories, and to combat the violence that often accompanies the industries. Moreno assured them he would heed their demands. The women vowed they would return if the matter is not addressed.
Aerial view of the Brazilian AmazonNeil Palmer / CIAT
3. Monitoring and Patrolling
In the absence of government support, many communities have organized their own patrols to monitor their land and evict intruders. Brazil and other countries have long struggled to contain illegal logging. In the state of Maranhão in northeastern Brazil, only 20 percent of the original forest cover remains. Nearly all of this forest is in indigenous territories and protected nature reserves where commercial exploitation is banned, but loggers linked to criminal syndicates continue to cut trees. In 2014, after repeated calls to government went unheeded, indigenous Guajajara and Ka'apor communities organized their own patrols to rid their land of illegal loggers. They have captured loggers cutting timber or setting fire in their lands, confiscated their chainsaws and seized their trucks. The Maranhão government has praised the work of the indigenous patrols and offered to train and equip them to help enforce environmental regulations.
Logging in East Kalimantan, Indonesia.Josh Estey / AusAID
4. Mapping Land
Much community land is not represented on any official government maps and, as such, is essentially invisible. Many communities are therefore preparing precise maps of their land using hand-held Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and other tools. These maps are challenging official government narratives. In Indonesia's Malinau District, East Kalimantan, loggers and palm oil companies have long sought the customary forests of the indigenous Dayak. When one palm oil company began to log the forest of Setuland village, villagers jumped into action. After threatening to force the company off their land, the company withdrew. The Dayaks realized they needed a map of their land that documented their boundaries, customary forest, homes and longhouses, as well as the damaged forests where the company had illegally cut their trees. With the help of an Indonesian geographer, villagers used drones to map and then monitor their lands. Now, if a logging or palm oil company enters onto their land, Setuland will be armed with their own map to help them confront the challenge.
Community members in the Philippines detail documentation of their Certificate of Ancestral Domain Claim. Jason Houston / USAID
5. Registering and Titling Land
Indigenous Peoples and communities are also registering their customary land rights into a government cadaster and obtaining a formal land titles or certificates. Doing so integrates their customary rights into the legal system, establishes formal land rights and helps communities protect their lands. The Higaonon, an indigenous group in the Mindanao region of the Philippines, holds its land under customary tenure systems. The lack of clear boundaries, however, has led to conflicts with neighbors who have extended their plots onto Higaonon land. In response, the Higaonon applied for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT), a formal land ownership title. Despite a 1997 law requiring the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples facilitate the demarcation and registration of ancestral lands, the agency has only issued 182 CADTs with many more applications waiting to be processed. Moreover, fewer than 50 CADTs have been formally registered, limiting their effectiveness to protect indigenous land.
A woman in Indonesia's Dayak community weaves a basket. Rainforest Action Network / Flickr
While no measure can guarantee land security, these actions have helped communities protect their homes. Scaling these measures, however, has proven challenging.
Communities need help securing the appropriate technologies like GPS devices or navigating often complex land titling processes. And governments must reform and better implement the laws to better protect indigenous and community land.
Being assertive in protecting their lands has also exposed community members to new risks. Clashes between communities and those seeking their land have escalated in recent years. Last year, 197 land and environmental defenders were killed, the bloodiest year since Global Witness began keeping records on this issue. We all need to do a better job of protecting not only community land, but also land defenders.
Pope Francis: Indigenous People Should Have Final Say About Their Land https://t.co/YJMNM5Sha5 (@EcoWatch) #NoDAPL— Sierra Club (@Sierra Club)1487554202.0
By Mathy Stanislaus
If you need motivation to skip the straw at lunch today, consider this: Scientists found that even Arctic sea ice—far removed from most major metropolitan areas—is no longer plastic-free. According to Dr. Jeremy Wilkinson of the British Antarctic Survey, "this suggests that microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world's ocean. Nowhere is immune."
Humanity has a waste problem. Globally, we generate about 1.3 billion tons of trash per year, far more than we can properly process or recycle. This leads to environmental tragedies like ocean plastic pollution and geopolitical tensions, as Western countries search for new places to stash their trash.
Because we waste so much, we must extract unsustainable quantities of natural resources to keep pace with growing consumption. OECD has calculated that flow of materials through acquisition, transportation, processing, manufacturing, use and disposal are already responsible for approximately 50 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The UN International Resources Panel projects the use of natural resources to more than double by 2050.
How did we get here? In short, most of our global economy is designed for linearity—take, make, waste—rather than circularity. To create a truly circular economy, the world must overcome the following five barriers:
1. Meeting consumers' expectations for convenience.
Imagine living your life without producing any trash. How would you do it? Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home, coaches everyday people on how to live a trash-free life through habits like bringing linen bags to the grocery store and buying rice, beans and other staples from bulk bins. The lifestyle she models was typical before disposable, single-use plastic products and packaging became the norm, but today we use 20 times as much plastic as we did 50 years ago. Can we expect consumers to change the way they operate and the types of products they buy? Will they abandon commonplace conveniences like plastic bottles and bags?
These consumer choices matter, but much of the problem lies with the business and regulatory environment that keeps our economy running. Which brings me to the next four points…
2. Government regulations can create waste.
Sometimes, laws and regulations unintentionally incentivize wasteful behavior among companies and consumers. This is a common problem in the food and beverage sector. For example, expiration date labels are often required by law to protect the consumer, but may not account for differences in how food is stored—so the date label on eggs in Europe may be labeled for pantry storage, but will last longer when refrigerated. Expiration dates are also often misunderstood to mean that a food is no longer edible, when in reality it is still safe to eat but may not meet the manufacturer's quality standards. (Good news: a consortium of companies have agreed to fix this.)
3. Many places lack proper waste infrastructure.
Nearly one-third of plastics are not collected by a waste management system and end up as litter in the world's lands, rivers and oceans. There could be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050, shows one study. This problem is especially severe in developing countries that lack strong waste management infrastructure. More than half of plastic litter comes from China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, so improving waste management and recycling systems in these countries could make a big difference in keeping plastic out of our natural spaces.
4. Recycling technology isn't good enough.
Most plastics that are recycled are shredded and reprocessed into lower-value applications, such as polyester carpet fiber; only 2 percent are recycled into products of the same or similar quality. This is largely due to limitations in how plastics can be sorted by chemical composition and cleaned of additives. We need better recycling technology that can maintain quality and purity so that product manufacturers are willing to use recycled plastics. Once this technology is deployed at a large scale, we can start recapturing the economic value of plastics, incentivizing their recovery and recycling.
5. We use the wrong business models.
The world is on track to exceed 9.5 billion people by 2050, with far fewer living in poverty than today. Thanks to the rapid industrialization of developing countries like China, Brazil and India, the global middle class is exploding—meaning a lot more people want to buy a lot more stuff.
This is a human development victory, but a grave threat to our environment unless the businesses that produce and sell goods can reinvent how they do so. For example, clothing companies can lessen their environmental impacts by using non-toxic dyes and recycling cloth scraps. But to clothe the booming middle class within planetary boundaries, they will need to upend the current "fast fashion" business model in favor of alternative models such as rental and resale. For example, Rent the Runway allows consumers to rent designer clothing for a fraction of the retail price. This service is great for consumers, and it benefits the planet because an item of clothing is used more than if it were sold to single buyer.
Companies should also design products for circularity. For example, when possible, recycling of Li-Ion batteries would be substantially enhanced by designing batteries with similar mixtures of chemicals.
How Do We Overcome the Barriers? Partnerships Are Key
The barriers listed here prevent companies, governments and consumers from solving our trash problem and making better use of natural resources. Each of these barriers must be overcome, but we cannot rely exclusively on companies, governments or consumers to do it all.
We need innovative public-private partnerships like the ones sought by platforms P4G and PACE. Companies, investors, governments and civil society each offer unique financial, intellectual and operational assets that can be strategically deployed to solve big problems they couldn't solve alone. For example, the World Bank found that private-public partnerships to build water infrastructure in Africa were most effective when financed by a mix of private and public sources, since public funding reduced risk to private investors and private investors' return requirements improved efficiency and prevented cost overruns.
We need government policies that provide essential protections while fostering innovation and risk taking by the private sector to advance circular solutions. We also need to ensure that the most vulnerable in society have a strong voice in designing solutions so that their concerns for jobs and health are assured. This is an "all-hands-on-deck" moment in history—and early movers are likely to capture significant market opportunities. The coalitions are forming. If you run a major company, investment vehicle or government agency, you should be securing your seat.
By Mikaela Weisse and Katie Fletcher
This edition of Places to Watch examines forest clearing detected between Nov. 9, 2017, and Jan. 31, 2018 in Indonesian Papua, Cameroon and Brazil. Due to occasional cloud cover that can obscure satellite recognition, some loss may have occurred earlier.
Oil Palm Plantation Encroaching on Primary Forest in Indonesian Papua
Fears that the forests of Indonesian Papua would be the next frontier for oil palm expansion are coming true, according to new satellite imagery analysis. Papua is home to more than a third of Indonesia's remaining intact forest and experienced unprecedented tree cover loss in 2015 and 2016. GLAD alerts since November show further forest clearing, most likely for oil palm.
According to a report by the NGO awasMIFEE!, various Indonesian government agencies have actively promoted large scale-agricultural investment in southern Papua. This has resulted in several new oil palm projects, including investment in the PT Bio Inti Agrindo (PT BIA) concession highlighted in the previous edition of Places to Watch. PT BIA Block II has resulted in more than 20,000 hectares (49,500 acres) of tree cover loss since 2013, most of it in primary forest, with around 2,300 hectares (5,580 acres) affected since November, according to GLAD alerts.
However, this loss of primary forest has sparked opposition. Norway's central bank divested from PT BIA owner POSCO Daewoo in 2015 over deforestation concerns in the concession and in June 2017, Mighty Earth sent out a letter warning palm oil buyers that purchases from POSCO Daewoo would violate their No Deforestation and RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) commitments. More than 20 companies including Clorox, Colgate Palmolive, IKEA, L'Oreal, Mars and Unilever have said they will exclude POSCO Daewoo from their supply chains. In December, Boots, the UK's largest drugstore retailer, dropped its retail partnership with POSCO Daewoo. In response to this pressure, POSCO Daewoo reportedly instated a temporary moratorium on new clearing, and since the start of 2018, there have been less than 10 hectares (25 acres) of GLAD alerts detected within the concession.
Cameroon Rubber Plantation Nears Protected Habitat of Elephants, Gorillas and Leopards
A rubber plantation company in Cameroon is expanding its activities toward the edge of the Dja Wildlife Reserve UNESCO World Heritage Site. GLAD tree cover loss alerts show nearly 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of tree cover were affected from November 2017 through January 2018, including previously unfragmented intact forest areas. In total, more than 3,000 hectares (7,500 acres), an area about one-fourth the size of Florence, Italy, has been cleared since 2014. The UNESCO forest area is home to endangered species such as chimpanzees, forest elephants, western lowland gorillas, and a nearly extinct leopard species, with neighboring villages home to around 9,500 people.
The rubber plantation is owned by Sudcam, a subsidiary of the world's largest natural rubber company Halcyon Agri Corporation, with a China-based parent company Sinochem International. According to a CIFOR report, Sudcam has come under scrutiny because the plantation expansion involves clearing of "some 40,000 hectares of natural forests" buffering a park with rich biodiversity and protected species. The report notes that while the project has the potential to create needed employment in the areas, many of the communities are not eligible for compensation for loss of customary land to the plantation, as Cameroonian expropriation laws do not recognize customary rights. UNESCO authorities and Greenpeace have raised concerns over the project's impacts on community rights and the Dja Wildlife reserve.
Brazil's Brutal 2017 Fires Cause Massive Forest Degradation
Brazil's fire season in 2017 was among the most severe since fire detection began in 1999. Analysis suggests that more and more of these fires are happening in natural forest, in areas that normally would only burn very rarely. In the Amazon, where nearly all of these fires are manmade, officials attribute the increase in fires last year to a lack of law enforcement for fire use. Fires are also linked to forest degradation, which makes forests more vulnerable to future fire, and deforestation, which causes local drought that makes fires more likely.
GLAD alerts were detected in several forest areas affected by fire in recent months, including in the Xingu, Kayapó, Xikrin do Rio Catete and Arariboia Indigenous Reserves. The fires occurred primarily in August through October of 2017, but were only recently detected by GLAD alerts due to cloud cover and smoke that blocked previous satellite detection.
Brazilian Parks Left Vulnerable as Unprecedented Fires Eat Away at Forest Edges
In Brazil's Araguaia National Park and neighboring Cantão State Park, GLAD alerts since November detected around 17,500 hectares (43,000 acres) of forest affected by fires. Though disputes remain over the boundaries of Araguaia, park staff estimate that 400,000 hectares, or around 70 percent of the park's total area (forest and non-forest), burned in the 2017 fire season. According to George Georgiadis, executive director of local NGO Instituto Araguaia, the fires in the area occurred due to a "perfect storm" of conditions—lack of rain, low humidity and strong winds—making fires that would normally be easily suppressed uncontrollable.
Araguaia and Cantão sit at the transition between Brazil's forested Amazon and savannah-like Cerrado biomes, creating a unique ecosystem with biodiversity from both biomes. The 2017 fires mostly burned in the understory and damaged leaves and undergrowth, which will recover quickly. However, the drier forest edges experienced more intense burning, leaving them more vulnerable to repeated burning from which they may not recover. Georgiadis noted that as these fires "eat away at it [the forest edge], the landscape becomes more flammable."
A Time to Take Action
Government agencies, private companies and local people have the power to stop deforestation before it is too late, and readers like you can help this process by drawing public attention to these areas. We encourage you to share these places, including on social media using #PlacesToWatch.
Climate Change and Deforestation Threaten World’s Largest Tropical Peatland https://t.co/IXc0oRAeai @WildForests @NPCA @SkyRainforest— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517100605.0
Places to Watch is an initiative that uses weekly GLAD alerts on Global Forest Watch to spot changes in forests around the globe and identify the most consequential cases of recent deforestation.
The people on the front lines of protecting the environment need some protection as well.
According to a Feb. 2 report by Global Witness and The Guardian, 197 activists were killed in 2017 for defending their communities and natural resources against agribusiness, mining companies, infrastructure projects and poachers.
The majority of these killings took place in Latin America, where mining or agricultural interests seek to exploit resources in rural, forested areas where legal enforcements are weak. That is why it's so encouraging that 24 Latin American and Caribbean nations have now signed an environmental rights agreement that includes protections for nature defenders.
The treaty, known as The Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC P10), is the first legally binding agreement focusing on environmental rights in the region.
The more than six-year negotiation process for the LAC P10 resulted in a final document during a conference that took place in Costa Rica from Feb. 28 to March 4.
The language protecting defenders comes from Article 9, which requires signing parties to both protect activists' "right to life, personal integrity, freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, and free movement," and to "take appropriate, effective and timely measures to prevent, investigate and punish attacks, threats or intimidations that human rights defenders in environmental matters may suffer."
Carole Excell, acting director of environmental democracy practice at the World Resources Institute, praised the agreement. "By adopting LAC P10, governments in the region have agreed to legally binding provisions that will help prevent and punish threats and attacks against environmental defenders," she said in a statement.
In addition to protecting environmental activists, the agreement also enshrines rights to "environmental information" and "participation in environmental decision-making."
Excell stressed the importance of these provisions as well. "I cannot understate how critical it is for communities to have access to environmental information, like data on local water pollution or nearby mining concessions," she said.
LAC P10's strong defense of activists' right to assemble in defense of the environment contrasts with legislative trends in the U.S.
For a Feb. 16 photo essay by Zoë Carpenter and Tracie Williams, focusing on the aftermath of the demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline, The Nation ran the headline, "Since Standing Rock, 56 Bills Have Been Introduced in 30 States to Restrict Protests." These include bills introduced in half-a-dozen states that would protect motorists who hit demonstrators with their vehicles.
As photojournalist Tracie Williams told The Nation, "What happened at Standing Rock is indicative of the U.S. government's historical failures to acknowledge First Nation treaties and the current administration's complete disregard for public health, the environment, indigenous rights, and civil liberties—in favor of the extractive industries."
While the U.S. does not show up on The Guardian's list of dangerous countries for environmental defenders, the current push to criminalize dissent and exonerate those who would attack protesters risks changing that.
As Trump Unfurls Infrastructure Plan, Iowa Bill Seeks to Criminalize Pipeline Protests https://t.co/O8OSsTQELx… https://t.co/MKN7qcVG1D— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1517499249.0
By Richard Waite, Daniel Vennard and Gerard Pozzi
Burgers are possibly the most ubiquitous meal on Americans' dinner plates, but they're also among the most resource-intensive: Beef accounts for nearly half of the land use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with the food Americans eat.
Although there's growing interest in plant-based burgers and other alternatives, for the millions of people who still want to order beef, there's a better burger out there: a beef-mushroom blend that maintains, or even enhances, that meaty flavor with significantly less environmental impact.
- Reduce agricultural production-related greenhouse gas emissions by 10.5 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year, equivalent to taking 2.3 million cars (and their annual tailpipe emissions) off the road. That's like the entire county of San Diego going carless;
- Reduce irrigation water demand by 83 billion gallons per year, an amount equal to 2.6 million Americans' annual home water use; and
- Reduce global agricultural land demand by more than 14,000 square miles, an area larger than the state of Maryland.
Beef-Mushroom Burgers Taste Great, With Less Impact
The Culinary Institute of America and others recommend blending plant-based foods into meat-based dishes as one way to shift mainstream consumers' diets without requiring lifestyle changes. Mushrooms have a meat-like texture, moisture retention properties and an umami taste that can enhance the burger's flavor while enabling chefs to also cut back on salt. Beef-mushroom burgers can also be lower in calories and saturated fat than all-beef burgers, making them a healthier choice. Across a variety of important consumer attributes—including flavor, texture, appearance and the ability to make a consumer feel full at the end of the meal—the beef-mushroom blended burger stacks up favorably to a conventional all-beef burger.
Beef-Mushroom Burgers Are Good for Business
Blended burgers represent an exciting sustainability opportunity for restaurants and food service operators, as beef accounts for a sizable portion of these companies' greenhouse gas emissions. McDonald's, for example, estimates that 28 percent of its corporate carbon footprint—an amount similar in size to the footprint of its energy use across all of the company's restaurants and offices—results from beef production. Similarly, agricultural supply chains tend to account for 90 percent or more of a food company's total water footprint. Beef production is a particularly thirsty water user, requiring more irrigation water per pound of product than any other animal-based food. With companies increasingly setting science-based emissions-reduction and water-stewardship targets, the blended burger is a sustainability strategy that could sit alongside renewable energy, energy efficiency, water efficiency and waste reduction measures.
Encouragingly, the beef-mushroom blended burger also appears not to increase costs for food service operators. Effects on costs and profitability will depend on the relative prices of beef and mushrooms, the effects on meal preparation time, necessity for additional chef training and kitchen equipment, and the listed price of the blended burger on menus. A 2014-15 trial in a Baltimore public school suggested that the blended burger could be at least cost-neutral compared to traditional beef burgers. Over time, if meat producers and distributors sell pre-prepared blended burgers, economies of scale could make the blended burger an even more attractive business proposition to food service.
The blended burger is already starting to gain traction across the U.S. Last month, Better Buying Lab member Sodexo introduced "The Natural," a beef-mushroom blend aimed at meeting increasing consumer demand for sustainable foods with a lighter footprint. It will go into full-flavored dishes like burgers, lasagna and chili in workplaces, universities and other settings across the country. Another Lab member, Stanford University's Residential & Dining Enterprises, has been exclusively offering blended burgers in their operations for several years. And in mid-2017, Sonic became the first national burger chain to join the trend, trialing Sonic Slingers—their "juiciest burger ever"—at locations across the country.
WRI's Better Buying Lab is working with member companies and partners in the culinary world to refine and scale this remixed burger across the market. This includes researching and testing improved names that could further drive demand. The potential is so great that the lab is pursuing the blended burger as one its three core Power Dishes, which are more sustainable menu items with the kind of appeal and familiarity to go mainstream.
A Simple Shift to More Sustainable Eating
Shifting to healthier and more sustainable diets does not always need to mean overhauling people's lifestyles. The blended burger is a nice example of a potential "multiple win"—better for the environment, better for health and enjoyed by consumers.
Blending plants into burgers is only a start. Consider that only about one-third of ground beef is consumed in the form of burgers in the U.S. If plants were mixed into all ground beef dishes—tacos, chili, lasagna, meatballs, pasta sauces and so on—the total potential environmental benefits could be much higher.
Meat producers and distributors, restauranteurs, chefs, food service operators and retailers all have a role to play in serving up this delicious strategy for change.
- New Online Calculator Lets You See the Impact of Your Meat Intake ›
- McDonald's Quietly Ended Its Meatless Burger Trial With Beyond Meat - EcoWatch ›
- Plant-Based Diets Will Be Essential to the Planet's Future, New Report Finds - EcoWatch ›
By Betsy Otto and Leah Schleifer
Cape Town is running out of water. After three years of intense drought, South Africa's second-largest city is just a few months away from "Day Zero," the day when the city government will shut off water taps for most homes and businesses.
The impacts of such a shutdown will be devastating. Citizens will have to wait in long lines at state-managed distribution points to receive a mere 25 liters of water per day, less than half the water needed for one average shower. Experts are already warning of public health concerns like poor sanitation leading to faster spreading of dangerous diseases, especially for the city's poorest residents, and forecasting that pipes may crack from dry conditions, endangering future water distribution if and when the drought ends. The Western Cape Premier has warned that "normal policing will be entirely inadequate" to manage the chaos that could ensue.
Although this instance is one of the most extreme, Cape Town is not the only city to suffer from intense water scarcity in recent years. From São Paulo to Los Angeles, cities around the world have made headlines due to severe droughts intensified by climate change and exacerbated by poor water management.
But it doesn't have to be this way. Here are three steps cities around the world should take to boost water security and resilience:
1. Understand Risks
Many cities are experiencing growing water risks. Climate change is shifting cloud patterns and the hydrologic cycle in certain regions, making rainfall more variable and droughts more common and intense. At the same time, the world's cities are growing at a rate of 3 million people per week, increasing competition over scarce resources.
Each city has unique risks it must be aware of. For example, Cape Town has medium-to-high inter-annual variability, meaning precipitation varies greatly from year to year. Although Cape Town has suffered droughts in the past, wet years usually follow, refilling reservoirs that supply the city with almost all of its water. But during the current record drought, reservoir levels have fallen to 25 percent.
In addition, Cape Town has extremely high water stress, which means that the water demands of its population—which has doubled in the past 18 years—are competing for the available water supply with other users. While city officials were aware of these risks and took steps to mitigate them, they did not anticipate rainfall patterns departing so significantly from the norm to culminate in record drought.
Amidst rapidly changing landscapes, cities like Cape Town must carefully measure and forecast the impacts of climate change, population growth and competing demands on their water systems. Tools like Aqueduct and The Nature Conservancy's Urban Water Blueprint can help map the bigger picture, but risks will differ by watershed. Each city must ultimately assess its unique water risks and plan accordingly.
2. Manage Your Water Budget
Cities have finite water resources, whether sourced from nearby watersheds, dams or pumped directly from underground. Where the water originates from differs by location—oftentimes a diverse set of users, such as power plants, farms and homes, compete for this same water. It's a city's job to manage its own water budget in the context of this broader landscape, understanding sources and uses, and allocating resources within these realities.
Water management becomes even more difficult in times of drought. For example, as the Western Cape's reservoirs began to dry in 2015 and 2016, the national government allocated 40 percent of the province's water to agriculture, leaving 60 percent to Cape Town. This controversial decision caused a great deal of debate in local politics, and is now seen as one of many culprits for the current crisis. This situation is common for many cities, but leaves them fighting with other sectors when water supplies decline.
One solution is for city planners and water utilities to undertake proactive, integrated urban water management strategies that consider drinking water, wastewater and urban drainage (stormwater) more comprehensively, helping cities to build greater resilience and efficiency. This method also takes a holistic view of water sources and uses across a city, recognizing that the actions of every stakeholder impacts the others. Amid the nearly six-year California drought, the city of Los Angeles began developing a One Water plan to better manage limited water resources, stave off the impacts of climate change, and slash the city's purchases of imported water by 50 percent.
3. Invest in Resilience
To withstand a changing climate and growing populations, cities must be resilient to the unexpected. Identifying opportunities for rainwater harvesting, dams and underground storage, treating and reusing greywater and wastewater, and investing in water efficiency is key to boosting resilience to drought and increased water competition.
Cities should also look beyond their boundaries and invest in "natural infrastructure" for protection. Green spaces such as forests and wetlands can act as a sponge by shielding cities from floods and storms and regulating flow during dry seasons. Research also shows that pairing natural infrastructure with traditional "grey" infrastructure like wastewater treatment plants can help cities create jobs, buffer against the impacts of climate change and save money on water treatment.
Inadequate built and natural infrastructure compounded the effects of São Paulo's 2014-2017 drought. The city lost more than 30 percent of treated water through theft and leaky pipes. Deforestation of the Amazon disrupted the "rivers of the sky" that regulate rainfall across Brazil, and loss of nearby Atlas forests also destroyed local water systems. São Paulo, Cape Town and other cities should consider natural infrastructure as one of many solutions for resilience to future water shocks.
A Call to Action for Cities
The situation in Cape Town is unique in many ways, but there are common threads that tie it to São Paulo, Los Angeles and cities around the world facing growing water risks. In the countdown to Day Zero, the South African national government and the City of Cape Town are working hard to help residents avoid the drought's worst effects. But other cities should also use this moment as a warning—without better water risk measurement, management and resilience, the next Day Zero could be coming to your corner of the world.
Cape Town: Three months to Day Zero? SkyPixels / Wikimedia Commons
By Alex Kirby
Water scarcity is now a real threat in two developing countries at the forefront of efforts to reduce climate change, India and South Africa.
This is not the tragically familiar story of extreme weather, stunted crops and foreshortened lives. It is a different sort of threat: to urban life, to industrial development and to attempts to end poverty.
More than 80 percent of India's electricity comes from thermal power stations, burning coal, oil, gas and nuclear fuel. Now researchers from the U.S.-based World Resources Institute (WRI), after analyzing all of India's 400+ thermal power plants, report that its power supply is increasingly in jeopardy from water shortages.
The researchers found that 90 percent of these thermal power plants are cooled by freshwater, and nearly 40 percent of them experience high water stress. The plants are increasingly vulnerable, while India remains committed to providing electricity to every household by 2019.
Between 2015 and 2050 the Indian power sector's share of national water consumption is projected to grow from 1.4 to nine percent, and by 2030, 70 percent of the country's thermal power plants are likely to experience increased competition for water from agriculture, industry and municipalities.
Power Sector Choking
"Water shortages shut down power plants across India every year," said O P Agarwal of WRI India. "When power plants rely on water sourced from scarce regions, they put electricity generation at risk and leave less water for cities, farms and families. Without urgent action, water will become a chokepoint for India's power sector."
Between 2013 and 2016 14 of India's 20 largest thermal utility companies experienced one or more shutdowns because of water shortages. WRI calculates that shutdowns cost these companies over INR 91 billion ($1.4 billion) in potential revenue from the sale of power.
It says water shortages canceled out more than 20 percent of the country's growth in electricity generation in 2015 and 2016.
The report offers solutions, including notably a move towards solar and wind energy. India already has a target for 40 percent of its power to come from renewables by 2030, under the Paris agreement on climate change.
"Renewable energy is a viable solution to India's water-energy crisis," said Deepak Krishnan, co-author of the report. "Solar PV and wind power can thrive in the same water-stressed areas where thermal plants struggle …"
A policy brief produced by WRI and the International Renewable Energy Agency details ways for India's power sector to reduce water usage and carbon emissions by 2030.
In Africa the dangers of water scarcity for one of the continent's best-known cities, Cape Town, are imminent and, some believe, almost apocalyptic.
The city faces the prospect within three months of becoming the world's first major city to run out of water, al-Jazeera reported.
It said the city's water supplies are now so low that in late April it will declare "Day Zero," the day when its reservoirs fall below a combined capacity of 13.5 percent.
This will mean Cape Town turning off the taps, except in the poorest neighborhoods, and installing around 200 water collection sites across the city.
Water usage in the Western Cape province, which includes Cape Town, is now limited to a daily ration of 87 liters per person. If Day Zero dawns, that will drop to about 25 liters. The World Health Organization said about 20 liters should be enough "to take care of basic hygiene needs and basic food hygiene."
Rains Start Later
The province has had three years of drought. Kevin Winter, a senior lecturer in environmental science at the University of Cape Town, told al-Jazeera that as a winter rainfall region, people would normally expect rainfall to start somewhere around April.
"But that's no longer the case, it comes a whole lot later at the end of June, or in early July, if we are lucky," he said. "We are experiencing a rapid change in our weather patterns, which is increasingly evident of a climate change…"
Bridgetti Lim Bandi, who has lived in the city all her life, said Cape Town's rainfall pattern had changed dramatically within the last two decades. "We don't have a traditional Cape Town winter any more," she told al-Jazeera.
Helen Zille is premier of the Western Cape province. She wrote on Jan. 22 in the Daily Maverick: "The question that dominates my waking hours now is: When Day Zero arrives‚ how do we make water accessible and prevent anarchy?
"And if there is any chance of still preventing it‚ what is it we can do? … the challenge exceeds anything a major city has had to face anywhere in the world since the Second World War or 9/ll."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
By Mike Gaworecki
Last Thursday, at the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany (known as COP23), the World Resources Institute (WRI) announced that $2.1 billion in private investment funds have been committed to efforts to restore degraded lands in the Caribbean and Latin America.
The investments will be made through WRI's Initiative 20×20, which has already put 10 million hectares (about 25 million acres) of land under restoration thanks to 19 private investors who are supporting more than 40 restoration projects.
Agriculture, forestry and other land uses are responsible for about a quarter of global greenhouse emissions, but in Latin America and the Caribbean, they account for roughly half of all emissions. That's why these sources of climate pollution are featured in the action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (or NDCs), submitted by many countries as part of the Paris climate agreement (that's also why the UN's program for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, REDD+, was included in the Paris agreement as a standalone article).
There's a plethora of recent research showing that, while halting deforestation is of course critical, the restoration of degraded forests and other landscapes are a vital component to meeting the Paris agreement's target of keeping global warming below two degrees Celsius.
Deforestation on the Peru-Brazil border.Rhett Butler
Forests currently remove an estimated 30 percent of manmade carbon emissions from the atmosphere, but a suite of studies released on the eve of COP23 found that they could be sequestering far more—an additional 100 billion metric tons of carbon by the year 2100—if we were to allow young secondary forests to regrow and improve forest management, which would buy us more time to transition the global economy away from fossil fuels and towards renewables.
Another recent study finds that "natural climate solutions," which consist of a number of conservation, restoration and improved management actions that help increase carbon storage or avoid greenhouse gas emissions from forests, wetlands, grasslands and agricultural lands, have the potential to reduce emissions by 11.3 billion metric tons every year by 2030—thus providing 37 percent of the emissions reductions necessary to keep global temperature rise below 2°C.
WRI originally launched Initiative 20×20 at COP20 in Lima, Peru with a target of restoring 20 million hectares of land in Latin America and the Caribbean by 2020. The initiative was intended to support the goals of the Bonn Challenge, a commitment by dozens of countries and some private entities that have pledged to restore more than 150 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020, and the New York Declaration on Forests, which aims to restore 350 million hectares of degraded landscapes and forestlands by 2030.
So far, 16 countries have committed to restoring 53.2 million hectares of land through Initiative 20×20, far outsripping the initial goal of the program.
"Restoration in Latin America is an unmissable opportunity," Walter Vergara, the coordinator of Initiative 20×20 at WRI, said in a statement. "With more than $2 billion of investments earmarked for Latin America alone, restoration is a climate solution that works and is a great investment. Bringing degraded and deforested lands back to life is a win-win-win for investors, governments and local communities. This is precisely why restoration continues to build political and financial momentum."
But the $2.1 billion in investments pledged so far could have implications beyond Latin America and the Caribbean as investors "move more quickly than ever to capitalize on the business of planting trees," Vergara added.
"WRI research shows the economic benefits of restoring 20 M ha of degraded land in Latin America could reach $23 billion, while at the same time reducing GHG emissions, improving food security and livelihoods. The success of Initiative 20×20 in attracting private investment in Latin America is a model for success for other regions and can deliver major emission reductions to meet commitments to the Paris agreement."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.