By Edwina Hughes, Richard Waite and Gerard Pozzi
With people increasingly aware of the climate impact of their lifestyles, the spotlight is falling on the food we eat. Agriculture and related land-use account for nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But not all foods are created equal, and plant-based foods are generally a lot less resource-intensive to produce than animal proteins. Take beef vs. beans: per gram of protein, beef production uses 20 times the land and generates 20 times the GHG emissions as beans.
Much attention is paid to unusual innovations aimed at offering a wider variety of food options with a smaller climate footprint — like crackers made from insects or algae protein bars. But large institutions that want to offer diners climate-friendly food options are finding it's more straightforward than expected. That's in part thanks to recent behavioral science research, which shows that small changes in menu language or creating delicious plant-centered dishes can greatly increase the uptake of sustainable offerings. In short, they've found it's already possible to eat tomorrow's climate-friendly diet today, through easy changes that don't compromise on flavor or cost.
New data from the Cool Food Pledge — a group of restaurants, cities, hospitals and companies that have committed to cutting GHG emissions associated with the food they serve by 25% by 2030, in line with Paris Agreement goals — show that members were able to collectively reduce emissions by 4.6% overall and by 12% per plate in just four years. Some members have reduced emissions even more quickly, showing big changes are possible within a short time.
Food consumption in restaurants, workplace canteens and school cafeterias has fallen dramatically during the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns. While the industry begins to revive amid calls for a "green" recovery, these results can serve as inspiration, showing what could be achievable when the wider food service industry picks up again post-COVID. When diners return, food service operators should seize the chance to ensure strong and engaging sustainability credentials are at the center of their menu offerings. Offering more plant-rich options is key to hitting climate targets since as they are generally much less resource-intensive to produce.
So what does that mean for organizations serving food? And how feasible is it? Lessons from Cool Food Pledge members show that meaningful progress toward a sustainable food future is simple. It's just a case of keeping the spotlight on what's delicious, cost-effective and low-carbon.
Here are the three main lessons:
1. Make It Delicious
Climate-friendly food doesn't have to be dull. Take the example of biotech company Genentech, which has 10,000 staff based in California, and an in-house culinary team creating chef specials. When it joined the Cool Food Pledge it changed the chef specials to plant-rich options — serving up even more vegetables, pulses and grains. Some of the new dishes included "Vegan Jackfruit, Okra and Seitan Jambalaya" with brown rice, Creole sauce and shaved scallions as well as "Charred Yucatan Vegetables" with an array of vegetables, stewed black beans, habanero pickled red onions and flour tortillas. Following positive responses from employees, demand for the new plant-rich options grew while demand for the more traditional, meat-heavier options declined. Between 2018 to 2019 alone, the company reduced the climate impact of each plate of food it serves by an incredible 33%.
2. Keep It Cost-Effective
Climate-friendly food doesn't have to increase costs — and can even reduce them.
In the health care sector, at UCSF Health, forward-thinking chefs decided to couple a more climate-friendly ethos with a cost-effective one while feeding patients and visitors. UCSF had a 100% beef burger that wasn't selling well, so switching to a 70:30 beef/mushroom blended burger in 2017 that sold better was a no-brainer. The Department of Nutrition and Health Services at UCSF Health realized the blended burger would cost less, the mushroom would ensure it remained flavorful and the reduction in beef would help UCSF Health hit its climate-friendly target for food.
At the same time, its central menu evolved from serving 20 entrees featuring beef in 2017 down to just three by 2020. This more plant-rich menu has proven both better for the climate and more appealing to customers. UCSF Health's total food-related GHG emissions dropped by 13% in just three years, the biggest reduction amongst the health care members of the Cool Food Pledge.
3. Explore the World of Plants
A welcome consequence of committing to a climate-friendly menu offering has been a surge in the quantity of vegetables, pulses and grains procured and served by member organizations. In fact, members purchased 12% more plant-based food items in 2019 relative to the base year. The University of Cambridge's University Catering Service, which manages 14 cafés and canteens and caters for 1,500 events a year, has phased out ruminant meat completely, and guests can enjoy Swedish-style Vegballs, Smoky Moroccan Chickpea Stew and sweet potato burgers instead. Emissions dropped by more than 30% even as the university served 30% more food, reflecting the significant change in the ingredients that make up the meals it is serving.
Having an Impact Isn’t Rocket Science
This variety of progress reflects the distinct environments in which these organizations operate and the different diners they serve. Many are cutting emissions even as the number of meals they serve grows.
While every dining facility will have its own unique operations, the Cool Food Pledge is providing structure and guidance to help the food industry lower the carbon footprint of food in line with climate science. Members are guided through a three-steps of "pledge, plan, and promote": they pledge to reduce food-related GHG emissions by 25% by 2030; they develop a plan to achieve their aims using the latest behavioral science; and by promoting their achievements, they are on the front lines of a growing movement that's slashing the impact that food has on the climate.
Reposted with permission from the World Resources Institute.
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Indonesia's forest fires have made headlines globally over the past few weeks. This year's forest fires have affected millions of people. Schools have closed in some areas due to unsafe levels of air pollution, while many people are suffering from respiratory illnesses. The haze has spread so far as to affect Singapore and Malaysia.
While forest fires are cyclical, typically occurring in Indonesia every year from July through October, this year's season is the worst since 2015, when fires resulted in $16 billion in economic losses and spewed more greenhouse gas emissions daily than the entire U.S. economy. The fires — most of which have been set intentionally to clear land — threaten to derail progress Indonesia has made in curbing its deforestation in recent years.
Here's a deeper look:
1. 2019's fires are the worst since 2015.
According to data displayed on Global Forest Watch (GFW) Fires, there have been 66,000 fire alerts from January through the end of September. While this is much lower than fire levels in 2015 — which saw more than 110,000 alerts at the end of September — it far exceeds forest fires levels in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
2. This year’s fires jeopardize Indonesia’s progress in reducing deforestation.
Of the countries historically most responsible for the world's deforestation, Indonesia is the only one that's actually reduced its deforestation rate in recent years. This year's fires season could derail this promising trend.
According to annual tree cover loss data on Global Forest Watch, Indonesia's deforestation rate declined significantly in 2017 and 2018, after a record-high in 2016. National policies like the forest moratorium and peatland restoration plan played a big role, but these years also benefited from wetter conditions associated with the La Niña weather pattern. While farmers set fires every year to clear land, the blazes are less likely to spread or rage out of control during wet years than they are during dry years. With the return of El Niño this year and its warmer, drier conditions, it's unclear if Indonesia will see further declines in deforestation this year. We'll need to wait until Global Forest Watch's 2019 tree cover loss data is available to measure fires' full impact on the country's forests.
3. 42% of fires have occurred in peatlands.
Fires on carbon-rich peatlands are notoriously difficult to extinguish. Organic matter inside peat makes fires bigger and generates more haze. Burning peatland is also problematic for the climate — draining one hectare of tropical peatland will produce an average of 55 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, the equivalent of burning more than 6,000 gallons of gas.
4. Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan are experiencing the most fire alerts.
The provinces of Central Kalimantan and West Kalimantan have seen the most fire alerts in 2019, followed by Riau, Jambi and South Sumatra. Within those provinces, Ketapang regency in West Kalimantan and Pulang Pisau regency in Central Kalimantan experienced more fire alerts than any other areas of Indonesia — just like they did in 2015.
Ketapang is the biggest regency in West Kalimantan, and an area where the expansion of oil palm plantations has resulted in significant tree cover loss. Pulang Pisau regency is very vulnerable during the dry season because its geological structure is dominated by drained peatland. The government's Mega Rice Project of the mid-1990s sought to convert 1 million hectares of peatlands into rice plantations. The program has since been abandoned because the land proved unsuitable for massive rice cultivation.
What Can We Do?
The fact that fires are still a far cry from the levels seen in 2015, the last time the country experienced an El Niño weather pattern, shows an improvement in the government's effort to tackle forest and peatland fires. However, experts agree that more efforts to reduce forest fires and haze are required, and the country still could go further in preventing forest fires. Three actions could help:
- Restore peatlands.
Peat swamps are normally moist year-round, unless they're drained for agriculture. The risk of fires increases when peatland is dried. A small fire could trigger huge fires on peatland — not only horizontally across the landscape, but also vertically, up to 4 meters below the surface. Even if the top of peatland is free from fires, fires below could survive for months and spread to other areas.Rewetting degraded peatlands — by blocking canals, digging wells and more — will increase peat's water levels over time, potentially slowing down the spread of fires. Comprehensive peatland restoration should also include mapping, restoration planning, revegetation, and revitalizing communities in the surrounding areas so that they will not need to drain peatland again to support agriculture.
- Incentivize non-burning land-clearing methods.
According to Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), the majority of the country's forest fires are caused by humans, both intentionally and unintentionally. Fires are usually caused by land clearing for plantations using slash-and-burn methods. Even though the punishment for such methods could be up to 12 years in prison or a 10 billion rupiah fine (more than $700,000), slash-and-burn continues because it's seen as the easiest and cheapest method to clear land.Banning the practice without a readily accessible alternative is ineffective. In past years, the Indonesian government has disseminated to farmers and companies information about non-burning methods, such as using heavy equipment and biological materials, or cultivating plants that can be grown without draining peatland. But these solutions alone are not enough for people to shift their habits, BNPB admitted, especially since some of them are expensive or unfamiliar to farmers. The agency asked the Technology Assessment and Application Agency (BPPT) for help in finding other methods. BPPT is currently developing biopeat fertilizer technology, a method to improve peatlands' fertility, to prevent slash-and-burn practices. The fertilizer has been tested in a company plantation in Riau since 2017, but it hasn't been massively produced. More time and investment will be required to determine whether this method could be a mainstream approach for farmers.All sectors, including NGOs and civil society, can participate in identifying, popularizing and incentivizing methods that could end slash-and-burn practices for good. As buyers of agricultural commodities, corporations have a huge responsibility in encouraging their suppliers to avoid slash-and-burn practices. Giving them incentives to eliminate slash-and-burn and investing more in sustainable land-clearance practices could help.
- Strengthen data transparency.
Disclosure of information and transparent, accountable and inclusive governance can help solve the problem of forest fires. The Indonesian government is still reluctant to publish data on things like the location of palm oil, timber and other concessions, citing national security reasons. NGOs and the public need this information to help monitor fires in their area and hold land owners accountable. This information can help civil society to be an active partner in pushing for more effective law enforcement.
Reposted with permission from our media associate World Resources Institute.
- Indonesia's Deforestation Dropped 60 Percent in 2017 - EcoWatch ›
- Indonesia Forest-Clearing Ban Criticized as 'Government Propaganda' ›
The contents of our mattresses are often an afterthought. That's a mistake, as research shows that the quality of your sleeping surface can significantly impact your health.
As consumers gain awareness about the health effects of sleeping on potentially toxic compounds, mattress companies are responding with new beds made from better materials. Today, you can choose from a broad range of mattresses made from all-natural components, including organic wool, cotton, and latex. Here's a summary of the best non-toxic, eco-friendly mattresses available today and how to decide between them.
Why You Should Choose an Organic Mattress
Traditionally, mattresses contain trace amounts of chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that act as flame retardants and coatings on plastic components. While the popular view is that these VOCs are found in too low of concentrations to be concerning, a 2019 study published in Environmental Science and Technology indicates that body heat may transform them into toxic vapors that you breathe in through the night.
That's a reason for concern, as according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the potential health effects of VOC exposure include headaches and eye, nose, and throat irritation. In extreme cases, they may trigger cancer cell development or organ damage.
9 Top-Rated Organic and Natural Mattress BrandsEach product featured below has been selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the included links, we may earn a commission.
- Best Overall – Avocado Green Mattress
- Best Cooling – GhostBed Natural Mattress
- Best Hypoallergenic – Plushbeds Botanical Bliss
- Best for Lower Back Support – Saatva Zenhaven Latex Mattress
- Best for Couples – My Green Mattress Natural Escape
- Best 100% Certified Organic - Happsy Mattress
- Best Fair Trade Certified – Birch Natural Mattresses
- Most Affordable – Eco Terra Latex Hybrid
- Best Give Back Program – Awara Organic Luxury Hybrid Mattress
How We Chose These Eco-Friendly Products
When comparing the best natural mattress options, we looked at several specific factors to determine which ones stand out. Here are some of the distinguishing features.
The best non-toxic mattress brands today exclusively use certified organic textiles like cotton and wool.
Is it certified GOLS (Global Organic Latex Standard) or GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard)? As the leading natural certifications for textiles and latex materials, GOLS and GOTS-certified products meet stringent requirements for responsible social and environmental practices.
The best nontoxic mattresses are compressed into boxes for shipping and then expand to full size once you unpack them. Environmentally speaking, smaller packages mean less fuel wasted on transportation. Others are sent in pieces or in full form and require a delivery team for installation.
Give Back Programs
The best eco-friendly mattress brands also support nonprofit programs that benefit the environment. We like brands where a percentage of your purchase may go towards a worthwhile cause.
Many of the best organic mattresses are handcrafted in the United States, which shrinks their environmental footprint by keeping production and transportation within a smaller area.
Standard practice in the mattress industry is to offer sleep trial testing periods. These range from three months to a year or longer.
Direct to Consumer
Direct-to-consumer mattress companies are increasing in popularity. They tend to be less wasteful than traditional retailers because the brand isn't putting resources towards maintaining showrooms.
9 Best Natural and Organic Mattresses of 2021
Best Overall - Avocado Green Mattress
- Materials – 100% GOTS certified cotton and wool, 100% natural latex, steel support coils
- Manufacturing – Handmade in USA
- Delivery – Mattress arrives compressed in a box
- Certifications – GREENGUARD Gold, Rainforest Alliance, eco-INSTITUT®, and Formaldehyde-Free certified, OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified wool, GOTS and GOLS certified materials
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 100-night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
This mattress-in-a-box brand doesn't compromise its eco-friendly principles for low cost or convenience. The Avocado Green mattress boasts a gentle latex support system for balanced firmness that's ideal for larger people and those who sleep on their back or side.
Why buy: Avocado is a leading brand for affordable mattresses made from natural materials. The Green mattress makes this list for its affordable price point and five-zone support system with up to 1,400 pocketed steel support coils. Equally impressive, Avocado maintains control over its whole supply chain and employs strict social and environmental standards for every product.
Best Cooling - GhostBed Natural Mattress
- Materials – Natural wool, GOLS certified Dunlop & Talalay latex, USDA organic and GOTS certified cotton
- Manufacturing – Manufactured in the USA
- Delivery – Mattress arrives vacuum sealed in a box
- Certifications – USDA organic, Control Union certified, OEKO-TEX® certified, GOLS and GOTS certified materials
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 101 night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
The GhostBed Natural mattress offers five layers of natural comfort materials. Each mattress is made from natural wool, genuine Dunlop and Talalay latex, and organic cotton for solid support and air-flow cooling. This is an eco-friendly mattress made for comfort, cooling, and support.
Why buy: The GhostBed Natural mattress is a great option if you tend to get hot when you sleep, as it includes both a naturally cooling latex core and cooling airflow coil technology to help you sleep better. We also love that it is made in the United States with organic and natural materials like sustainably-sourced latex and USDA organic cotton.
Best Hypoallergenic - Plushbeds Botanical Bliss
- Materials – GOLS certified latex, GOTS certified cotton and wool
- Manufacturing – Handcrafted in California
- Delivery – Delivered in two boxes, the customer must assemble
- Certifications – GOLS certified latex, GOTS certified cotton and wool, GreenGuard Gold Certified, OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 Certified, eco-INSTITUT® certified, Control Union Certified, Forest Stewardship Council Certified
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 100-night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
Plushbeds mattresses are handcrafted in the US from certified organic materials. Orthopedic specialists recommend them for their buoyant support and pressure point relief, along with an organic latex core you can customize.
Why buy: With Plushbeds' Botanical Bliss mattress, you get a non-toxic, hypoallergenic sleeping surface that keeps you cool through the night. This bed is dust mite resistant to eliminate most home's primary allergy problems and includes an organic cotton cover for comfort.
Best Luxury - Saatva Zenhaven Latex Mattress
- Materials – Certified organic cotton, all-natural Talalay latex, 100% organic New Zealand wool
- Manufacturing – Made in USA within 19 independent factories
- Delivery – Purchase comes with free white glove delivery and setup, including old mattress removal
- Certifications – OEKO-TEX® Standard 100, eco-INSTITUT®, Rainforest Alliance, and Cradle to Cradle certified
- Sleep Trial/ Warranty – 180-day sleep trial, 20-year warranty
The Saatva Zenhaven mattress is naturally hypoallergenic and made using environmentally responsible practices. The manufacturing process is entirely water-based and produces minimal byproducts. Even the certified organic cotton cover is protected by a proprietary nontoxic botanical antimicrobial treatment. Rather than using traditional flame retardants, the mattress contains a protective layer of organic New Zealand wool.
Why buy: As Saatva's premium mattress, the Zenhaven is made for low back support and a cooling, comfortable night's sleep. This 100% Talalay latex mattress contains durable materials for supported rest and boasts a flippable design for two firmness levels. This is the best option for a luxurious yet eco-friendly mattress.
Best for Couples - My Green Mattress Natural Escape
- Materials – GOTS certified cotton, GOLS certified Dunlop latex
- Manufacturing – Handcrafted in a certified organic factory in Illinois
- Delivery – White glove delivery service available for $199 for setup and old mattress removal.
- Certifications – GreenGuard Gold Certified, GOTS Certified cotton, GOLS certified Dunlop latex
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 120-night sleep trial, 20-year warranty
The Natural Escape mattress boasts a responsive zoned pocketed coil spring system covered with GOLS certified Dunlop latex for breathability. With an adaptive support system that conforms to the contours of your spine, the company recommends it for couples with opposite body types or who prefer different sleeping positions from each other. The mattress itself is button tufted to pull the layers together without the use of any potentially toxic adhesives or VOCs.
Why buy: The Natural Escape mattress from My Green Mattress delivers stellar lumbar support and proper spinal alignment—all underneath a comfortable organic cotton cover. It also provides limited motion transfer thanks to an upgraded innerspring system, making it a great option for couples as you won't disturb your partner when you move.
Best 100% Certified Organic - Happsy Mattress
- Materials – Organic cotton filling, organic wool, certified latex
- Manufacturing – Handmade in USA
- Delivery – Ships compressed in a single box
- Certifications – GOTS-certified cotton, Certified Made Safe, GOLS-certified latex, Forest Stewardship Council Certified, Rainforest Alliance Certified, GreenGuard Gold Certified, Underwriters Laboratories verified formaldehyde-free, Green America Certified Business
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 120-night sleep trial, 20-year warranty
Happsy's mattresses combine comfort, the latest technology in certified organic mattress design, and premium earth-friendly materials for a bed you can feel good about from every angle. In fact, the included zipper lets you peek inside to see what you're really sleeping on. The mattress utilizes a breathable coil system designed to wick moisture away to keep you cooler at night than sleeping on heat-trapping synthetic foams.
Why buy: Happsy is a small mattress brand focused on making mattresses with a conscience — meaning that all materials are chosen for being easy on the environment. The company forgoes all glues and adhesives in favor of its own pocketed spring design that keeps the mattress supportive, but never "bouncy."
Best Fair Trade Certified - Birch Natural Mattresses
- Materials – Organic cotton, wool, birch wool, natural latex, steel coils
- Manufacturing – Handmade in USA
- Delivery – Ships compressed in a box
- Certifications – GreenGuard Gold Certified, GOTS Certified, OEKO-TEX®Standard 100, Eco INSTITUT® Tested Product, Wool Integrity NZ, Fair Trade Certified Factory
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 100-night sleep trial, 25-year warranty
Birch by Helix makes a range of natural bedding options constructed in ways that support the environment. Each mattress is made from premium materials that together work to relieve your body's pressure points, no matter how you prefer to sleep. The company claims this premium product has natural flexibility that allows it to retain its shape to provide enough softness for coziness while still offering full-body support.
Why buy: We love that all Birch mattress wool comes from New Zealand sheep farms that meet Wool Integrity NZ standards, which ensures the animals are treated ethically at every stage of production. Plus, the cotton within each mattress is Fair Trade certified, making this a responsible sleep option.
Most Affordable - Eco Terra Latex Hybrid
- Materials – 100% natural latex foam rubber, organic wool, organic cotton
- Manufacturing – Designed and handcrafted in Los Angeles, CA
- Delivery – Free standard delivery across the US, White Glove delivery available for an extra cost
- Certifications – OEKO-TEX® Standard 100 certified, GOTS Organic wool, GOTS organic certified cotton
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 90-day sleep trial, 15-year warranty
Eco Terra offers a budget-friendly latex hybrid mattress that includes natural materials, unobtrusive pocket support coils, and a 90-day sleep trial. Eco Terra's latex mattress is available in both a medium and medium-firm firmness level to support a wide range of sleepers. The bed is free of synthetic foams and VOCs, favoring a three-inch-thick layer of Talalay latex instead.
Why buy: Eco Terra offers a more budget-friendly option than other latex hybrid brands, making this mattress an excellent choice for comfortable sleep without compromising on natural materials. One thing to note is that this latex isn't GOLS-certified, though the other materials are GOTS certified.
Best Give Back Program - Awara Organic Luxury Hybrid Mattress
- Materials – Dunlap latex, organic New Zealand wool, organic cotton, steel coils
- Manufacturing – Made in China
- Delivery – Arrives compressed in a box
- Certifications – Rainforest Alliance certified latex, certified organic wool, certified organic cotton
- Sleep Trial/Warranty – 365-night sleep trial, Forever Warranty (lifetime guarantee against sagging and manufacturing defects)
Awara features premium Sri Lanka latex and wrapped coil springs to provide contour and a touch of bounce for supportive sleep throughout the night. At the core of this mattress are nine-inch pocketed coils that are thicker than standard. This gives the bed a firmer, more responsive feel that minimizes the sense of sinking when you reach the outer edge, so it's suitable for back, side, and stomach sleepers alike.
Why buy: Awara's natural latex mattress stands out for being slightly firmer than some other options. The mattress itself is made from quality materials with GOLS, GOTS, and Rainforest Alliance certification. Awara also partners with Trees for the Future to support forest systems throughout Africa. Every purchase funds the planting of ten trees throughout Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, or Tanzania.
The best night's sleep takes place on a mattress that won't make you or the environment sick. Today, there are more options than ever for finding the best organic and nontoxic mattress for your family. Seek out eco-friendly brands that use certified organic materials and that guarantee each bed is free from VOCs to rest easy every night.
Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer specializing in health and wellness, food and farming, and environmental topics. When not working against a writing deadline, you can find Lydia outdoors where she attempts to bring order to her 33-acre hobby farm filled with fruit trees, heritage breed pigs, too many chickens to count, and an organic garden that somehow gets bigger every year.
The UN set a global goal to cut food loss and waste in half by 2030. Alarming figures show just how big of a challenge remains.
Nearly a third of all food produced in the world goes uneaten each year — an amount that costs the global economy $940 billion and emits 8 percent of planet-warming greenhouse gases. At the same time, 1 in 9 people is undernourished.
A massive challenge requires massive action. A new report by the World Resources Institute‚ and produced with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, and in partnership with United Nations Environment, Natural Resources Defense Council, Iowa State University, The University of Maryland's Ed Snider Center, The Consortium for Innovation in Postharvest Loss and Food Waste Reduction, Wageningen University and Research, and WRAP — lays out a Global Action Agenda to overcome the world's food loss and waste problem.
Simply put, this Global Action Agenda calls on governments, companies, farmers, consumers, and everyone in between to play their role in a three-pronged approach:
- Target-Measure-Act: Set food loss and waste reduction targets, measure to identify hotspots of food loss and waste and to monitor progress over time, and take action on the hotspots.
- "To do" list: Pursue a short to-do list we've identified per player in the food supply chain as "no regret" first steps toward taking action.
- 10 scaling interventions: Collaborate in 10 areas to ramp up deployment of Target-Measure-Act and the "to do" list.
10 Ways to Scale Action
To accelerate momentum, here are 10 interventions that can rapidly spur deployment of a Target Measure Act approach and actor-specific actions.
1. Develop national strategies for food loss and waste reduction.
Only a handful of nations have established strategies to reduce food loss and waste, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Ethiopia. National strategies help align public policies, private sector actions, farmer practices and consumer behavior toward a shared goal, so it's critical that more nations create strategies to halve food loss and waste.
2. Create national public-private partnerships.
Reducing food loss and waste requires action across the entire food supply chain as well as supportive public policies. No single institution can drive a 50% economy-wide reduction on its own. Public-private partnerships have an emerging track record, having launched in countries like the Netherlands, United Kingdom and United States. In the UK, the Courtauld Commitment has been signed by 53 retailers, who have committed to measure and reduce food waste. If such partnerships emerged in the following countries, then 20 of the world's largest agriculture exporters would be covered, representing 45 percent of the world's population: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, China, France, India, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Thailand and Turkey.
Thailand farmer rows boat laden with fruit and vegetables to market.
WRI / Flickr
3. Launch a "10x20x30" supply chain initiative.
Food losses often occur during production and, especially in low-income countries, during handling and storage. Launching a private sector campaign where at least 10 of the largest food and agriculture companies commit to act and engage their 20 largest suppliers to do the same by 2030 (hence, 10x20x30) could have a big impact. This approach leverages the relative market concentration and power of a few companies to catalyze change across the supply chain and geographies. This intervention follows a model set by retail-giant Tesco, which has secured the commitment of 27 of its major suppliers to set targets, measure progress and act.
4. Reduce smallholder losses.
If we're to halve food losses, efforts to assist smallholders with productivity and efficiency need a big boost---especially in reaching smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, regions that lose an estimated 26% of their food during harvesting, handling and storage. Approaches include training farmers in reducing losses, creating access to markets for smallholders and improving storage solutions. For example, as part of The Rockefeller Foundation's YieldWise initiative, farmers growing tomatoes in Nigeria were trained in improved agronomic practices and access to aggregation centers, which reduced transport time to market. Following these interventions, losses were reduced by 54%.
5. Launch a "decade of storage solutions."
What if the 2020s became a decade of making food storage technologies ubiquitous, affordable and climate-friendly? Doing so would tackle a huge hotspot of food loss and waste in low-income countries, helping ensure more food makes it safely to market. Innovations in solar-powered coolers and "lease-to-own" financing arrangements for villages can help.
6. Shift consumer social norms.
Behavioral science tells us that increased knowledge of an issue alone does not necessarily translate into changed behavior. What successful initiatives like the UK's 'Love Food, Hate Waste' campaign have shown is that you must give people information and make it easy for them to change their behavior. That's why 'Love Food, Hate Waste' ran advertisements to raise awareness and worked with retailers to get rid of offers such as 'buy one get one free' that encourage over-buying as well as to print food storage information on food packaging, making it easier for people to waste less food. What's needed is for norms in high-income countries and cities everywhere to shift so that wasting food becomes unacceptable.
7. Go after emissions reductions.
Reducing food loss and waste is an underappreciated greenhouse gas mitigation strategy. By tackling food loss and waste from emissions-intensive beef, dairy and rice, these food sectors can reduce their impact on climate. Another strategy is for countries to add food loss and waste reduction to their national climate plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). To date, fewer than a dozen countries have included food loss and waste reduction in their NDCs.
8. Scale up financing.
Many of the promising solutions to reduce food loss and waste need an influx in financing to take off. In 2016, The Rockefeller Foundation launched the $130 million YieldWise initiative to tackle food losses in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania, and food waste in North America and Europe. In 2019, the World Bank launched a $300 million Sustainable Development Bond focused on food loss and waste reduction. More of such investments are needed by a wider suite of financiers, ranging from grants and blended finance to venture capital and commercial investments.
9. Overcome the data deficit.
Without more and better data to understand the scale and scope of the food loss and waste challenge, we risk not being able to identify hotspots, hone reduction strategies and monitor progress. Over the next five years, the world needs a concentrated push to measure the quantity of food loss and waste in a more consistent way so that data is comparable.
10. Advance the research agenda.
Public and private research institutions have an important role, helping answer questions that will allow the world to refine strategies for reducing food loss and waste. These are questions like: Which solutions are showing the best return on investment? What technologies are most promising? What can behavioral science tell us about how to shift social norms when it comes to food waste? And what types of infrastructure do farmers in low-income countries need to reduce on-farm and near-farm losses?
There Are Enormous Benefits to Reducing Food Loss and Waste
Successfully halving food loss and waste would bring enormous benefits. It would close the gap between food needed in 2050 and food available in 2010 by more than 20 percent. It would avoid the need to convert an area the size of Argentina into agricultural land. And it would lower greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 gigatons per year by 2050, an amount more than the current energy and industry related emissions of Japan.
The size of the prize is huge. So, too, must be the action to seize it.
Reposted with permission from our media associate World Resources Institute.
- Food Waste Set to Increase by 33 Percent Within 10 Years - EcoWatch ›
- How to Make a Change for Stop Food Waste Day - EcoWatch ›
- Harnessing Food Waste to Empower Communities in Brazil - EcoWatch ›
By Aleksandra Arcipowska, Emily Mangan, You Lyu and Richard Waite
Agriculture provides a livelihood for billions of people every day and feeds all of us. Yet food production has significant impacts on the environment through deforestation and water pollution. It's also a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.
As countries work to cut their emissions overall, agricultural emissions need to fall, too. To better understand agriculture's relationship with global emissions, we took a closer look at the data, using Climate Watch to answer five important questions.
1. What causes agricultural emissions?
The majority of agricultural production emissions come from raising livestock. More than 70 billion animals are raised annually for human consumption. The biggest single source is methane from cow burps and manure. Enteric fermentation—a natural digestive process that occurs in ruminant animals such as cattle, sheep and goats—accounts for about 40% of agricultural production emissions in the past 20 years.
Manure left on pasture also causes agricultural emissions. It emits nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas with a much stronger global warming impact per ton than carbon dioxide. These two processes from animal agriculture produce more than half of total agricultural production emissions. Rice cultivation and synthetic fertilizers are also major sources, each contributing more than 10% of agricultural production emissions.
While we focus on agricultural production emissions in this blog post, it's important to remember that agriculture is also a leading driver of land-use change (for example through the conversion of forests to croplands or pasture). Recent WRI research estimated that agriculture and land-use change collectively accounted for nearly one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2010.
2. What’s agriculture’s role in global and national emissions?
Emissions from agricultural production currently account for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions and have risen 14% since 2000.
In 24 countries around the world, agriculture is the top source of emissions.
3. Which countries are responsible for the most agricultural production emissions?
In the 20-year period from 1996-2016, China was responsible for the most emissions from agricultural production, followed by India, Brazil and the United States. Together, these top four agricultural emitters were responsible for 37% of global agricultural production emissions.
Since 2000, China and India's agricultural production emissions have increased by 16% and 14%, respectively (see: figure 3). In terms of per capita agricultural emissions, the top three countries are Australia, Argentina and Brazil.
4. What will agricultural emissions look like in the future?
Agriculture will likely continue to be a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions in both developed and developing countries.
With little to no climate action in the agriculture sector, greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production could increase 58% by 2050. WRI research also showed that when factoring in land-use change, agricultural emissions under a business-as-usual scenario could eat up 70% or more of the world's "carbon budget," the amount of emissions the world can release by 2050 while still limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees C. Under a more ambitious mitigation scenario called RCP2.6, emissions from the agricultural sector will still increase, but only by 6% (compared to 2000).
WRI also analyzed an even more ambitious "breakthrough technologies" scenario—with changes in technology, policies and practices from farm to plate—that would reduce agricultural production emissions by 40% between 2010 and 2050 and increase carbon removal from the atmosphere with vast amounts of reforestation. Such measures would require enormous amounts of investment and effort, but they are necessary for keeping warming to 1.5 degrees C, the limit scientists say is necessary for preventing some of the worst impacts of climate change.
5. What are countries doing to reduce agricultural emissions?
Emissions from agricultural production can be addressed by improving production and consumption patterns. WRI's recent research points to a five-course "menu of solutions" to feed 10 billion people by 2050 while reducing agricultural emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
On the production side, boosting yields of crops and livestock through sustainable intensification can reduce emissions per unit of food produced and greatly relieve pressure on the world's remaining forests. A suite of technological innovations, including feed additives that reduce enteric fermentation, "nitrification inhibitors" that reduce nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer, and lower-emissions rice varieties could all reduce emissions while maintaining yields.
Consumption can be more efficient by reducing food loss and waste and by shifting diets in wealthier countries away from emissions-intensive products like beef and toward plant-based foods.
This movement has already begun, but it needs to accelerate. Climate Watch allows users to explore all countries' climate commitments, or NDCs, and see which include action in agriculture. Out of 197 Parties to the Paris Agreement, 75 have committed to mitigation actions and 116 have committed to adaptation actions within the agricultural sector. Top emitting countries like China and India have submitted sector-specific adaptation plans that cover areas including food security, irrigation, land and soil management, and agroforestry. Other countries aim to reduce short-lived climate pollutants like methane through their NDCs. Japan, for example, has proposed measures to reduce methane emissions from agricultural soils and rice paddies.
With new agriculture data on Climate Watch, users can explore for themselves the drivers of agricultural emissions and see what countries have committed to do under the Paris Agreement. Visit the tool here.
By Richard Waite, Tim Searchinger and Janet Ranganathan
Beef and climate change are in the news these days, from cows' alleged high-methane farts (fact check: they're actually mostly high-methane burps) to comparisons with cars and airplanes (fact check: the world needs to reduce emissions from fossil fuels and agriculture to sufficiently rein in global warming). And as with so many things in the public sphere lately, it's easy for the conversation to get polarized. Animal-based foods are nutritious and especially important to livelihoods and diets in developing countries, but they are also inefficient resource users. Beef production is becoming more efficient, but forests are still being cut down for new pasture. People say they want to eat more plants, but meat consumption is still rising.
All of the above statements are true even if they seem contradictory. That's what makes the beef and sustainability discussion so complicated — and so contentious.
Here we look at the latest research (including from our recent World Resources Report) to address six common questions about beef and climate change:
1. How does beef production cause greenhouse gas emissions?
The short answer: Through the agricultural production process and through land-use change.
The longer explanation: Cows and other ruminant animals (like goats and sheep) emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as they digest grasses and plants. This process is called "enteric fermentation," and it's the origin of cows' burps. Methane is also emitted from manure, and nitrous oxide, another powerful greenhouse gas, is emitted from ruminant wastes on pastures and chemical fertilizers used on crops produced for cattle feed.
More indirectly but also importantly, rising beef production requires increasing quantities of land. New pastureland is often created by cutting down trees, which releases carbon dioxide stored in forests.
A 2013 study by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that total annual emissions from animal agriculture (production emissions plus land-use change) were about 14.5 percent of all human emissions, of which beef contributed 41 percent. That means emissions from beef production are roughly on par with those of India. Because FAO only modestly accounted for land-use-change emissions, this is a conservative estimate.
Beef-related emissions are also projected to grow. Building from an FAO projection, we estimated that global demand for beef and other ruminant meats could grow by 88 percent between 2010 and 2050, putting enormous pressure on forests, biodiversity and the climate. Even after accounting for continued improvements in beef production efficiency, pastureland could still expand by roughly 400 million hectares, an area of land larger than the size of India, to meet growing demand. The resulting deforestation could increase global emissions enough to put the global goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5-2 degrees C (2.7-3.6 degrees F) out of reach.
2. Is beef more resource-intensive than other foods?
The short answer: Yes.
The longer explanation: Ruminant animals have lower growth and reproduction rates than pigs and poultry, so they require a higher amount of feed per unit of meat produced. Animal feed requires land to grow, which has a carbon cost associated with it, as we discuss below. All told, beef is more resource-intensive to produce than most other kinds of meat, and animal-based foods overall are more resource-intensive than plant-based foods. Beef requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more GHG emissions per gram of edible protein than common plant proteins, such as beans. And while the majority of the world's grasslands cannot grow crops or trees, such "native grasslands" are already heavily used for livestock production, meaning additional beef demand will likely increase pressure on forests.
3. Why are some people saying beef production is only a small contributor to emissions?
The short answer: Such estimates commonly leave out land-use impacts, such as cutting down forests to establish new pastureland.
The longer explanation: There are a lot of statistics out there that account for emissions from beef production but not from associated land-use change. For example, here are three common U.S. estimates we hear:
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated total U.S. agricultural emissions in 2017 at only 8 percent of total U.S. emissions;
- A 2019 study in Agricultural Systems estimated emissions from beef production at only 3 percent of total U.S. emissions; and
- A 2017 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that removing all animals from U.S. agriculture would reduce U.S. emissions by only 3 percent.
While all of these estimates account for emissions from U.S. agricultural production, they leave out a crucial element: emissions associated with devoting land to agriculture. An acre of land devoted to food production is often an acre that could store far more carbon if allowed to grow forest or its native vegetation. And when considering the emissions associated with domestic beef production, you can't just look within national borders, especially since global beef demand is on the rise. Because food is a global commodity, what is consumed in one country can drive land use impacts and emissions in another. An increase in U.S. beef consumption, for example, can result in deforestation to make way for pastureland in Latin America. Conversely, a decrease in U.S. beef consumption can avoid deforestation (and land-use-change emissions) abroad.
When these land-use effects of beef production are accounted for, we found that the GHG impacts associated with the average American-style diet actually come close to per capita U.S. energy-related emissions. A related analysis found that the average European's diet-related emissions, when accounting for land-use impacts, are similar to the per capita emissions typically assigned to each European's consumption of all goods and services, including energy.
4. Can beef be produced more sustainably?
The short answer: Yes, although beef will always be resource-intensive to produce.
The longer explanation: The emissions intensity of beef production varies widely across the world, and improvements in the efficiency of livestock production can greatly reduce land use and emissions per pound of meat. Improving feed quality and veterinary care, raising improved animal breeds that convert feed into meat and milk more efficiently, and using improved management practices like rotational grazing can boost productivity and soil health while reducing emissions. Boosting productivity, in turn, can take pressure off tropical forests by reducing the need for more pastureland.
Examples of such improved practices abound. For example, some beef production in Colombia integrates trees and grasses onto pasturelands, helping the land produce a higher quantity and quality of feed. This can enable farmers to quadruple the number of cows per acre while greatly reducing methane emissions per pound of meat, as the cows grow more quickly. A study of dairy farms in Kenya found that supplementing typical cattle diets with high-quality feeds like napier grass and high-protein Calliandra shrubs — which can lead to faster cattle growth and greater milk production — could reduce methane emissions per liter of milk by 8–60 percent.
There are also emerging technologies that can further reduce cows' burping, such as through feed additives like 3-nitrooxypropan (3-NOP). Improving manure management and using technologies that prevent nitrogen in animal waste from turning into nitrous oxide can also reduce agricultural emissions.
5. Do we all need to stop eating beef in order to curb climate change?
The short answer: No.
The longer explanation: Reining in climate change won't require everyone to become vegetarian or vegan, or even to stop eating beef. If ruminant meat consumption in high-consuming countries declined to about 50 calories a day or 1.5 burgers per person per week — about half of current U.S. levels and 25 percent below current European levels, but still well above the national average for most countries — it would nearly eliminate the need for additional agricultural expansion (and associated deforestation), even in a world with 10 billion people.
Diets are already shifting away from beef in some places. Per capita beef consumption has already fallen by one-third in the United States since the 1970s. Plant-based burgers and blended meat-plant alternatives are increasingly competing with conventional meat products on important attributes like taste, price and convenience. The market for plant-based alternatives is growing at a high rate, albeit from a low baseline.
There are also other compelling reasons for people to shift toward plant-based foods. Some studies have shown that red meat consumption is associated with increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and colorectal cancer, and that diets higher in healthy plant-based foods (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes) are associated with lower risks. In high-income regions like North America and Europe, people also consume more protein than they need to meet their dietary requirements.
6. Would eating less beef be bad for jobs in the food and agriculture sector?
The short answer: Not necessarily.
The longer explanation: Given projected future growth in meat demand across the developing world, even if people in higher-income countries eat less beef, the global market for beef will likely continue to grow in the coming decades. The scenario in the chart above leads to a 32 percent growth in global ruminant meat consumption between 2010 and 2050, versus 88 percent growth under business-as-usual. In the U.S., despite declining per capita beef consumption, total beef production has held steady since the 1970s. Burgeoning demand in emerging markets like China will lead to more export opportunities in leading beef-producing countries, although building such markets takes time.
In addition, major meat companies — including Tyson Foods, Cargill, Maple Leaf Foods and Perdue — are starting to invest in the fast-growing alternative protein market. They're positioning themselves more broadly as "protein companies," even as they work to reduce emissions from beef production in their supply chains through improved production practices.
Moving Toward a Sustainable Food Future
Beef is more resource-intensive than most other foods and has a substantial impact on the climate. A sustainable food future will require a range of strategies from farm to plate. Food producers and consumers alike have a role to play in reducing beef's emissions as the global population continues to grow. And as we all work on strategies to curb climate change — whether in the agriculture sector, the energy sector or beyond — it's important we rely on the best available information to make decisions.
Reposted with permission from our media associate World Resources Institute.
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By Lacey Shaver
When a city decides to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, headlines follow. But the work has only just begun. Cities have many options for generating and purchasing renewable electricity, each of which comes with distinct benefits and challenges.
Large, off-site projects tend to offer scale and help make a measurable difference towards locally-defined renewable energy goals. But they can be legally and financially complex and harder to sell to elected officials and residents. For this reason, the first renewable project that a city undertakes is often based in its own community. This might be an on-site solar project, which is installed at the same location where the electricity is consumed. Or it could be a community solar program, which allows residents to subscribe to a shared solar project within the community.
These kinds of projects visibly demonstrate a local government's dedication to climate action. The clean electricity they provide to municipal facilities and residents can reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions.
But fewer emissions and cleaner air aren't the only reasons that cities want to go renewable. Many are using local solar projects to achieve broader community benefits and align with other priorities. These include saving money, creating local jobs, expanding renewables access to low-income residents, and advancing local resilience.
1. Saving Money and Managing Future Price Risks
Generating wind and solar is increasingly more competitive or cheaper than other forms of energy. That means switching to renewables can help municipal governments save taxpayers money. Nevertheless, the upfront cost of installing solar can be daunting to cash-strapped local governments.
One way a city can manage costs is by entering into an on-site physical power purchase agreement (PPA), a financial contract in which a solar developer owns and maintains a solar photovoltaic system that is installed on a municipally-owned building and sells the electricity to the city at a discount. A PPA allows a local government to leverage one of its key assets — land and roof space — in exchange for a cheap, fixed-term source of clean electricity.
This is exactly the kind of arrangement completed by Washington, DC. In April 2018, Mayor Muriel Bowser gathered community members to announce the completion of a 10.9 megawatt system comprised of on-site solar projects spread across 35 municipally-owned properties, including schools, hospitals and recreation centers. Over the 20-year term of the contract with developer Sol Systems, Washington anticipates saving $25 million from reduced electricity costs.
Fayetteville, Arkansas used a similar model to make progress toward its goal of achieving 100 percent municipal use of clean energy by 2030. In November 2018, Fayetteville's City Council signed an agreement with Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Today's Power, Inc. to install 5 megawatts of solar panels and 12 megawatt-hours of battery storage at each of the city's two wastewater treatment plants, which combined make up about two-thirds of municipal electricity use. The 20-year project is expected to save the city $6 million.
2. Stimulating the Local Economy and Creating Well-Paying Green Jobs
In 2018, the U.S. added 110,000 net new clean energy jobs, outnumbering jobs from fossil fuels by about three to one. Leading cities are working to bring these well-paying jobs to their own communities.
In August 2018, Philadelphia's Office of Sustainability released a roadmap for how the city can reduce carbon emissions 80 percent from 2006 levels by 2050 while emphasizing equity and community health. Local stakeholders encouraged the city to take a holistic view of energy and climate action when developing the plan and identify the potential for co-benefits such as job creation and air quality improvements.
Leading the roadmap's implementation is the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA), an independent municipal authority that provides targeted expertise for local energy efficiency and generation efforts and facilitates the purchase of energy services on behalf of the city. PEA is leading the Philadelphia Energy Campaign, an effort that leverages $1 billion in public and private financing to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency. The Campaign is expected to create more than 10,000 jobs for Philadelphia residents in 10 years and create $200 million in savings for the local economy.
Philadelphia leaders announce Solarize Philly as part of the $1 billion Philadelphia Energy Campaign.
Flickr / Philadelphia City Council
3. Expanding Clean Energy Access to Residents Who Can't Install Solar on Their Property
To bring clean electricity to renters and low-income communities, cities are launching innovative community solar programs, which allow residents to purchase a share of a solar installation and reap the benefits of clean energy (including cost savings) without having to physically install panels on their property.
Austin, Texas spearheads multiple initiatives to meet the solar requirements in the city's renewable portfolio standard — for example, solar rebates and a utility green pricing program that allows customers to pay a premium for wind projects from across the state. However, wealthier residents tend to take advantage of these programs more often than those from low-income neighborhoods: Austin zip codes with an above-average median family income received 75 percent of all solar rebates in 2017. To expand solar access more equitably across the community, Austin Energy has created a community solar program and is piloting an innovative shared solar solution that targets hard-to-reach solar markets, like multi-family affordable housing and non-profits.
Programs like these are more than just feel-good — they offer financial benefits to those who need it most. Minneapolis, which has one of the most successful community solar programs in the country, saves money for 92 percent of their solar subscribers, and nearly a third of the program serves public entities such as schools.
4. Contributing to Local Resilience
In addition to cost savings, renewable energy projects can also increase community resilience. Pairing renewable energy with storage or microgrids can reduce dependence on the grid in times of natural disaster.
Too often, city resilience efforts begin with a catastrophic local event. In September 2013, Boulder, Colorado experienced a 100-year flash flood event that caused fatalities, widespread power outages and critical infrastructure damage. As part of the recovery, Boulder sought to rebuild in a more resilient way that would mitigate the risks and damages of future floods. The city partnered with Boulder Housing Partners (BHP), an affordable housing developer, to implement a solar-plus-storage system that allows operations to continue during emergencies. It includes electric vehicle charging stations to ensure that emergency transportation is available even if the grid is down.
Similarly, Santa Barbara County, California was ravaged by a series of wildfires in late 2017, followed by disastrous flooding and mudslides in the following year. Besides suffering extensive property damage, cities and towns in the area dealt with a series of widespread power outages. Perched at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the community is located at the end of Los Angeles' transmission line, where natural disasters can quickly leave residents in the dark. To reduce grid dependence, local cities like Santa Barbara and Goleta are exploring the potential to pair distributed renewable electricity generation with a microgrid and storage to mitigate future power outages.
It Takes Multiple Approaches
To achieve their clean energy and climate goals, cities will need to take a creative portfolio approach to renewable energy procurement that combines the tangible benefits of local solar projects with the scale of innovative large, off-site procurement options. The portfolio of renewable energy solutions will vary from city to city and should be paired with energy efficiency initiatives that reduce future electricity demand and enable a net zero-carbon electricity system. Successful implementation of local solar projects can be an effective first step to build momentum for other more ambitious renewable projects.
A Tale of Two Cities: How San Francisco and Burlington Are Shaping America's Low-Carbon Future… https://t.co/54F0M04M7a— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521483808.0
The Renewables Accelerator is a key resource for cities already leading on renewable energy and those kickstarting their clean energy programs. Learn more about renewable energy procurement options for cities and the American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator at www.cityrenewables.org.
Lacey Shaver is the city renewable energy manager within the global energy program at World Resources Institute.
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
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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.
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.
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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.