Tag Archives: sustainability

Nations Adopt Plan for Breakneck Urbanization

Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township is seen in this picture taken October 4, 2016. Picture taken October 4, 2016. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Johnny Miller - RTSRXXL

Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township is seen in this picture taken October 4, 2016. Picture taken October 4, 2016. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Johnny Miller 

By Paola Totaro
October 2016

QUITO, Ecuador (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The United Nations formally adopted a global road map to grapple with rapid urbanization on Thursday Oct. 20, capping nearly two years of behind-the-scenes international negotiations aimed at designing development priorities for cities and towns over the long term.

The New Urban Agenda (NUA) sets out a host of general goals such as development of sustainable and compact cities that do not harm the environment and redevelopment of informal settlements with the participation of residents.

The 23-page document was agreed upon at the U.N. Habitat III conference, held every 20 years to discuss the future of the world’s cities, by the U.N.’s 193-member nations.

“Urbanization is happening at an unprecedented pace and scale, and 3.7 billion people now live in cities. We think in the forthcoming years, by 2050, this will rise to 7 billion,” said Joan Clos, executive director of Habitat III.

“It is historic in the sense that never in human history have we seen such a transformation of human society,” he said. “This represents huge challenges, and the NUA aims to guide strategy to face these challenges.”

Unlike the 2015 climate negotiations in Paris that sought legally binding agreements on global warming, the NUA is non-binding. Clos said it should be seen as a guide to generate debate before implementation at the national level.

“We want to say that we need not fear urbanization,” he said. “There are some countries that want to stop urbanization, put a wall against it. We want to guide it.”

Many points in the NUA are related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the U.N. last year to end poverty and inequality by 2030. One SDG calls for making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

The NUA drew sharp criticism from a number of scientists who say it fails to address the urgency of growing urbanization and contains no tangible plan.

“(This) is entirely absent from the NUA. The planet has already moved beyond critical planetary boundaries related to climate, biodiversity, land use and fertilizer use,” said

Timon McPhearson, assistant professor of urban ecology at The New School in New York.

Nearly one billion poor people live in urban slums and informal settlements in about 100,000 cities around the world, in dire need of clean water, energy, food, sanitation and health services, he said.

The U.N. estimates that number will triple by 2030.

“Without a clear plan for implementation of the NUA and related SDGs, we will not make the needed progress for even basic quality of life and livelihoods in informal and other urban settlements,” McPhearson said.

Some members of the global scientific community plan to join forces at an international conference in 2018 to explore urban issues and solutions and look at what has been implemented from the NUA.

Habitat III was seen as particularly significant as it was held when for the first time, more people live in cities than in rural areas.

In 2014, 54 percent of the global population lived in cities but by 2050, the U.N. expects this figure to reach 66 percent.

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Paola Totaro, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Related on F&O:

In Quito, the world tackles the future of cities, by Barbara Norman and John Colin Reid  Dispatch

Tens of thousands gathered in Quito this week for the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development. The stark facts about our global urban future  include growth of the global population from seven to nearly ten billion by 2050, that of the seven billion people in the world, 6.7 billion live with pollution above WHO clean air standards, and that 12 million in East Asia alone will be at risk from coastal inundation.

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Move everything, to curb climate change — investors

By Laurie Goering  
April, 2016

OXFORD, England (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Meeting the goals of a new global agreement to tackle climate change will require social change on an almost unprecedented scale, said sustainable investment experts.

That includes shifting trillions of dollars each year into renewable energy – up from $345 billion last year – and making everything from transport to agriculture and consumer products much greener very quickly.

“This is about scale. It is about timing. It is about scope. We cannot move 500 companies and 200 investors in a few countries. We need to move everything,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a U.S.-based business sustainability group.

Failure to make big shifts fast would amount to putting our children and grandchildren in the path of a speeding bus, she told the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford this month.

“We would each throw ourselves in front of a bus if it was coming at our child, regardless of our politics,” she said. “We have got to change this debate so people understand… climate change is that bus.”

Labourers rest as a boy playfully shovels coal at a yard in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad November 20, 2014. India will allow locally registered foreign firms to mine and sell coal when commercial mining is permitted as part of the opening up of the nationalised industry after four decades, Coal Secretary Anil Swarup told Reuters. To match Interview INDIA-COAL/ REUTERS/Amit Dave

Labourers rest as a boy playfully shovels coal at a yard in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad November 20, 2014. India will allow locally registered foreign firms to mine and sell coal when commercial mining is permitted as part of the opening up of the nationalised industry after four decades, Coal Secretary Anil Swarup told Reuters. To match Interview INDIA-COAL/ REUTERS/Amit Dave

COAL’S DAYS NUMBERED?

Some of that transformation is already underway, said David Blood, a senior partner at Generation Investment Management. Much of the clean energy technology needed is already available, and a surging divestment campaign is persuading investors that keeping money in fossil fuel companies is a growing financial risk.

But while experts predicted the U.S. coal industry is on its way out of business, large-scale investment in coal – one of the biggest drivers of climate change – is still happening in parts of Africa and South Asia, particularly India.

Reversing that by ensuring India and other countries have access to clean technology should be a priority for efforts to hold climate change to manageable levels, they said.

“It’s in the interests of the whole world that India gets (to clean energy) faster,” said Mary Robinson, a former Irish president who runs a climate justice foundation.

But large institutional investors are wary of risk and want clear returns, which can make them hesitant to invest in emerging economies like India, the experts said.

Creating investment tools that work for both those with the cash and those that need it is crucial to drive money to the right places to address climate change, Lubber said.

That must be done in a way that persuades investors who “don’t recognise the urgency of the problem”, said Blood, whose company is one of the world’s largest sustainable investment firms.

If the investment picture has not changed hugely in four years, “we’re in significant trouble”, he predicted.

The U.N.-brokered Paris climate agreement, backed by 195 countries in December, aims to hold the rise in global average temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, with an aspirational limit of 1.5 degrees.

To achieve that, the world needs to be emitting no more carbon pollution than can be absorbed by forests and other planetary systems in the second half of the century.

The Paris deal “sends a signal to investors, sends a signal to consumers, sends a signal to everyone in the world… that fossil fuels have a very limited lifespan now”, said Thom Woodroofe, a climate policy advisor for Independent Diplomat.

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UNBURNABLE RESERVES

But switching away from dirty fuels will require some key changes to shift investment, experts said, among them putting a realistic price on carbon pollution and the damage it is causing – from worsening storms to agricultural losses.

Setting a workable carbon price “is one of the single most important things” that needs to be done, Lubber said.

Another is to shut down fossil fuel exploration, given that two-thirds of the reserves already discovered can never be burned under the new Paris agreement, the experts said.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who spoke at the Oxford forum this week, put the value of unburnable fossil fuels at $22 trillion.

Investment in fossil fuel exploration is already down over the last five years, from $650 billion a year to $400 billion, Lubber said. But some of that decline is the result of dramatically lower oil prices and companies are still seeking oil in places from the Arctic to Canada’s tar sands.

Still, the fossil fuel divestment campaign “has forced the question of what is a profitable company”, Lubber said.

“Five years ago you didn’t see analyst reports on the financial strength of the fossil fuel industry. Now there are hundreds of those. The debate has changed,” she added.

Equally important will be helping many more people understand that climate change is something that needs action at home, in politics and on the streets, experts said.

When 400,000 people marched to call for stronger policies on climate change in New York last September, with thousands more on the streets of other cities, “it changed the debate, it changed the news media. We need to see that times a thousand around the world,” Lubber said.

From today, “everyone has to take this personally”, Robinson said. “We need a movement that says, ‘This is too important to be left to the government and the United Nations and business.'”

Copyright Reuters 2016

(Reporting by Laurie Goering; editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women’s rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Wanted: A new story of humanity’s place in the world

The prevailing perception of humans as inherently at odds with nature is not only false, it’s counterproductive

The Spout on Newfoundland's East Coast Trail near fishing village of Bay Bulls. Photo by Greg Locke. © 2009

We belong here, and belonging is a much more powerful narrative for sustainability than isolation. Above: the Spout on Newfoundland’s East Coast Trail near fishing village of Bay Bulls. Photo by Greg Locke. © 2009

It goes without saying that humans are good at causing problems. Climate change, overfishing and widespread environmental contamination from chemical toxicants are all creations of our own making. But are we destined to create such problems? Many people believe so, and argue that our capacity for self-interest, avarice and ecological shortsightedness make us inherently unsustainable as a species. Not only is this way of thinking built on long-disproven myths about human nature and human origins, it also constrains how we think about solutions and alienates us from the rest of the natural world. We need to abandon this belief and not allow ourselves to be defined only by our most recent history. The truth of the matter is that we belong here, and belonging is a much more powerful narrative for sustainability than isolation.

In western society, most people’s understanding of human nature can be traced back to the writings of a handful of social philosophers: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, John Adams and Adam Smith, to name the core few. Collectively, their respective works create a picture of humanity that is driven by extreme self-interest and in which life before the advent of government was nasty, brutish and short. This picture of humanity is now widely accepted and invoked; former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan famously opined, for example, that corruption, embezzlement and fraud are all symptoms of human nature, and that the best we can do is try to keep these to a minimum.

Greenspan’s words mirror how many people think about sustainability: People are the problem and we must learn to limit our impacts. Indeed, the environmental movement and many of today’s most popular frameworks for thinking about sustainability are built upon this basic assumption; the “leave no trace” mantra and the notion of the Tragedy of the Commons, which says that people acting in their own self-interest always do so to the detriment of a larger group and common resources, are two ready examples.

Yet these perspectives are ignorant to the full history of humanity. These early social philosophers lived in a time when people believed that we had been around for only a few thousand years. They had little knowledge of evolution, of human origins, or of our species’ many hundreds of thousands of years of tenure on this planet. Hobbes’ Leviathan was published in 1651, more than 200 years before the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 and the first discovery of a Homo erectus specimen, Java Man, in 1891.

Lichen covered rocks and iceberg in Conception Bay, Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2014

Humans have a long track record for environmental conservation. Above, lichen-covered rocks and iceberg in Conception Bay, Newfoundland. Photo by Greg Locke © 2014

These social philosophers did not know that human altruism and cooperation have an evolutionary basis, rooted in the success of early subsistence strategies for hunting, sharing and enduring short-term resource scarcity. Nor did they know that members of early tribal societies usually worked less and were more food secure than many people today. Finally, they were unaware that humans have a long track record for environmental conservation, including in areas that sustained dense populations of tens to hundreds of thousands of people, such as the Pacific Northwest region of North America.

All of this is not to suggest that humanity should somehow go back to “Stone Age” living, nor am I implying that prehistoric peoples never behaved unsustainably. Rather, I raise these facts because they contribute to a very different picture of human nature than was imagined by Hobbes and others.

People tend to think of myths as being things of the past — fanciful tales that have been eliminated, at least from secular society, by Western science and Enlightenment rationality. Yet myths are much more than this. Mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote extensively on the power of myths and described them as life-motivating and life-directing concepts that provide people with justification and purpose. Many myths are so powerful and fundamental to people’s worldviews, Campbell argued, that they don’t need to actually be elaborated in story form in order to be widely known and believed.

That we are inherently flawed is such a myth, one that infuses many of our cultural stories, secular and religious alike. We find it in the fall from grace in the book of Genesis in the Bible, in Hobbes’ account of the state of nature and in Garret Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons. The latter example is illustrative of just how durable this myth can be; many people still believe Hardin’s tragedy is the default outcome in shared resource situations, despite the decades of research by social and political scientists such as Bonnie McCay and Elinor Ostrom that show otherwise.

The trouble is that belief in this myth preconditions how we try to solve problems. We use it to explain away failings in our contemporaries and come to expect the same of ourselves. We focus on limiting and policing our interactions with the natural world, when the real causes of environmental problems, from rapid population growth to resource overharvest, tend to be societal in nature.

This myth of a broken humanity neuters our potential and alienates us from the rest of the natural community. Above,  Newfoundlanders harvest ice bergs for water to make vodka and beer, off Canada's Atlantic coast. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

This myth of a broken humanity neuters our potential and alienates us from the rest of the natural community. Above, Newfoundlanders harvest ice bergs for water to make vodka and beer, off Canada’s Atlantic coast. Photo by Greg Locke © 2015

Unsustainable population growth, for example, is not simply a biological feature of our species or even a product of religion. It is driven, tragically, by poverty and high rates of infant mortality. Likewise, when people misuse resources for personal gain, there are invariably social and cultural institutions that drive and reward that behavior. Rather than blindly blaming ourselves for these problems, we need to look to the means of success in our societies. Are people marginalized and left with no other choice but to overharvest resources? Does our society protect human rights to ensure people’s opportunities to live secure and fulfilling lives, or does it leave everyone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps at any expense?

This myth of a broken humanity neuters our potential and alienates us from the rest of the natural community. All other species leave a trace, so why shouldn’t we? Surely, we have a great capacity as a species for self-interest, avarice and hate, and there’s no doubt that there are many people who are ideologically inclined to misuse and overuse resources for short-term gain. Nevertheless, we are a social creature by nature, one with a capacity for and long track record of cooperation and sustainability. Sharing and egalitarian social mores were the norm, not the exception, during our hundreds of thousands of years in hunter-gatherer societies. The great biodiversity of the Amazon is a result, in part, of humanity’s footprint. Likewise, the long-term social and ecological sustainability of Pacific Northwest cultures was the product of a land ethic that emphasized restraint and planning on a long time horizon and social norms regarding reciprocity and gift-giving among houses.

The question at hand is what kind of trace we choose to leave. Rather than focusing on how to shield ecosystems from our impacts, we could be experimenting with ways to achieve comfort and security while also promoting biodiversity and ecosystem structure and function. Using livestock to combat desertification and restore grasslands is one example, and the ongoing efforts of people in places such as Madagascar and Haida Gwaii to find win-win solutions that restore and enhance marine biodiversity and support local food security is another.

Meanwhile, protecting human rights such as the right to food and food sovereignty would be a good start to solving the root causes of unsustainability. Ensuring these rights would eliminate many of the aspects of our societies that pit us against one another and give people the space to experiment with more sustainable ways of living.

Regardless of the specific strategies people develop, and I believe they are numerous, we must stop using human nature as a scapegoat for our environmental problems and turn our attention to addressing the societal drivers of unsustainable practices — issues such as poverty, inequity and injustice. For the long term, we need to teach our children a different story of us, one in which we belong and have the potential to thrive and coexist with the rest of the natural world. View Ensia homepage

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contributor-philip-loringPhilip Loring is an ecological anthropologist at the University of Saskatchewan. His research focus is on fisheries, food security and environmental justice. Visit him at his web site, The Conservation of Change.

 

 

 

 

 

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Facts and Opinions is an online journal of select and first-rate reporting and analysis, in words and images: a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, funded entirely by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Subscribe by email to our free FRONTLINES, a blog announcing new works, and the odd small tale. Look for evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. Some of our original works are behind a paywall, available with a $1 site day pass, or with a subscription from $2.95/month – $19.95/year. If you value journalism, please help sustain us.

 

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Chris Wood: roads paved with good intentions

Voluntary business sustainability standards are tricky things, as Chris Wood found when he examined report cards on their applications to agriculture and Walmart. Another tricky thing? The vigilance of shoppers. AKA us.

An excerpt of his new Natural Security column:

chris1Ronald Reagan, in a lucid moment, famously characterized his approach to nuclear negotiations with the Soviet Union as: “Trust — and verify.” Much the same, it turns out, might be said for the green boasts of business. If we’re honest about it, most of what threatens our natural security is the result of our own appetites. Boreal forests are turned into tar pits to push our comfort pods from driveway to the mall. Mountains are crushed to expose the copper and rarer metals that ignite the digital fire in our smartphones. Rivers are emptied to grow our out-of-season salad. But what if we could have our smart-phones and February salads and cars without any of that destruction?

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Newfoundland fishery 20 years after cod moratorium

Gerald Cooper of Trinity Bay, Newfoundland bring home the only thing he caught, a lone mackerel, on his last day of fishing before retiring. Photo by Greg Locke © 1999.

Twenty years after the Canadian government shut down the 500 year old Newfoundland cod fishery there are few signs of recovery of the near-extinct legendary fish stocks on the Grand Banks and north west Atlantic ocean. The fishery has changed but it is still possible for an ecologically viable and sustainable fishing activity … if the assorted governments, unions and fish companies would look for a better way and take responsibility for their actions. Check out  Two decades of disaster: Newfoundland’s fishery. for my look back on 20 years since the moratorium.

 

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