Friday, October 31, 2008

Losing nature's value

From Resilience Science

At the IUCN meeting in Barcelona, the BBC interviews Pavan Sukhdev leader of the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity an EU project intending to provide an economic assessment of global ecosystem governance in much the same way that the Stern review did for climate governance:

The global economy is losing more money from the disappearance of forests than through the current banking crisis, according to an EU-commissioned study.

…The figure comes from adding the value of the various services that forests perform, such as providing clean water and absorbing carbon dioxide.

…Speaking to BBC News on the fringes of the congress, study leader Pavan Sukhdev emphasised that the cost of natural decline dwarfs losses on the financial markets.

“It’s not only greater but it’s also continuous, it’s been happening every year, year after year,” he told BBC News.

“So whereas Wall Street by various calculations has to date lost, within the financial sector, $1-$1.5 trillion, the reality is that at today’s rate we are losing natural capital at least between $2-$5 trillion every year.”

…The first phase concluded in May when the team released its finding that forest decline could be costing about 7% of global GDP. The second phase will expand the scope to other natural systems.

See interim report from The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Project project

Photo: IISD

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sustainable forestry vs illegal logging

Demand for resources poses opportunities for sustainable resource management. From Environmental News Network:

African nations could turn the demand for their natural resources currently driving deforestation and other destruction into a force for higher returns from sustainable development, WWF has said today.
“Certified, sustainable forestry yields far better returns for companies, communities and Congo basin countries than illegal logging ever will,” said Andre Kamdem, Head of the WWF Green Heart of Africa Initiative.
“Our challenge is to put the machinery in place to turn from plunder to preservation of resources and it is in the interests of the world to assist the nations of the green heart of Africa to do this.

From plunder to preservation is hard work. It does suggest some kind of mutual accepted contract (uphold by the rule of law) and an alternative or supportive finance framework. And yes, some respectful clients.

Read more at 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Air travel to Africa and climate change

The issue of carbon emissions caused by air travel is becoming an increasingly heated debate. Soon regulating airline emissions could become an integral part of the UK climate change bill.

This raises the question of what would happen in poorer countries of Africa (and elsewhere) which rely on tourism for much-needed international revenue and regard tourism as important part of their development strategy, if tourists would stop coming due to changes in air travel regulations. One helpful suggestion for tourists is given on the topic by an Africa specialist travel agency Rainbow Tours, which forms part of the Ethical Tour Operators Group in the UK:

"It is estimated that one new job is created by every eight tourists, and one job supports up to twenty people. In modern times, flying is an essential part of any trip to Africa, and if people were to stop visiting Africa because of a desire to cut down on flying, the effect on communities would be catastrophic. In many areas, tourism offers the only chance of employment and hope for the future.

Maybe a solution is to travel less and for longer. Make one longer visit, instead of two. We don’t offer long-weekends in Zanzibar, or in Cape Town. Cut out the flights you can afford to go without – to Edinburgh or Paris – and travel by train. Cut out the short-break in Barcelona, turn down the central heating and wear a jumper, but please don’t stop visiting Africa. They need you there."

However, it is clear that this issue also needs to be tackled at an international level far beyond the individual traveler´s decision-making , taking into account the relative importance of tourism for development in a tourist host region and even the much lower average carbon emission levels of the poorer host country rather than only the levels of the country of origin of the tourists.

H/T: Ron Mader -, Green Travel Network

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kenya: Pervasive Poverty and Rising Inequality

From a draft Poverty and Inequality Assessment on Kenya released by the World Bank:

We confirm that there has been some improvement in poverty overall since 1997, but poverty is still very pervasive, especially in rural areas.  Inequality is large and appears to have risen over time.  The  main correlates of poverty resonate with those found in earlier studies – including family size, lack of education and frequency of shocks.    

Image: Slums in Nairobi 
Image credit: Crispin Hughes/Panos, as posted on Environmental Health Perspectives

Economy and the earth

The New Scientist released a special report on how the economy is killing the earth:

THE graphs climbing across these pages (see graph, right, or explore in more detail) are a stark reminder of the crisis facing our planet. Consumption of resources is rising rapidly, biodiversity is plummeting and just about every measure shows humans affecting Earth on a vast scale. Most of us accept the need for a more sustainable way to live, by reducing carbon emissions, developing renewable technology and increasing energy efficiency.

But are these efforts to save the planet doomed? A growing band of experts are looking at figures like these and arguing that personal carbon virtue and collective environmentalism are futile as long as our economic system is built on the assumption of growth. The science tells us that if we are serious about saving Earth, we must reshape our economy.

This, of course, is economic heresy. Growth to most economists is as essential as the air we breathe: it is, they claim, the only force capable of lifting the poor out of poverty, feeding the world's growing population, meeting the costs of rising public spending and stimulating technological development - not to mention funding increasingly expensive lifestyles. They see no limits to that growth, ever.

For a full introduction and some free papers read here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The role of carbon capture and storage (CCS)

An argument for expansion of coal fired power stations often comes with a promise of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, but it is often argued that these technologies are unproven.  A new working paper from DIW Berlin discusses the possibilities of CCS and argues that CCS combined with IGCC could be economically viable at a CO2 price in the range of Euro 30-50/t. CCS for conventional hard coal plants would increase the price of electricity by 3-4 cents (EUR)/Kwh (At an exchange rate of R10 for 1 Euro that is in the range of 30-40c/Kwh). 

The paper highlights that full scale commercialisation of CCS is not expected before 2025-2040. In fact this would also make little economic sense given much cheaper greenhouse gas mitigation options available (see earlier post on Global cost of carbon mitigation).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

From responsible and sustainable tourism to sports tourism

Lesotho Rondavel
Looking further into the topic of tourism and development in Africa, Kurt Ackermann looks at some interesting ideas on how to move towards being responsible and sustainable in tourism saying:

"Being green and responsible is good for business, but getting there - and being able to prove it - can be daunting."

Sports tourism - especially in the form of major events - can be another interesting way that tourism can benefit a national economy, but there are negative environmental externalities. How can we deal with them for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa? How about with a "Green Goal" (as FIFA started promoting in Germany 2006)?

"Topics included Green Goal principles, stadium greening, biodiversity, landscaping and green procurement, green ratings for the hospitality industry, carbon offset, integrated waste management, the Green Point Park and communication."

Photo: Kurt Ackermann from the Ecotourism Africa flickr group
H/T: Afrikatourism

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Public perceptions on nuclear power

It is no secret that Eskom intends expanding nuclear capacity in South Africa (see here), but what do people think about nuclear nowadays?

A recent poll (focussed on Americans though) suggests that support for building nuclear power plants is very divided, but that almost three-quarters are concerned with radioactive waste:

A new Harris Poll finds that 49 percent of Americans are in support of building more nuclear power plants as opposed to 47 percent in 1979 – virtually unchanged. As both U.S. presidential candidates have taken a stance on this issue, public support and/or opposition will be critical to the future of nuclear power in America. While a third of Americans are still opposed to new nuclear plant construction, this opposition has decreased by 13 percent (from 45 percent to 32 percent) since April 1979 just after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant on March 28, 1979. Prior to that incident, a series of Harris Polls found that substantial majorities of American adults were in favor of building new nuclear power plants.
Some of the key findings of this new Harris Poll are:

A 49 percent to 32 percent plurality of adults favor building new nuclear power plants, with 23 percent strongly favoring them and 16 percent strongly opposing them.
A 72 percent majority of adults see the disposal of radioactive waste as a major problem. Smaller majorities see the escape of radioactive materials affect people’s health (56%) and in the atmosphere (51%) as major problems.
Overall, however, substantial majorities now (67%) as in 1979 (also 67%) believe that nuclear power plants that produce electricity are safe.

One interesting, possibly surprising, finding is that support for building new nuclear power plants increases with age. Majorities of the two oldest generations, 63 percent to 24 percent of "Matures" (aged 63 and over) and 52 percent to 31 percent of Baby Boomers (aged 44 to 62) support building new nuclear power plants, Only 35 percent of Echo Boomers (aged 18 to 31) and 47 percent of Generation X (aged 28-43) do so. Why is this surprising? Because Matures and Baby Boomers were aged 14 or older in 1979 and are presumably more likely to remember Three Mile Island.

Public perception is an important issue (read all about South Africa's own particular issues) but for now it seems as if the current financial and political instability is a greater immediate obstacle to Eskom's planned nuclear expansion programme.  

Monday, October 6, 2008

Shame on us

UNICEF released The State of the World's Children 2008.  

Overall much progress has been made with reducing infant mortality over the last few decades. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, with persistently high infant mortality rates some progress has been made. Painfully, South Africa is one of the few countries where things got worse between 1990 and 2006. 

South Africa was ranked 55th worse out of 189 countries on the under 5 mortality rate, a critical indicator of the well-being of children.  69 out of every 1000 children under 5 will probably die in South Africa-  much more then the 46 in Iraq (yes, I have double-checked) or the 22 in Occupied Palestinian Territory.  

What is worse is that South Africa slipped from a still unacceptably high probability of 60 out of every 1000 children in 1990, and what is worst of all is that much of this could have been prevented, especially given South Africa's relative high levels of wealth. See earlier post: Shocking statistics on maternal, newborn and child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa

There is something terribly missing in the South African recipe.  To care.  

Here's a simple way to start: value and reward all of those who are caretakers.

Image: WHO

Should water be priced according to its market value?

The Economist hosts a debate with the following proposition: "Water as a scarce resource should be priced according to its market value". Go and join a lively debate!

This was my comment:

Freshwater is becoming increasingly scarce. An important benefit of responding to this increasing scarcity with flexible water tariffs is that consumers can respond in a manner of their choice - paying the increased amount, installing water saving technology, reducing their use or a combination of several response options. Too low water tariffs also affects quality of service and it is usually the poor who suffer the most. 

Being flexible and having options in a complex world of wet and dry cycles is a huge benefit. Inflexible water use restrictions create huge losses of welfare and are often implemented too late and after periods of a false security created by low water tariffs. 

It does not end here though. Everyone on earth needs water to live. Governments need to step in to ensure that everyone has access to sufficient water for his/her basic needs. The South African Water Act for example clearly makes this distinction and sees no conflict between the provision of water for basic human needs and the clear need for economically efficient allocation of a scarce resource for productive and consumptive purposes. 

I have voted pro, but under the proviso that the basic needs of all people (and the functioning of the environment) is taken care of.

From inclusive growth to inclusive discussion.

The Commission on Growth and Development started a new weblog:

The Growth Blog is a forum for you - the policy maker, the academic, the student, and the interested citizen of the world - to agree, disagree, or simply to engage current practitioners on policies and issues critical to development. This platform was inspired by the series of meetings that the Commission on Growth and Development held around the world over the course of the last two years. Of the many lessons that emerged in the deliberations, the one that stands out is that inclusive growth requires inclusive thinking, and inclusive discussion. 

See here for an earlier post on the Commissions refreshing approach to growth, poverty and the environment.