Thursday, January 31, 2013

Call for Global System to Trace Fish Products from “Bait to Plate” | Green Africa Directory

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis of overfishing, with a high percentage of fish stocks being either overfished, or fished at their biological limit. Recognizing the urgent need to manage fishing more sustainably for the benefit of livelihoods, ecosystems, international trade and security, WWF has called for a new global seafood traceability system to give consumers, businesses, and governments full access to information about marine fishing practices. Tracing fish products from “bait to plate” is a means for linking markets to sustainable fishing practices, and for ending the illegal fishing that continues to be a major driver of fisheries depletion.
In a groundbreaking statement issued at the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, WWF joined private and public sector leaders in calling for a new global system to trace the origins of fish products “from bait to plate” . The statement is the first multi-stakeholder call for such a system, and could herald an important role for the World Economic Forum in support of sustainable fisheries.
Creating a reliable system for seafood traceability will require harmonizing both regulatory and commercial practices across national boundaries and across subsectors of the seafood industry, ranging from small scale producers in developing countries to the major retail chains and brand owners in the European Union, US, and Japan. 
Meanwhile, WWF reports that experts estimate that 20 percent of worldwide fish catches come from illegal fishing practices. Solutions depend heavily on giving market actors and regulators reliable information to know which fish products are legal and sustainable and which are not. But currently, access to this information and the mechanisms needed to trace wild caught fish to their origins are the exception rather than the rule.  
“The stakes are high for the global seafood industry, as well as for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who depend on fish for protein and on fishing for their livelihoods,” said Jim Leape, Director General, WWF.

Call for Global System to Trace Fish Products from “Bait to Plate” | Green Africa Directory

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Filipino government makes climate change a top 2013 priority - AlertNet

By Imelda Abano

Faced with worsening extreme weather and studies indicating it is likely to be highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, the government of the Philippines intends to implement a series of laws in 2013 aimed at reducing disaster risk, improving clean energy production and adapting to climate shifts.
Climate change is now a top priority for the country of 95 million, and many laws have been passed but this year will be one of implementation, Lucille Sering, secretary of the Climate Change Commission, told AlertNet.

She said the government began its shift from reactionary policies to a more proactive stance with the creation of the Climate Change Act of 2009, which produced the country’s climate commission as well as the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.

Last year, President Benigno Aquino III signed a law creating the 1 billion peso ($24.5 million) Peoples’ Survival Fund (PSF), which is expected to receive funding by 2014. The fund aims to implement local climate change action plans to make communities more resilient to climate-induced disasters.

Drawing in private as well as public support for the fund will be key, she said.

 “This year, a campaign with the private sector will be launched to involve them more on climate change issues including support for the PSF,” Sering said. “Support from donors will also be solicited and there are some who have expressed interest already. The main objective is to improve the capacity of (local governments) to address climate change.”

In  the 2013 national budget, Sering said the government has already set aside 12 billion pesos ($295 million) for enhancing geohazard maps to include multiple hazards, early warning systems and other infrastructures to improve capacity to reduce risks

Other programs being implemented in 2013 include vulnerability assessment of various sectors, especially agriculture; the scaling-up the nation’s “eco-town framework” on building sustainable towns; and a youth advocacy campaign called the “Greeneration”.

The government also is pushing for a land-use bill that would incorporate climate change and disaster risk reduction issues in land use decision making, Sering said.

At the same time, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is putting together programs to boost reforestation and improve air quality in both urban and rural areas. For 2013, the target of the National Greening program is to plant trees on 300,000 hectares, with an aim to boosting its reforestation target to 1.5 million hectares by 2016.

Other planned measures including promotion of clean, energy-efficient fuels and strengthening of solid waste management.


According to Elpidio Peria, convenor of the climate change advocacy network Aksyon Klima, the proof of the country’s commitment to making climate change action a priority should be money. He has urged the government to put more than a billion pesos ($24.5 million) into the People’s Survival Fund.

“Since there are already sufficient policy measures in place, it is just right that they are correctly implemented,” Peria told AlertNet.

He urged Aquino personally to take an active stance on climate issues this year.

“In order to make the (People’s Survival Fund), disaster risk reduction and other climate change measures work, government agencies should feel that the Philippine President is personally interested in climate change concerns. Perhaps he should give his personal attention on this issue, starting by convening the meetings of the Climate Change Commission,” Peria said. “After all, he is the chair of the CCC.”

 “If the government agencies see him getting personally interested in climate change issues, it can be expected that government agencies will put a notch higher their level of implementation of these policies, which are already in place,” he said.

That observation was echoed by Renato Redentor Constantino, executive director of the Institute of Climate and Sustainable Cities. He said the allocation and use of public money to address climate change would be a critical indicator of the government’s priorities.

“The Aquino administration has done quite well in crafting a more climate change sensitive national budget,” Constantino said. But “the executive has to scale up its efforts, given the magnitude of the climate change threat, which is faced largely by those in the frontline of the crisis, local governments and communities,” he said.

Getting out good information and collaboration between government and civil society will be key to success of the efforts, Constantino said.

“Government should not have to carry out this agenda on its own. Partnership is everything,” he said.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Water harvesting: Way to avert crisis - The Standard

By The Standard - Zimbabwe

Having gone for close to three weeks without any municipal tap water supply, all the containers in the house had since dried up.

Environment with Chipo Masara

While gathering the strength to go to a house in the neighborhood where there is a hand-dug well to ask for some water, a downpour came just in time  and offered a much better solution for my woes.

Water troubles continue to grip urban areas in the country, with many having to find alternative water supplies, mostly in the form of wells and boreholes, as people have since learnt they can no longer depend on the municipalities.

Moreover, many of those that are “privileged” enough to sometimes get the tap water supply, keep complaining of the water coming out dirty and in some instances, even smelling of human waste, making it unsuitable for drinking or for any household use.

Owing to the collapse of the municipal water works, almost everyone has since turned to undergroundwater for relief.

However, due to the burden on ground water, aided by the destruction of the country’s wetlands, the water table has reportedly drastically gone down, reducing the output of most wells and boreholes.

There have been numerous reports of some boreholes having dried up, which many people have been blaming on the much-talked-about climate change and the resultant water pattern variability.

The persistent droughts the country has been experiencing have only made the situation much worse, especially as almost 90% of agriculture is rain-fed. Agriculture remains the main source of food security in Zimbabwe.

In most parts of Matabeleland, as it is in most arid and semi-arid areas, rainfall patterns are very irregular and most of the rain water is often lost as surface runoff. This explains why there have been reports of acute hunger and livestock deaths.

While irrigation would be a positive response to drought, it remains out of reach to the majority and is only afforded by a fortunate few.

It pays to preserve every raindrop
So, considering that water has continued to be a source of conflict in the country, as it is in most of sub-Saharan Africa, does it not make sense that, if possible, not a drop be allowed to go to waste?
What if we collected as much rainwater as we possibly could as a way of combating water problems?

I really believe a sustainable solution to help ease the persistent water troubles lies in water harvesting — the re-direction and productive use of rainfall by accumulating and storing it before it reaches the aquifer.
Although many might look at water harvesting as a fairly new concept, it is actually a practice that has been in existence from a long time ago, which was used mostly to aid agriculture.

The only thing that has changed is that there has since been developed newer and more efficient technologies for the procedure.

Because the systems are fairly easy to install and operate, and as we now face worse water problems than ever before, the low-cost water harvesting alternative actually makes more sense today than in the old days.
The harvested water can be used for almost anything, both in the urban and rural set-ups. It can be used for gardening, cleaning, laundry, bathing, drinking, etc. On a large-scale, it can be used in sustaining livestock and irrigation, among its other uses.

Rainwater was traditionally considered the cleanest form of drinking water.

Today however, with the contamination in the atmosphere from many pollutants, it would be safer to use filtering technologies like passing it through gravel, rocks or sand to purify it.

In Zimbabwe, drinking rainwater might be much safer than drinking the contaminated municipal piped water, which has been blamed for some of the recurring cholera and typhoid outbreaks.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The New Green: Economic environment detrimental to green goals - Focus - The Daily Campus - University of Connecticut

By Kelsey Sullivan, The Daily Campus (University of Connecticut)

Nearly all of the serious environmental problems facing the world today are a direct result of the Industrial Revolution. Pollution of the water, soil and atmosphere, landfills overflowing with toxic materials, communities fragmented by highways and urban sprawl and the many threats of climate change can ultimately by traced back to businesses and the way they have been allowed to operate over the past 150 years.

These environmental concerns are social problems as well. Often, the poorest people in a community are the ones cheated out of a clean environment and general well-being. Landfills, sewage treatment plants and garbage incinerators are often located in poor urban districts, and poor areas are often left without adequate transportation services, isolating residents from job opportunities and community cultural life. In fact, it is hard to think of any issue that is unaffected by the economy – whether you are personally concerned about curing cancer, the prison system, children’s education or how we get our food, the issues that you care most deeply about are dependent upon wealth and how it changes hands.

In short, our economy currently operates in a way that generates an unacceptable amount of human suffering and environmental damage. The answer for some has been to shirk the economy altogether, to go “off the grid,” and produce to meet all of their own needs through farming and homesteading skills.

This is an admirable feat. However, it is not the answer for all of us. Buying and selling goods and services has been a central part of human life for thousands of years, and there is nothing inherently wrong with it. Industry does not need to be an evil; it can actually be a very powerful and effective means for creating positive social change. And while the modern economy and its millions of interactions, connections and networks may seem like an overwhelming and firmly established entity, it is going to need to change in order to build a better world. Restructuring the economy so that it is in the interest of businesses to promote human well-being and environmental health is an absolutely essential step for human progress. If it is done, it will lead to a future with much diminished suffering and greater amounts of happiness for everyone, if we do not do it, all of the issues that everyone is most concerned about will almost certainly get worse.

Building a “green economy” is going to take a lot of courage, strategy, and dedication. It will be no small effort to change the way that modern industry operates. Today, the men and women at the top of big business are the most powerful and influential people in the world – more powerful than any government leader. I, for one, believe that we can do it, because we all deserve an economy that promotes our individual and collective well-being. Throughout this semester, the articles featured in this column will focus on real and practical steps that we can take as a society to transition to a green economy.

The New Green: Economic environment detrimental to green goals - Focus - The Daily Campus - University of Connecticut

Friday, January 25, 2013

Davos 2013: Four simple environmental ideas to consider | RTCC - Responding to Climate Change

By Johan Kuylenstierna

The World Economic Forum 2013 has spawned an impressive collection of reports that build a strong case for prompt and substantial action on climate change, development and sustainability.
The Global Risks Report 2013 warns that stresses on economic and environmental systems are on a “collision course” that could pose “unprecedented challenges” to global and national resilience.

The Green Investment Report warns of the dangers of surpassing 2°C of warming and calls for investing US$700 billion per year until 2030 in energy efficiency, renewables, sustainable transport and more.
And two external reports that aim to inform the WEF, Reducing Risk and Driving Business Value, from the Carbon Disclosure Project, and Energizing Global Growth, by Accenture, make compelling cases for addressing climate issues in supply chains and as a strategic response to consumer demands, respectively.

These are not new messages; the International Energy Agency has called for massive investments to transform our energy systems; the World Bank last fall highlighted the potential consequences should we allow warming as high as 4°C. UN agencies, scientists and civil-society groups have long said similar things.
We know what we have to do. In Davos, could those with real power start doing it?

The WEF is an unusual gathering: led by business rather than the public sector, not intergovernmental but attended by top political leaders, it focuses on the economy, but broadly defined to include global politics and security, finance, trade, development, environment, health, education, gender, social responsibility, innovation and much more.

Not a single session on this year’s public programme is devoted to climate change or sustainability in isolation; yet they’re bound to come up every day – when talking about the future of energy, global development, dealing with risks, how to create “economic dynamism”.

And, of course, in tackling the key question in Davos: How do we build a robust global economy – one that doesn’t require financial parlour tricks, massive over-consumption, or gross socio-economic inequalities?
Climate change has gotten short shrift in recent years because of a toxic misconception: that protecting the environment and climate system would imply net cost, a diversion of productive capital that weakens our economies rather than securing long-term development. Thus the modest commitments to climate finance, and the aversion to carbon taxes, cap-and-trade and regulations.

In the wake of major disasters such as Hurricane Sandy in the U.S., policy-makers and business leaders have recognized that investing in adaptation and disaster risk reduction is, in fact, worthwhile. Yet denial is still rampant (see the fights in North Carolina, or even the Sandy relief package).

And as my colleagues at the Stockholm Environment Institute warned in a recent policy brief, adaptation has limits; only prompt, aggressive mitigation can prevent the worst long-term impacts of climate change.

Climate action can’t wait until we have spare cash, or until green technologies are cheap. Neither can sustainable resource management – water, land and key materials are already becoming scarce. Plus, as the WEF reports eloquently argue, investing in these things will strengthen, not weaken our economies.

Points to consider

So what can public and private-sector leaders in Davos do?

For starters, stop fighting. If you believe that environmental changes are real and hamper development, don’t block policies to address them – whether they involve air-pollution limits, emissions caps, resource efficiency, carbon taxes, or zoning restrictions. The more widespread these policies are, the less they’ll hurt anyone’s bottom line, because competitors will be facing the same costs everywhere. And yes, someone will have to go first. Might it be you?

Second, stop blaming consumers. Yes, we all want cheap goods, and lots of them. But let’s not pretend that companies don’t shape demand as well. You choose your flagship products; you choose which market opportunities to pursue, and which to skip.

As Energizing Global Growth notes, one of the biggest consumer trends is conscientiousness; people increasingly care about sustainability. Another is Internet connectedness, a key element of the new “sharing economy”, which replaces material consumption with tech-enabled access to shared services and goods. Will you capitalize on these trends? Will you support consumers making the right choices?

Third, think longer-term. Investments in water and energy efficiency, renewables, pollution reduction and sustainable supply chains often pay for themselves within years, but may cost a lot upfront. If a corporation’s top priority is to keep shareholders happy, quarter to quarter, it’ll never do the right thing. That’s why Unilever, for example, stopped providing quarterly earnings guidance. Do you dare to follow such good examples?

Fourth – and this one is for policy-makers – don’t subsidize bad ideas. Sometimes markets work really well, such as when insurers decide that flood risks in a coastal area are too high to offer homeowners’ coverage. Of course it’s good to help people relocate after a storm, but don’t help them rebuild in a place that’s bound to be destroyed, over and over again. Can you be tough when you need to be?

Two decades ago, U.S. President George H.W. Bush was lambasted for declaring that “the American way of life is not up for negotiation”. Yet, honestly, very few of us living a life in plenty are really open to giving up our lifestyles. But it’s time to admit that we all have to give up something, at some point, or risk losing everything.
There is no silver bullet. We can only avert dangerous climate change, feed 10 billion people, and save our planet if we all do our part: the public and private sectors, the global North and the South. The evidence is on the table; we have mountains of reports. In Davos, those with power can commit to action – we expect them to.

How wasps and fungi can save crops

Blinking in the blazing Brazilian sun, a farmer looks up at the sound of an aeroplane, flying low over his sugarcane plantation in Sao Paulo. 
A hatch suddenly opens, and a white cloud emerges.

It may look like pesticide, but these are live eggs falling down - from wasps.

Once hatched and grown, the insects inject their own eggs into those of the sugarcane borer - a moth that in its caterpillar stage eats valuable plants - preventing the pest from hatching.

A number of farmers in Brazil have swapped chemicals for wasps, in a country that has recently outgrown the US as the largest consumer of pesticides.

The biotechnology firm that is fighting nature with nature - what is known as biocontrol - is Bug Agentes Biologicos, or simply Bug, based in Piracicaba, Sao Paulo.

"Egg-spraying" from a plane is just a trial - at the moment, the wasps' eggs are put on pieces of cardboard and distributed throughout the field. But Bug wants to start using a plane later this year, once the technology is more reliable.

Bug mass-produces Trichogramma galloi, a breed of wasps able to parasitise moth eggs. One wasp can lay its eggs in more than 50 moth eggs in its short life of up to two weeks.

More: How wasps and fungi can save crops

Thursday, January 24, 2013

How do you measure happiness?

By Paul Dolan and Oliver Harrison 

Eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were established following the UN Millennium Summit in 2000. All 193 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve these goals by 2015. Regular progress reports have been published since 2004 and it looks likely that the initiative will be declared a “partial success” by its target year. But what will happen after 2015?
Well, these goals have focused quite explicitly on objective indicators. They are considered, quite rightly, to be important determinants of a good life. But, ultimately, a good life has to be good for the individual. At some point, this requires inquiry into how people feel.

There is significant evidence that happier people are healthier, more productive and more resilient to external shocks (for example, unemployment). In the wake of recent natural and man-made disasters, and unprecedented economic circumstances, there is new interest in strengthening the resilience of individuals, families, companies and nations to such external shocks.

Why do some people cope better with change than others (likewise families, companies or nations)? Because of the close link between happiness and resilience a better understanding of the drivers of happiness is a critical foundation for such work.

Fortunately, there have been enormous advances in the measurement of human well-being over the last couple of decades and we are now confident that we have measures that are reliable and sensitive to important changes. Modern measures of human well-being assess both how we feel on a day-to-day basis and how we think about life in an overall sense. Ideally, we should seek to measure well-being in different ways, as carefully selected approaches are complementary for research and building effective interventions.

In parallel to measuring human well-being, other objective indicators (for example, educational attainment, wealth and access to healthcare) would continue to be strengthened. These measures would be correlated with human well-being as potential drivers (that go part of the way towards explaining well-being measurements). In this way, we would be able to able to determine the “happiness impact” of a range of indicators and thus policy objectives, allowing for a more joined-up approach to decision-making at all levels. Over time, data would be collected to allow us to describe the correlations and causal relationships between objective measurements, human well-being and resilience. This will be a powerful toolkit.

Of course, many will remain concerned with specific objective outcomes in their own right. Of course, the aetiological model and regression analysis could also be reversed to assess the impact of human well-being as a determinant of existing outcomes (which we know it is). Well-being indicators have been shown to be highly predictive of health, productivity and many of the other good things policy-makers and citizens care about. Happiness is also contagious and we should do all we can to spread it.

There is a further compelling reason for including well-being measures in the next round of the MDGs. It appears likely that economic growth will continue to be patchy worldwide, with some countries experiencing relative falls in their ranking of national GDP across the world while others gain. Countries with falling GDP (Greece has been a recent example) might explicitly sharpen their focus on minimizing any negative impact on human well-being during falls in GDP, while countries gaining in GDP might focus on ensuring that it rises (or at least maintained) in the context of greater economic wealth.

We are not alone in thinking that the time has come for the systematic measurement of human well-being. The OECD is making serious attempts to measure well-being, the United Kingdom is already monitoring national happiness and the US is likely to follow suit in due course. A commitment to improving the state of the world (and strengthening resilience) requires a commitment to improving subjective well-being. Join us in our endeavour to measure and value it.

Africa Land Grab: New Century, More Colonisers

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Humble filter makes a comeback

Adapted from DownToEarth magazine

Traditional bio-sand purifier can filter arsenic which most commercial water purifiers fail to do

Alimunnasa, a housewife in her 40s, remembers to keep two bottles of filtered water ready when her husband Baburali Mollah steps out on his driver’s duty. Baburali would earlier be plagued by stomach upsets as he would drink from various sources, including roadside eateries and public water taps. In September 2011, a non-profit installed a bio-sand filter in his two-room hutment in Baduria block of North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. Since then, the Mollahs say, stomach problems have become infrequent. Water tastes good and light too.

In neighbouring Malayapur village, Masura Mondal’s family of eight uses water purified by the sprightly blue filter for cooking as well. “My two grandchildren used to drink boiled water but would still suffer from diarrhoea and other stomach ailments. They have no such complaints now,” says Masura. The family received bio-sand filter for a nominal Rs 300 from the non-profit. Masura’s son Jony informs that water from hand pumps in the region has high iron content. The purifier filters the iron out, and hence tastes good. One has to otherwise install a 300-metre-deep tube well to get water that does not taste salty or have high iron content. Its installation costs at least Rs 25,000. An added advantage of bio-sand filter is it requires little maintenance and no electricity.

The filter was introduced in these villages by Mission of Mercy and Assembly of God Church as a part of their pilot project. Promoted by Canadian non-profit Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST) the non-profit has installed 1,800 bio-sand filters in the past two years in several villages of West Bengal and Jharkhand where people do not have access to safe drinking water. “The project was conceived as part of the Millennium Development Goals to reduce child and maternal mortality among others,” says J S K Rao, director of the non-profit’s resource management. According to the World Bank, 386,600 children in India die every year due to diarrhoeal diseases, 94 per cent of which are preventable by increasing the availability of clean water and improving sanitation and hygiene standards. WHO estimates that 97 million Indians live without access to safe drinking water. “Given the reality that 90 per cent of all illnesses are caused by contaminated water,” Rao says, “bio-sand filter is an affordable and easy-to-use household treatment solution that lasts up to 25 years.” 
The filter can efficiently treat bacteria, viruses, turbidity due to suspended solids, iron and most importantly arsenic, which is a major health hazard in eastern India. This is surprising because the technology is simple and has no fancy elements built into it (see ‘How bio-sand filter works’). WHO affirms the efficacy of the technology. Slow sand filtration is not only the cheapest and simplest but also the most efficient method of water treatment. It removes bacteria from water far more effectively than rapid filtration. Besides, bio-sand filter can be manufactured by using locally available materials and skills in developing countries.

Taking the initiative forward, Mission of Mercy plans to introduce a variant of the bio-sand filter, Kanchan, which can also remove arsenic. Research by the School of Environmental studies at Jadavpur University, Kolkata, suggests that more than 500 million people living in the Ganga-Meghna-Brahmaputra plains of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, among other Indian states, may be at risk from arsenic contaminated groundwater. Exposure to arsenic can cause abortion, still birth, atrophy of muscles and skin lesions that often lead to cancer, to name a few.

Kanchan filter is the regular bio-sand filter, with the only addition of a layer of rusted nail in the diffuser basin. The rust rapidly absorbs arsenic from water and flakes off the nails, which is then trapped by the sand layer. Field trials in Nepal by researchers of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University in the US show its treatment efficiency is 85-95 per cent. 

Read the full article from here: Humble filter makes a comeback

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

US$14 trillion needed for a ‘green’ economy |

An unprecedented US$14 trillion greening of the global economy is the only way to ensure long-term sustainable growth, according to a stark warning delivered to political and business leaders as they descended on the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Only a sustained and dramatic shift to infrastructure and industrial practices using low-carbon technology can save the world and its economy from devastating global warming, according to a Davos-commissioned alliance led by the former Mexican President, Felipe Calderon, in the most dramatic call so far to fight climate change on business grounds.

This includes everything from power generation, transport, and buildings to industry, forestry, water and agriculture, according to the Green Growth Action Alliance, created at last year’s Davos meeting in Mexico.

Sustainable development after Rio+20 is 'in limbo' - SciDev.Net

The weak wording of the Rio+20 summit agreement and delays in setting up the UN working groups on sustainable development have left progress on some of the post Rio+20 agenda in limbo, according to a science officer at the International Council for Science (ICSU), which represented the scientific community at the summit.
The scientific community is unsure how to proceed towards setting up the new sustainable development goals (SDGs), agreed at the summit and expected to be finalised in 2015, and is uncertain on what its role within such work might be, Peter Bates tells SciDev.Net

Also, not all developments at the Rio+20 summit — which took place last June — were positive, according to a UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Perspectives report, 'Rio+20: A new beginning' released last month (24 December). 

For example, the summit saw the stalling of progress towards a convention to protect marine biodiversity in international waters, as well as the failure to secure support for a global agreement on improving access to environmental, scientific and societal data.

To top this off, the vague language of the summit's agreement provides "very little detail on how to go forward", says Bates.

And as the UN only agreed this month on the composition of a working group to take the SDGs forward — meant to have been formed last September — the effect has been a state of limbo, he adds.
"At the moment, it is difficult to move forward and rally scientists around this idea [of SDGs] because there has not been a clear indication from the UN about exactly what role science will play and what mechanisms will be put in place to facilitate this," says Bates.

This lack of cohesion is hampering ICSU's efforts, although good progress is being made on coordinating scientists to produce an interdisciplinary research paper that lays out a foundation for what the SDGs should contain, he adds.  

While agreeing that the unspecific language of Rio+2o outcome document is a concern, Felix Dodds, fellow at the Tellus Institute, a US-based not-for-profit research and policy organisation, and co-author of the UNEP report, sees the post-Rio+20 environment in a more positive light. 

As the report highlights, pledges to remodel UNEP's science-policy interface and replace the outdated Commission for Sustainable Development with a new high-level political forum will provide a significant boost to the global governance of sustainable development. 

And some of the developments on the sidelines of the summit may have been more important than those documented in the official agreement, according to Dodds. 

For example, nothing within the document has as big a potential to guide future policy as Future Earth, a ten-year research initiative to develop the science of environmental change, launched on the summit's sidelines.
"The Future Earth platform will help to maintain the visibility of science from Rio and provide effective lobbying," Dodds says. 

The decision by world leaders to develop the SDGs was a "game changer", he says. 

It gives the scientific community a central position at least until 2015 — when the SDGs are due to come into effect — as science will be essential for developing the new targets and indicators, he adds.
The process has already started, says Dodds, with expert-led discussions on water and human settlement targets and indicators, among others, under way. 

"Science had a huge psychological impact on the [Rio+20] negotiations and will play a significant role going forward," he says.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Practical Action Blogs - Blog Archive » Fish without Refrigeration | Practical Action

By Erwin Rathnaweera

On the 9th November 2012, I was part of a market mapping workshop with Kokkilai lagoon fishers. The discussion was geared towards post-harvest handling technologies for the fish. Everybody’s concern was the inadequate supply of ice due to poor transportation facilities. The whole situation reminded me of some community-invented technologies that I came across three years ago in Sri Lanka and India.

A lack of ice supply was a major issue faced by the lagoon fisheries sub-sector in the post-conflict scenario in Sri Lanka. This was largely due to the inadequate production of ice coupled with poor transportation facilities. As a coping strategy, fishers had invented a simple technology. I first noticed this in Periya Kalapu Lagoon of Eastern province, Sri Lanka. As the following photograph shows, it is a box made of galvanized mesh. Once fish were caught, they were kept in the mesh box and placed in lagoon water. The box was tied to a pole planted on the landing site. The fish were kept in these boxes until traders or villagers came to buy them. When I talked to a few of them, I found that they preferred to purchase live fish. Otherwise, by the time the ice arrived, the fish would have been rotten. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Measuring sustainable development must be made simple and affordable - AlertNet

By Peter Holmgren (CIFOR)

The political talks towards new global goals are on. The Rio+20 congregation came up with the idea to agree on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that would set the stage for action under the post-2015 development agenda and supposedly define “The future we want” as stipulated in the Rio+20 outcome document.

Meeting calendars and travel schedules now converge to propel the SDG process. For those involved in UN-led development work, this process may appear to be a way to the future we want. As Ross Coggins wrote in his 1976 poem The Development Set: “Our thoughts are deep and our vision global". New wisdom will no doubt emerge and be shared with everyone that keeps a Twitter account.

But experience also tells us that political aspiration processes may not necessarily lead to clarity. Our current set of global development indicators come out of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In total, sixty indicators on very important topics have been identified, ranging from infant mortality rate, to CO2 emissions, to condom use during high-risk sex. Forests are in there too, with the indicator “proportion of land area covered by forests”.

While MDG indicator reports have made us more aware and better informed about development issues, it remains difficult to deduce from this complex set what we mean by progress, and more importantly how we measure such progress.

I argue for keeping it simple. If we want sustainability to be broadly understood and desired, we should avoid complexity. And note that complexity does not necessarily mean sophisticated. It can also mean the excessive use of details. Some say that the devil is in the details, but perhaps it is the other way around: the details are the devil.

In other words, we need ways to describe sustainable development wherever we are, and at different scales. And it needs to be easy to understand and affordable to measure. Not least for those investing in businesses that need to be both profitable and sustainable.

Sustainable development has three dimensions — economic, social and environmental. The Rio+20 process did a good job of reconfirming the concept, which dates back to the Brundtland Commission in 1987 and the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.

So, why not go back to this agreed base? It seems to me that four measures could be enough to say if we are going in the sustainability direction:

1. The economic dimension of sustainable development will always have to do with a steady growth of income. Economists will argue which type of income would be appropriate to use, but the measure would be made in monetary terms, i.e. Δ$.
2. The social dimension has to do with a very wide range of issues from rights to health to education. A general measure could, however, be about how the priorities and actions in these areas are determined. In that sense, a steady increase of the number of people involved in decision-making could be a useful measure, i.e. Δn.
The environmental dimension is even more complex, so I suggest two general measures that will tell us about direct impact on the environment and also about resilience of nature and humanity.
3. First, a steady recovery of biomass in landscapes could have several positive impacts, i.e. ΔtC (tonnes of Carbon).
4. Secondly, a steadily reduced use of fossil fuels by produced output will be desirable, i.e. ΔJ/$ (Joule/USD, or energy efficiency).

If all four of these measures show long-term positive trends, or are maintained at satisfactory levels, then I believe we can safely say that we have sustainable development:
SD = Δ$ + Δn + ΔtC – ΔJ/$

Of course, believing is not enough. I look forward to a scientific evidence base that informs us how sustainable development can be effectively measured.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to follow the formal process of establishing SDGs.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Managing Mega Irrigation

By Frank van Steenbergen

It is the world’s largest irrigation system, also called ‘the Indus Food Machine’-  14 Million hectares of irrigated land in Pakistan, distributed over more than 40 interconnected canals commands.  This mega-system produces, among others (in 2012), 9 million tons of rice (including the famous ‘basmati’ variety), 23 millions tons of wheat and 10 million bales of cotton.

There are two things that are very remarkable about this enormous irrigation system. Its first amazing feature is that there are no clear water rights. Water allocations exist on paper but are outdated. They were made long before the construction of the Tarbela dam that was finalized almost forty years ago in 1974. The Tarbela Dam regulated the flows of the Indus river, storing the abundant water in the monsoon season and releasing it during the dry ‘rabi’ season.  This evens out peaks between the wet and dry periods and makes more water effectively available.  The obvious thing to do next would have been the adjustment of water allocations both at the level of the main canals and at the level of the individual fields. This, however, never happened. As a result, water allocations became  ‘fuzzy’ – based on a situation that no longer exists.  In many canal commands there is no single register and sometimes two or three lists of farmer water entitlements circulate. It leaves a large room for ‘discretion’ by the engineers and linesmen operating systems: if a field engineer announces that water will be provided as per the original rights, it sends shivers down farmers’ spines.

 Interestingly, the second amazing feature of the Indus surface irrigation system is that more than half of the water at farm gate now comes from groundwater – provided by a million or more shallow tubewells, located all over the canal system (see picture).  These shallow tubewells have done a lot to improve the reliability of irrigation as they can be switched on on demand, ensuring that the farmer is less dependent on either awkwardly timed (or in other cases erratically available) surface water. Of course, eventually its all the same water: the shallow aquifers are fed by excess surface water seeping in from canals and fields. The development of the nearly one million private shallow tubewells in the last 30 years has created a magnificent buffer that has sustained a near doubling of the number of crops grown annually.  The use of groundwater is especially high in areas where the groundwater is naturally fresh. However, even in areas with saline groundwater farmer tubewell operations supplement surface water.  Tushaar Shah in his phenomenal book ‘Taming the Anarchy’ has called this ‘the conjunctive reality’.

This intense use of groundwater resulted in a remarkable feat during the 1998-2002 drought years. In this period the releases from the Tarbela dam to the canal system were 20% less. But surprisingly, crop production in the Indus Food Machine did not go down. In fact, it went up slightly.  The reason was a more judicious use of water, especially a much better balancing of the use of surface water and groundwater. The most spectacular place was Sindh Province at the tail end of the Indus system. For historical reasons, surface water allocations per hectare in Sindh are much higher than in other parts of the country: whereas average supplies nationally are around 700 mm, in Sindh they are often 50-150% higher. As a matter of fact, actual water allowances in Sindh are too high.  One reason is that in the distant past, many of Sindh’s canals were earmarked as ‘semi-perennial’. What this meant was that in the pre-Tarbela regulation days these semi-perennial canals received high flows during the wet season but were closed off in the dry season. After the regulation of the flow this changed and the ‘semi-perennial’ canal commands also received flows during the dry period. This was not necessarily a good thing and ‘water logging’ (the presence of water in the root zone of the crop) increased in Sindh.  This has knocked down crop yields. Additionally, the moist environment and standing water also increases the incidence of diseases such as malaria or (for livestock) liver fluke.  The wise thing to do in Sindh would have been to expand the area under irrigation after more and better-regulated flows became available. Instead the additional water was used to drown oneself. In the remarkable 1998-2002 drought period, groundwater use increased (see picture), surface supplies reduced and the area suffering from water logging dropped from 2 million hectares (40% of the total irrigated area in Sindh) to 250,000 hectares! Unfortunately this remarkable period did not serve as an eye-opener and water deliveries were back to their dreadful ‘normal’ soon thereafter. As a result, water productivity across South Asia differs considerably: whereas one cubic meter of water produces 1.3 kg of wheat in North India, it produces 1 kg of wheat in Pakistan’s Punjab province and 0.7 kg in Sindh Province.

The reason for these impasses are anybody’s guess – but one overriding reason is the fact there is no water management to speak of in the world’s largest irrigation system. Basically the system is run as a utility with a small number of professionals (one executive engineer is typically in charge of an area of 200 to 300,000 hectares) primarily concerned about how water is delivered where and to whom – dealing with a lot of political interference in the process. Another reason is that Sindh Province has locked itself in an awkward discourse. Being the tail-ender, it always claims its water is stolen upstream. Street protests making this political point are rampant. The fact of the matter, however, is that water allocations to Sindh are very high for the land area they serve. Also, often more water is diverted at the main barrages than officially recorded and acknowledged. The sum total is that there is too much unnecessary water logging and that the opportunities of adding a probably more than half a million hectares of irrigated land in Sindh is not considered.

With all the concerns around global food security, the gigantic Indus Food Machine could do a lot better. Several things would make a tremendous change: (1) settling the water allocations and (2) in the process, systematically adjusting the surface water allocations to a canal command with the use of groundwater in a canal command- channelling more surface water where there is already intense use of groundwater and reducing flows to stimulate more pumping in other areas (limited to what groundwater quality allows).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Who is importing African timber to China and what might this mean for sustainability? | Agroforestry World Blog

Recent research by the Centre’s East Asia Node together with Forest Trends, an NGO, suggests that most import of timber to China from Africa is done by a relatively small number of geographically clustered firms. This may provide opportunities to engage the major importing firms in developing and implementing responsible sourcing practices, say Andreas Wilkes and Huang Wenbin

China’s thirst for natural resources to fuel its economic development has gained the attention of governments, media and civil society worldwide. China’s imports from Africa have received particular attention. Timber is no exception, especially as it is China’s third-largest commodity import from Africa after oil and minerals and the share of total African timber exports going to China has risen over the last decade.

The majority of African log imports by China come from central African countries—Gabon, Republic of Congo, Cameroon and Mozambique—although eastern African countries also export smaller volumes to China. Until recently, it is likely that much of this timber was processed in China, from where it would be exported to the EU or the US as furniture or other types of wood products. But since the financial crisis in the West, China’s own domestic market has become more significant.

China’s emerging role in Africa’s forestry sector has raised a range of concerns, some of which are better substantiated than others. Reports by some NGOs and academics suggest that China’s activities in Africa’s forest regions have had adverse impacts on African forest environments, created poor labour conditions, and drive illegal timber trade and corruption, undermining forest governance in African countries. China’s clear preference for unprocessed logs has been said to limit African countries’ abilities to create employment and develop value-adding capabilities. And with increasing numbers of state-owned and private firms involved in the Africa–China timber trade, the risks of increasing the adverse effects of this trade could be rising.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What next for the Green Climate Fund after Doha dud? | RTCC - Responding to Climate Change

By Janet Redman

For those of us (wonks, admittedly) interested in the fate of the Green Climate Fund – potentially the most important multilateral institution to deal with climate change in the near future – the outcome of 2012 Doha climate summit was a disappointingly mixed bag.

The 194 countries assembled there made promising statements about the importance of the fund in the international climate financing architecture and outlined their work for the year ahead.

But by refusing to make any firm commitments in Doha to deliver money over the next decade, industrialized countries threatened to relegate the GCF, at least temporarily, to irrelevance.

No new money in the mid-term

Three years ago in Copenhagen, developed countries agreed that by 2020 they would make sure $100bn reached developing countries each year to address the impacts of climate change and support their shift from dirty energy to low-carbon development strategies.

They also promised to move $30bn right away – what’s come to be known as “fast start financing.” They left unfunded the years between 2012 and 2020.

Thus commitments from wealthy countries for specific amounts and deadlines for medium-term financing became a key ask for developing countries at Doha.

Wealthy countries did not, in the end, agree to funding targets or benchmarks to ensure the delivery of climate finance from now through the end of the decade.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ecuadorean tribe will 'die fighting' to defend rainforest

In what looks set to be one of the most one-sided struggles in the history of Amazon forest conservation, an indigenous community of about 400 villagers is preparing to resist the Ecuadorean army and one of the biggest oil companies in South America.

The Kichwa tribe on Sani Isla, who were using blowpipes two generations ago, said they are ready to fight to the death to protect their territory, which covers 70,000 hectares of pristine rainforest.
Petroamazonas – the state-backed oil company – have told them it will begin prospecting on 15 January, backed by public security forces.

Community members are launching a last-ditch legal battle to stop the state-run firm assisted by a British businesswoman, who is married to the village shaman, and who was recently appointed to run the local eco lodge.

Mari Muench, who is originally from London, said the community decided at two meetings late last year to reject a financial offer from the oil firm because they were concerned about the long-term environmental impact of mining.

They recently learned, however, that the chief of the village has signed a contract giving the go-ahead for the oil exploration, even though they say he was not authorised to do so.

Earlier offers of a new school, university places for village children and better healthcare were dropped in the document, which provides compensation of only $40 (£24) per hectare, according to copies that the Guardian has seen.

The community secretary, Klider Gualinga, said more than 80% of the village is opposed to the oil deal, but a minority are pushing it through against their wishes and local rules.

"People think it is dishonest and the oil company is treating them like dogs. It does not respect the land or the planet. There is no deal, nothing is agreed. The people do not want the oil company. They're very upset and worried," Gualinga said. "We have decided to fight to the end. Each landholder will defend their territory. We will help each other and stand shoulder to shoulder to prevent anyone from passing."

If there is a conflict, their chances of success against the better armed and trained military are slim. The Sani Islanders say they scared but determined.

More: Ecuadorean tribe will 'die fighting' to defend rainforest

Guyana investing too little in climate adaptation - experts - AlertNet

Guyana is pushing forward on protecting its rich inland forests as a source of income but is investing too little money in helping its low-lying coastal regions prepare for and adapt to climate change, national and international experts say.

A study published last year by researchers from the University of Western Ontario in Canada says that massive adaptation investment is needed if the South American nation is to stave off flooding and salt contamination of agricultural land as a result of rising seas and more frequent storms.

“The Guyana government clearly recognizes the country’s acute vulnerability to climate change – which has been accentuated by multiple recent flood events – and focuses on the need for vast infrastructural rehabilitation and enhancement as the main adaptation priority,” the authors noted.

Ninety percent of the country’s population and the majority of its important economic activities are located in coastal zones. But the researchers said they feared the government’s investment in adaptation was unlikely to keep pace with the challenge.

“While Guyana has emerged as a champion of climate change mitigation through averted deforestation, government investment in adaptation remains relatively small, and although a limited budget is one of the reasons for this, a number of other impediments complicate the issue,” the study said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007, that rising seas threaten countries such as Guyana and Bangladesh that have extensive low-lying coasts.

The report warned that saltwater intrusion is likely to have a strong impact on freshwater resources, agriculture and forestry, fishing, health, biodiversity, settlements and infrastructure.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Good Neighbours

By Frank van Steenbergen

2013 will be the International Year of Water Cooperation. While there has been much debate on coming ‘water wars’ and there are sordid examples of international conflicts,  there is a much larger amount of cooperation fortunately  – especially at local level where people know each other and are friends, neighbours and fellow human beings.

It seems that at the local level that ‘the games big people play’ and strategies of out-manoeuvring others do not work. One of the most shameful things to do is to deny a person the use of water. Giving water is the quintessential act of human kindness. Testimony of this are the open water points in so many cities, placed there by public or private benefactors and hardly ever vandalized.

Here a small tour on the principle of  ‘good neighbours’, even from places that (erroneously) tend to be associated with conflicts.

 In Matondoni in coastal Kenya scarce resources bring people together and the system is for people to share. The custom in Matondoni is that when an individual family develops a well it ensures that all community members share in the water. A screen is placed on top of the well and separates the private half of the well from the other, public, half, that can be used by everybody.

Similarly in the town of Kasala in the semi-arid eastern part of Sudan the tradition is that shopkeepers freely provide water to passers-by. Water is stored in pitchers along the road and provided to itinerant traders driving donkey carts or horse wagons, who stop en route from surrounding villages to the city market.
In Yemen, the heavy use of groundwater has been a big concern and worries on the finiteness of water resources are large.  But it is too easy to assume that scarcity leads to conflict. There is a surprising amount of cooperation on groundwater usage with a large number of villages somehow having come to agreement on the development of wells and the use of groundwater. In the village of Wadi Dhelaa for instance farmers have connected all wells into a single pipe network. One advantage is that if one well is out of order agricultural users have the assurance that  they can take water from a more remote well. At the same time, rules have been put in place not to develop any new wells – so as to stop overuse. What is equally impressive  in Wadi Dhella is that the common wells are used to supply water for domestic use all over the village. There are about 200 house connections and several public stands. The system is entirely developed and administered locally.

A last example here concerns Awadi Gitu in the Central Rift Valley Ethiopia.  Irrigation water here comes for a few months a year only and the quantity varies from one year to another. The Awadi Gitu system has three small canals that are used to cultivate potatoes, onions and pepper. A system of land distribution is in place to ensure that all 210 households in the village have access to irrigated land. What is done is that first the total area to be irrigated is assessed by judging the flow in the river in the given year. A decision is taken whether each household will irrigate one-eight or one-fourth of hectare. The land used for irrigation in Awadi Gitu is actually owned by a small number of households but in the irrigation season each of the 210 households in the village is given an equal temporary share in the land.  The original land owners will give access to their land to others – sometimes against a small payment but in most cases as a service to relatives and neighbours.

With the year of International Water Cooperation ahead of us it is hoped that these and so many other examples can inspire us. For starters, we can think of ourselves as neighbours rather than upstream or downstream people.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

GAIA : Vegetable Waste to Zero Waste in La Pintana, Chile

By Cecilia Allen

The Chilean community of La Pintana has found that recycling the largest segment of their waste – fruits, vegetables, and yard clippings – can save them money, produce valuable compost, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program cost very little to initiate and is already making a substantial contribution to the community’s financial and environmental sustainability.

Despite belonging to the national capital region, La Pintana is one of the poorest communities in Chile, and 80 percent of the environmental agency’s budget is allocated to the collection and disposal of solid waste. While other governments might see this as an obstacle to the incorporation of waste prevention and resource recovery strategies, La Pintana focused on making better use of its available resources.

The head of Dirección de Gestión Ambiental (Environmental Management Agency) of La Pintana explained the municipality’s decision to take a new approach to waste management with the adage, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting to achieve different results.” Recognizing, as well, the importance of continuing that which is working well, the La Pintana commune identified all the actors involved in waste management (e.g., businesses, formal and informal recyclers, citizens, government bodies) and their different levels of responsibility in waste generation. The municipality understands that discarded materials are resources, and as a result, waste is viewed as an opportunity, not as a problem to get rid of. The municipality also understands that the solutions need to be local; the further waste travels from the point of generation, the bigger a problem it becomes, and the more likely its management will be unsustainable.

 Separation and Collection

In December of 2005 the municipality launched its new program. Unlike many materials recovery strategies adopted in Latin America, this one did not focus on recycling dry materials, but on recovering vegetable waste. This decision was fundamental, since vegetable waste is the largest waste stream, the one that makes recovery of recyclables more difficult, and the one that creates greenhouse gas emissions andcontaminantsin landfills. The program was built upon existing infrastructure and local financial resources. It has been steadily growing since its launch, and while it still has only modest participation rates, there is an ongoing effort to increase participation whenever the budget allows for more public education campaigns.

The government provides 35-liter bins to residents for vegetable waste. People are asked only to separate out fruits and vegetables for collection and composting—not meat or dairy products, although some end up being mixed in anyway. The consumption of meat in this poor commune is very low, however, so there is little animal product waste.

The system for collecting separated waste was organized by simply rescheduling existing routes. Consequently, neither the costs nor the number of trucks increased. One third of the city is serviced by the municipality, and the rest by a private company; both collect two waste streams: vegetable and other.

The municipality conducts a communication campaign with residents in door-to-door visits. During the visits and in the ongoing workshops held by the government, source separation is emphasized. Both direct and indirect incentives to separate waste are provided. Citizens receive free compost, and their neighborhoods are improved with the construction of public parks, planting of new trees, maintenance of sports clubs, etc., that improve their quality of life and their relationship with the environment.

So far, almost 80 percent of the households have been visited, although it is estimated that overall only 28 percent of the households are separating their vegetable waste. According to the municipality, the low participation rate is the consequence of some bad experiences with the collection service (e.g., trucks that did not meet the schedule) and a lack of space to keep two bins in multi-story buildings. Whenever it has the funds available, the municipality undertakes new communication campaigns to increase participation rates.

GAIA : Vegetable Waste to Zero Waste in La Pintana, Chile

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A Transport Fare Card Moves Rio Closer to Social Inclusion and Carbon Emission Reductions | safe, clean, affordable...

Brazil’s recent economic growth, the hosting of the football World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Olympic Games are serving as a catalyst for the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area to reform public transport. Rio, like many other Brazilian cities – where close to 85 percent of the country’s population lives – is facing strong pressure to find new ways to adapt its transport system to increasing population and rapid motorization. The city has a population of about 6 million and motorized transport accounts for almost 70 percent of trips and about 45 percent of the city’s total emissions.

Both the State and the Municipality are seeking to decongest the metropolitan area cooperatively through better integration of the existing transport systems.  The aim is to offer an acceptable level of service to the user while reducing operating subsidies and informality in the bus system. The result will be a more integrated multimodal network, including bus/BRT (under the authority of the Municipality), suburban railways (State), and metro (State). There are also plans to upgrade waterway terminals and acquire new ferries. All public transport systems in the City of Rio will need to be fully accessible for people with disabilities by 2016, to be compliant with Federal Laws on accessibility.

In particular, the State’s emphasis on improving the rail-based networks, particularly the SuperVia commuter rail and MetrôRio systems, is a cost-efficient priority which will contribute to a cleaner environment and to the greening initiatives put forward by the State. It will also help facilitate access to employment centers, health, education, and leisure facilities by poorer segments of the population. On a daily basis, 46 percent of the poor residents of Rio’s peripheral areas travel to the capital. It is estimated that 74 percent of SuperVia users are poor and six of the nine municipalities served by the network have poverty rates above 50 percent.

One of Rio‘s major achievements is the recent introduction of the Integrated Transit Fare or Bilhete Único Integrado (BUI). Launched in 2010, the BUI is an electronic card system that allows residents of the 20 municipalities in Rio’s metropolitan region to transfer between various modes of public transport (ferries, commuter rail, metro, buses and informal transport - usually in the form of privately owned and operated vans) within a period of two and a half hours for the price of a single fare ticket. This integration of public transport fares at the state and municipal levels has improved the affordability of public transport for poor households and led to a more optimal use of the road network in the city 99 percent of riders in Rio’s metropolitan region are now able to reach their destinations using the single-fare pass; while bringing reductions in their travel time and when transferring between different modes of transport, making public transit more attractive compared to cars and motorcycles.

The BUI has contributed to a more balanced job distribution throughout the region: under the old system, employers - who are required by law to cover a fixed percentage of their employees' travel expenses, had a tendency to select applicants who lived close to their job and therefore enjoyed comparatively low commuting costs; with the new integrated fare system, workers who live farther away from major employment centers now benefit from lower transport costs and have consequently become more attractive to potential employers. As a result, employers no longer select their employees based on where they live.

 The BUI card, which costs up to R$4.40 (about US$2.00), led to a reduction in the number of bus fares from 74 to 12 in the Metropolitan Area. The Department of Transport estimated that between February 2010 and February 2012, the card helped generate more than 585.3 million trips, benefiting an average of 280,000 users per day. An independent study estimated that the card implementation would represent an average saving of R$2.62 per user; a reduction of over 50% in the number of public transit trips taken; and an increase in formal jobs from 71.0% to 72.15%.
A critical factor in ensuring the success of the card was tackling the issue of informal buses. Introducing the BUI required the passing of new legislation regulating the services of bus operators and their consolidation from 47 companies to four. These companies were required to compete for five areas of the city through open tenders. One of the requirements for the new operators was adherence to the new ticketing system. The introduction of the BUI and the lower public transport fares that ensued translated into a 20% decrease in fare revenues; since Rio does not award subsidies to public transport operators, the implementation of the new fare system forced bus companies to become more efficient and to consolidate some of their operations.

There are other reforms underway in Rio related to bicycles and expansion of BRT lines and funicular transport in the city’s favelas that are interesting to review as examples of transport policies that can impact social inclusion and the environment. And if I had nearly half as much enthusiasm as Mr. Lopes about discussing good practice about Rio, this blog entry could easily become the length of a paper. For now, the World Bank is continuing its strong partnership with Rio in the context of a project that aims to upgrade Rio’s urban rail system. The project will further improve transit quality, favor the poor in particular, promote non-motorized transport, and improve the policy framework for sustainable transport. The project will also improve the transit system’s resilience to natural disasters and it will have positive impacts on mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

A Transport Fare Card Moves Rio Closer to Social Inclusion and Carbon Emission Reductions | safe, clean, affordable...

Monday, January 7, 2013

In Fields and Markets, Guatemalans Feel Squeeze of Biofuel Demand

In the tiny tortillerias of this city, people complain ceaselessly about the high price of corn. Just three years ago, one quetzal — about 15 cents — bought eight tortillas; today it buys only four. And eggs have tripled in price because chickens eat corn feed.

Meanwhile, in rural areas, subsistence farmers struggle to find a place to sow their seeds. On a recent morning, José Antonio Alvarado was harvesting his corn crop on the narrow median of Highway 2 as trucks zoomed by. 

“We’re farming here because there is no other land, and I have to feed my family,” said Mr. Alvarado, pointing to his sons Alejandro and José, who are 4 and 6 but appear to be much younger, a sign of chronic malnutrition.
Recent laws in the United States and Europe that mandate the increasing use of biofuel in cars have had far-flung ripple effects, economists say, as land once devoted to growing food for humans is now sometimes more profitably used for churning out vehicle fuel. 

In a globalized world, the expansion of the biofuels industry has contributed to spikes in food prices and a shortage of land for food-based agriculture in poor corners of Asia, Africa and Latin America because the raw material is grown wherever it is cheapest. 

Nowhere, perhaps, is that squeeze more obvious than in Guatemala, which is “getting hit from both sides of the Atlantic,” in its fields and at its markets, said Timothy Wise, a Tufts University development expert who is studying the problem globally with Actionaid, a policy group based in Washington that focuses on poverty.
With its corn-based diet and proximity to the United States, Central America has long been vulnerable to economic riptides related to the United States’ corn policy. Now that the United States is using 40 percent of its crop to make biofuel, it is not surprising that tortilla prices have doubled in Guatemala, which imports nearly half of its corn. 

At the same time, Guatemala’s lush land, owned by a handful of families, has proved ideal for producing raw materials for biofuels. Suchitepéquez Province, a major corn-producing region five years ago, is now carpeted with sugar cane and African palm. The field Mr. Alvarado used to rent for his personal corn crop now grows sugar cane for a company that exports bioethanol to Europe.

Marine agriculture offers a new solution to the problem of water scarcity

Costa Rican academics are pioneering the growth of crops on freshwater lakes as a way of addressing food shortages

Ricardo Radulovich, professor of water science at the University of Costa Rica, points out that in Africa irrigation is a very limited option, due to lack of water, and rain-fed agriculture is affected by prolonged dry seasons and rainfall variability during the rainy seasons. A case in point is the Sahel in west Africa, where drought has grown increasingly frequent and where emergency aid was needed last year to forestall famine.

Yet Radulovich believes that Africa's lakes can be part of the solution to the continent's agricultural limitations. Several African countries are endowed with lakes, some very large, that occupy a surface of more than 150,000 square kilometres. Why not use that water surface to grow food and aquatic plants, and for fisheries, asks Radulovich, who began his career as an agricultural water scientist 10 years ago.

"The key issue is water," Radulovich said in a telephone interview from Costa Rica. "We have land, but water is the limiting element. You can have agriculture if you have water. If we use that lake surface to produce crops, aquatic plants, we won't waste water."

Radulovich and his team, including Schery Umanzor, have already begun prototype projects on Lake Nicaragua, where they have grown lettuce, tomato, cucumber and cantaloupe melons on floating rafts, a continuation of trials that were undertaken at sea in 2001 at the Gulf of Nicoya, on the Pacific coast. The tomato roots can trail in the water or be potted with a cotton rope dangling in the water from the pot, which draws in water to the plant.

The size of the rafts can vary, going up to six square metres, and can be made simply and cheaply, from plastic bottles, for example. Where the water is polluted by horticulture, an option is to grow flowers. One advantage of growing crops on water is that they are not as vulnerable to insects as they would be on land.

Marine agriculture offers a new solution to the problem of water scarcity