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Posts Tagged ‘IUCN

The Blue Planet warning, and prescription

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Painting by Shraddha Satish Shenoy of St Columba School, Mumbai, India

This February in London, Britain, a group of the world’s leading scientists and experts in sustainable development called for urgent changes to policies and institutions to enable humanity to tackle environmental crises and improve human well-being. They had gathered to finalise a paper launched at the UN Environment Programme’s Governing Council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, on 20-22 February.

Now available, the paper emphasises transformational solutions to key environment and development challenges. It highlights the policies, technologies and behaviour changes required to protect the local, regional and global environment, stimulate the economy and enhance the livelihoods of the poor. Called ‘Environmental and Development Challenges: The imperative to act’, this group wrote the paper as a prelude to the Rio+20 conference in Brazil in June, which marks the 20th anniversary of the historic UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio Earth Summit).

The paper’s authors are all past winners of the Blue Planet Prize, an award presented to individuals or organisations worldwide in recognition of outstanding achievements in scientific research and its application that have helped provide solutions to global environmental problems.

“The challenges facing the world today need to be addressed immediately if we are to solve the problem of climate change, loss of biodiversity and poverty,” said Bob Watson, who is the Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), a Blue Planet Prize winner in 2010 and a co-author of the new paper.

Here are the salient messages from their paper:

There is an urgent need to break the link between production and consumption on the one hand and environmental destruction on the other. This can allow risking material living standards for a period that would allow us to overcome world poverty. Indefinite material growth on a planet with finite and often fragile natural resources will however, eventually be unsustainable. Unsustainable growth is promoted by environmentally-damaging subsidies in areas such as energy, transportation and agriculture and should be eliminated; external environmental and social costs should be internalized; and the market and non-market values of ecosystem goods and services should be taken into account in decision-making.

Painting by Siddhi Sudhakar Ghadi of St Agnes High School, Mumbai, India

The immense environmental, social and economic risks we face as a world from our current path will be much harder to manage if we are unable to measure key aspects of the problem. For example, governments should recognise the serious limitations of GDP as a measure of economic activity and complement it with measures of the five forms of capital, built, financial, natural, human and social capital, i.e., a measure of wealth that integrates economic, environmental and social dimensions.

Green taxes and the elimination of subsidies should ensure that the natural resources needed to directly protect poor people are available rather than via subsidies that often only benefit the better off.

The present energy system, which is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, underlies many of the problems we face today: exhaustion of easily accessible physical resources, security of access to fuels, and degradation of health and environmental conditions. Universal access to clean energy services is vital for the poor, and a transition to a low carbon economy will require rapid technological evolution in the efficiency of energy use, environmentally sound low-carbon renewable energy sources and carbon capture and storage. The longer we wait to transition to a low carbon economy the more we are locked into a high carbon energy system with consequent environmental damage to ecological and socio-economic systems, including infrastructure.

Painting by Sanchana Laxman Jadhav of St Agnes High School, Mumbai, India

Emissions of GHG emissions are one of the greatest threats to our future prosperity. World emissions (flows) are currently around 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent (COe) per annum and are growing rapidly. As the terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems are unable to absorb all of the world’s annual emissions, concentrations (stocks) of GHG emissions in the atmosphere have increased, to around 445ppm of CO2e today and increasing at a rate of around 2.5 ppm per year.

Thus we have a flow-stock problem. Without strong action to reduce emissions, over the course of this century we would likely add at least 300 ppm COe, taking concentrations to around 750 ppm COe or higher at the end of the century or early in the next. The world’s current commitments to reduce emissions are consistent with at least a 3 C rise (50-50 chance) in temperature: a temperature not seen on the planet for around 3 million years, with serious risks of 5 C rise: a temperature not seen on the planet for around 30 million years. Given there are some uncertainties present in all steps of the scientific chain (flows to stocks to temperatures to climate change and impacts), this is a problem of risk management and public action on a great scale.

There are serious short-comings in the decision making systems at local, national and global levels on which we rely in government, business and society. The rules and institutions for decision making are influenced by vested interests, with each interest having very different access over how decisions are made. Effective change in governance demands action at many levels to establish transparent means for holding those in power to account. At the local level public hearings and social audits can bring the voices of marginalized groups into the forefront. At national level, parliamentary and press oversight are key.

Globally, we must find better means to agree and implement measures to achieve collective goals. Governance failures also occur because decisions are being made in sectoral compartments, with environmental, social and economic dimensions addressed by separate, competing structures.

Painting by Pooja Badhe of Udaychal High School, Mumbai, India

The Blue Planet laureates who gathered in London to work on the paper are:

Professor Sir Bob Watson, Chief Scientific Adviser of the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra); Lord (Robert) May of Oxford, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government and President of Royal Society of London; Professor Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University; Professor Harold Mooney, Stanford University; Dr. Gordon Hisashi Sato, President, Manzanar Project Corporation; Professor José Goldemberg, secretary for the environment of the State of São Paulo, Brazil and Brazil’s interim Secretary of Environment during the Rio Earth Summit in 1992; Dr Emil Salim, former Environment Minister of the Republic of Indonesia; Dr Camilla Toulmin, Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development; Bunker Roy, Founder of Barefoot College; Dr Syukuro Manabe, Senior Scientist, Princeton University; Julia Marton-Lefevre, Director-General of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature; Dr Simon Stuart, Chair of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature; Dr Will Turner, Vice President of Conservation Priorities and Outreach, Conservation International; Dr Karl-Henrik Robert, Founder of The Natural Step, Sweden.

Discovery and spread of biodiversity studies

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FAO, The Second Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources for Food and AgriculturePLoS (the Public Library of Science) has launched a Biodiversity Hub aiming to accelerate the discovery, dissemination and integration of biodiversity studies. The Biodiversity Hub provides three general services to users: it aggregates selected open-access biodiversity articles, adds value in the form of data/images etc and encourages community dialogue – you can find out more about these benefits in the official launch post.

Over the past decade, considerable progress in synthesizing and digitizing biodiversity related assets has been made. These resource assets include:  Specimen datasets: GBIF; Interoperability among datasets and databases: GEO BON; Taxonomic literature: BHL; Taxonomic names: Zoobank; IPNI; Catalogue of Life; Molecular sequence data: GenBank; Barcode of Life; Images: MorphBank; ARKive; Phylogenetic relationships: Tree of Life; Natural history: Encylopedia of Life; Conservation status of species: IUCN Red List; TreeBASE and WWF Wildfinder.

Scientists are amassing details about the scope and status of life’s variation at an accelerating rate. This aids our understanding of species distributions and their interactions over time. However, if we are to address the consequences of global environmental change for life’s future, biodiversity data must be integrated and synthesized to a much greater degree than they are at present, and this can be promoted by enhanced communication among the interested parties, and raising public awareness. Here, we call attention to a new community resource and tool which provides a step in the right direction.

“If climate change is the ‘biggest market failure’, what the hell is poverty?”

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Dr Ashok Khosla is President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Co-President of the Club of Rome. He is also founder and chairman of the New Delhi-based Development Alternatives Group

Dr Ashok Khosla is President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Co-President of the Club of Rome. He is also founder and chairman of the New Delhi-based Development Alternatives Group.

Some uplifting straight talk by Dr Ashok Khosla, President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Co-President of the Club of Rome. He was interviewed by the website of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Khosla is also founder and chairman of the New Delhi-based Development Alternatives Group, a social enterprise that innovates and delivers commercially viable, environmentally friendly technologies.

Excerpts from the interview, which is short and no-nonsense:

“After about 60 years of so-called international development, it should amaze the powers that be that we’ve ended up with 3 billion people left outside. This is as thorough an indictment of the trickle-down theory as one can imagine. But the powers that be seem to be quite oblivious to all this. If policies are based, as they almost always are today, on what is good for the rich, what is good for the stock markets, what is good for foreign direct investment, if they are designed to make more money on defense, on wars, on exploiting the earth, then it is only logical that the world will end up with three billion poor people. There’s just no way around that. Even if you believed that neo-classical economics had any meaning in the 1950s or 1960s, you cannot believe in it now. Much less [can you believe in] neo-liberalism, which dominates the world of decision making today.”

“There are people going around saying that climate change is the biggest market failure. What the hell, then, is poverty, for goodness sake? If there’s one market failure that humanity ought to be ashamed of, it’s the massive poverty that exists. Our entire focus today ought to be, how to  remove poverty, because poverty is not only degrading for the poor, even the rich are paying a heavy cost for it. The bigger the population, the more the resources it needs.”

“I don’t know of many countries that nurture civil society any more. India, like the US and, to some extent, the UK, had a vibrant, huge civil society. The whole freedom movement in India was a civil society movement, and for thousands of years, philanthropic and voluntary work has been the basis of Indian society as much as it has been, more recently, in the US, a country that one can admire greatly for its commitment to voluntarism. But this is now under threat both in the US and in India. There are some very large countries, like China, that don’t even have civil society movements, and their future generations will pay a heavy price because of that. All sectors are needed: government, business, civil society, but unfortunately, the mix has lost its balance. The big corporations are now so influential, so heavy, in most countries that even governments don’t have much say any more, and civil society has virtually none.”

“I have devoted a lot of time and effort trying to convince businessmen to see things differently. Every time I talk to business about socially responsible investment, however, the response I get is, “Yes, but our first responsibility is to our shareholders.” I don’t know of any businessman who takes the long view, unless that long view happens to mean very good profits within the tenure of that particular CEO.”