Your Opportunity To Influence the Millenium Development Goals!

save_earth_poster_by_mythshift

A few months ago I posted a piece on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and why I think that it is important that they are the MDGs revised and reworked to ensure that they are appropriate to the current environmental, societal and sustainability context.
To summarize the MDG post; we have the MDGs and have been working towards them for a while; however there doesn’t seem to be much progress in terms of sustainable development.
(Please have a read of my post on the MDGs for more of my thoughts…. if you haven’t already or you need a bit of a refresher!)

So I was very happy to find the interactive MyWorld site! Some information on the MyWorld survey is as follows;
•MY World is a United Nations global survey for citizens.
•The site aims to capture people’s voices, priorities and views, so world leaders can be informed as they begin the process of defining the next set of global goals to end poverty.
•Through creative online and offline methods, MY World asks individuals which six of sixteen possible issues they think would make the most difference to their lives.
•The sixteen issues have been built up from the priorities expressed by poor people in existing research and polling exercises and they cover the existing Millennium Development Goals, plus issues of sustainability, security, governance and transparency.

I like the fact that the UN and its partners are through the site trying to “capture people’s voices, priorities and views, so world leaders can be informed as they begin the process of defining the next set of global goals to end poverty.”

That said, whether the people’s voices and concerns are effectively considered in the reworking of the MDG’s is another story all together. However, I do think it is important that when given such opportunities we take up the opportunity, and voice our thoughts. So, if you are keen to play a role in your own future I suggest that you pop around to the site and rank your six priority issues! (Taking the survey would also increase your ecocred! Something I know you all would love to do…. !)

I ranked my priority issues and found the process rather frustrating, I wanted to tick all the boxes, so after much debate and discussion with myself I chose the following six:
•Affordable and nutritious food
•Freedom from discrimination and persecution
•Better job opportunities
•Protecting forests, rivers and oceans
•Equality between men and women
•Access to clean water and sanitation

I would love to see what your priority issues are so if you do take the survey and still have some energy left afterwards please drop by and let me know!

To read my previous post on the MDGs and why they need a rethink click here!

The United Nations wants to hear from you. I have just told them my priorities for creating a better world. Join me and vote here!

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A Bottled Water Resolution for a More Sustainable 2013!

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Many of us are lucky enough to live in an area where the municipal water is safe and potable. Despite this many people living in such areas prefer to consume bottled water. Maybe they think it’s a sign of wealth, or its healthier or its cooler. In reality bottled water is really just unsustainable and not necessarily healthy, and definitely not “cool”.

The town of Concord in the USA, has started the year with the promulgation of a law, making single-serving bottles of water illegal. The law aims to discourage the use of bottled water and encourage the use of tap water and help in combating the worldwide problem of plastic pollution. Ten ecocred points to the town of Concord!

I thought this was a great way for the town start 2013 as the law is significant in more ways than one, as its impacts go beyond the reduction of plastic pollution. The bottled water industry, like most things in life, has impacts that we often don’t see and therefore do not consider. The consumption of bottled water is also associated with carbon emissions, inequitable water use, and inefficient energy use, commoditization of nature and a natural process, inequity and a lack of sustainability. Thus the impact of bottled water goes further than discarded plastic bottles often seen littering roadsides, rural areas, rivers and beaches.

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The bottled water industry may be seen as an indicator of a larger unsustainable consumption pattern or problem that many people are not fully aware of. I could go on and on about why bottled water is so very very bad and you would probably get very tired and bored while I list all the reasons. So I thought it easier for all concerned if I provide a little information on the key reasons that I believe bottled water consumption is unsustainable. I am not going into the issues in detail, but you can always find more detailed information on the topic as there are tons of articles etc out there. In addition I will also leave some links behind that you could follow should you be keen.  

The key reasons for dropping your bottled water habit are;

  • Toxicity and health: Most plastic water bottles are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) that is associated with ill health and toxicity. In addition plastic bottles are known to leach harmful chemicals into water that could have health impacts.  

The World Health Organization states that chemical contaminants, such as lead, arsenic and benzene, may be present in bottled water.

(nowastewednesdays.com 2011)

  • Quality: Municipal water is regularly tested and the quality is regulated, not all bottled water suppliers and processing plants are regulated and tested.

“in the industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, it can cost up to 10,000 times more.” (www.treehuger.com,2006)

  • Energy use: the bottled water industry is energy intensive and has a large carbon footprint. Energy is used to transport water to the bottling plant and to transport bottles from the bottling plant to consumers. This results in unnecessary energy use and carbon emissions.

municipal water requires only a little energy to pump the water through pipes to our homes”

  • Oil use: many billions of barrels of oil are used to manufacture plastic bottles. This may be seen as unnecessary use of oil. Oil mining, processing and combustion are associated with environmental degradation; reduction of oil use would benefit us all. One way of reducing your oil use would be to stop the unnecessary consumption of bottled water. 
  • Equity and Commoditization of water: Bottled water companies are using water, a natural resource, as a private commodity. In order to secure profits such companies are trying to and have often succeeded in securing access to water resources such as aquifers and wetlands. In the long term this could have dire consequences for food security, environmental health and the economy, as many people may not be able to afford water due to rising water costs, profits and the commodification of water.   

“Multinational corporations are stepping in to purchase groundwater and distribution rights wherever they can, and the bottled water industry is an important component in their drive to commoditize what many feel is a basic human right: the access to safe and affordable water.”

http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/5-reasons-not-to-drink-bottled-water

  • Pollution and waste: a great deal of the plastic used for water bottles does not get recycled and ends up in landfills or littering out urban and natural environments. The management and landfill of waste especially plastic is costly and this cost could be avoided by not consuming bottled water. A lot of the plastic bottles that don’t get landfilled and or recycled end up in nature where they cause litter and harm to nature and natural processes.  

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So if you want to start of 2013 with a quick, easy to keep and sustainable resolution all you have to do is quit you bottled water habit! This would simply entail:

  • Always asking or non-bottled water, unless you are in an area where there is no safe potable water.
  • Carrying your own water bottle (not plastic) with you and fill up at water fountains, taps etc.
  • Choosing non-bottled water whenever you have to option to do so. E.g. if you are at a meeting or conference or workshop and bottled water is provided ask for non-bottled water.
  • Asking for tap water when dining out and the waiter suggests bottled water for the table.

The multiplier effect of reducing your bottled water consumption also will include the following “good and green’ actions;

  • Reducing your carbon footprint
  • Reducing the amount of plastic waste that has to be landfilled or becomes litter landfilled
  • Ensures that access to water remains a basic right for all, not just for those that can afford it.
  • Support your municipality
  • Prevents the privatization of water
  • Prevents the unsustainable use of aquifers and water resources.
  • Prevents unnecessary energy use.
  • Prevents environmental degradation.
  • Saves you money.

 

 

References and more information:

http://news.iafrica.com/quirky/834862.html

http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/stories/5-reasons-not-to-drink-bottled-water

http://www.sierraclub.org/committees/cac/water/bottled_water/bottled_water.pdf

http://nowastewednesdays.com/2011/03/09/bottled-water-a-bigger-enemy-that-you-think/

http://www.responsiblepurchasing.org/purchasing_guides/bottled_water_university_edition/social_environ/

http://www.treehugger.com/culture/bottled-water-what-a-waste.html

http://www.responsiblepurchasing.org/purchasing_guides/bottled_water_university_edition/social_environ/

Is Credit Risk Affected By Environmental Degradation ?

Most people in the natural resource and environment or sustainable development sectors are aware of the linkages between environmental degradation, the unsustainable use of natural resources and economic costs.

However, it has been quite difficult to highlight the impact of the above on the costs of funding as well as the availability of credit. An exacerbating factor is the difficulty often encountered in ensuring that environmental risks are effectively considered in development and credit assessments.  Most businesses, banks and DFIs are beginning to pay more attention to environmental and sustainability issues. However, this often takes the form of mere lip service, green washing, or a basic compliance approach. In many cases the integration or mainstreaming of sustainability issues are left to the marketing department, and regarded as an add on or fringe department.

The impact of this has been a dilution of what was meant to be the mainstreaming of environment and sustainability considerations into business and the economy. This has also resulted in external risks to the financial and economic system being underestimated. One such risk is environment related credit risk, which has the potential to negatively impact multiple financial markets and have potentially significant economic and social impacts.

Some of the potential impacts and risks have been identified in the UNEP FI report titled; A New Angle on Sovereign Credit Risk. While focused on sovereign credit risk, the report raises issues that are not necessarily new or restricted to the sovereign credit risk sector. This is due to the fact that the findings of the report are based on bio-capacity and ecological footprint concepts that highlight some of the key development and economic related risks and issues.

Interesting points raised in the report are:

  • Natural resources, both renewable, such as biological resources (food and fiber), as well as nonrenewable resources (fossil fuels, ores and minerals) are critical to each nation’s economy.
  • To date, risks stemming from renewable resources in particular are not well-considered in sovereign credit risk assessments.
  • Traditional sovereign credit risk analysis appears to inadequately reflect pressures from increasing global natural resource scarcity, environmental degradation and vulnerability to climate change impacts
  • This report addresses how and why natural resource and environmental risks are becoming financially material for sovereign credit risk, not just in the medium term, but even in the short run.
  • A 10 per cent variation in commodity prices 0.2 and 0.5 per cent of a nation’s GDP. Given the recent fluctuations in commodity prices investors should take note of these issues in the short-term (0 – 5 years).
  • A 10 per cent reduction in the productive capacity of renewable, biological resources, and assuming that consumption levels remain the same, could lead to a reduction in trade balance equivalent to between 1 and over 4 per cent of a nation’s GDP. Given the growing body of scientific evidence on ecosystem degradation and climate change impacts, governments, bondholders and credit rating agencies should take note of these issues in the short to medium term.

Despite the implementation of sustainability reporting and compliance measures within organizations and the banking sector issues such as sovereign and credit risk seem to have been sidelined, diluted and or overlooked. The report is a great place to start the discussion on effective and integrated environmental risk assessment  and will hopefully encourage the type of planning and assessments measures at all levels and in all sectors which do in fact ensure sustainable development.

 Click here to read the report!

World Bank, Development Delusion and Other Interesting Articles

Just read a great and informative article about the World Bank entitled “The World Banks Development Delusion”. The article briefly explores the history of the Bank and argues the need for change in the funding approach used by the World Bank, in its attempts to facilitate development and reduce poverty. The article made the following interesting points:

  • History shows that most of the countries that have come under the sway of the World Bank – and its sister institution, the IMF – have experienced declining development outcomes over the past 30 years or so.
  • Developing countries need much more control over decisions that affect them. Power in the World Bank is presently apportioned according to members’ shares, just like in a corporation. Major decisions require 85% of the vote, and the United States, which holds about 16% of the shares (and controls the presidency), wields de facto veto power. The same is true of the IMF. Developing countries together hold less than 50% of the vote, which is shocking given that the institution supposedly exists to promote their welfare. • Development aid should be delinked from corporate bonds. This would take Wall Street’s interests out of the equation, eliminate the pressure to siphon wealth from debtors, and allow the bank to evaluate its performance on the basis of poverty reduction outcomes instead of loan volume, as is the current practice. (http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/jasonhickel/2012/09/28/the-world-bank-and-the-development-delusion/)

The article also reminded me about the poem The Development Set. Yes, I know I always mention this but it’s only because it’s so true and I have yet to see any real evidence of development finance institutions trying to steer away from being tarred by the same brush that tarred “The Development Set”.

Should you wish to find out more on unsustainable aid, read the article on the World Bank and its development delusions and or read the poem The Development Set, check out the links below:

The need for Sustainable Aid

Aid, Development and the Development Set

The World Banks Development Delusion

Infrastructure Development and Funding

(Not so) Rare Earth Metals & Your Role in Sustainable Development


Despite their name, rare earth metals are are abundant in nature but are hazardous and costly to extract. Rare earth metals are a group of 17 metals that have moved from being a by- product of mining operations to an important component of many or most of the hi-tech products that are becoming/ have already become a key component of everyday life for most of us. As a society nearly all the technology that we use includes rare earth metals, including many of the green technologies (tablets, cell phones, solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars) that we hope will help us transition to a more sustainable society. This makes rare earth metals both a valuable input into, and a strategic for, sustainable economic development. This is especially true within the context of climate change, environmental degradation and an ever increasing need for more efficient resource use. It is therefore essential that these metals are used and extracted in the most sustainable way possible.

It is particularly important to consider rare earth metals within the renewable energy and green technology context. It is also essential to weigh up the pros and cons of transitioning to new technologies before simply adopting them. It is just as important for your ecocide that you know what the real impact of your renewable energy, paperless office, electric car etc really is as you do not want to be lulled in to a false sense of green-ness. For example:

  • Electric cars seen as a way to reduce carbon footprints and GHG emissions so necessary for climate change mitigation. However, an electric car might use nearly 10 times the amount of rare earth metals as opposed to a conventional car which uses a little more than one pound of rare earth materials.
  • A single large wind turbine (rated at about 3.5 megawatts) typically contains 600 kilograms, or about 1,300 pounds, of rare earth metals. (http://dgrnewsservice.org/2012/04/09/bright-green-technologies-dependent-on-rare-earth-metals-that-may-soon-be-economically-unviable/)
  • Moving towards a paperless office may save trees and water but the technology needed to do so will require rare earth metals that will necessarily involve mining, pollution and environmental degradation.

I am not saying new hi-tech solutions are unsustainable, what we need are solutions that have the least impact. It is therefore essential that we weigh up the costs and benefits of any new, greener technologies that we adopt as we make our way towards sustainability.

Rare Earth Element  Used in    
 Scandium  metal alloys for the aerospace industry
 Yttrium  phosphors, ceramics, metal alloys
 Lanthanum  batteries, catalysts for petroleum refining
 Cerium  catalysts, polishing, metal alloys
 Praseodymium  improved magnet corrosion resistance,   pigment
 Neodymium  high power magnets for laptops, lasers
 Promethium  beta radiation source
 Samarium  high temperature magnets, reactor control rods
 Europium  liquid crystal displays, fluorescent   lighting
 Gadolinium  magnetic resonance imaging contrast agent
 Terbium  phosphors for lighting and display
 Dysprosium  high power magnets, lasers
 Holmium  the highest power magnets known
 Erbium  lasers, glass colorant
 Thulium  ceramic magnetic materials under development
 Ytterbium  fibre optic technology, solar panels
 Lutetium  X-ray phosphors
Sources: (Nath, 2011)   (British Geological Survey, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2010)

At present the majority of the rare earth metals are mined and processed in China. China produces an estimated 97% of the rare earth metals that are used around the world (Nath, 2011). China is also associated with unsustainable mining and production practices making society’s reliance on unsustainably sourced Chinese rare earth metals somewhat “unsustainable”.

An example is;The town of Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, where two-thirds of Chinas rare earths are mined and processed. Baotou is the largest Chinese source of rare earth minerals, the minerals are mined at Bayan Obo, north of Baotou then brought to Baotou for processing. The mining and processing operations in Baotu has resulted in soil, air and groundwater pollution which has in turn negatively impacted on the health and well-being of people living in the area.

“According to an article published by the Chinese Society of Rare Earths, “Every ton of rare earth produced generates approximately 8.5 kilograms (18.7 lbs) of fluorine and 13 kilograms (28.7 lbs) of dust; and using concentrated sulfuric acid high temperature calcination techniques to produce approximately one ton of calcined rare earth ore generates 9,600 to 12,000 cubic meters (339,021 to 423,776 cubic feet) of waste gas containing dust concentrate, hydrofluoric acid, sulfur dioxide, and sulfuric acid, approximately 75 cubic meters (2,649 cubic feet) of acidic wastewater plus about one ton of radioactive waste residue (containing water).” Furthermore, according to statistics conducted within Baotou, “all the rare earth enterprises in the Baotou region produce approximately ten million tons of all varieties of wastewater every year” and most of that waste water is “discharged without being effectively treated, which not only contaminates potable water for daily living, but also contaminates the surrounding water environment and irrigated farmlands.” (www.thecuttingedgenews.com, 2012 )

While rare earth minerals may be able to help us transition to a more sustainable society they are not the silver bullet to enabling the transition towards a low carbon, greener economy. It is therefore essential that mining and processing of the rare earths occurs in a sustainable manner as does the use of technologies containing rare earths. As a society we need to be more mindfull of how we use our technology and not blindly assume that we are doing the environment a favour by changing to a so called “greener technology”.

So the next time a new tablet, ipod, cellphone or whatever is released don’t just buy the new one for the sake of having the latest model, “Wasting rare earth minerals on gadgets is not going to get us any closer to being sustainable”, (says the blogger typing away on her latest hi-tech tablet/ gadget!)

Sources:

Baotou article

The cutting edge.

Dr Chandrika Nath 2011, Rare Earth Posst Note UK Parliament. 

Rare Earth Elements, June 2010, British Geological Survey

http://www.keepersoftheblueridge.com/environmental-impact.html

Tied Aid & The Need For Sustainable Aid

Tied aid is foreign aid that must be spent in the country providing the aid (the donor country) or in a group of selected countries. A developed country will provide a bilateral loan or grant to a developing country, but mandate that the money be spent on goods or services produced in the selected country. From this it follows that untied aid has no geographical limitations.” (wikipedia, 2012)

I was recently approached to provide my view on a funding proposal. My view was not the view that was expected or sought and this resulted in a “little-big” debate. The ensuing discussion and debate left me distressed and also questioning my view of aid, and specifically tied aid. The key issue is; are developing countries so very desperate for aid that they are willing to accept aid that comes with conditionality’s such as tied aid? This despite it being a known fact that tied aid is unsustainable and has been deemed illegal by certain donors?

Tied aid is now illegal in the UK by virtue of the International Development Act, which came into force on 17 June 2002, replacing the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act (1980).” (http://www.appropedia.org/Tied_aid)

So the questions remain; is tied aid to be considered aid? and should developing countries accept tied aid as part of the sustainable development process? This becomes particularly important given, the current environmental, climate change and economic context. The current development context creates the perfect opportunity for an increase in aid requirements, needs and proposals, however, if the aid is tied and bound by conditionalities that are unsustainable in the long-term the impact of the aid will be unsustainable and will end up being counterproductive, which in my opinion is not the path that development aid should be pursuing.

Development assistance may get a new lease on life thanks to global warming. Aid occupies a major place in multilateral negotiations and sometimes, by default, becomes the main outcome of negotiations, which stumble at real fundamental issues (Carbonnier, 2010)”

The details of the aid proposition that sparked this post are as follows:

  • Country X (donor) to provide country Y (recipient) with funding to undertake specialist environmental studies.
  • Conditions:
    • Consultant from Country X will undertake the specialist water resource studies for country Y, to the value of 75% of the donation.
    • A maximum of 25% of the donation may be spent on consultants in the recipient country.
    • The reasoning for the 25% 75% spilt between the consultants is due to the recipient country being perceived as not having the skills to undertake the specialist studies.

My key concerns with aid that is tied to sourcing of skills and/or produce etc from the donor country are;

  • The majority of the economic benefit goes to the donor country. As a result the benefit to the recipient country is much less than anticipated.
  • Skills transfer to the recipient country and recipient country consultants is minimal and often inefficient and ineffective and is therefore not a feasible or sustainable argument on which to base the tied aid. The reasons for this are
    • Most of the skills will come with the donor country consultants and will not stay in the country. Very little skill will in fact be transferred to the consultants of the recipient country.  If you want to capacitate, educate and transfer skills maybe education and the funding of degrees and actual work experience should be considered.
    • In most cases donor country consultants have a limited understanding of the region and environment. In addition limited project times frames do not allow for donor consultants to adequately come to grips with regional sensitivities and details.
    • The studies may assist in providing data and information for the recipient country to use in decision-making, however, what is the point of studies if the recipient country (according to the donor country, ie why donor consultants need to do the work) does not have the skills to undertake such studies or then use such studies in decision-making and project implementation?

I do realize that corruption, inefficiency’s and lack of capacity and implementation skill,  etc are important issues that have to be considered and factored into development aid projects and certain conditionalities are required. One would imagine that the various debates around aid and dependency, unsustainable aid costs, aid misappropriation etc would have somehow made an impact and resulted in more appropriate, sustainable and effective aid proposals being made?

Some examples and impacts of Unsustainable Aid:

  • Western surpluses resulting from faulty agriculture or other policies have been dumped in poor countries, thus wiping out local production and increasing dependency (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Development_aid)
  • Tieing recipient countries into using donor country skills and consultants prevents the development of specialist skills and capacities with recipient countries. This increases the dependency on foreign consultants and hinders the development of local and regional consultancies and specialist skills.
  • Aid tying by OECD donor countries has important consequences for developing countries. Tying aid to specific commodities and services, or to procurement in a specific country or region, can increase development project costs by as much as 20 to 30 per cent.( http://www.cgdev.org/files/1422445_file_Morgan_Zambia_FINAL.pdf)
  • Tied aid costs more. It is at least 15-30% more expensive than untied aid because of overpricing, and likely leads to longer delivery times (Ryden, 2011)

Examples of Sustainable Aid

  • Development of local capacity through education, skills development and knowledge transfer, based on the development needs of the recipient country.
  • The provision of food aid in the form of cash as opposed to food and produce shipped from donor countries.
  • Local sourcing of food: “When food aid is provided in cash, it allows recipients to source food locally or regionally and at a much lower cost. In addition, cash assistance enables recipients to purchase food from producers in areas of the country with surpluses to distribute in areas of scarcity. This, in turn, helps strengthen local and regional agricultural sectors and markets, and it can increase incomes for smallholder farmers and poor rural communities”.( www.hungerreport.org/2011 )
  • The provision of culturally appropriate food.  “U.S. food aid sometimes falls short in this regard: countries whose staple diet is rice may get shipments of sorghum or wheat from the United States because those are the current surplus commodities, whereas rice might be available in nearby countries or in other parts of the country experiencing the hunger emergency. ( www.hungerreport.org/2011 )
  • Untying administrative responsibilities to recipient countries, multilateral agencies or NGOs might also be beneficial, as they can provide more neutral and recipient-centred judgements, as long as donors actively evaluate the results. (Ryden, 2011).
  • Untied aid: as this would increase the efficiency of aid to reduce poverty and thereby increase the impact of aid (Ryden, 2011).

References and other reading:

RIO+20:Renewing Commitment ?!?

Despite stating (in my previous post) that I wouldn’t spend too much/ or any time on Rio+20 I cant seem to prevent myself from having a little “vent”. For once, this doesn’t happen that often, I really wish that I was wrong. I had secretly hoped that I was wrong about my view that “Rio+20 is a waste of time and the money spent on Rio+20 would have probably had a better development impact if all efforts had been directed towards delivering tangible development outcomes!”

“Some 40,000 environmentalists and 10,000 government officials gathered with politicians from 190 nations for a meeting which the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said was “too important to fail”. (S Nair in the Tribune India)

I had hoped that at the close of the summit I would hear the awesome news that despite all the divergent views etc the summit was a success and then a plan of action with appropriate funds and an implementation team had been agreed upon and that the world would finally be able to see some effective development actions being implemented. Instead I find waiting in my inbox a copy of “The Future We Want“. The outcome of the Rio+20 Summit. The text starts with the following;

” We, the heads of State and Government and high level representatives, having met at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20-22 June 2012, with full participation of civil society, renew our commitment to sustainable development, and to ensure the promotion of economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet and for present and future generations.” (The Future We Want, 2012)

My first though was (and still is) “is that it!”…  I do understand that the begining does not comprise the message of the entire document but unfortunately the opening statement pretty much sums up the entire document. Thousands of powerful people, government representatives, the development set, the green bling brigade etc all met up in Rio to renew committment! We have been committed to sustainable development, poverty eradication, access to energy and safe drinking water for all etc etc etc…. for at least 20 years or so?

Could we not have had the same outcome if the key people had met up on skype, or via a conference call etc to renew “our” committment!, recognise what needs to be done, reaffirm other commitments and acknowledge that we have a problem? 

 But, as I said it’s just a thought, and there is no point in crying over spilt milk or wasted funds or a (rather large) carbon and ecological footprint.

Click here to link to the full the full text of the “The Future We Want“.

RIO + 20: Worth The Effort ?

Rio+20 is upon us and I haven’t posted or put any real thought or effort into the Rio+20 excitement, despite the Rio + 20 summit being hailed as  a “wonderful, green and strategic” decision making moment for the world! Does this make me a bad “greenie” or put me in the box with people who don’t care about the planet or nature or the green economy or pandas….?

I can assure you that I am very concerned about the development path/ economic trajectory that we are on. This despite the assurances and re-assurance from multinationals, corporates and governments that;

  • sustainability and equity issues are being mainstreamed
  • business and government are working towards solutions for the pressing issues of sustainable and equitable development
  • We are in fact slowly transitioning to a greener economy

“Rome was not built-in a day” but how many more summits, conferences, COPs, protocols, accords agreements,laws etc do we need before we are able to see any real and tangible sustainable development?  The fact that these conferences and summits etc attract some of the worlds greatest development minds, authorities and governments that meet (over and over again) to try to sort out the various development challenges that we face should indicate that the processes that we use to address these development challenges may not be working? maybe it is time for something else?

This week, up to 100,000 people are streaming into Rio de Janeiro for the year’s biggest international event – the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to be held on 13-22 June. (M Khor)

With this in mind lets look at the a few issues that should be but will in all likelihood not be fully or adequately addressed or resolved at Rio+20;

  • Fossil fuel subsidies: do we really need to subsidise one the key things that is responsible for a great many of our environmental problems?
  • Emissions targets: who gets which piece of the pie?
  • Tipping points and pollution and the degradation of natural resources and landscapes: It is a well-known fact that we have to stop and redress  the pollution and degradation.
  • Equity and access to natural resources: Define fair, access and resource?
  • Green Economy: what is the definition? is this the silver bullet/ solution? or do we need something else
  • Food and resource security and scarcity: overconsumption, in efficient production methods etc
  • Full informed participation of affected stakeholders: better community participation: is it only government and business that know what is good for the rest of us?

What I am basically saying is that assurances of governments, the champagne environmentalists, the green-bling-brigade, the development set etc I am still not convinced that we are achieving much development impact by hosting  summits, sitting around and arguing the format of draft agreements and accords.

While I will keep my fingers (and toes) crossed for some exciting decsions and actions resulting from RIO+20, I will not hold my breath or drop what I am doing to follow the developments of the summit. We need to see action and change, not more meetings about meetings etc ….

Some additional reading should you be interested in other views on Rio+20:

Can Rio Solve the Worlds problems?  

Human Impacts Institute Article on Rio+20

Rio+20 Text Out of touch with reality

World Bank: Rio+20

Before its news: Rio+20

Millenium Development Goals: Time for a Rethink?

In September 2000 United Nations member countries agreed on eight goals aimed at encouraging development by improving social and economic conditions in the world’s poorest countries. These goals were adopted in the United Nations Millennium Declaration and are known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In addition to the above aims, the MDGs’ intend to provide a framework for the entire international community to work towards a common goal focused on human development, poverty reduction and increased opportunity to access and benefit from global economy. The goals are as follows:

  • Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
  • Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education
  • Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
  • Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality
  • Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health
  • Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
  • Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
  • Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development with developing countries, develop and implement strategies for decent and productive work for youth

As the target date (2015) for achieving the targets set for the MDG’s looms there is much debate on the success of the MDGs, whether they should be reviewed, re-defined or completely replaced.

According to a CESR article the first decade of progress against the MDGs revealed “the inadequacy of the international community’s efforts to meet commitments made a decade ago to fight poverty and other forms of deprivation such as hunger, disease and gender inequality.” In addition the 2011 UN report on the progress against the MDGs also revealed that between 2000-2010 progress against the MDGs’ had been inequitable and has in most instances bypassed the poorest, most vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors of the population who are meant to be the key beneficiaries of the MDGs’.

Thus it is evident that the MDGs despite being well-intentioned and aimed at facilitating human development have not necessarily hit their mark. There are various reasons and debates in relation to the success or failure of the MDGs. However, in my opinion the key issues requiring revision, re-thinking or attention are as follows;

1. The fact that the MDG targets are set for the world as a whole. An impact of looking at the MDGs as global targets is the fact that the development needs of specific countries and regions may be over looked. This is highlighted by the following UNDP statement;

“While the share of poor people is declining, the absolute number of the poor in South Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa is increasing.” (http://www.undp.ro/mdg/basic_facts) 

In other words: There is a significant need for locally defined MDG targets and not broad “world” based targets.

2. The MDGs’ are focused primarily on achieving targets as opposed to the process required to achieve the required development impact. This may be seen as limiting the scope of and reducing the impact of the development efforts. In other words: the “how” is just as important as the “what should be!”  Consequently, issues such as local needs and capacity should have been more effectively considered and integrated into the goal setting process.

3. The focus on numerical targets. Such targets are difficult to measure within the context of many of the less developed countries, which lack reliable data and the institutional and government capacity to collect and measure such data. Numerical targets do not always guarantee effectiveness or development impact.

“The problem of incomplete data has been recognized in Africa where most people are said to die or be born “without leaving a trace in any legal record or official statistics. In rural Africa, there are few hospitals, home births are common and assistance from a midwife or another health official rare.” (Katie Nguyen, Reuters Alert Net)

4. Aid does not necessarily result in development. The MDGs’ in many instances had the effect of focusing international aid flows specifically towards the attainment of MDGs’. This was based on the presumption that the MDGs’ are the optimal way of ensuring development and poverty alleviation. However, in certain instances this had the effect of misdirecting aid away from the real development issues within specific and local country contexts.

This sentiment is highlighted by Archbishop N Ndungane, as follows;

delivery on aid commitments have recorded a steady increase from 2004 through 2009. While it is a positive trend, it has created a tendency to focus more on aid in terms of the resources needed for the realisation of the MDGs than on the other sources. The recent global crises have come as a rude shock to remind us that this was a distortion and huge mistake”

The sentiment is also reiterated by the site; Globalissues, as follows;

“aid has often come with a price of its own for the developing nations:

  • Aid is often wasted on conditions that the recipient must use overpriced goods and services from donor countries
  • Most aid does not actually go to the poorest who would need it the most
  • Aid amounts are dwarfed by rich country protectionism that denies market 
access for poor country products, while rich nations use aid as a lever to 
open poor country markets to their products
  • Large projects or massive grand strategies often fail to help the vulnerable 
as money can often be embezzled away. 
It is time for these countries in need of development to call for justice and for the countries that once promised to help the world to actually fulfill their promises.” (http://www.globalissues.org)

These issues highlight the need to rethink the manner in which “development” and aid should be considered when the MDGs’ goals are assessed for impact and a post- MDGs’ framework or path is forged.

A continued focus on financial aid and development that does not effectively, equitably and sustainably consider local and regional contexts, capacities, needs and sensitivities will not only be a waste of resources both financial and natural, but also a waste of time. We need to prevent any further misdirected efforts especially within the context of increasing resource degradation, climate change and environmental vulnerability.

References, Articles, sites etc

Touch Lightly This November: Three Easy Things You Can Do To Increase Your ECOCRED

Closet waiting to be recycled!

The following is a list of quick easy and good green things you can do this November that will contribute towards reducing your/our impact on our planet and saving you some money.

1. For the book-worms, you could go paperless and start reading ebooks (if you haven’t already). For those who say that the whole thing about reading a book is holding it and smelling it etc… I say try something new for the planet… I used to be one of those who needed a proper book to read from, however I gave ebooks (kindle iPad app and apple bookshelf app) a shot and found that the benefits are great and include:

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  • Never losing your page. Whenever you reopen the book/file you will automatically find yourself where you left off. No need for bookmarks, dog-eared books and forgetting your spot.
  • The Kindle app has a thesaurus. This is great, even bespectacled book-worm like me (sometimes) need to check the meaning of words
  • You can highlight phrases and sections without permanently damaging the book and you can see what phrases etc that other readers have found interesting and highlighted.
  • You can have all your books with you are the same time without having to lug an entire library around with you. This is particularly great for travel!! And also for reference and when you forgets parts of stories.
  • Ebooks are often cheaper than “real” books.
  • you could also recycle all your old books and donate them to a library, charity or educational facility.

2. Recycle yours and other’s wardrobe’s. You do not always have to buy a new pair of shoes, item of clothing or jewelry. Simple changes in your wardrobe and fashion related buying habits can save a great deal of resources, energy and emissions etc. A few tips are:

Vintage Jewelry

  • Re-sole and re-heel your old pair of favorite shoes. I often get really upset when an old favorite pair of shoes starts to look a little worn or old or needs a new heel etc. Until I found a really good shoe repair place. I have just recently had one of my wardrobe staples re-heeled and re-soled and they are back to perfect and I didn’t have to worry about having them replaced!
  • Old jeans can be cut to make shorts or bermudas.
  • Maxi dresses can be hemmed or cut and turned into shorter summer dresses.
  • Shirts can be taken in or modified to suit the new season trends.
  • T-shirts can be dyed, tailored, and tweaked with the help of lace, glitter and paint (lead free of course) etc
  • Scarves can be used to accessorize outfits and change looks
  • Raid your aunt’s, uncle’s, mother’s, mother in-law’s, granny’s, sister’s wardrobes and jewelry boxes for vintage pieces that can be used to add a bit of flair to your wardrobe. I have found many a gem in my mother’s and mother-in law’s wardrobe!

3. Instead of buying fresh flowers to brighten up your office or home grow your own flowers. Cut flowers even though regarded as “natural” have a significant impact on the environment. One has to look at cut flowers from a holistic perspective and consider things such:

Roses

  • Carbon and ecological footprint of the cut flower industry
  • Water use for growing and storing the flowers
  • Costs and emissions associated with the refrigeration and transport of the flowers.
  • Costs associated with maintaining the optimal temperature for the growth of the flowers (if grown in hothouses)
  • The use of Genetically Modified seed
  • The reduction of biodiversity in areas that grow the flowers often in mono-culture fields or hot houses etc.

However, one should also bear in mind that the cut flower industry does in fact provide employment and economic benefits to the areas in which the flowers are grown. As a result the issue is not the kill the industry but rather to nudge the industry towards greener production methods. So until the cut flower industry is able to reduce its negative impact on the environment you could reduce your consumption of cut flowers by the following:

  • Grow your own indigenous flowers and use the flowers to make your own flower arrangements. The indigenous flowers in your window box or garden will use less water and attract pollinators as well as increase the biodiversity of the area.
  • Grow your own indigenous plants and have statement pot plants placed strategically throughout your home or office. The indigenous plants will also contribute to the biodiversity of the area while creating an aesthetically pleasing focal point.

    Indigenous Austrailian Flowers

Getting you hands dirty by growing plants and gardening is also a great and cost-effective way to de-stress and get/ stay in touch with the nature.

Have a great November!