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Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Posts Tagged ‘UNCSD

A pre-Rio pentagram from the IIED

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Energy equity, adaptation planning for food and farming, paying for watershed services, Costa Rica’s environment success and food system governance by citizens – these are the subjects of five new briefing papers prepared and released by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). These topics will feature – more or less prominently, we never know, given the politicisation that occurs at every inter-governmental meeting concerning environment and responsibility – in next month’s Rio+20 summit.

Here are the synopses and links:

1. Energy equity: will the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative make a difference?
Establishing inclusive governance of food systems — where farmers and other citizens play an active role in designing and implementing food and agricultural policies — is not just a matter of equity or social justice. Evidence shows that it can also lead to more sustainable livelihoods and environments. And yet, across the world, food system governance is marked by exclusionary processes that favour the values and interests of more powerful corporations, investors, big farmers and large research institutes. How can we tip the balance and amplify the voice and influence of marginalised citizens in setting the food and agricultural policies that affect them? Research points to six tried and tested ways that, when combined, can empower citizens in the governance of food systems.

2. Planning adaptation for food and farming: lessons from 40 years’ research
Local farmers and pastoralists in poor countries have long coped with droughts, floods and variable rainfall patterns. This first-hand experience is invaluable for those working on climate change adaptation policies, but how do we access it? IIED has 40 years’ experience working alongside vulnerable communities to help inform regional, national and global policies. Our research has shown that measures to increase climate change resilience must view food, energy, water and waste management systems as interconnected and mutually dependent. This holistic approach must also be applied to economic analysis on adaptation planning. Similarly, it is vital to use traditional knowledge and management skills, which can further support adaptation planning. Taking these lessons into account, we can then address the emerging policy challenges that we face.

3. Paying for watershed services: an effective tool in the developing world?
Payments for watershed services (PWS) are an increasingly popular conservation and water management tool in developing countries. Some schemes are thriving, and are pro-poor. Others are stalling or have only mixed success. Most rely on public or donor finance; and other sources of funding are unlikely to play a significant role any time soon. In part, financing PWS schemes remains a challenge because the actual evidence for their effectiveness is still scanty — it is hard to prove that they actually work to benefit both livelihoods and environments. Getting more direct and concrete data on costs and benefits will be crucial to securing the long-term future of PWS schemes.

4. Payments for environmental services in Costa Rica: from Rio to Rio and beyond
Costa Rica has shown how a small developing country can grab the bull of environmental degradation by the horns, and reverse one of the highest deforestation rates in Latin America to become the poster child of environment success. Key to its achievement has been the country’s payments for environmental services (PES) programme, which began in 1997 and which many countries are now looking to learn from, especially as water markets and schemes to reward forest conservation and reduced deforestation (REDD+) grow. Within Costa Rica too, there is a need to first reflect on how the contexts for, and challenges facing, PES have changed; and continue building a robust programme that can ensure the coming decade is as successful as the past one.

5. Putting citizens at the heart of food system governance
Establishing inclusive governance of food systems — where farmers and other citizens play an active role in designing and implementing food and agricultural policies — is not just a matter of equity or social justice. Evidence shows that it can also lead to more sustainable livelihoods and environments. And yet, across the world, food system governance is marked by exclusionary processes that favour the values and interests of more powerful corporations, investors, big farmers and large research institutes. How can we tip the balance and amplify the voice and influence of marginalised citizens in setting the food and agricultural policies that affect them? Research points to six tried and tested ways that, when combined, can empower citizens in the governance of food systems.

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.

The Rights of Nature, a Rio reminder from Bolivia

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The so-called ‘Zero Draft of the Outcome Document for the Earth Summit 2012’, an unwieldy name for any collaborative document, has been commented upon and responded to by a very large group of NGOs and voluntary organisations. That’s good, because the UN Secretariat, insofar as it can make a contribution, has provided some synthesis of the conversations till date.

'The Rights of Nature', condensed into a word cloud

But, and this is a big ‘but’, the Zero Draft is not urgent, it is woefully unambitious, it has next to no detail and its tone is about as attractive as a dentist’s chair. Not good for what is to be a grand 20th anniversary meeting which will be watched and heard by tens of thousands of interested parties worldwide.

There’s precious little on the mess that is our socio-economic systems, there’s far too little honesty about what’s wrong. There’s a worrying tendency of repeating the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘development’ and overusing word pairs like ‘green economy’ and overusing ideas like ‘earth systems governance’.

But – there is an alternative. Hard-hitting and truly visionary, this alternative is called ‘The Rights of Nature’. It was submitted to the UNCSD (UN Commission on Sus Dev, which is the host of the Rio+20 meeting). “The proposals developed by the Plurinational State of Bolivia bring together and build upon the progress made in the World Charter for Nature (1982), the Rio Declaration (1992), the Earth Charter (2000), and the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (2010),” explains the Bolivian proposal at the outset, a calling to history which regrettably is left out of the Zero Draft.

You can re-read the stirring ‘The Law of Mother Earth’, and here is a little more from ‘The Rights of Nature’:

1. In this century, the central challenges of sustainable development are: on the one hand, to overcome poverty and the tremendous inequalities that exist and, on the other hand, reestablish the equilibrium of the Earth system. Both objectives are intrinsically linked and one cannot be reached independently of the other.

2. It is essential to recognize and affirm that growth has limits. The pursuit of unending development on a finite planet is unsustainable and impossible. The limit to development is defined by the regenerative capacity of the Earth’s vital cycles. When growth begins to break that balance, as we see with global warming, we can no longer speak of it as development, but rather, the deterioration and destruction of our home. A certain level of growth and industrialization is needed to satisfy basic needs and guarantee the human rights of a population, but this level of “necessary development” is not about permanent growth, but rather, balance among humans and with nature.

3. New technologies will not allow unending economic growth. Scientific advances, under some circumstances, can contribute to resolve certain problems of development but can’t ignore the natural limits of the Earth system.

You can download a pdf of ‘The Rights of Nature’ from here, the source being the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.