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Will Rio+20 Deliver on Fast-Tracking to a Greener Economy?

Energy

World Resources Institute

A transition to a green economy could lift millions of people out of poverty and transform the livelihoods of many of the 1.3 billion people earning just a US$1.25 a day around the world, but only when supported by strong policies and public- and private-sector investments.

These are the findings of a new report, Building an Inclusive Green Economy for All, launched June 14 at the Rio+20 summit by the Poverty-Environment Partnership (PEP), a network of bilateral aid agencies, development banks, UN agencies and international NGOs. The report finds that many developing and least developed countries are already pursuing a transition towards low-carbon, resource efficient economies.

Scaling-up current examples of the green economy in action—particularly in developing countries—has the potential to deliver a ‘triple bottom line’ of job-creating economic growth, environmental sustainability and social inclusion, says the report.

But targeted investments and governance reforms are needed to overcome current barriers that are preventing many poor communities from fully benefiting from a green economy.

The new report finds that many Least Developed Countries, as well as many poor regions of middle income countries, are actually richly endowed with the natural resources that would allow them to build green economies that can sustainably reduce poverty.

“Many least developed and developing countries and communities are seizing the opportunity to bring economy and ecology together in order to generate transformational social outcomes,” said Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), a PEP member, at the launch of the report in Rio de Janeiro.

“The challenge for world leaders meeting here at Rio+20 is to forge and to back the enabling policies, catalytic financing, and social protection packages in order to fast forward these ambitions and to take them to scale.”

The new report argues that large numbers of least developed countries and poor regions of middle income countries are actually richly endowed with the natural resources needed to underpin a green economy transition as a pathway towards realizing sustainable development.

“By embracing an inclusive green economy, leaders in Rio have a rare opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people and usher in a new era of sustainability,” said Manish Bapna, acting president of the World Resources Institute, which co-ordinated the study.

“Shifting to an inclusive green economy will not happen on its own. It requires smart government policies and strong leadership. This report presents a bold vision for a green economy that can tackle poverty and inequality, and, importantly, it offers concrete and practical building blocks to make this transition.”

The report cites many strong examples of developing countries that are already successfully shifting to a green economy. For example:

  • Ethiopia is developing six wind energy projects and a geothermal project, which will increase the country’s capacity by over 1,000 megawatts.

  • Mongolia’s first 50 megawatt wind farm is currently under construction and is set to generate an estimated five per cent of the county’s electricity needs, while reducing air pollution linked with coal-fired generation. Mongolia has the potential to act as a “supergrid” in the region, supplying neighbouring countries with clean energy.

  • In Uganda, the promotion of organic agriculture is helping tens of thousands of farmers to earn up to 300 percent more from certified pineapple, ginger, vanilla and other exports. Globally, the market for organic food products has increased three-fold since 2000.

On the international level, the development of Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD or REDD+) also offers potential for poverty eradication if accompanied by rigorous social safeguards especially for local and indigenous people. For example, in Indonesia, a US $1 billion REDD+ investment by Norway has led to a one year moratorium on logging in Kalimantan, has the potential to safeguard 45 percent of the province’s forests, while providing new livelihood and income opportunities for local people.

Many low and middle-income countries are rich in resources for ecotourism; a sector that is projected to generate revenues of US $240 billion in 2012. Much of this growth is in developing countries as diverse as Botswana, Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, Gabon, Kenya and Nepal.

Least developed countries with less developed infrastructure, particularly in urban areas, can benefit from an inclusive green economy with the right enabling policies and targeted international investments in areas from energy efficiency and clean technologies to modern public transportation systems.

Such efforts can also serve to boost the creation of decent, green jobs. In Lagos, Nigeria, public-private partnerships to improve the city’s infrastructure, reduce congestion and upgrade slums have helped create around 4,000 environment-related jobs among unemployed youth.

Regarding health, environmental risk factors are the cause of around one-fifth of the total disease burden in developing countries, and a large proportion of childhood deaths.

Many green economy investments have the potential to deliver significant benefits for human health. For example, supporting clean fuels and vehicles will lower greenhouse gas emissions, while also reducing respiratory diseases. Similarly, investing in cleaner energy for households in developing countries, such as through more efficient cookstoves, can reduce dependency on wood fuel and tackle deforestation, while limiting exposure to indoor air pollution.

The report underlines that the private sector, including large multinationals and small- and medium-sized enterprises, along with non-governmental organizations have a key enabling role too.

For example:

  • Unilever is working in West Africa with 10,500 small-scale farmers to promote allanblackia trees, which produce seeds rich in oil for use in spreads under the brand names Flora and Bercel

  • In Brazil, the cosmetics company Natura has forged partnerships with 26 communities to source new cosmetics, fragrances, and other products under a benefit sharing project that supports the principles of the UNEP-linked Convention on Biological Diversity

  • The Indian-based Jain Irrigation System makes drip and sprinkler irrigation systems while providing markets for farmers’ produce. Farmers in parts of India have seen net incomes rise by US $100 to $1,000 a hectare as a result of adopting such systems while also reducing water use and environmental impacts.

“There is strong evidence that a transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy could hugely benefit the poor while helping preserve vital ecosystem services,” said Johan Kuylenstierna, executive director of the Stockholm Environment Institute, a PEP member and co-author of the report.

“The challenge at Rio+20 is to make strong international commitments that will ensure the green economy can grow and flourish, with both public- and private-sector support. We also need to adopt policies to protect the vulnerable as their economies make this transition, and to ensure that the benefits of the green economy are fairly and equitably distributed.”

“In the Asia-Pacific region, the twin tracks of investing in sustainable inclusive infrastructure and the sustainable management of critical ecosystems to support future economic development can make a huge impact on the welfare of the poor—in both urban and rural settings,” said Bindu N. Lohani, vice-president for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development, Asian Development Bank.

“Regional institutions must galvanize efforts by governments to create the right enabling policies and channel financial resources into inclusive green growth—the kind of growth that benefits the developing countries and the poorer members of their populations.”

The report calls on delegates meeting for the Rio+20 Summit to consider “five critical building blocks” towards an inclusive green economy. These can maximize the benefits for the poor of a green economy, and foster a shared policy agenda between developing country governments, developed country partners and other stakeholders.

  • National Economic and Social Policies: Fiscal policies, tax regimes, and ‘green’ social protection policies and programmes can strengthen a pro-poor transition;

  • Local Rights and Capacities: Ensuring poor people have rights and tenure over their natural resources backed by the means and the incentives to sustainably manage and benefit from them;

  • Inclusive Green Markets: New business models are needed to build and expand the poor’s access to inclusive markets and supply chains for green products and services, together with access to micro-credit and business development services for small and medium-scale enterprises;

  • Harmonized International Policies and Support: Higher-income countries need to provide coherent aid, trade and other policies to enable low-income countries to succeed in a green economy transition; and

  • New Metrics for Measuring Progress: Going beyond the narrowness of GDP to a broader indicator of economic, social and environmental progress and human well-being: this is a key issue on the table at Rio+20.

Visit EcoWatch's BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.

 

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By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.