Because much indigenous and community land has yet to be mapped, LandMark also shows the percentages of national land that is communal land. For example, LandMark shows that 78.9 percent of Africa’s land mass is held by Indigenous Peoples and communities under customary tenure. About 21 percent is formally recognized, while the remaining 57.9 percent is not. LandMark provides Indigenous Peoples, communities and their representatives with the opportunity to be proactive in protecting their lands, not just reactive to threats that can emerge without warning and without time to effectively respond, such as when a mining company arrives unannounced with a government-issued permit authorizing them to operate on community-held lands.2) Indigenous and Community Lands are Everywhere.LandMark shows that collectively-held lands are found in all continents except Antarctica. Customary land is truly a global phenomenon. Indigenous and community lands exist in all climates and ecosystems, in developed and developing nations, and under all political and economic systems. LandMark allows Indigenous Peoples and communities to view their lands as part of a national and global context, support their engagement with one another, and increase their visibility to governments and other actors.3) Indigenous Peoples and Communities Are Losing Their Land.Landmark uses 10 indicators of legal security to highlight how well – or poorly – the national laws of a country recognize and protect indigenous and community land rights. It shows that while many national laws acknowledge indigenous and/or community rights to land, few have established strong legal protections needed to secure tenure over these collectively held lands, and no country with indicator scores on LandMark provides full protection. Up to 65 percent of the world’s land is held by Indigenous Peoples and communities, yet only 10 percent is legally recognized as belonging to them. The rest, held under customary tenure arrangements, is largely unmapped, not formally demarcated, and therefore invisible to the world. Without strong legal protections or concrete maps delineating their territories, communities are vulnerable to losing their land to governments and investors for economic and commercial development.That’s where LandMark comes in. Launched today, LandMark is the first online, interactive global platform to provide maps and other critical information on lands that are held and used by Indigenous Peoples and communities. The platform aims to raise awareness, engage audiences, and help these people protect their land rights. Shining a light on indigenous and community land reduces the likelihood that irregular acquisitions and expropriations go unnoticed, and helps protect the livelihoods and well-being of billions of rural people. LandMark also shows that the tenure laws in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America are stronger than those in some developed nations. While strong legislation alone will not secure tenure, weak legal protection is a central reason why Indigenous Peoples and communities are losing their land and sometimes their lives.A Still-Incomplete PictureLandMark is a work in progress. To truly create a global picture of the status of indigenous and community land, there are many data gaps that still need to be filled. Moreover, new lands are always being mapped, more lands are being formally registered with governments, and new laws are being passed, underscoring the importance of keeping the platform’s information up to date.LandMark relies on the contributions of experts—civil society organizations, government agencies, researchers and others who work with Indigenous Peoples and communities—to populate the various community and national-level data layers. Please contact the LandMark Operational Team at email@example.com if you have data to add, or to pose comments or questions.LEARN MORE: Visit the LandMark website to explore the interactive map. For example, in Australia, LandMark shows that formally recognized aboriginal land rights cover 32.5 percent of the national land mass, while pending land claims cover an additional 41.6 percent. LandMark Steering Group MembersThe development of LandMark was guided by a Steering Group of 13 leading land rights organizations from around the world, including:Aliansi Masyarakat Adat Nusantara (AMAN), IndonesiaForest Peoples Program (FPP), UKFoundation for Ecological Security (FES), IndiaInstituto del Bien Común (IBC), PeruInternational Land Coalition (ILC), ItalyLiz Alden Wily, Independent Land Tenure Specialist, KenyaPhilippine Association for Intercultural Development, Inc. (PAFID), PhilippinesRainforest Foundation UK (RFUK), UKRed Amazónica de Información Socioambiental Georreferenciada (RAISG), BrazilRights and Resource Initiative (RRI), Washington, DC, USAUnion of Indigenous Nomadic Tribes of Iran (UNINOMAD)/ Centre for Sustainable Development & Environment (CENESTA), IranWorld Resources InstituteLandMark provides various information at the community and national levels, allowing users—Indigenous Peoples, communities, governments, businesses, development assistance agencies and other stakeholders—to compare the land tenure situation within and across countries. Three clear messages emerge:1) Indigenous and Community Land Is Not “Vacant” Land.Many government agencies consider large portions of indigenous and community land vacant and idle, and therefore available for development. That’s a problem because Indigenous Peoples and communities directly depend on this land for food, medicine, housing and livelihoods.LandMark includes boundaries of lands that are legally recognized and lands held under customary tenure.
This post originally appeared in CNN Money.Last month, the world reached a landmark agreement on climate change in Paris. Last week, business leaders gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum started breathing life into that deal.The Paris Agreement delivered a clear and credible signal that the world economy is moving in a low-carbon direction. Now it’s time for companies and investors to make 2016 a ‘Year of Green Finance’ by putting efforts to reduce emissions on their priority list for investment and risk management.Over the past few years, businesses have learned that strong climate action can deliver economic growth. Shares in companies taking the lead in this area outperformed the Bloomberg world index of top companies by almost 10 percent from 2010-2014.Investors can see the way the wind is blowing, which is why the value of green bonds for sustainable infrastructure has exploded, hitting $41 billion in 2015. Over 400 investors representing $24 trillion in assets have pledged to seek out and scale up low-carbon and carbon-resilient investments.Cost of Renewable Energy Falling FastOne reason investors are so excited is because innovation is lowering the price of renewable energy much faster than anticipated. The cost of solar panels has fallen 80 percent since 2008, and solar and wind energy can now compete on cost with fossil fuels in many regions worldwide.This has led to a drastic market shift: In 2013, new clean power capacity exceeded that of new fossil fuel capacity for the first time ever. We can expect the shift to continue.The cost of investing in carbon-intensive sectors is increasing. According to research from Corporate Knights, 14 funds holding more than $1 trillion in assets could have saved $22 billion had they shifted investments from the highest carbon companies to those that receive at least 20 percent of revenues from environmental markets or clean energy.The awareness of the risks of high-carbon investment is growing, though it could still use a push. The financial community should expect increasing pressure on companies to disclose their exposure to climate risk, and to be more transparent about the carbon intensity of their investments.The Portfolio Decarbonization Coalition — a joint effort by United Nations Environment Programme, its Finance Initiative, and major funds and asset managers — announced last month that more than $600 billion in assets had been committed to de-carbonization, six times its original target. This is a clear indication that the smart money is already moving in the right direction.Businesses and investors are acting fast, but what can policymakers do to support the clean energy transition?For one, they can enact carbon pricing, which offers a win-win opportunity for climate and the economy. Revenues from such programs have helped to balance budgets or have been used to address other public priorities, such as employment generation or reducing inequality.Green Investments Are Making MoneyThe transition will also require policymakers to throw their support behind green finance institutions and tools, including green banks and public capital for renewable energy and other low-carbon investments. Green banks are already successfully leveraging private capital in a number of countries and proving that such investments can be profitable. For instance, the UK Green Investment Bank expects to earn taxpayers a return of 10 percent in 2015.In developing countries, public capital must play a key role. Without financing, the upfront costs of clean energy can deter investors and obscure the future cost advantages from lower fuel and operating costs. This is an urgent issue if ambitious renewable energy targets in countries like India are to be realized.Other countries like China and Brazil have provided low cost, long-term debt for renewable energy. We could all learn from their successes in providing cheap public financing.The Paris Agreement gave the world a clear signal. Early movers in business and finance will see important gains over competitors. But much work still lies ahead.
This article was originally posted on TheCityFix.com.People with access to real-time transit information have been shown to spend 15 percent less time waiting at bus stops than people without this information. Additionally, a study of Chicago’s bus routes found that access to real-time transit information increased average daily ridership by 2 percent. And astudy on New York City’s bus system found that this information also led to an increase in ridership, resulting in $5 million per year in additional fare revenue.These are just some of the benefits of real-time passenger information (RTPI) systems, which provide up-to-date information on departure times, arrival times and service disruptions, enabling passengers to plan more-efficient trips. An RTPI system predicts these times based on automatic vehicle location (AVL) data as well as historic averages and schedule deviations. This information is then given directly to users through different interfaces like websites, texts and public signs, or indirectly through an open data feed that developers can use for smartphone apps at no cost to the transit agency.However, RTPI systems are not cheap, and while turn-key (ready-to-use) projects are available for those who can pay for them, the question of how to make these systems more affordable and accessible to cities unfamiliar with the technology—particularly in the developing world—is still open. Furthermore, too many cities are locked-in to restrictive contracts that govern how the data may be used.Overcoming these barriers is a complex process, but a necessary one. As first step forward, transit agencies should familiarize themselves with the technology and understand how it works—even if at a high-level—so that they can change their procurement processes to allow the entrance of new participants and innovations.New Technologies Are Bringing Down Costs and Improving EfficiencyTraditionally, transit agencies have bought RTPI systems and automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems as a bundle from a single vendor. However, bundling can be costly and, given the latest technologies, are becoming an increasingly outdated model. Innovations are emerging in a number of areas, with off-the-shelf GPS hardware or tablets producing vehicle location data cheaply, and Software as a Service (Saas) business models utilizing the Cloud, which reduces the need for capital investments.OneBusAway (pictured right), for example, offers a suite of open-source products that distribute real-time passenger information through the web, public signs, smartphone apps, texts, interactive voice-response systems and a well-documented API.Other startups, including Via Analytics and Transitime, have created stand-alone RTPI systems. Via Analytics uses GPS data collected from tablets and applies an “anti-bunching” algorithm that can manage bus schedules to avoid inefficiencies. Similarly,Transit UC, a spin-off from the Universidad Católica de Chile, is working on a similar suite of tools, including an “anti-bunching” capability.These new technologies are allowing cities to adopt RTPI systems that are cheaper and more adaptable. Some transit agencies are beginning to recognize the benefits of procuring and implementing them separately.A Lack of Open and Shared Standards Stifles Innovation and ChangeHowever, the problem is that traditional AVL systems generally lack open standards and interfaces, making them unable to exchange information with other software. AVL hardware providers often impose proprietary constraints on the data produced by their systems, either through licenses or by using closed standards. Access to the processed data is only allowed through the standards and interfaces the vendor provides, thus preventing agencies from using other software, experimenting with innovative technologies, and re-using the data for different purposes.As a result, governments become trapped under these contracts, and often don’t realize this until they want to change a component or want to use the data in a different way. Many agencies don’t have an alternative to implementing the RTPI through the current vendor—they’re locked in.Shifting away from Business as Usual Transit agencies with the traditional technology will have difficulties taking advantage of these innovations unless they have complete access to the databases managing the information.Transit agencies procuring new RTPI or AVL systems should require what is known as interoperability—the ability for different systems to communicate effectively with one another. This means that agencies will need to require: (1) open and fully-documented architecture and interfaces; (2) open and standard data protocols as well as standardized and documented data feeds (APIs) from which to extract data; (3) permission to query and extract data from the database; and (4) authorization to reuse that data for other purposes.Requiring interoperability is crucial for making public transit more responsive to people’s needs.So Why Aren’t Open Standards the Norm?While there is no conclusive answer to why transit agencies don’t require open standards, there are several possibilities. One potential reason is that a lack of technical capacity makes turn-key contracts simply more convenient. Second, on some occasions vendors are responsible for writing the request for proposal (RFP) on behalf of the government, thus biasing the RFP in favor of their own technologies. Third, many agencies currently equipped with AVL systems lack the knowledge that upgrading to an RTPI system is even possible. Lastly, development banks play a role, since the traditional way of cost accounting makes it difficult to issues loans for Software as a Service-based projects—which will likely be the future of transit innovation.The widening use of smartphones, high urbanization rates, and the rapid evolution of technologies are driving the potential for real-time passenger information in many cities worldwide. But so far, very few cities in developing countries have RTPI systems. In Latin America, only Sao Paulo has an RTPI system, while cities like Santiago, Bogota and Rio de Janeiro have some components and limited app access but no RTPI systems yet. And other cities like Mexico City only have AVL on some bus corridors, like Ecobus.Real-time access to information is a real benefit to people and cities. The bottom line is that asking for open standards does requires an effort from the transit agency and begins with a basic awareness of what is possible.
The Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 last year placed unprecedented importance on climate adaptation and resilience. Last week, we started to learn how countries, cities, researchers and others are putting adaptation priorities into practice.The Adaptation Futures conference in Rotterdam, Holland, brought together more than 1,700 practitioners and researchers from more than 95 countries—the largest conference on climate adaptation ever. From the discussions, it’s clear that knowledge and expertise on climate adaptation is evolving.We noted five emerging trends:1) Success means affecting individual lives.In her opening keynote, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres encouraged delegates to think of adaptation as a means for making people’s lives better: “Do not hide behind the aggregate, and risk faltering on our responsibility at the individual level. The question that we need to wake up to every morning is: Have we made the life of these people any easier and more livable?”Adaptation efforts are only as effective as the impact they have on each person. Interventions around the world are beginning to reflect this, where previously they focused on aggregate impacts of climate change and did not consider the local, individualized analysis. For example, the city of Rio de Janeiro is testing indicators that measure and build resilience at the individual level. The ultimate aim is to identify policies and actions that can help individual persons enhance their capacities to manage climate change and become more resilient. To gain these insights, Rio de Janeiro’s resilience team will be measuring individuals’ perception of risk, their level of preparedness, and their knowledge on risk-reducing habits.2) Cities are at the forefront.Cities are reaching the forefront of both climate impacts and climate action. As populations grow and climate-related natural disasters strain cities, adaptation and resilience need to be integrated into urban development.Some cities are already prioritizing adaptation. New York, London, Durban and scores of other cities have established special task forces and partnerships to tackle climate change at the highest levels of local government. Meanwhile, local councils in Australia have begun integrating climate hazards into local and state legislating to drive bottom-up adaptation. For example, in Pittwater, Australia, permission for development is “only granted once the local council is satisfied that sea level rise, coastal erosion and recession, or change of flooding patterns as a result of climate change have been considered.”3) We need to think big.Adaptation is transitioning from small, one-off pilot projects into large scale, sustained programs. It’s evolving from an incremental practice to a more systemic one.For example, the city of Rotterdam applied a simple concept of “piggy-backing” to mainstream adaptation and resilience across the city’s infrastructure. The city started assessing urban development projects with a climate lens, assigning adaptation mainstreaming managers to them. Adaptation is now built-in to urban planning decisions—for example, the city created procedures for when high temperatures affect bridge performance, and developed standards for permeable pavement that can accommodate heavy rain and flooding.4) Nature-based solutions are gaining ground.Experts promoted nature-based solutions for adaptation to improve the resilience of cities, increase water access, protect natural ecosystems and reduce disaster risks. Natural or “green” infrastructure—such as forests and restored landscapes for water services, and trees, grasses and green roofs for heat stress and flooding—can provide cost effective and sustainable solutions that complement traditional built or “grey” infrastructure. For example, the Technical University of Munich found that trees and green walls can offset higher temperatures resulting from climate change.5) Adaptation will transform development models.We adapt to climate change not for the sake of it, but for some greater goal—food security, continued prosperity, livelihood security and so on. It is therefore a means to an end for more holistic, climate-compatible development. The message that we can achieve more if we are cognizant of adaptation in the context of larger development outcomes resounded with practitioners and financers at Adaptation Futures.For example, to mainstream adaptation into national development planning processes, the government of Zambia started tracking finance in the national budget and trained Provincial Planning Units and District Planning Officers to mainstream climate resilience into development planning. This process resulted in 14 district-level roadmaps.Moving Forward FasterThe trends highlighted above are reasons for optimism that climate action is gaining both speed and scale. At the same time, there are many opportunities to move the ball further on adaptation.While adaptation finance has increased in recent years, it’s not reaching local levels fast enough, particularly in developing countries at the frontline of climate impacts. Within this context, a majority of the sessions highlighted the need to engage the private sector. However, the question of how to most effectively and efficiently do so is still live. Finally, many sessions underlined the importance of breaking down siloes and identifying co-benefits with mitigation for adaptation to reach its fullest potential and contribute to sustainable development goals.Now it’s up to the many conference participants to take these ideas and priorities forward to ensure that 2016 truly becomes a year of action on adaptation.
PREP collaborating partners include:Amazon Web Services CARTO Descartes Labs Earth Knowledge Esri Federation of Earth Science Information Partners (ESIP) Future Earth Forum One Google Cloud Platform Google Earth Engine Group on Earth Observations Microsoft Sonoma County Climate Resilience Team U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) Vizzuality The Weather Company (an IBM Business) World Resources Institute Sonoma County, California and Caldas, Colombia are very different communities, yet they share a common threat—climate change.Both cities have similar ecological landscapes and agricultural resources. Sonoma’s wine region is vulnerable to changing rainfall patterns and droughts spurred by warming temperatures; Caldas’ coffee fields face devastating floods and landslides.So they joined forced to tackle their shared problem. Through a USAID program, Sonoma and Caldas experts met in each location for a total of two weeks, identified the best climate data available, determined the risks they face and shared resiliency planning best practices, including engaging farmers and accounting for carbon storage in watersheds. Sonoma shared its climate risk data, and Caldas shared its watershed management planning information, enabling both to learn from the other. A Platform AND a Partnership: PREP is more than just a data platform—it will also feature working groups including the world’s leading researchers and data providers, such as federal agencies. This will allow planners consuming climate data to interact directly with the data providers, with both groups learning from each other. Analysts will get climate change data tailored to their location and context to make smart planning decisions, while science translators will learn which tools can help them meet the tailored needs of local planners. Designed by communities, for communities: PREP’s beta platform is being launched with collaborating communities in Sonoma County, California; Puget Sound, Washington; and Porto Alegre, Brazil. Over the next 12 months, PREP will work with other communities, while continually adding new datasets and case studies as they become available, as well as new partners. Eventually, the PREP platform will also help communities like Sonoma and Caldas find each other, connect, and share data and stories of the risks they face and how they are building resilience. The case of Sonoma and Caldas is a climate resilience success story, but it’s a rare one. Communities like them worldwide face the same kinds of problems, but typically lack necessary access to data and guidance to accurately assess risks. Without this information, they can’t make infrastructure investment decisions to protect themselves from escalating climate impacts.Help is on the way. The Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP), a public-private partnership launching today, will harness the data revolution to strengthen climate resilience efforts, streamline climate data delivery, and inform researchers and data providers on which climate data are most valuable.PREP is being launched by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), World Resources Institute (WRI), U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) and a network of entities working on climate impact data. PREP data explorer showing costal power facilities and areas exposed to flooding due to sea level rise and storm surge. Users can view numerous climate datasets provided by U.S. Government agencies, NGOs and private sector partners.A Platform and a Partnership for ResiliencePREP convenes government collaborators, tech companies, civil society and local governments around the world to create more resilient communities through:An open, accessible platform: While abundant climate data exists, it often resides in government and research silos or is overly technical, with insufficient guidance on which data to use and how to use it. PREP’s first major output is an open-source beta information platform building on the data architecture of WRI’s Resource Watch collaborative. It facilitates access to critical data sets from entities like NASA, NOAA and DOI, transforming them into actionable information that users will eventually be able to contextualize with local knowledge, such as the location of critical infrastructure or vulnerable populations in a specific community. Data flows in and out of the PREP platform from multiple sources, with users like local governments, businesses and real estate developers accessing government data for their specific locations. Customization: In the next planned upgrade of the platform, users will be able to create customized dashboards showing live indicators of climate risk, access and visualize data without worrying about storage shortages or software challenges, and create a learning environment with other communities. PREP dashboard developed in collaboration with the Sonoma County Climate Resilience Team. Within the dashboard, users can find information about how Sonoma is being affected by climate change and how they are adapting to it.Over the next 12 months, we will expand the functionality of the platform. Here’s one example of how we envision it will be used:Imagine a town planner is developing a climate risk assessment in response to growing public concern after a spate of storms and floods. She convenes a team to conduct an assessment using PREP. The team easily accesses data on climate change and variability—such as temperature increases or sea level rise and rainfall projections—and combines them with local data about critical infrastructure and their vulnerabilities, such as roads, housing developments or power plants. The team can then integrate these findings and data points into their own online community dashboard to provide insights into how climate change could impact their specific circumstances, making long-term planning more climate resilient.Creating a More Resilient FutureSonoma and Caldas were lucky—thanks to USAID, they found each other to solve climate resilience challenges. But with a rapidly changing climate, we need a way for all communities to understand the risks they face and get resilience planning assistance.PREP can help connect communities on the front lines of climate change find the information they need. Visit the PREP beta platform to join the growing partnership, and harness the data revolution to make neighborhoods around the world more resilient.
This post is part of WRI’s blog series, The Trump Administration. The series analyzes policies and actions by the administration and their implications for climate change, energy, economics and more.The clean energy economy is taking off. It’s bringing new opportunities for U.S. businesses, entrepreneurs, investors and consumers. If President-elect Trump is serious about his promise to create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs, then he should push America toward a strong, clean energy future.Clean energy means will bring more predictable and lower energy costs for U.S. manufacturers, cleaner air and water for American families, and a more secure country, with more energy choices for every American home. It would also create economies of scale for cost-competitive, American-made clean energy products to be exported abroad.Clean energy is already putting more and more Americans to work, unleashing the nation’s spirit of innovation and ingenuity. Although renewable energy production accounts for about 7 percent of national capacity (not including hydro and nuclear), states and large companies are expanding their clean energy portfolios and looking for more.Many state leaders see clean energy as a means to rebuild their manufacturing sectors, as they seek to limit price volatility and protect energy consumers. In 2015, wind power made up more than 10 percent of total electricity generation in 11 states. Iowa led the way with more than 31 percent, followed by South Dakota at 25 percent and Kansas at 23 percent. In Texas, the nation’s largest wind producer, wind power is now cheaper than oil and gas, accounting for 16 percent of electricity capacity over the year. In embracing wind power, Texas created nearly 25,000 jobs and cut air pollution by an amount equivalent to taking 5 million cars off the road. In selecting his advisors, President-elect Trump would do well to bring in people focused on what’s best for the country, not just what’s best for the fossil fuel industry. Solar power is also expanding rapidly. Installed solar power in the United States increased more than 23 times between 2009 and 2015, jumping from 1.2 gigawatts to 27.4 gigawatts. In 2015 alone, the United States installed more than 7,200 megawatts of solar PV, a 16 percent increase over the previous year.Meanwhile, clean energy prices in the United States are falling. Land-based wind power prices dropped by 41 percent since 2008, distributed solar PV power by 54 percent and LED lightbulbs by 94 percent.Furthermore, U.S. clean energy employment continues to grow. Overall, renewable energy jobs surged by 6 percent in 2015 to reach 769,000. Solar power jobs jumped 22 percent to 209,000, as wind power employment increased 21 percent to 88,000 jobs in 2015.The race is on internationally. Global investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency attracted a record $329 billion last year—most of it for solar and wind power—more than any other energy sector. Meanwhile, installation of new renewable energy sources has now surpassed fossil energy.China is leading the pack. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, China was the largest investor in clean energy in 2015, doubling U.S. investment ($110 billion compared to $56 billion). China’s commitment to clean energy is driven by its need to meet its surging electricity demand, while reducing air pollution from old coal plants. In doing so, China is also positioning itself to expand markets and forge new alliances. China’s leaders would be happy for the United States to sit on the sidelines of this clean energy industrial economic growth opportunity.Many major U.S. companies get it. Eighty-three multi-national companies have committed to 100 percent renewable energy. Companies like General Motors, Facebook and Walmart are investing in cost-competitive wind and solar to power their operations. Many U.S. companies are looking to situate their operations in states that have favorable renewable energy policies. For example, GM, which has committed to net-zero emissions by 2050, recently made its largest renewable energy purchase to date, including 50 megawatts from a wind farm in west Texas.American CEOs are not doing this because it’s required, but because it’s saving their companies money. Low-cost renewable energy is a great way to control energy costs and increase competitiveness.These trends are largely based on market forces, not regulations. Recently, a Shell oil executive declared that “peak oil” could come within five years. Coal production in the United States, meanwhile, has dropped by 10 percent in the last year, with the average number of people working in coal mines falling 12 percent. With the ongoing surge of cheap natural gas, more renewables and other market forces, it’s unlikely that coal will be able to come back.Clean energy is also what Americans prefer. The majority of Americans want the government to address climate change and promote clean energy. And regardless of their views on climate change, most Americans support energy efficiency and decreasing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.As momentum for American-made clean energy products and services builds, it is clear that actions that would derail progress would be a mistake at many levels. Turning us back to the fossil fuel-focused era would cause U.S. emissions to surge and expose consumers to greater price volatility. It would also hand over a growing U.S. industry to other countries.In selecting his advisors, President-elect Trump would do well to bring in people focused on what’s best for the country, not just what’s best for the fossil fuel industry. As president, Trump can direct his team to promote investments and policies that create more clean energy jobs, support domestic manufacturers and protect people’s health.On election night, President-elect Trump promised to be a president for all. He promised to make America’s economy stronger and to “dream big.” In supporting domestic clean energy efforts, he can move the country closer to all of these goals in one swoop.
Story #1: How Far Will Trump Go?In advance of his inauguration as U.S. president on January 20, President-elect Trump has named several climate skeptics to his cabinet. It will be important to watch how these new leaders and their policy decisions affect environmental protections, such as ozone and methane emissions standards, renewable energy fuel and energy efficiency standards and the clean water rule.The role of the United States as a climate leader is also at stake, with an uncertain future for the Clean Power Plan, U.S. commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the country’s ability to meet its national target to reduce emissions 26-28 percent by 2025.“There’s nothing particularly partisan about protecting God’s creation — traditionally it’s been the Republicans who have often led,” Steer said. “So let’s not assume before we see real evidence, but there’s no question the statements (by Trump) suggest there will be a gutting of some of the environmental protections in this country.”It will be interesting to watch how leaders at the local levels respond. Already, 15 states and 51 cities have called for climate action. In the face of threats at the federal level, will these leaders, those in Congress and citizens step up their game?Story #2: Fossil Fuel Renaissance vs. Renewable Energy SurgeAlthough Trump has promised to bring back coal, he is unlikely to be able to do so given current economic conditions.The U.S. coal industry has slumped since 2008, and clean energy is now one of the fastest-growing U.S. job sectors. Wind and solar power are now nearly cost-competitive with coal and natural gas in many areas. “Coal declining in the United States has almost nothing to do with climate legislation at all,” Steer said. “It has to do with pure economics.”And globally, while one-third of planned power capacity is still in coal, renewable energy investment was double that of coal and gas last year. Will this growth continue? Follow-through on renewable energy commitments from big players like India and China will be strong indications, as well as financial outcomes from July’s G20 Summit.Story #3: Will International Momentum on Climate Action Continue?Last year was a landmark moment for international climate action when 196 countries adopted the Paris Agreement. The only three that haven’t signed are Syria, Uzbekistan and Nicaragua.Many countries are already translating their Paris commitments into action on the ground. For example, 38 nations and eight institutions have joined the NDC Partnership, which aims to accelerate action and raise ambition on implementation of national climate goals.It will be important to watch whether more progress is made in the coming year. Some important moments include: Will India hit its ambitious solar targets? Will China successfully roll out a national carbon market? And, will the new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres make climate change as high a priority as his predecessor Ban Ki-moon did?Story #4: Tomorrow’s MarketsMany businesses aren’t just moving toward sustainability; they’re leading on it. More than 200 companies have committed to set emissions-reduction targets based on what the science says is necessary to prevent the worst effects of climate change, nearly 600 are working toward deforestation-free supply chains, and 84 have committed to source 100 percent renewable energy.At the same time, investors are increasingly managing funds using environmental, social and governance factors (ESG), and mounting evidence shows that incorporating these screens can have a neutral or even positive effect on returns. “In the old days, the picture image was governments set regulations and the private sector says ‘OK, we’ll fulfill them,’” Steer said. “Today the private sector is really driving the agenda.”The question is whether that momentum will continue in 2017, and will the shift to sustainable investing translate into pressure in C-suites and board rooms?Benchmarks to watch include whether more companies set science-based targets, and if these targets expand to other sectors like land and water use. It will be also interesting to see how businesses and investors respond to the forthcoming Business Commission on Sustainable Development report, due out during next week’s World Economic Forum in Davos.Story #5: The Ascent of Plant-Based FoodsThe consumption of meat and especially beef has one of the biggest impacts on the environment of any sector. Cattle are the single-largest drivers of deforestation and, if all the cattle in the world were their own country, it would be the third-largest emitter. The challenge is to curb this impact while producing the 70 percent more food needed to feed a growing population by 2050.Fortunately, we are seeing increasing interest in plant-based protein, especially in the United States. One-quarter of Americans already report eating less red meat, while one in 10 millennials are vegetarian or vegan. Tyson launched a venture capital fund worth $150 million to explore meat alternatives. As part of the Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return initiative, 42 institutional investors representing $1.25 trillion in assets pressured food companies to futureproof their supply chains by diversifying their protein sources. And Beyond Meat products, including plant-based proteins that taste like burgers, chicken and meatballs, are now sold in 11,000 stores.The question is whether beef producers will begin to diversify and put in place strategies to reduce their impact? And will consumer demand for plant-based proteins and other sustainable alternatives grow?Story #6: Will Innovation in Automobiles Help People and the Planet?Forget the horseless carriage. The new auto trend is driverless cars. More than 30 major companies are currently experimenting with automated vehicles. Meanwhile, ride-sharing services like Uber and China’s Didi are worth tens of billions of dollars, and there are more than one million electric vehicles on the roads globally.The question is whether these three trends — automation, ride-sharing and electrification — will be integrated to reduce cars’ impact on the environment, or whether they’ll operate in silos and increase the number of vehicles on the road? As WRI Board member and Zipcar co-founder Robin Chase said, “Simply eliminating drivers from cars, and keeping everything else about our system the same, would be a disaster.” After all, under the current car-centric model, workers lose about eight days a year in productivity sitting in traffic, and transportation is responsible for 14 percent of global emissions.It’s also important that these new innovations complement rather than compete with people- and planet-friendly mobility options like mass transit and biking.An Exciting Year AheadIt may not be easy to watch how these stories play out over the next year, but 2017 certainly won’t be boring.“Like it or not, real change will happen [this year],” Steer said. “Some changes look like they may not be very good. It’s our job to get a virtuous cycle going, and get really positive change.” Last year brought major political shocks to the world: the election of Donald Trump; the rise of “fake news;” and the emergence of populist, anti-globalization movements in Britain, the Philippines and elsewhere. Many of these were fueled by the growing feeling among certain groups that they are being left out of economic opportunities.The big question for 2017 is: Are these disruptions merely a speed bump for progress toward a more sustainable, equitable world, or will they signal a much larger retreat?WRI President and CEO Andrew Steer addressed this question today in Washington at the Institute’s annual Stories to Watch presentation, highlighting six major topics to scrutinize over the course of this year. How they unfold will help determine whether we continue to curb emissions, expand the economy and foster sustainable development – or not.
October 3, 2016The Canadian government proposes a pan-Canadian approach to carbon pricing, starting at a minimum of CA$10 ($7.31) per tonne in 2018 and rising by CA$10 a year to reach CA$50 ($36.55) per tonne in 2022. Provinces and territories have flexibility in deciding how they will implement carbon pricing—by either pricing carbon directly or adopting a cap-and-trade system—and flexibility in choosing how they will spend the revenue generated from these schemes.November 17, 2016Canada becomes one of the first countries to release an initial mid-century strategy, which outlines its long-term vision and framework for low-emissions development. In this strategy, Canada examines an emissions abatement pathway that is consistent with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, relative to 2005 levels. A major theme running through this strategy is Canada’s commitment to innovation, which the country views as key in the transition toward a low-carbon economy.December 9, 2016Canada presents its plan to reduce GHG emissions and meet its international commitments while sustaining economic growth, known as the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (PCF). The new framework comprises four main pillars: pricing carbon; complementary measures to further reduce emissions such as energy efficiency standards; measures to adapt to the impacts of climate change and build resilience; and actions to accelerate innovation, support clean technology and create jobs. This is the first time that several governments across Canada agree to a strategy to meet the 2030 national target. Saskatchewan and Manitoba are the only provinces to not sign on to the plan, citing concerns over carbon pricing and health care spending, respectively.This man in British Columbia has just installed solar panels on his home. Photo by DeSmog Canada/Flickr March 22, 2017Canada’s finance minister presents the 2017 budget, which includes plans to invest CA$21.9 billion in green infrastructure over the next 11 years. This investment covers initiatives that will support the implementation of the PCF, such as the allocation of CA$2 billion over five years to establish the Low Carbon Economy Fund. The fund will support actions that significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are in addition to current plans.April 13, 2017Canada releases its latest national greenhouse gas inventory report. The report shows a continued decoupling of emissions from economic growth—since 2005, the emissions intensity per unit of GDP has decreased by 16.4 percent. The report also includes Canada’s latest emissions projections, highlighting that the measures to be implemented under the PCF will bend the curve significantly, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by around 175 million tonnes (193 million tons) in 2030. While these measures still fall short of achieving the 2030 target, the report notes that this estimate doesn’t include the full suite of commitments under the PCF.Source: Government of Canada Whether G20 countries embrace responsible climate policy is of critical importance, since together they account for roughly 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 80 percent of global GDP. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced responsible climate policy as a goal of this year’s G20 Summit in July. In the lead up to the Summit, WRI researchers will take a close look at G20 countries’ progress toward meeting their targets under the Paris Agreement as part of our G20 Climate Progress blog series.Canada recently reaffirmed its commitment to champion climate action and embrace the economic opportunities of clean growth. In 2015, the country set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. To meet this goal, Canada will need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 210 million tonnes (232 million tons) by 2030 from 2014 levels.Canada has faced scrutiny for lacking a sufficiently ambitious climate goal, and lags behind its peers in terms of how fast it aims to decarbonize its economy after 2020. There is also domestic and international criticism towards Canada over environmental impacts associated with Alberta’s oil sands. At the same time, Canada has taken concrete steps over the last year to make good on its pledges. Here’s a closer look at seven key milestones.March 3, 2016The Canadian government announces the Vancouver Declaration on clean growth and climate change. This declaration launches a negotiation process between the federal and provincial/territorial governments to agree on a national plan to reach Canada’s 2030 target. The Declaration outlines Canada’s plans to increase its level of ambition to deliver greater mitigation and adaptation actions, while enhancing cooperation and promoting clean economic growth.June 29, 2016Canada agrees to the North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership Action Plan, which brings about enhanced cooperation on climate and energy between Canada, Mexico and the United States. The Partnership sets new mitigation goals: to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by 40–45 percent by 2025, strengthen energy efficiency and vehicle emissions standards, and achieve 50 percent clean power generation in North America by 2025. In 2014, the three countries generated around 37 percent of power from clean sources. The Partnership also includes plans to conserve nature by supporting biodiversity and protecting species such as migratory birds and the Monarch butterfly.Massey Park in Ottawa, the Canadian capital. Photo by Andrew Moor/Flickr Looking AheadOver the last year, Canada has pursued several strategies to meet its 2030 target. Although the government still needs to turn several of these plans into action, it has secured the support of most provinces and territories, and has made clean growth a key element of its 2017 budget. As Canada turns to implement the identified actions, it should use its mid-century strategy as a guidepost toward achieving the 2030 target. This will help to avoid costly missteps by ensuring the alignment of medium- and long-term objectives and minimize the risk of carbon lock-in associated with country’s oil sands industry. While greater ambition is still needed globally, these are encouraging steps on the pathway toward a low-carbon economy.
As LEED has evolved, other certification methods have expanded green criteria even further. In 2006, the Living Futures Institute created the Living Building Challenge. Like LEED, this program evaluates various types of new construction and single-family homes, but adds more holistic and subjective features, including beauty and social justice. It also bans a group of toxic chemicals, called the Red List, that are harmful for the environment and for human health.Regional and Country ApproachesAn alternate approach to establishing building design criteria is to focus on a particular region, such as Green Star in Australia, developed in 2003. The advantage of this approach is that the criteria relate directly to the climate and context of that region, whereas the international certifications must apply to all climates and conditions. To date, the Green Star program has certified 1,372 projects. Other regional or country-specific certifications include DGNB in Germany, CASBEE in Japan, and LEED Canada.The International Finance Corporation developed EDGE certification to promote energy, water, and material efficiency in commercial and multi-family developments in emerging markets. EDGE offers a tool to estimate energy use during the design process and a lower-cost certification process. Currently, there are 33 ongoing EDGE projects in countries including Vietnam, India, Ghana, China, Costa Rica, Mexico and Indonesia. In August, WRI received the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Silver certification for the 2016 renovation of its global office in Washington DC. The certification adds to WRI’s expanding portfolio of green office spaces, which also includes the WRI China Office, certified LEED Gold in 2014. While WRI chose to participate in the LEED certification process, a global leader, there are many other kinds of green building certifications, all of them reflecting the enormous role buildings play in our lives, cities and environment.In the past decade, communities across the globe have embraced green building certification as a way to recognize and encourage sustainable construction by setting standards for whole-building energy efficiency, water conservation, materials and waste management, interior air quality and other innovative features that reduce environmental impacts and create healthier spaces. They also drive the construction industry to raise the bar on sustainable performance. Over time, building certification standards have been incorporated into national and local building codes and used in policies to foster their widespread application in new construction.According to the UN’s 2013 global assessment on climate change, commercial and residential buildings represented 32 percent of the total global energy use and 19 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2010. Buildings can also strain water resources and materials, and even affect the health of occupants. All green building certifications aim to improve sustainability of buildings, but there are many variations in their methods for achieving this goal. Four of the major categories of certifications are described below.Building Design CertificationsLEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), developed and released by the U.S. Green Building Council in 2000, was one of the earliest green building certification programs in the nation. More than 38,600 commercial projects in over 167 countries and territories are LEED certified. In the United States alone, over 24,000 projects have been certified, with 738 in China and 653 in India. LEED has also expanded beyond new commercial or multi-family construction projects to certify existing buildings, interior fit-outs, neighborhood design and single-family homes. A Greenbiz report estimated that LEED projects contributed to the reduction of 0.35 percent of U.S. carbon emissions in 2011 and have the potential to reduce nearly 15 times that amount (4.92 percent) by 2030. Located in Indore, India, the Abhikalpan Office received EDGE certification in September 2016 and saves 71 tons of CO2 per year. Photo and data from IFC Edge Abhikalpan Office Case StudyEnergy CertificationsEnergy Star, developed in the U.S. in 1995 for homes and commercial and industrial buildings, focuses specifically on energy use and includes nearly 30,000 commercial projects. In addition to the certification program, the Energy Star suite of tools also offers occupant engagement programs, equipment energy efficiency labels, and benchmarking data to understand overall progress in building energy use. Underscoring the strong public-private partnerships developed through this program, over 16,000 businesses have now committed to rigorous ongoing energy efficiency efforts. Recent Trump administration attempts to cut the program were repulsed when over 1,050 companies urged Congress to stand up for Energy Star. The program is safe for now, but with a proposed 40 percent cut in funding, its future effectiveness remains uncertain.Under the Living Futures Institute’s NetZero Energy Certification, launched in 2011, a building must produce as much or more renewable energy as it uses; this requires the use of onsite renewable energy systems such as PV, wind turbines or solar thermal. Despite the Zero Energy program’s recent release and the requirement for certifications to have one year of post-implementation energy data, there are already 22 certified projects.Health FactorsIn 2013, a new concentration emerged with the Well Certification, which looks primarily at occupant health in commercial buildings, factoring in improved indoor air quality and physical and mental well-being. According to developers, Well Certification can be an incentive to attract tenants.Health-focused certifications often promote outdoor space for well-being. The Sustainable Sites certification, developed by the American Society of Landscape Architects, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the U.S. Botanic Garden, looks exclusively at the health and restoration of the landscape. Sustainable Sites certification includes criteria for managing the water cycle, conserving or restoring soil and vegetation, and other components, such as spaces that encourage reflection or physical activity.Ripple EffectsIn dozens of cities, green certification programs have led to or contributed to local policy changes, with standards for green building performance becoming mandatory for publicly funded projects. Over 41 cities have adopted LEED standards for their facilities, and 29 have integrated Energy Star tools into policies. Washington, for example, requires both Energy Star standards as well as LEED certification for District-owned buildings. Many other jurisdictions are going beyond certifications, with mandatory energy and green requirements for new and existing buildings. California adopted a mandatory green building code called CALGreen and New York City adopted the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan (GGBP).As policies make sustainable construction a requirement, certification programs continue to raise standards for excellence and recognition. Combined with policy tools such as energy labeling, carbon markets, sustainable procurement and subsidies or financing support for green buildings and retrofits, they advance greener construction and play a key role in energy use reduction worldwide.For more on how governments can implement building efficiency policies and programs, see WRI’s 2016 report. Further resources are available from the Building Efficiency Accelerator, a public-private collaboration that partners with subnational governments worldwide to advance sustainable buildings.
Flooding is the tragic norm in Jakarta, a megacity where major floods took 40 lives and cost IDR 32 trillion ($2.4 billion) in 2013. The floods were back early this year, and more are expected.Southeast Asia’s biggest city is investing in dams, widening river channels and other built infrastructure to tame the floods. But the city’s natural infrastructure has also taken a beating. The surrounding forested watershed would ordinarily store and slowly release rainwater promote aquifer recharge, stabilize soil and stem erosion.While managing water in the city itself is critically important, it is also equally important to manage its upstream watersheds in order to truly protect against flooding and water stress. Ironically, deforestation of these watersheds leaves Jakartans at the mercy of extremes. In between floods, the city is left struggling to meet surging demand for water, in part because deforestation slows the ability of local aquifers to recharge.The Case of the Ciliwung Watershed Additionally, more than 50 percent of the watershed is already converted to urban or agricultural land. Without the trees, grasses, and root structures needed to capture and water and hold soils the upper Ciliwung watershed’s capacity to retain water from heavy rainfall has been drastically reduced. Consequentially, the downstream city of Jakarta now experiences less flood protection from this natural landscape. One of the major rivers that runs through the heart of Jakarta is the Ciliwung River. It runs 120 kilometers from the upper watershed in Bogor, where the remaining forest lies, to the coast of Jakarta. Once healthy, this river now suffers from heavy pollution, excess silt and man-made changes in river structure.Threats to the river’s watershed can be closely examined using the recently launched Global Forest Watch Water, a global mapping tool and database that examines how tree cover loss, unsustainable land use and other threats to natural infrastructure affect water security throughout the world. Most of the forest in Ciliwung watershed is in the upper watershed.Although the watershed is still partially forested, degradation has dramatically reduced the watershed’s capacity to regulate water flow and control water quality. GFW Water data shows that the watershed has experienced a high rate of historical tree cover loss, most of which occurred prior to 2000. Watershed Destruction and Water DepletionFlooding is only one half of Jakarta’s water story. Thirst is another.The city’s baseline water stress score of 4 to 5, is considered extremely high. This score means that more than 80 percent of the available surface water supply is withdrawn. High baseline water stress indicates that Jakarta already experiences high competition for water among sectors, impacting important water-dependent sectors such as agriculture and energy and leaving less water for essential ecosystem services. It also makes Jakarta more vulnerable to increased demand and drought, and has forced it to turn increasingly to groundwater. Jakarta also already experiences extreme groundwater depletion. This is in part due to millions of Jakarta residents who extract water through wells from shallow underground aquifers beneath the city. But it’s also due to the fact that, without greenery that helps the watershed retain water, aquifers struggle to recharge at typical rates, compounding the depletion caused by public demand.It’s also quite literally causing the city to sink: high rates of water extraction and development have caused the city to drop, on average, 4 inches (10 cm) annually. This trend, called subsidence, causes damage to infrastructure and will continue if massive extractions continue to be poorly regulated. Subsidence also raises flood waters because the land surface is depressed, allowing rising seas and storm surges from climate change to further swamp the city.A Better Way ForwardJakarta’s water landscape is one of both scarcity and excess—pairing high water stress with flooding worsened by watershed degradation. However, there are plenty of solutions for how the city can reduce these risks. The GFW Water tool provides recommendations and plans for actions based on each watershed’s individual water risks. For Jakarta, these recommendations include reforestation, assisted natural regenerations through protection as well as preservation of natural tree seedlings, and agroforestry.The city is already acting by piloting innovative solutions to protect the areas that surround the city. For example, a payments for environmental services scheme in Cidanau watershed, West Java, has used revenue from water pricing collected by a multi-stakeholder organization to fund reforestation in upper stream areas, which helps to ensure clean water for the areas downstream.Jakarta alone cannot solve its flooding and sinking. The city will also need to collaborate with surrounding areas to reduce both crises. To protect against floods, and ensure aquifer recharge, Jakarta can support restoration of natural infrastructure in upstream areas in West Java. To reduce groundwater extraction, the city government can regulate water extraction in Jakarta and work with water companies to provide infrastructure to houses and buildings to reduce groundwater extraction. These solutions, if taken together, could turn Jakarta’s current environment of water extremes into one of water security.
But Seymour, who worked on the issue for the Packard Foundation, found a key obstacle to success: how to accurately map peatlands to measure not only surface area but thickness, an essential measurement. (The deeper the peat is, the more ecological damage – including carbon emissions – results from disturbance.)She consulted with experts to figure out the best way to map the peat, but the more people she talked to, the more conflicting answers she got. “The prize competition is a result of my own failure,” Seymour explains.The Packard Foundation, in partnership with the Government of Indonesia’s Geospatial Information Agency, decided to put it to a test. The winning team’s method for mapping peat will best combine accuracy, cost and timeliness.The competition drew 44 submissions from teams with an array of backgrounds, though every team has an Indonesian partner. They rely on a wide range of high- and low-tech approaches. Finalists are refining the use of LIDAR—long a candidate for the job—but also a novel application of airborne electromagnetic surveys.The prize – which is being managed by WRI Indonesia – will set a standard for mapping for government efforts and provide researchers with options for specific policy interventions, including peatlands restoration.”A Giant Step Forward”Five finalists have been selected. The winner will be announced in February 2018, exactly two years after the competition was announced.”This is going to enable a giant step forward,” Seymour says, informing what we do about “one of the world’s premier stocks of carbon.”That will be a great day for the climate, but also for Indonesia. As Seymour emphasizes, people who live near peatlands suffer most when they burn. “We can’t hit the Paris targets if we continue to destroy the peatlands, and they’re very important to local people.” “Peatlands are the most important ecosystem you’ve never heard of,” says Frances Seymour.Seymour, who recently returned to WRI as a distinguished senior fellow, contributed key insights to the development of a $1 million prize designed to protect Indonesia’s vast peatlands. The award will go to the team that advances the best methodology for mapping the peatlands, which contain carbon accumulated over thousands of years.Avoiding release of this carbon is imperative for the planet and for local communities. But disaster can only be averted if authorities know where peat is—hence the prize.”A Premier Source of Carbon”Peat is formed from vegetation when, over time, layers and layers of dead plants partially decompose and one strata builds up over another. Over thousands of years in a wet environment, organic matter will fail to fully decay. Instead, it becomes peat.Despite the unique biodiversity they harbor—flying foxes and orangutans call the ecosystem home—peatlands are in danger from deforestation, putting the entire planet at risk.Peat stores carbon, and peatlands release significant emissions when tilled or disturbed—for example, by drainage for the rapid expansion of palm oil and fast-growing timber plantations that threaten much of Indonesia’s remaining forest.Peatlands burning in Kalimantan. Flickr/CIFOR When dried out, peat is also highly flammable. “There are discernible peaks in global climate emissions in years where there are Indonesian peat fires,” Seymour points out. Peat fires in 2015 were estimated to have caused up to 100,000 premature deaths and cost the Indonesian economy $16 billion—almost 2 percent of its gross domestic product.Race for the PrizeThe Indonesian government has made peatland restoration a priority, establishing a new national agency for the purpose, and recently expanded a moratorium on opening peatlands to include areas already licensed for cultivation.Frances Seymour, distinguished senior fellow at WRI.
As southeast Texas residents and officials conduct what’s certain to be a grim accounting of Hurricane Harvey’s deadly impacts, they will also turn their attention to rebuilding and recovery. When they do, they will face a clear choice: whether to return to past practices that put them at risk of devastating loss and damage, or to build back more resiliently, with policies and practices that better protect its residents, especially the most vulnerable.It’s a choice that countless communities confront as climate change fuels more frequent and intense storms and higher sea levels, both of which increase the risk of flooding. These effects are being felt across the globe: in the past few days, as Harvey unfolded in the United States, floods from extreme monsoons killed more than 1,200 people in Southeast Asia.Climate Change’s FingerprintsIn the weeks and months ahead, scientists will work to unravel the connection between climate change and the likelihood of Harvey’s occurrence. In the meantime, we know that climate change very likely contributed to the storm’s devastating impacts. Climate change has resulted in higher sea levels, adding critical inches and feet to storm surge in coastal areas and reducing the capacity of drainage systems that flow into the ocean. And ocean water is warmer, feeding higher levels of atmospheric moisture that can fall as heavy rain (or snow).Houston’s Legacy of FloodingInfrastructure planning plays a huge role in climate resilience. Flickr/John Chandler Though Harvey’s deluge was unprecedented, flooding is far from a new phenomenon in Houston and surrounding Harris County, which acknowledges, “Flooding is Our Natural Disaster.” The region, home to the nation’s fourth largest city and vital energy infrastructure, has suffered other epic storms. Last year’s Tax Day Floods killed eight and damaged hundreds of apartments. In 2008, Hurricane Ike became the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history, ravaging Galveston, Harris County, and elsewhere. In 2001, Tropical Storm Allison dropped 80 percent of the area’s average yearly rainfall in a single event, killing 23 people in Texas and causing as much as $9 billion in damage.But the region also experiences the steadier assault of repetitive floods exacerbated by two factors: challenging topographical conditions and development pressures and patterns. In a groundbreaking 2016 series of reports on the causes of rising flood impacts in and around Houston, Texas Tribune and ProPublica journalists noted: “[E]xperts and federal officials say Houston’s explosive growth is largely to blame. As millions have flocked to the metropolitan area in recent decades, local officials have largely snubbed stricter building regulations, allowing developers to pave over crucial acres of prairie land that once absorbed huge amounts of rainwater.” Indeed, in a recent case, the Texas Supreme Court nearly allowed downstream residents to sue Harris County for allegedly failing to follow through on a flood-control plan and permitting “unmitigated” upstream development that caused their homes to flood repeatedly.When the city floods, it is often the poorest communities that suffer most. In Houston, flooding has inundated low-income neighborhoods, which occupy lands near chemical plants. Health officials are worried about pollutants spilling into the floodwater from surrounding toxic waste sites, but residents claim that they have received little help evacuating. Beyond finding food, clean water and shelter, these citizens will also struggle with recovery. Many couldn’t afford flood insurance, don’t have the money to restart their lives, and may have to pay for long-term government aid. Their voices, their needs and their priorities must be taken into account as the city recovers and rebuilds.The Road to a More Resilient RecoveryTexas Army National Guard rescue Houston residents as floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey continue to rise, Aug. 28, 2017. U.S. Department of Defense/Flickr As destruction and immediate emergency response gives way to recovery, here are just a few of the strategies that federal and local officials can consider to increase resilience.Fund Climate-Resilient Rebuilding. Congress can ensure that federal disaster funds flow to projects that account for climate impacts and bolster resilience in the long-term, particularly in low-income communities. Ironically, just weeks before Harvey, President Trump repealed an Obama Administration standard that would have required federally funded projects to account for the broader, deeper floodplains that will result from climate change. The move came despite broad-based, bipartisan support for the potentially life- and cost-saving policy. As Congress takes up both disaster-relief and routine-spending bills, legislators can restore the requirements of the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard to better protect the public and taxpayer funds. Congress can also dedicate greater funding to hazard-mitigation initiatives, in which every dollar spent saves on average four-to-seven in future damages. Finally, Congress can promote innovative public-private partnerships following the model established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Rockefeller Foundation’s National Disaster Resilience Competition. Adequately funding recovery efforts through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program will be especially important, as CDBG-DR programs must directly benefit low- and moderate-income communities.Promote Resilience in the Reauthorization of the Federal Flood Insurance Program. The disaster in Houston unfolds as Congress considers what to do about the battered National Flood Insurance Program, the nation’s single most important flood-risk reduction regime. Designed to discourage risky development through regulation and to provide a last line of financial defense for flooded homeowners and businesses, the NFIP has largely failed to accomplish the first of these goals and has a checkered record on the second. Its heavily subsidized—though sometimes still out-of-reach—rates encouraged development in risky areas. However, another problem, underscored by Harvey, is that far too few people actually carry coverage, which is mandatory only for homeowners with federally-backed mortgages in the areas identified as the highest risk on flood-insurance rate maps, many of which are out of date. Early estimates suggest that only two of every ten Houston-area residents in Harvey’s path of destruction have flood insurance. (In contrast, as many as half of Katrina-affected residents had insurance.). As Congress reconsiders the NFIP, it can bolster flood resilience by funding expanded efforts to update and improve flood insurance rate maps that underpin the system, but fail to account for future climate change. It can also ensure that flood insurance is affordable for the low- and moderate-income residents climate change will impact most. Finally, Congress can reconsider how the program deals with repetitively damaged properties, placing a greater emphasis on hazard mitigation and relocation out of harm’s way.Locally, leaders and residents can redouble efforts to pursue smart water-management strategies that maximize natural infrastructure. They can rethink development in high-risk areas and pursue more stringent building codes to reduce the impacts of and risk to future development.Hurricane Harvey’s human and economic costs continue to mount. As federal disaster-recovery dollars begin to flow, officials have a choice. They can opt to rebuild in business-as-usual fashion, or protect people and property with the resilient, far-sighted approach our changing climate demands. At the same time, Harvey must serve as a yet another reminder of the urgent need to curtail carbon emissions to avoid severe climate impacts.
How can we achieve negative emissions?Carbon-removal strategies, as the name implies, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it through various means, such as in soils, trees, underground reservoirs, rocks, the ocean and even products like concrete and carbon fiber. The most obvious example of this is photosynthesis, where trees absorb carbon dioxide from the surrounding air and use it to grow.Carbon-removal strategies fall into two categories:Natural approaches, which use biological processes to improve carbon removal and storage in forests, soils or wetlands; andTechnological approaches, which remove carbon directly from the air or manipulate natural carbon-removal processes to accelerate carbon storage.Is carbon removal like solar radiation management?No. While solar radiation management aims to reduce the severity of climate impacts, unlike carbon removal, it does not address the source of the problem: increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Rather, solar radiation management seeks to reduce the amount of radiation that reaches Earth, such as by brightening clouds, injecting reflective particles into the atmosphere or even installing mirrors in space.Carbon removal and solar radiation management come with very different risks, potential impacts, research needs and costs, but neither is exempt from controversy. Solar radiation management has sparked debate around potential unintended consequences for the hydrological cycle and plant life, among other issues. Some forms of carbon removal are also subject to significant debate, such as whether bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)—which involves burning biomass like crop wastes for energy and capturing and storing the carbon emissions underground in geological formations—can be truly sustainable at a large scale given competing needs for land, among other concerns.How much carbon removal do we need?The UNEP Emissions Gap Report compiled the latest science related to emissions trajectories and temperature rise. Researchers found that: Temperature rise cannot be limited to 1.5°C by 2100 without carbon removal, according to the models studied. By 2050, the world would need to sequester and store 8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (GtCO2) annually on average—removing more emissions than the total U.S. GHG emissions in 2015 (6.6 GtCO2e). Between 2010 and 2100, the world would need to store about 810 GtCO2 cumulatively, the equivalent of about 20 years’ of global emissions given current rates.A few scenarios can meet the 2°C target without carbon removal, but the large majority require it, even when factoring in countries’ current climate action commitments. Even if countries ramp up their climate action immediately, most models show we’ll still need to remove about 670 GtCO2 cumulatively between 2010 and 2100, the equivalent of about 16 years’ of global emissions given current rates.Is any of this actually possible?Natural approaches for carbon removal can play a significant role in the near-term. Recent research found that natural solutions like improved management of forests, wetlands, grasslands and agricultural lands can remove about 5.6 GtCO2e of carbon per year by 2030—a figure equivalent to total global emissions from agriculture in 2014—at a cost of less than $100 per tonne of carbon. Natural approaches also carry numerous co-benefits, from improving soil and water quality to protecting biodiversity.Yet they are not without risk. For example, carbon may not be removed permanently, eventually reverting to the atmosphere, such as when a major fire destroys restored forestland or when a farmer plows up a field previously restricted from tilling. Carbon-removal activities can also trigger emissions elsewhere, such as if planting trees on agricultural land leads to trees being cut down elsewhere to meet growing food demands.Several technological approaches also offer promise, but most are not ready for deployment and others remain costly and risky. Most of the climate models rely significantly upon BECCS to achieve negative emissions, but this approach also poses challenges, such as displacing forests and crop lands to make way for bioenergy production.Even when combined with ambitious mitigation, no single carbon-removal approach or category can keep warming well below 2°C over the course of this century. Therefore, the best strategy for achieving negative emissions at the scale needed is to build a portfolio of carbon-removal approaches.Where is carbon removal already happening?Efforts to manage soils and forests more effectively to store carbon—like through reforestation and restoring degraded landscapes into productivity—are ongoing, but have not occurred close to their estimated need or potential. For example, while countries around the world have set an ambitious goal to restore 350 million hectares of degraded lands by 2030, one study found carbon removal potential through restoration and several other measures across several billion hectares. But it is critical to note that whether and how the world can mobilize action at this scale is a subject of ongoing debate. Optimism needs to be tempered by what is realistic given competing demands for land and other resources.Technological approaches are in their infancy, but gaining traction. For example, there are now a handful of commercial direct air capture and storage systems in Canada, Europe and the United States, as well as some academic research efforts. BECCS is also entering a demonstration phase, with half a dozen or so operational projects and more than a dozen planned.A new power system called the Allam Cycle is also something to watch. The technology makes carbon capture part of the core electricity-generation process. NET Power is using the technology in the first-ever zero-emissions natural gas demonstration plant in La Porte, Texas, which is expected to begin supplying power to the grid in 2018. If it works, the Allam Cycle facility will capture all the carbon dioxide it produces, and is projected to be cost-competitive with conventional natural gas power systems once the technology matures. This demonstration plant could therefore have a transformative effect on the power system, and incentivize investments in critical infrastructure like geological storage, which will ultimately help bring down the cost of carbon removal.How can the world limit warming to 1.5-2°C?It will need to pursue all efforts to reduce emissions. We can’t take our foot off the pedal for any mitigation efforts, and at the same time, we need to explore options for investing in carbon removal—in a way that complements and even supports mitigation efforts, to the extent possible. This means rapidly deploying natural carbon-removal approaches while continuing to research, develop and demonstrate technological approaches that have the potential to scale.Encouragingly, pathways for many carbon-removal approaches can go hand-in-hand with mitigation. For example, direct air capture technology requires low-cost, carbon-neutral energy, underscoring the need to scale up wind, solar and other renewables. And natural carbon-removal approaches can help cut emissions while providing a suite of benefits like improved food yields and resilience.WRI is pursuing a new body of research to explore the challenges and opportunities to scale carbon-removal strategies in combination with advancing efforts to curb emissions. With greenhouse gas emissions climbing and climate impacts becoming increasingly severe, the urgency to address climate change has never been greater. Many of the solutions to date have focused on mitigation—ways to slash emissions as quickly as possible, such as by adopting renewable energy, promoting energy efficiency and stopping deforestation. These efforts remain critically important, and we need to accelerate them. Yet the science shows they will not be enough on their own to have a good chance of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, the world will need to reach net-negative emissions, a point at which we’re actually removing and storing more carbon from the air than we’re putting into the atmosphere. This will involve deploying techniques that remove carbon from the atmosphere and permanently store it.Here, we take a look at the latest science on negative emissions and carbon-removal approaches:Why do we need to achieve negative emissions?The latest climate science shows that in addition to climate mitigation, the world will need to remove carbon from the air and store it if we are to have a good chance of achieving the global goals of limiting temperature rise to 1.5-2 degrees C (2.7-3.6 degrees F), the temperature limit countries agreed to as part of the international Paris Agreement on climate change. Most scientific estimates show that to keep those goals within reach, the global emissions trajectory needs to not only reach net-zero by the second half of this century, but continue downward into net-negative emissions. Negative emissions are necessary to offset the last remaining greenhouse gas-emitting activities that are too challenging or expensive to eliminate, and to compensate for any temporary overshoot of the temperature goals.
From the cities of Japan to the arctic corners of Sweden, places that are not normally known for oppressive heat have recently reported record-breaking high temperatures. California just experienced the largest wildfire in its history, fueled by hotter, drier weather. While no single weather event can be attributed directly to climate change, these are two of many signs that our climate is changing. It’s a great time for companies to consider how they can step up their response.Back in March 2017, I recommended high-priority actions that companies should take to fight climate change. Now, ahead of next month’s Global Climate Action Summit in California, I offer an updated list of five actions that signal leadership.1. Be transparent.All major companies should measure and publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions. Thousands of companies already do so, but it bears repeating because some companies, including some with otherwise strong reputations on sustainability, are holding out on the basis that action is more important than words (or in this case, numbers). If a company with a strong reputation does not report, those with weak reputations will follow suit. Transparency provides climate advocates with a crucial frame of reference for what is possible and where improvements need to be made. Yes, emissions accounting and disclosure take some staff hours, but it’s an essential duty for climate-conscious companies. If you are serious about climate change, you have an obligation to society to support this business-wide initiative.2. Set a science-based target.Over four hundred and sixty major companies have committed to setting greenhouse gas emissions targets in line with the global goal to keep warming to below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), known as “science-based targets.” The initiative is accelerating, and we expect more companies to get on board as science-based target-setting inches towards expected practice.If your company hasn’t already committed, now is the moment. Anand Mahindra, chairman and CEO of Mahindra Group, challenged business to reach a goal of 500 companies committed by the Global Climate Action Summit, and we expect the meeting to be a platform for many companies to announce bold new ambitions. If you reported to CDP that you intend to set a science-based target, do it now. Be a leader among the first 500.Looking further ahead, early movers are exploring a broader approach to science-based sustainability targets, applying the concept to additional resource categories such as water and land. Progress on a target for emissions now will give you a head start when companies are called on to set science-based targets for all major areas of environmental impact.3. Put a price on carbon (or ask your government to do it).An internal carbon price is a financial mechanism that favors and helps catalyze the transition to low-carbon business models. We recently surveyed 27 Indian companies on how they priced carbon and published a helpful primer which outlines four approaches: shadow pricing, internal carbon tax, internal cap and trade and implicit carbon price.Another option: Voice your support for carbon tax legislation. Today, 45 national and 25 subnational jurisdictions have implemented or scheduled for implementation a carbon pricing initiative. American companies have a unique opportunity to support a carbon tax that was proposed by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) last month.4. Advocate for win-win public policies.Countries and companies are racing to outpace the most damaging and disruptive effects of climate change. But they will need to work together to go further, faster. When businesses set ambitious, science-based greenhouse gas (GHG) targets, governments have more political support to pass ambitious climate policies. When governments set effective, clear policies that favor innovations to reduce GHG emissions, businesses have greater certainty and incentives to invest. These are opportunities to create “ambition loops” that fast-track clean, low-carbon economic growth.We’ve teamed up with We Mean Business Coalition and UN Global Compact (UNGC) on new research that identifies where alignment between public and private sector goals has strengthened these powerful cycles. This research, to be published later this year, will be essential reading for any executive who wants to practice responsible (and smart) policy engagement in a post-Paris Agreement world. Until then, review the 2018 Climate Action Playbook that we published with UNGC late last year for practical policy engagement strategies.5. Use your brand.As I’ve argued before, companies have incredible power of public persuasion through their branding and marketing activities. They can also leverage their brand in private conversations with policymakers, investors, suppliers, customers and employees. Speaking out publicly and privately in favor of climate action can feed momentum behind systemic change and contribute to a culture that values the environment. That’s why Sustainable Brands adopted “system-wide brand influence” as one of five key characteristics of its corporate sustainability roadmap.How does your company measure up against this climate leadership checklist? Now is the time to take stock and devise a plan for raising your ambition. As the recent series of weather extremes reminds us, we must act quickly and work together to protect our climate.
As countries consider ways to increase the ambition of their current national climate plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, they appear to be leaving one of their best players on the bench: forests.Forests are the lungs of the planet. They clean the air and sequester carbon. In fact, forest restoration— improving the ecological state of deforested or degraded landscapes through tree-planting and other means – and other natural climate solutions have the potential to take in roughly a third of global emissions necessary to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. That makes restoration an MVP candidate for climate mitigation, and a key strategy for countries to include in their pledges under the Paris Agreement on climate change.Countries are joining the restoration movement, and especially the Bonn Challenge. But few have yet aligned their restoration and climate commitments. Doing so would make the planet greener—and the air cleaner—faster.Restoration Absent from Climate CommitmentsGiven the clear link between restoration and climate mitigation, it would seem fitting for countries to include their restoration pledges and policies in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the targets, policies and measures countries make under the Paris Agreement to contribute to global efforts to curb climate change.The clear majority of all NDCs—137—mention forest landscape restoration. But fewer than one-third of them—only 43— include a numerical target for carbon mitigation through restoration.The Bonn ConnectionThis isn’t because countries aren’t committing to restoration. They just aren’t aligning restoration commitments with their climate commitments, losing out on an opportunity for synergy.The German government and IUCN started the Bonn Challenge in 2011 as an effort to catalyze forest and landscape restoration. It set targets to bring 150 million hectares (371 million acres) of degraded land into restoration by 2020 and 350 million hectares (865 million acres) by 2030. Through supporting initiatives such as Initiative 20×20 and AFR100, the Bonn Challenge has secured restoration pledges from 39 national governments to date, committing to bring over 160 million hectares into restoration.The Bonn Challenge estimates restoration’s annual carbon sequestration potential (based on current pledges) at a level roughly equivalent to a third of total emissionsin 2016 . But even among the 39 countries with Bonn commitments, only 20 explicitly mention restoration as a climate mitigation strategy in their NDCs. Only three include quantitative restoration targets that are consistent with their Bonn Challenge pledges, while 16 include quantitative targets that differ from their Bonn Challenge pledges. Not a single country has referenced the Bonn Challenge in their NDCs.Why Restoration Matters for NDCsSeedlings lined up ahead of planting in Costa Rica. (Photo by Luciana Gallardo, WRI) Given the diversity of international policies, geographies and commitments relevant to climate change, it may be impractical to expect every country to include restoration or Bonn Challenge pledges in their NDCs. Some countries only include economy-wide targets in their NDCs, rather than specifying the interventions–such as restoration–that they intend to pursue.Nonetheless, there are good reasons to include restoration in NDCs. Since the Paris Agreement includes a mechanism for submitting new or updated NDCs every five years, beginning with a clear timeframe for doing so by 2020, it’s not too late for countries to capitalize on this opportunity. Here are some reasons why:1. Importance of Policy Cohesion for Effective GovernanceAs governments announce commitments and craft policies to address a vast range of issues of national interest, it is important to ensure that these commitments and policies are aligned in their intent and impact. Without policy cohesion, countries may suffer from possessing disjointed, conflicting policies, resulting in delayed and/or ineffective governance.In the case of restoration, countries that sign on to the Bonn Challenge but leave the target out of their NDCs, when there are such strong links between restoration and climate mitigation, may create mixed signals about their level of commitment to restoration and its contribution to their climate policies.2. Ability to Leverage Climate Finance for RestorationClimate financing could play a significant role in closing restoration’s large gap in funding. When evaluating projects for funding, climate finance institutions such as the Green Climate Fund and the World Bank factor in the extent to which the project supports achievement of countries’ NDCs. (More detailed information is provided in WRI’s Future of the Funds report.) By adding Bonn Challenge commitments into their NDCs during the next round of NDC enhancement, countries would clearly signal to climate financiers that restoration is a crucial part of their climate mitigation strategy and make them more receptive to financing restoration projects.The untapped opportunity is substantial. In 2015-2016, global public financing for climate mitigation averaged $110 billion per year. Less than 3 percent of these funds were directed towards agriculture, forestry and land use projects, with funding for restoration consisting an even smaller subset of that.Some indications, such as the World Bank’s accelerated financing of climate projects, point to a widening pool of climate finance over time; adding restoration commitments to NDCs can help make sure that countries’ critically important land-use policies are able to get a piece of this growing pie.As countries prepare to update their NDCs over the next two years ahead of 2020, they would do well to incorporate targets, policies and measures aimed at restoration, including their Bonn Challenge pledges where applicable. By communicating their pursuit of restoration as a climate strategy, countries would align their commitments and gain access to pools of climate finance, catalyzing the global restoration movement and giving restoration the starring role it deserves.
East of Gunung Leuser, on the island of Borneo, lies Gunung Palung National Park. Covering 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres), the park is home to the iconic Bornean orangutan, a critically endangered species and a global priority for conservation. Despite the park’s protected status, illegal logging and wildlife poaching persist, threatening critical orangutan habitat.People living along Gunung Palung National Park’s borders are mainly poor subsistence farmers. They lack access to affordable medical care because doctors are so few and far between. As a result, when people get sick, family members turn to the park to cut down trees or hunt animals, which they can sell for cash that helps pay for visits to the doctor and medicine.In other words, the forest’s health is tied to the health of the communities surrounding it.To address this interaction, the Gunung Palung National Park Office collaborated with Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI), a local NGO focused on public health. In 2007, ASRI started a program that gave local communities access to ASRI’s doctors provided that communities sign a no-logging agreement, while also offering the option to and pay for medical services by participating in restoration activities, such as planting native trees and native other plants. ASRI also provides education on forest conservation and works with the communities to develop alternative livelihoods. They even started an innovative chainsaw buyback program. If a farmer who wants to start their own business or expand their operations turns in the chainsaw they previously used to deforest, ASRI will provide microcredit and mentorship on sustainable agriculture techniques and financial management in exchange.The program has worked so well that the park’s deforestation rate dropped almost 90 percent, from 1,800 hectares (4,400 acres) per year in 2012 to 200 hectares (500 acres) per year in 2017. Over the same period, the number of illegal loggers dropped by 70 percent, and species diversity increased.Learning from SuccessThese efforts highlight how important it is to provide communities with restoration opportunities that resolve the local problems that drove forest degradation in the first place. Doing so without addressing the drivers of degradation is not a sustainable solution. Instead, governments and NGOs should assess the context and tailor their restoration interventions accordingly.Community-driven restoration taking place in Gunung Leuser and Gunung Palung shows us how the suite of restoration stakeholders—such as park managers, local communities and NGOs—must come together to restore protected areas in a sustainable manner that creates benefits for both people and nature. As Indonesia ramps up its efforts to protect its forest ecosystems and navigates formalizing a forest restoration commitment to the Bonn Challenge, it would do well to learn from the community partnerships already restoring land throughout the country.These success stories and more were recently published in the Bahasa Indonesia-language book “Learning from the Field: Successful Participatory Restoration Stories in Indonesia’s Protected Areas.” This blog is part of the “Taking Root” series, which explores some of the many restoration successes happening in communities around the world.Indonesia has some of the largest protected areas in the world. In 2016, these covered 23.2 million hectares (57 million acres), an area almost the size of New Zealand. These areas—made up of national parks, nature reserves and wildlife reserves—are a vital part of Indonesia’s environmental conservation strategy, safeguarding the country’s rich endemic biodiversity and some of the oldest forests in the world.Despite their official status, a lack of oversight and enforcement of protections leaves these lands vulnerable. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MoEF) estimates that ten percent of these lands are degraded due to human-driven pressures such as illegal logging, land clearing by fire, and the spread of pests, disease and invasive species.In response, the MoEF has committed to restore 100,000 hectares of degraded parkland by 2019. Meeting this modest target has been challenging – largely because of a lack of financial resources – but the MoEF has made progress by encouraging an approach that has the support of scientific researchers and conservationists: participatory restoration.Participatory restoration involves forming partnerships with local communities and providing them with avenues to participate in restoration activities. By prioritizing restoration that generates benefits for communities, these partnerships create sustainable, long-lasting incentives to restore and protect land. This approach can strengthen the protection of national parks and contribute to the livelihoods of the millions of people who depend on these ecosystems.In Gunung Leuser and Gunung Palang National Parks, participatory restoration has sparked promising results, demonstrating that local livelihoods and conservation can go hand in hand.Turning Plantations into Forest in Gunung LeuserLocated on the northern tip of Sumatra, Gunung Leuser National Park spans one million hectares (2.471 million acres) of intact forest, and is home to endangered Sumatran subspecies of tigers, elephants, orangutans and rhinoceroses. Because of this biodiversity, UNESCO recognizes the park as a World Heritage Site.Nonetheless, Gunung Leuser faces increasing pressure from human activity. More than four million people live in and around the park, and plantation concessions for tree plantations ring its borders. Illicit oil palm and rubber plantations encroach into the park, leading to a deforestation rate of 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) per year. The communities participating in these activities are mostly made up of recent settlers from other parts of Sumatra who do not have strong ties to the forest.Villagers cut down an oil palm to prepare the area for native tree planting in Gunung Leuser National Park. Credit: Orangutan Information Centre The park office worked with the Orangutan Information Centre and UNESCO on several restoration projects. They conducted key to their success was educational outreach that reinforced local cultural practices tied to conservation and briefed locals on the job opportunities that conservation and restoration bring. More than 200 students from 21 schools in the area participated in an awareness-raising campaign, including a camp where they learned about the endangered Sumatran orangutan. The program also equipped a van with multimedia equipment to disseminate information on how communities can benefit from ecotourism.These joint outreach efforts were so successful that several parcels of land within the park previously used for plantation activities were returned to the park office. Today, local villagers who used to run the oil palm and rubber plantations in the park nowin these lands nurture seedlings, plant trees and monitor the health of new forest growth. So far, 70 hectares (173 acres) of land have been restored under these projects. And while 70 hectares might seem small, it represents a remarkable turnaround in attitudes and actions.Tying Restoration Actions to Healthcare Access in Gunung PalungRestorative tree planting in Gunung Palung National Park. Credit: ASRI
Hudson Yards connects to the High Line, an abandoned railway track turned communal green space. Architect Elizabeth Diller designed both the High Line and The Shed, Hudson Yard’s arts and events space. “In a time of limited resources, looking at obsolete infrastructure like highways, bridges and railway trestles and repurposing them for the public is really, really necessary,” she said. “It’s something that has been shared by many policy leaders around the world and has been picked up [in other cities].”Learn more about the WRI Ross Prize for Cities and the Courage to Lead dinner. SARSAI won the 2019 WRI Ross Prize for Cities. Learn more here.“This is an opportunity for us to spotlight the often-neglected issue of safe journeys for children and the requirements for us to design our cities with the needs of the most vulnerable at the core,” said Ayikai Poswayo, SARSAI’s program director.Nearly 200 projects applied for the WRI Ross Prize for Cities, with five finalists selected. Other finalists included a waste-pickers’ cooperative in Pune, India; a revitalized marketplace for informal traders in Durban, South Africa; an aerial tram system in Medellín, Colombia; and an urban redesign project in Eskişehir, Turkey.“They’re showing us how a single project, if done right, can help start transforming cities,” Dasgupta said.Urban Transformation in New York CityThe Vessel, an art installation at Hudson Yards. Photo by WRIAnother example of this kind of urban transformation was visible right at the event venue. Hudson Yards, developed by Ross and his firm, Related Companies, is a massive 28-acre development project. What was once railway tracks and abandoned buildings in a neglected section of Manhattan’s west side is now a mixed-used community of retail stores, condos, corporate offices and art installations.“[The designers] imagined it not just as this mixed use, 24/7 live-work-play place, which is really the future of urban centers,” said Dan Doctoroff, chairman of The Shed and CEO of Sidewalk Labs. “They also saw it as a technology-forward, environmentally forward place.”From left to right: Elizabeth Diller, architect and partner of Diller Scofidio + Renfro; Dan Doctoroff, chairman of The Shed and CEO of Sidewalk Labs; Ann Rosenberg, Senior VP & Global Head of SAP Next-Gen; Stuart Wood, Group Leader of Heatherwick Studio; Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent. Photo by WRI “For us to have a more sustainable planet, cities in the world have to change—not marginally, they have to have transformative change,” said Ani Dasgupta, global director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. “And people who live in cities have to be at the center of that change.”Urban Transformation Around the WorldWhile urban transformation is necessary virtually everywhere, it looks very different from one city to the next. This year’s Courage to Lead dinner saw the inaugural WRI Ross Prize for Cities, honoring impactful projects in cities around the world. With support from WRI Board member Stephen M. Ross, WRI awarded the $250,000 prize to a project that redesigns city streets to save children’s lives in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.Some schools in Dar es Salaam see more than a dozen students killed or injured in road accidents every year. Rapid urbanization, rising vehicle traffic and haphazard development have created perilous conditions for pedestrians, especially young children walking miles to and from school every day. Non-profit Amend’s School Area Road Safety and Improvement (SARSAI)program identifies schools with the highest rates of student injury and installs pedestrian crossings, speed humps and other measures to help children get to school safely. So far, SARSAI has helped more than 38,000 students in Dar es Salaam. The project is now working in nine cities across sub-Saharan Africa. The cities of tomorrow will look very different than they do today. They’ll have to.“The population in New York City alone is expected to be 9 million people,” said CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who served as emcee of WRI’s 2019 Courage to Lead dinner in New York City on April 10th. “Where will these people live? How will they live? How will they get their energy and their water?”How we design cities to accommodate growing urban populations will also have tremendous implications for the planet. “Three-quarters of the world’s population will live in cities,” said WRI President and CEO Dr. Andrew Steer. “That’s where the battle will be fought and won or lost with regards to a sustainable future.”What these urban transformations will look like was the big topic of discussion at the 2019 Courage to Lead dinner, WRI’s biggest fundraising event. Held at The Shed in NYC’s new Hudson Yards development, the event brought together leading architects, real estate developers, urban planners and other innovators to envision sustainable cities of the future.CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta served as emcee of WRI’s 2019 Courage to Lead dinner. Photo by Ellen Wolff
Around the world, grassroots movements like Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future are sounding the alarm about the climate crisis, and government representatives are responding to the call: national parliaments and cities have declared climate emergencies, the Green New Deal is gathering support in the United States and Green parties made gains in EU elections. This recognition is not a moment too soon, according to leading climate scientists’ latest IPCC report, which found that the consequences of global temperatures continuing to rise at the current pace would be catastrophic. But despite commitments from the vast majority of nations to the Paris Agreement and an upswell of action from regions, states and cities, we are still far short of what is needed.This call to action is one we need to heed with urgency. The 2018 IPCC Special Report on 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) of global warming makes clear that to have a chance of averting a climate crisis, _all cities _will need to be carbon neutral by mid-century. Cities contribute around three-quarters of global energy-related emissions. With three-quarters of humanity – or 2.5 billion _more _people – expected to live in urban areas by 2050, the role of cities will only grow. The good news is that better urban development could reduce annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while offering a $17 trillion economic opportunity by 2050 in energy savings alone.Yet, for cities to be able to become engines of low-carbon, climate-resilient development will require a revolution in the way cities are planned, built and run, a revolution that cannot happen through the actions of cities alone. Indeed, a central message emerging from the International Conference on Climate Action (ICCA2019) in May is that harnessing the full power of towns and cities to drive the shift to a low-carbon, climate-resilient future requires action at all levels of government, with strong supportive policy frameworks, incentive systems and financial resources for sustainable infrastructure. This is what Collaborative Climate Action is about: a whole-of-government approach to climate action based on effective partnership between different levels of government to drive greater ambition and accelerate action to meet the climate commitments of the Paris Agreement.Climate Action SynergyGreater coordination between national, state and local governments would reduce inefficiencies in implementing climate policies that can de-incentivize or blunt local initiative. Since less than four in 10 countries currently have a national strategy for cities and with over $60 trillion to be invested in infrastructure in cities over the next 15 years, this is a critical gap.We already see examples of successful partnerships. In Brazil, state-level landscape restoration commitments spurred the federal government to pledge to bring 12 million hectares (nearly 30 million acres) of deforested land into restoration by 2030 under the Bonn Challenge and Initiative 20×20.In Kenya and South Africa, climate action synergy is built into the constitution. The Kenyan constitution enables county governments to set up climate funds that can tap international public finance as well as blending domestic public finance with community savings. The constitution and legislation in South Africa explicitly enshrine the right of municipalities to borrow, allowing a municipal bond market to emerge and thrive.In Colombia, a partnership between the national government and the cities of Bogotá and Medellín, based on co-financing of improved transit systems, led to greater collaboration between levels of government and improved economic and social opportunities for residents in both places. The common thread in each case: national governments provided supportive frameworks and scaling mechanisms that built on the strengths of cities as key implementers of climate action, creating a virtuous interdependency between levels of government. In the most basic sense, cities and national governments need each other, just as they both need climate action and organization at the international level to help steer the course forward.The richness of experiences around the world in advancing Collaborative Climate Action was on display at the ICCA 2019 High-Level Roundtable of leaders from national, regional and local governments. At this roundtable, the ICCA Declaration for Partnership for Collaborative Climate Action – which sets out guiding principles and key commitments, received endorsements from over 40 countries, regions, cities and international organizations, with 15 more endorsements in process.Building Blocks for Collaborative Climate ActionThere was an emerging consensus also on the key building blocks for Collaborative Climate Action, including:Robust institutional structures and policy processes to drive policy coherence and support collaboration between levels of government. Countries need strong legislation that clearly delineates authority between levels of government in order to create alignment on climate policy. Horizontal, as well as vertical, integration is key for collaborative climate action to work effectively.Ambitious shared climate objectives underpinned by a solid accountability framework. A key starting point for effective collaboration is the elaboration of clear national climate objectives in a way that engages subnational actors, reflects their circumstances and contributions, and builds shared ownership and accountability across tiers of government.Resources to match mandates at all levels of government. Achievement of national goals depends on functional subnational governments that can implement, innovate and experiment in line with national goals.NGOs, transnational networks and partner organizations as well as the private sector can help catalyze collaborative climate action. Filling capacity and technical gaps with NGOs and partners can help to close the implementation gap.Coordinated and collective action by national governments and cities – where 70% of the planet’s population will reside by 2050 – is critical to reaching a 1.5 C world. Working in concert, city governments and national governments can achieve something bigger than they can do on their own.
High-quality Economic Development and Deep Decarbonization Can Be Achieved SimultaneouslyAt a recent policy dialogue in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, WRI President and CEO Andrew Steer described the new consensus the world has reached over the last 10 years: Economic growth and deep decarbonization can be achieved simultaneously. A 2018 report from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate estimated that the world could unlock $26 trillion in net economic benefits through 2030 by taking bold climate action. Jiankun He, who serves on China’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change, also pointed out that transitioning to a high-quality development mode is essential for China to achieve long-term deep decarbonization, as the country has committed to do. At present, China’s carbon productivity lags far behind the world’s major industrialized countries. In 2017, China generated $1,200 per ton of CO2 emissions, while South Korea, the United States and Japan produced $2,480, $3,600 and $4,000, respectively, per ton of CO2 emitted (see graphic below). To achieve both its economic ambitions and its 2030 climate commitments under the Paris Agreement, China must radically seek a green growth model that converts today’s environmental pressures into new economic benefits. Technology Innovation, Driven by Regional Integration, Is a Key Source of Green DevelopmentA knowledge-based economy, as opposed to an industrial economy, is driven by technological innovation and requires far less environmental and material inputs. China’s Greater Bay Area Integration, Yangtze Delta Regional Integration and Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Integration are expected to create regional innovation clusters through better research, development & demonstration collaboration, technology transfer, and a more integrated market. Data compiled from major metropolitan areas in the United States shows that CO2 emissions per capita in major knowledge-based metropolitan areas are generally lower than the national average. Against this background, WRI is exploring key issues for China to address as it embarks on decoupling economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions through regional integration. Forthcoming research will address issues like sectoral transformation, regional policy coordination, long-term climate strategy, environmental-economic synergies and more. Better regional integration will enable China to embark on a low-carbon transition and adopt more ambitious climate policies in the 14th-Five Year period and beyond. As China looks to develop its 14th Five-Year Development Plan, the country has a great opportunity to shift toward a higher-quality and lower-carbon economic development strategy. While China has a relatively high annual GDP growth rate compared with the rest of the world, that growth has been slowing. China’s GDP grew by 6.6% in 2018 compared with an average annual growth rate of 9.6% from 1980 until 2017, but energy-related CO2 emissions have ticked upward since 2017. Premier LI Keqiang has acknowledged his annual work report to the 13th National People’s Congress that China’s old economic drivers are running out of steam.Achieving China’s goal of a modern, harmonious and creative society by 2030 will require a new development pathway. The Central Government has turned to key regional integration for China’s next stage of economic development, announcing or strengthening mega-region initiatives like the Yangtze River Delta Integration, Greater Bay Area Development and Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Integration. This effort aims to foster economic development through technology and innovation that supports high-tech or services hubs, rivaling such metropolitan areas such as Tokyo, New York City and Silicon Valley. If done right, regional integration can also help shift China onto a low-carbon pathway.Low-Carbon Development through Regional Economic IntegrationThe three regions in the country’s integration strategy are a good starting point for a low-carbon transition in China, as they represent around 35% of the country’s GDP and include some of the most economically dynamic regions of the country. The graphic below shows how these regions stack up against some of the other metropolitan areas in the world that achieved the kind of integration China seeks to foster. WRI is partnering with high-level policy research organizations in China to identify opportunities for new sources of green growth that can help drive this regional integration.
Land pastures in Sennen, United Kingdom. Annie Spratt/Unsplash.com,Streets of Hong Kong. Connor Wang/Unsplash.com,Wheat harvest in Hungary. Bence Balla-Schottner/Unsplash.com