Friday, February 28, 2014

A 'green economy' must pull in informal workers, deal with inequality - report

By Samuel Mintz

While an increasing number of businesses, national governments, and international institutions are embracing the idea of “green growth,” issues like inequality and the informal economy are being left out of the equation, which threatens the push’s success, according to a “Green Economy Barometer Report” released this week.

“We’re finally seeing that economic leaders are looking at the opportunities of green growth, which is quite a step,” said Emily Benson, one of the organisers of the Green Economy Coalition, which produced the report with the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

But she said a focus only on green growth was too narrow, and would fail to address key problems.

The Green Economy Coalition, which works on environmental sustainability and social equity questions, includes a group of organisations ranging from the World Wildlife Federation to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales.

Benson said that the difference between green growth and a green economy was subtle but important.

“Green growth is about resource efficiency, which is a critical part of the transition, no doubt. But all of the evidence suggests that it alone can’t be the only solution. It doesn’t know how to deal with limits, with boundaries. What can seem very rational at the level of the UN or a national level can be irrational level when it comes to ecological limits,” she said.

At the same time, the “green economy is … about redistributing power and natural and financial resources. That requires a very different approach to policy making,” Benson said.

The report states that even the idea of “inclusive green growth,” which has been popularly used by governments and businesses since the Rio+20 gathering in 2012, does not explicitly address the issue of inequality and “assumes that trickle-down economics will improve the living standards of the poorest.”


Another problem with current efforts to build green growth is that they largely ignore informal markets and the informal economy, which can account for a huge amount of economic activity in some countries.

“The problem about most of the top-down green growth movement is that they don’t know how to deal with the informal economy,” said Benson. Often, the result is regulations or practices which mean that “informal traders get marginalised because they can’t afford to participate.”

Even as the economies of many developing countries start to mature, informal economies in many remain large and important. In many countries around the world, informal economies are growing rather than decreasing. And, to the surprise of many, these informal markets are often more green than the formal economy.

“People have a negative connotation of the informal market, but research says that it is actually more efficient and sustainable than its counterparts in many ways,” Benson said.

For example, if groups of waste-pickers are allowed to compete for municipal waste management contracts, the result can be “green, inclusive and productive outcomes,” noted Steve Bass, of IIED, the report’s lead author.

The report recommends quick action on a human, country and global level, including scaling up dialogue, ensuring global policy goals complement rather than contradict each other and, most important, making sure the opportunities presented by a green economy improve people’s lives, Benson said.

“What we’re seeing at the moment is that the politics and financial flows are changing quickly. This is the moment where we have the most opportunity to help shape the way that this global and national architecture is developing. Green growth alone is favoring the very powerful: high-tech companies and powerful nations. The risk is that that doesn’t help poorer people,” she said.

A true green economy, the report noted, could benefit people through better jobs, improved health and improved access to energy, food, education and housing, as well as lower vulnerability to disasters such as floods.

“We’re really excited about the conversation on an international level, but until that translates to a human and a personal level within communities, it’s a hard transition,” Benson said. “That’s why connecting it to equity is so critical, because that’s what’s affecting so many people’s lives. Until we make the choices relevant to people and communities, we’re going to struggle, and that’s why this big international architecture needs to be refined.”

A 'green economy' must pull in informal workers, deal with inequality - report

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Green Climate Fund: A Devil’s Bargain on the Climate

By Janet Redman and Oscar Reyes, Common Dreams

Will the Green Climate Fund—the UN body tasked with funding the transition to a clean-energy, climate-resilient future in the developing world—invest in fossil fuels?

Two years ago, environmentalist Bill McKibben caused a stir when he revealed the “terrifying new math” of climate change. McKibben calculated that to have a reasonable chance of staying below what climate scientists call the “tipping point” of global warming — a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels — humans can only send 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution into the atmosphere.

Here’s the catch: The oil, coal, and gas reserves that fossil fuel companies and petro-states already have on their books account for about 2,795 gigatons of CO2. If they dig up — and we burn — those reserves, we’ll release five times more carbon than the atmosphere can handle. Hello, climate disaster.

That means that between 60 and 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves are “unburnable” if the world is to have a chance of avoiding the tipping point. That’s why students, religious leaders, philanthropists, and everyday folks with retirement savings are doing the math and demanding that their investment dollars not prop up an industry that threatens life on earth as we know it.

These voices are joining community activists, Indigenous Peoples, and workers in the Global South — many of whom are on the front lines of climate chaos — who are calling on international institutions not to bank on fossil fuels to drive their economic development. It’s alarming, then, that a new UN Green Climate Fund that is being set up to help transition economies away from fossil fuels may itself support fossil fuel projects.

There’s no future — financially or ecologically — in development projects that warm the planet and destabilize the environment. If the UN wants to help developing countries make the leap to renewable energy, it should take a lesson from divestment activists all over the world and keep its checkbook closed to dirty energy projects.

A Bad Bet

For some, divestment will seem like leaving money on the table. Leaving those fuels in the ground, after all, makes for a lot of “stranded assets.”

The UK-based Carbon Tracker Initiative calculates that these unexploited reserves are worth about $4 trillion in share value and support $1.27 trillion in corporate debt. If you’re the financial officer of a university endowment or a pension fund manager, you might protest that your job is to raise money — and fossil investments still generally outperform renewable energy.

But in the long term, dirty energy investments won’t be so sure a bet. As more and more countries feel the impacts of climate change, serious efforts to curb carbon pollution could make those investments less appealing. Leaders of some of the most important international development and climate institutions recognize this and recently took the stage at the World Economic Forum to bring together the ecological and economic sides of the divestment case.

UN climate convention chief Christiana Figueres said investors would be “in blatant breach of their fiduciary duty” if they failed to pull their money out of fossil fuel-linked funds in the face of “clear scientific evidence” of global warming. And Dr. Jim Kim, president of the World Bank, called on long-term investors to “rethink what fiduciary responsibility means” in the face of climate change and to address the financial risk associated with their carbon-intensive investments.

Climate Fund for the 21st Century

Ironic, then, that the new UN Green Climate Fund could, perversely, become a major source of funding for fossil fuel infrastructure.

The mandate of the fund is to support a transformational shift in the global south away from fossil fuels and toward clean, climate-resilient development. But tucked away in the fine print of the fund’s governing document is support for technologies like carbon capture and storage (aka “clean coal”) — a technology that is not viable at scale and does nothing to address the cradle-to-grave environmental and social devastation that coal wreaks.

In fact, any mention of phasing out fossil fuels is conspicuously absent in the new climate fund, even as other international financial institutions are finally moving to wind down some of the coal-fired excesses of their energy portfolios.

There is, however, a window of opportunity to remedy this as the Green Climate Fund board members work toward final design elements at their meeting this week in Bali. One of those elements could be an exclusion list of dirty energy projects it simply won’t finance. Another is to agree on a framework of indicators of success (in board-speak, the “results management framework”) and strict performance standards that rule out dirty energy.

Most importantly, the board must adopt strong environmental and social safeguards for the projects it supports. In addition to avoiding fossil fuel projects, that might also mean refusing to promote projects like large hydroelectric dams that can cause large-scale displacement of people and loss of land and livelihoods.

An Uphill Battle

The task of keeping dirty energy out of the Green Climate Fund will not be easy.

Several board members have vested economic interests in maintaining the financial viability of “less dirty” energy approaches like “clean coal” and natural gas. And large transnational corporations, including Bank of America (dubbed “the coal bank” by activists), play a significant role in shaping the fund.

Scientists are telling us that we must get off fossil fuels fast. We’re already witnessing the devastating impacts of climate change on our neighbors and friends across the world. And for many national governments, funds to deal with the climate crisis are scarce.

The opportunity is clear. And common sense, not head-in-the-sand economic interests, must dictate action. The Green Climate Fund should take a lesson from ordinary investors all over the world who see that there’s no future in fossil fuels — not for their portfolios, and not for the planet.

Green Climate Fund: A Devil’s Bargain on the Climate

Monday, February 24, 2014

Global Forest Watch | Monitoring Forests in Near Real Time

Global Forest Watch ( is a dynamic online forest monitoring and alert system that empowers people everywhere to better manage forests.

For the first time, Global Forest Watch unites satellite technology, open data, and crowdsourcing to guarantee access to timely and reliable information about forests.

Armed with the latest information from Global Forest Watch, governments, businesses and communities can halt forest loss.

Global Forest Watch was created by the World Resources Institute with over 40 partners, including: Google, ESRI, the University of Maryland, Imazon, Center for Global Development, and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP). Major funders include the Norwegian Climate and Forests Initiative, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), U.K. Department for International Development (DFID), Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the Tilia Fund.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The downsides of green growth

He notes that the focus of green growth strategies is on technologies, rather than on who will use them – and how, which must change. Instead what is needed is to consider how exactly green-growth strategies will benefit the poor. If, on the other hand, the users of the technology are not the poor and climate vulnerable, the indirect impacts on them must be assessed.

He adds that Green-growth rhetoric often suggests the existence of "win-win" solutions. In truth, adaptation to climate change is a complex challenge. Every green-growth policy, for instance, depends on natural resources whose access is contested almost everywhere. 

He warns that unless we know how the application of a new technology will impact on the distribution and use of land, water and other vital resources, it is impossible to tell whether it will serve or hurt the poor. All too often, however, the related questions are not even asked.

He emphasizes that if the goal of green growth  is to fight poverty, the focus must be on the
people who are exposed to climate impacts and environmental risks, but who have only limited capacities to manage these risks.
But the Instead, the starting point for analysis tends to be how to implement a given technical solution, the merits of which are taken for granted. There is too little concern for empowering people to make their own informed decisions. Such lack of respect for local people’s needs and desires, however, is a recipe for failure.

Read Ian
Christoplos's full essay from here: 'The downsides of green growth'

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fishing for our future

It is a cliché of development discourse that it is better to teach people to fish than to give them fish to eat. While there is a core of truth in this statement, the issues have become much more complex than such simple ideas suggest.

Today, as the international community is working to fashion a new sustainable development agenda to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there are at least 842 million children, women and men suffering from chronic hunger and many more who are poorly nourished. The world population has passed 7 billion. And climate change presents a serious challenge to growing enough food to feed this and future generations.

Today’s world differs greatly from what the architects of  the MDGs faced. There is consensus that we need not just a new set of  goals, but a new way of reaching them that embraces a comprehensive  approach to sustainable development, looking at the economic, social and environmental dimensions. In development parlance, a transformation has to happen.

And that transformation has to happen in rural areas, as well as urban. For one thing, 76 percent of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas. Most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. If development doesn’t reach them, then development fails.

But these rural women and men are also a powerful force: small family farms provide up to 80 percent of the food produced in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia. They are also stewards of natural resources and biodiversity on which the future depends.
And they have the potential to grow more food, feed more people, reduce poverty, create jobs and protect our natural resources – but only if we apply a transformative approach to development. Investing in rural people is essential to that approach.

The idea of transformation is not new. Almost 40 years ago, the Universal Declaration on the Eradication of Hunger and Malnutrition stated that “effective measures of socio-economic transformation” would be needed in order “to remove the obstacles to food production and to provide proper incentives to agricultural producers”.
That declaration was adopted in 1974 by the World Food Conference – the same conference that provided the initial impetus for the creation of the organisation I head, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

IFAD’s experience shows that investing in rural people and in agriculture can ensure a real return on investment in terms of food security and poverty reduction. We know that market-oriented, profitable and environmentally sustainable smallholder agriculture can spur economic growth in developing countries and lift millions out of  poverty.
In the world’s 49 least developed countries, agriculture is the backbone of the economy, accounting for 30 to 60 percent of gross domestic product and employing as much as 70 percent or more of the workforce. And smallholders in developing countries play a key role in protecting our environment, providing a wide range of environmental services that contribute to carbon sequestration and limit carbon emissions.

Neither global food security nor poverty eradication can be achieved without rural development. The world is becoming increasingly urban, yet cities are still fed by the people working the land in rural areas. And rural areas are changing, as higher returns from agriculture attract more investment and create new opportunities. If poor farmers and fishers are excluded, they will follow a well-trodden path to over-crowded urban areas and abroad.

More and more, the development community is realising that we cannot move forward if we continue to think of agriculture and rural areas as backward, or marginal. This change in our mindset needs to be embraced by developed and developing countries alike.

To transform rural spaces and lives will require imaginative projects, partnerships and technologies. Yet we must be realistic.

The future we want isn’t free, and it isn’t enough just to want it. It will have to be paid for – not just with greater investment in agriculture and rural development to ensure nutritious food for all, and not just by tearing down the barriers to accessing food, inputs or finances. It will cost us time, and a higher level of care and attention.

Transformation means not just changing the outcome, but changing the context. It must be both ameliorative and preventive at the same time – changing the present, and opening the door to a better and more secure future. It means helping people fish today in a way that will also ensure there are fish to catch tomorrow and long into the future.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Dreaming of a green desert

Pierre Herben, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In desert lands, temperatures can reach a searing 50 degrees Celsius and rainfall can be as little as 10 inches (25.4 cm) per year. It would be easy to dismiss these areas as wastelands, lacking the vital ingredients to produce abundant supplies of food, clean energy and employment.

Yet a pilot project in Qatar has demonstrated that, by using a unique combination of innovations and the elements that are available in the desert, growth can be restored, and crops for food, fodder and fuel can flourish.

The Sahara Forest Project concept was launched in 2009, with the aim of ‘greening’ desert areas and creating a sustainable solution to the world’s food and energy demands through a restorative process, rather than an extractive one.

It is designed to utilise what we have enough of - deserts, saltwater and carbon dioxide (CO₂) - to produce what we need more of: food, water and clean energy.

In 2011, the Sahara Forest Project partnered with Yara International ASA, a global fertiliser company, and the Qatar Fertiliser Company (Qafco), opening its first pilot facility in December 2012. Described as ‘an oasis of green technologies’, the purpose-built facility in Qatar brings together existing and proven environmental technologies, benefiting from the synergies between them.


The Sahara Forest Project aims to establish groups of interconnected economic activities in different low-lying desert areas around the world. The core of the concept is infrastructure for bringing saltwater inland.

Through this infrastructure, the project aims to make electricity generation from concentrated solar power (CSP) more efficient and to operate energy- and water-efficient saltwater-cooled greenhouses, which can then be used for growing high value crops in the desert.

In addition, technologies produce freshwater for irrigation or drinking, safely manage brine, and harvest useful compounds from the resulting salt. They also grow biomass for energy purposes in a way that doesn’t compete with food cultivation, and re-green desert lands. A technology for establishing outside vegetation in arid environments is one of the key components.

Besides commodity outputs of food, energy and salt, the system also provides global climate benefits by sequestering CO2 in the facility’s plants and soils, and by pushing back the accelerating process of desertification through replanting desert areas.

By bringing desert areas into productive use, more carbon can be stored from the atmosphere in plants, roots and soils. Such measures have the potential to be a major tool in limiting the effect of global warming.

It has been estimated that a single Sahara Forest Project facility with 50 MW of concentrated solar power and 50 hectares of seawater greenhouses would annually produce 34,000 tonnes of vegetables, employ over 800 people, export 155 GWh of electricity and sequester more than 8,250 tonnes of CO2.


The Sahara Forest Project concept and technologies could be implemented successfully in parts of most of the world’s hot deserts. Suitable locations depend on social factors such as political support, access to expertise, geopolitical benefit and local partnerships.

Additionally a number of financial factors must be considered such as availability of funding, manufacturing and construction costs, labor costs, market access, market value and the cost of land.

Technical issues will also determine the viability of a Sarah Forest Project, including the correct temperature and humidity levels. Height above sea level (up to around 200m) and distance from the sea are other important factors, as they have a direct effect on the energy required to pump seawater.

Even if all the conditions are right, Sahara Forest Project facilities will only be truly successful if well integrated with local communities providing opportunities for jobs, produce and knowledge transfer.

Finding a sustainable way to feed the planet while making efficient use of our most precious natural resources is a global priority – and we have the technology and innovation to make it happen. Reclaiming arid lands will be a key factor in this process, and desert lands should not be overlooked.

Dreaming of a green desert

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ban Ki-moon: climate change security threat same as ‘armed group bent on plunder’ - Blue and Green Tomorrow

By Tom Revell, Blue & Green Tomorrow

Leading figures in the United Nations have warned the strategic community that climate change is one of the most urgent threats to international security.

Speaking at the 50th Munich Security Conference this weekend, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon warned, “Climate change is every much a security threat as an armed group bent on plunder.”

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) explained that changes to the environment represent a “systemic risk” to security because of the displacement it can cause.

“Currently we have about 200 million people displaced in the world. We don’t have any clear data on how that displacement will grow with climate change because that data is still being developed”, she said.

“But the range of estimates go anywhere from 25 million to an extra one billion displaced by 2050, if we have runaway climate change. And its not surprising, because the very clear estimates are that 5 billion people will be living in water stressed areas. So having one billion of that displaced is probably not an exaggeration.”

Figueres also warned that military operations themselves would be threatened because of the “life support dependence” forces have on increasingly budgeted and costly fossil fuels.

Pointing out the scale of the issue, Figueres noted, “One gallon of fuel will move a UK aircraft carrier 12 inches.”

In his keynote speech at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel, US secretary of state John Kerry listed climate change among “the great tests of our time”.

“I urge you, read the latest [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report. It’s really chilling. And what’s chilling is not rhetoric; it’s the scientific facts, scientific facts”, he told delegates.

UN secretary-general Ban has warned of the security implications of climate change before. In 2011, he told the UN Security Council that the impact of extreme weather and rising seas on lives, and national infrastructures and budgets – a “unholy brew” – could create dangerous security vacuums.

“The facts are clear: climate change is real and accelerating in a dangerous manner,” he said at the time, declaring that it “not only exacerbates threats to international peace and security; it is a threat to international peace and security”.

In 2013 the commander of the US forces in the Pacific, Navy Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III, also said upheaval caused by global warming “is probably the most likely thing that is going to happen […] that will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.”

He added, “We have interjected into our multilateral dialogue – even with China and India – the imperative to kind of get military capabilities aligned [for] when the effects of climate change start to impact these massive populations.

“If it goes bad, you could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly.’’