New Species Discovery At iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Edwardisia iSimangaliso

 

My day has just been made with the news that a new species of anemone has been discovered at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. The new anemone species is to be called Edwardsia isimangaliso and is considered a unique find in that;

  • The anemone lives half-buried in sand, unlike other anemones.
  • It displays a large number of long, tapering tentacles
  • It is the only one in the genus [and among only a few anemones] able to survive salinities in excess of sea water.
  • It is also able to survive periodic freshwater conditions.

Click here for more information on the new anemone; Edwardsia isimangaliso.

The discovery of new species that are able to withstand changes in environmental conditions is significant due to the fact that not only is our environment dynamic and ever-changing but also due to the fact that our actions have impacted and altered the functioning of our natural environment and the environmental services that are provided by our environment. Environmental degradation, inefficient resource use, waste, climate change etc have all combined to reduce the biodiversity of the planet and thereby impacted the ability of nature to provide much-needed environmental services. Consequently, the discovery of a new species that is unique and resilient, (due to its ability to survive in both freshwater and sea water), is significant as it is indicative of a healthy and bio-diverse environment.

Biodiversity is important due to the role of biodiversity in the effective functioning of ecosystems and to ensure the provision of ecological infrastructure and green infrastructure services. As per the Convention on Biodiversity;

“At least 40 per cent of the world’s economy and 80 per cent of the needs of the poor are derived from biological resources. In addition, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical discoveries, economic development, and adaptive responses to such new challenges as climate change.”

The discovery of a new species is therefore awesome news indeed!

Additional reading:

http://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares

http://www.cbd.int/convention/

My Latest Green Fail….

…. another post about green that isn’t really green and how we all need to change our thinking and consumption patterns…and yes I am not perfect …..

My previous post on rare earth minerals got me thinking about the fact that transitioning towards a greener and more sustainable economy by focusing on technology, resource and innovation may not necessarily be the best option, especially when:

  • The new and innovative technologies end up increasing our dependence on resources, albeit, new or different ones.
  • The new and innovative technologies result in dependence or impact that is merely dressed up in different possibly green-washed and even organic new swag.
  • The new and innovative technologies result in an increase in unnecessary consumption often due to green wash and unsustainable trends.

Keep in mind that not all new and greener technologies are unsustainable. What is important is the manner in which we make the change to newer technologies, and the quantity and quality of the new technologies that we buy. Merely buying the newest and greenest technology will not make you greener and in fact may make you guilty of unsustainable and unethical consumption patterns.

It is very important that when we make our “green” choices we consider the entire impact and not merely the superficial impact that we would like to see?  Unfortunately, and much to my dismay I am guilty of this in many respects. So I thought as my good deed for the day…..I would share some of my green fails with the hope that I could prevent someone else from going down the same route.

My most recent “goody two-shoes green delusion fails” are;

  • Falling for a new high-tech gadget and upgrading my iPad to the latest version, that isn’t really that different from my previous one? From a functionality perspective I use the new one for exactly the same purpose as the previous one.  The question is did I really need the new one? and was the overall cost of the upgrade really worth it?

Green Pros:

  1. Less paper use and waste by reading eBooks, magazines and online news,
  2. Note taking, report editing and emails on the tablet = less printing of emails and reports and having an easily transportable and accessible library of documents that I need during the day.

Green Cons:

  1. Unnecessary use of resources and rare earth metals used to produce, package and transport my new tablet: think ecological footprint etc
  2. The iPad 3 has a higher carbon footprint that the iPad 2. (http://ecolibris.blogspot.com/2012/07/how-green-is-new-ipad-part-6-comparing.html#)
  3. Waste: landfill / recycling and disposal costs associated with the previous tablet. (though, I did try to offset this cost by up-cycling  the old tablet)

  • Green Retail Therapy: I recently bought a whole new batch of solar fairy lights and garden lights. The new solar fairy and garden lights were marketed as being greener than the previous generation of solar lights etc.  … so despite that fact that I already have a few pretty solar fairy lights twinkling away in my little garden and the fact that I don’t need more lights in my garden, I bought some more.

Green Pros:

  1. At least I didn’t buy conventional fairy lights that would increase my use of electricity generated from coal.

Green Cons:

  1. Unnecessary use and waste of resources that were used to produce, package and transport my new ”green” lighting.

Ultimately, these two examples are a large-scale green fail on my part that has sent my ecocred plummeting, despite the fact that I didn’t send the old iPad or fairy lights to a landfill.

I didn’t really need a new tablet to do exactly the same things that my previous tablet did. Neither did I need additional fairy lights., …even if they were solar-powered and therefore greener than conventional lights.

I was just a greedy little wannabe wanting to have the newest and shiniest gadgets. Gadgets, that are being marketed as green, that maybe a bit faster, prettier etc , yet barely have enough new features to outweigh the environmental and social costs of the new gadget or technology.

Not everything that is green is sustainable!

Additional reading to up your ecocred!

Five things you should know before buying apples iPad.

How green is the new iPad?

(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

Water Scarcity And Your Virtual Water Consumption ?!

A renewable resource is a natural resource with the ability to reproduce through biological or natural processes and replenished with the passage of time. Renewable resources are part of our natural environment and form our eco-system. One such resource is water. Water is able to regenerate and is part of our natural environment. However water may only be considered a renewable resource when carefully controlled usage, treatment, and release are followed.  (www.en.wikipedia.org, 2012)

UN research indicates that we are facing a serious water scarcity problem.

  • Approximately 700 million people in 43 countries suffer as a result of water scarcity.
  • By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions.
  • With the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world’s population will be living in areas of high water stress by 2030, including between 75 million and 250 million people in Africa. In addition, water scarcity in some arid and semi-arid places will displace between 24 million and 700 million people.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest number of water-stressed countries of any region

(www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/scarcity.shtml)

So if water is meant to be renewable why are we in this problem?

The reality is that water in our current societal context is not really renewable because we have compromised the ability of the water resources to regenerate.  Water affects all of us all the time and in every way possible. For the purposes of readers (assuming that most readers/ people with access to the internet of this post have easy and regular access to potable and piped water); water scarcity doesn’t just impact on how many baths or showers we take or how often we flush the toilet or whether we drink bottled or tap water or if you have a low flow shower head etc

Water is an integral and critical component of the environment and is therefore fundamentally important for the survival of humankind and society as we know it (not meaning to be alarmist…. but it is true).

“Water is one of the primary barometers of climate change: A rise in sea-levels, flooding, and extreme storms combined with general water stress and more severe and frequent droughts will escalate crises in municipal infrastructure, requiring continual upgrades for water purification, stormwater drainage, and sewage treatment, all of which will dramatically raise the price of water at the retail level. ( Bond, 2011) 

It has been predicted by the Water Resources Group that the global demand for water will outstrip supply by 40% by 2030 (CDP, 2011), this indicates that something is very wrong with the way that we are using our water resource considering the fact that water, despite being a finite resource is a renewable resource.  Water use has increased exponentially and has been driven by increasing water demand from industrialization, economic development and population growth. This has resulted in increasing competition for our water resources, which has resulted in increased tensions and challenges around the management, allocation and sustainable use of water resources.

In many instances the water needs of large-scale agriculture and industry end up competing for the water that essential for the sustaining local communities and ecosystems. Ecosystems are an essential component of the hydrological cycle as they are not only reliant on water for survival but also provide a key role in water purification and provision, thus ecosystems maybe seen as nature’s natural “green” infrastructure and service providers.  In addition ecosystems also provide us with the very important ability to adapt to climate change impacts and environmental degradation. It is therefore obvious that we need healthy and functioning ecosystems in order to ensure that we have a sustainable water source.

We all know that we need water to survive however the fact that water contributes in some way to the production and use of everything we consume and use is often overlooked. Everything that forms part of our lifestyle and society has a virtual water value. Virtual water refers, in the context of trade, to the water used in the production of a good or service (www.en.wikipedia.org, 2012). It should however be noted that specific measure of virtual water can be more or less depending on regional context, climatic conditions and agricultural practice. The virtual-water content of a product, commodity, good or service may be defined as the volume of freshwater used to produce the product, measured at the place where the product was actually produced”. (www.en.wikipedia.org, 2012). This definition is important as many of the goods and service produced in water poor areas are consumed in water rich areas, resulting in the true water value not being fully considered or accounted for by the consumers.

For example, a liter of potable water in “water-rich” Scandinavia is unlikely to be as precious/valuable as a liter of potable water in water-scarce Namibia (CDP 2011). Consequently the 70 liters of water it takes to make 100 grams of apple may have more value in Namibia than it does in Scandinavia. This combined with the fact that a large proportion of the food you eat, the clothes you wear and the goods and services that you consume often not produced locally increased the virtual water value of the product.

An example of this would be 100% organic cotton t-shirt has a virtual water value 2700 liters! The 2700 liters mean a great deal more to someone living in an arid environment and having to draw water from a communal well than it does for someone living an a water rich area who has access to piped potable water.

Examples of virtual water values are:

  • 2400 liters of water to make 100 grams of chocolate.
  • 70 liters of water to make 100 grams of apple
  • 5000 liters of water to make 500 grams of paper
  • 2499 liters of water to make 150 grams of burger
  • 4650 liters of water to make 300 grams of beef (about one steak)

(www.virtualwater.eu)

Our economy and society are dependent on water and the virtual water associated with the production of goods and services. If the cost of water went up so would the cost of all our goods and services. How we use and pollute our water is therefore a critical issue especially since the amount of water that is clean and drinkable is steadily decreasing due to pollution (UNEP WHO 2012) arising from our unsustainable use of water and the inability of ecosystems to effectively purify water due to environmental degradation.

In the UK, for example, “it has been estimated that two-thirds of all the water that its population of 60 million people consume actually comes embedded within the imported food they eat, the clothes they wear and industrial or chemical goods they purchase. The result is that local water management issues affecting disadvantaged communities around the world may be significantly exacerbated and influenced by consumption patterns in more affluent countries.(CDP 2011)

How are we, a society that is entirely dependent on water, who’s wasteful and inefficient use is the reason we are in this problem meant to respond to the water resource challenges? Especially as the water problem will undoubtedly result in associated environmental, economic, political and social problems?

Simply stated we need to change the manner in which we consume and produce goods and services. As consumers we need to question and refuse to consume products and services with high virtual water values. Also we need to recognize that not everything is a necessity and we can do without some/ a great many of the extras and luxuries that we consume.

We can’t change our habits overnight (though it would be great if we did….), instead we need to make a difference where we can and build up to making the big changes that we need to make in our consumption and production patterns.

A few pointers to help you reduce your water and virtual water consumption:

Water reduction tips for dummies:

  • Shorter bath and shower time
  • Close tap while brushing teeth
  • Recycle water in the home.
  • Plant indigenous plants in your garden
  • Check and fix any leaks in your home

 Virtual water reduction tips for dummies:

  • Buy local and seasonal produce grow your own veggies
  • Eat less meat: become vegetarian, meatless Mondays etc
  • Eat less chocolate …(difficult I know….)
  • Waste less
  • Reuse and recycle organic products like paper, cotton etc
  • Don’t be a slave to fashion: Buy good quality and timeless clothing that can take you from season to season reducing the need to keep replacing your clothes etc
  • Download a virtual water application to help you make smarter choices.

Patrick B (2011) Durban’s Water Wars, Sewage Spills, Fish Kills and Blue Flag Beaches.

UNEP WHO 2012 Progress on Drinking Water and Sanitation 2012

 CARBON DISCLOSURE PROJECT (2011):CDP Water Disclosure South Africa Report 2011: Assessing the value of water

UN Water For Life Decade http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/

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

Infrastructure vs Appropriate/ Effective/ Sustainable Infrastrucutre ?

The Three Gorges Dam in China

“There can be no prosperity without infrastructure, but infrastructure projects don’t necessarily benefit the poor. Past energy, water and transport strategies have neglected the poorest population groups, and taken a heavy toll on affected people and the environment. Will the new infrastructure strategies of the World Bank and the Group of 20 address the needs of the poor, or will they entrench the power of privileged groups?” (IRN, 2012)

Infrastructure is perceived as being a key driver behind economic growth, development and job creation. It is argued that the development of infrastructure projects, particularly large infrastructure projects and dams, will act as a catalyst to:

  • Open up areas that are not currently developed to development
  • Enable service provision to those who lack basic services
  • Create jobs
  • Facilitate economic development.

With this in mind many governments, development finance institutions and business development agencies are backing the Group of 20, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) new strategies for infrastructure development. “In November 2011, the Group of 20, the World Bank proposed to focus public support on strategic regional infrastructure projects such as large dams and transport corridors, and to make them attractive for private investment through public guarantees and other incentives (International Rivers Network, 2012). The group argue that centralized infrastructure projects which include private participation in public sector projects will lower the costs of services and service provision particularly in rural areas.  In so doing the public sector will be able to meet its infrastructure and service provision mandates with private sector seen to be assisting in this basic service delivery while also ensuring that the private sector is able to ensure economic development and growth. In other words a win-win solution to the world’s (sustainable) development problems that makes both the public and private sector look good.

It is however interesting to note that despite many such “win-win” public private large-scale and mega infrastructure projects being implemented we are still quite far from either sustainable service delivery or sustainable development. This is primarily because in most instances it is the private sector that benefits to the detriment of the public sector and local communities that are associated and usually impacted by such large infrastructure projects.

The development landscape is littered with failed and costly infrastructure projects that have promised but not always delivered services, growth and (sustainable) development. This is reiterated by the MDG and other development targets which are consistently not being met despite funding being directed specifically at meeting the targets. Especially considering the fact that “Economic infrastructure – essentially, transport, energy, information and communications technology, water, sanitation and irrigation – is specifically identified in the MDGs”(UN Habitat 2011).

Some interesting points related to development projects not realizing the proposed development impact;

  • The World Bank Group (2011) has also stated that its bias towards “infrastructure investments that promote growth, with expected ‘trickle-down effects have yielded very little “trickle down”.
  • Evidence available indicates that the poor are often the last to benefit from increased access (from road infrastructure). In most countries, the rural poor tend to be overlooked because private operators are reluctant to serve low-income clients given that these markets are not financially viable on a freestanding basis. (World Bank Group, 2009)
  • Despite the issues surrounding the Bujagali Dam the Ugandan government began building the Bujagali dam on the River Nile in 2007. The project had previously been delayed for over ten years for many reasons, including exorbitant project costs and its predicted economic and environmental impacts. Impacts associated with the dam included the destruction of the Bujagali Falls on the Nile, livelihoods impacts to about 6,800 people. In addition the dam will affect the performance of other dams on the river Nile, and increase Uganda’s carbon footprint. (FOEI, 2009). The project is financed by the World Bank the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) and it has been suggested that both the banks and the Ugandan government have overlooked and even ignored their own safeguard policies. (IRN, 2002).
  • Dams have made an important and significant contribution to human development, and the benefits derived from them have been considerable. In too many cases, an unacceptable and often unnecessary price has been paid to secure those benefits, especially in social and environmental terms, by people displaced, by communities downstream, by taxpayers and by the natural environment.” (World Commission on Dams, 2000)
  • The President of the Pakistan Network for Rivers, Dams and People (PNRDP), said in a statement that “it had been proved that the project executing agencies lacked capacity to deliver in terms of time and cost and had failed in resettling hundreds of thousands of people displaced due to these projects”.

 So why the continued focus/ bias on large infrastructure projects? especially as there is more and more evidence that smaller contextualized infrastructure solutions are more sustainable, cost-effective and appropriate. It should also be noted that the need for infrastructure, development and service provision that is sustainable, cost-effective and appropriate is made even more pressing by the climate change, environmental degradation and economic crises that we are currently experiencing.

The above graphic clearly highlights and contrasts the development impact of a large infrastructure solution for energy provision against a cheaper smaller infrastructure solution for energy provision. It is evident that smaller context specific infrastructure provision is not only cheaper but more appropriate and less environmentally damaging.

References and further reading etc:

Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam Disaster

Friends of the Earth International

International Rivers Network

News of Africa Article

Pakistan Network for Rivers, Dams and People

World Bank Group, Directions in Hydropower, 2009

World Bank Group, Transformation Through Infrastructure: World Bank Group Infrastructure Strategy Update, FY12-15, November 2011.

International Rivers, Infrastructure for Whom? A Critique of the Infrastructure Strategies of the Group of 20 and the World Bank, May 2012.

http://wbln0018.worldbank.org/IPN/ipnweb.nsf/(webnews)/0D7F7939F52C824985256BDB00687310 .

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