Archive for November 2011

Natural capital: putting a price on the priceless | Guardian Sustainable Business | guardian.co.uk   Leave a comment

“With all eyes fixed on the latest global share prices and bond yields, there was relatively little interest in the most recent figures published in the annual red list.

This is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. It shows that 25% of all mammals and one in three of the world’s amphibians are at risk of extinction.

While these trends are not as turbulent as the global financial markets, the steady decline of the world’s biodiversity could be just as critical to long-term economic success and prosperity.

This is because the loss of biodiversity causes ecosystems to stress, degrade or even collapse altogether. This reduces the environment’s ability to deliver the goods and services that nature provides for free, such as clean air, water, soils and waste disposal, as well as the raw materials that industry depends upon.

As a result, it is evident that the protection of biodiversity, while complex to value and quantify accurately, is essential for future well-being and economic development.

Policy will inevitably have to rise to this challenge and businesses must look ahead to what this might mean for them and how they should act responsibly.

That is why the Aldersgate Group, an alliance of leaders from business, politics and society, has recently convened a series of discussions on how to make this agenda more tangible for key decision makers. The findings were published today at the Business of Biodiversity Symposium with government ministers and leading chief executives.

It became immediately evident from our dialogue that the value of biodiversity must be reflected in prices and policy appraisal. We cannot take for granted the services that ecosystems provide for free – such as regulating the climate, absorbing pollution and reducing flooding.

The UN estimates that these services deliver to humankind over $72tn a year – comparable to World Gross National Income – but nearly two-thirds of the globe’s ecosystems are considered degraded. The global importance of understanding, measuring and capturing the value of nature is undertaken by the UN through TEEB, a major international initiative to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity.

The endeavour to reflect environmental values in prices is an essential one, but for complex challenges such as biodiversity loss, some tipping points exist beyond which damage to human welfare is irreversible. Already in certain coastal areas there are “dead zones”, where coral reefs and lakes are no longer able to sustain aquatic species.

Inevitably, there are limits to pricing the priceless. For example, how can you put a value on a species of Himalayan yew tree, on the brink of extinction, that is used to produce Taxol, a chemotherapy drug used to treat cancer?

That is why good resource management requires a combination of price, regulation and information to achieve the desired behavioural change, and caution is required when there is uncertainty about nature’s thresholds.

As policy develops, what should businesses be doing to address these risks and take advantage of the potential opportunities?

It is evident that many businesses are assessing their dependency on biodiversity and integrating measures for the sustainable use of natural resources into their corporate strategies. This is vital as all businesses, directly or indirectly, depend upon biodiversity and ecosystem services for their ongoing commercial success and should therefore address the significant risks and opportunities relating to their impact on nature.

In the first instance, an organisation needs an efficient method for determining the materiality of biodiversity to its operations and stakeholders. While a number of reports claim that there is an increased awareness from communities, NGOs, customers, consumers and shareholders on biodiversity issues, the evidence is mixed.

And businesses also struggle to communicate the more technical language of biodiversity and ecosystems to their customers, who are much more familiar with concepts of nature, place and landscape.

Despite improvements, the measurement of biodiversity remains challenging and identifying the implications for decision making can be complex. This is why it is often treated superficially in company reports.

However, that has not stopped forward-looking businesses leading the way. The Aldersgate Group’s upcoming report illustrates case studies from a range of companies in a variety of sectors such as M&S, PepsiCo, Puma, Willmott Dixon, InterfaceFlor and The Co-operative Group.

One example is Wessex Water which has undertaken an initiative to protect water quality upstream rather than pay for removing pesticides downstream – achieving bottom-line savings of more than 80%.

The failure to address risks can lead to significant costs. The Gulf of Mexico oil spill, for example, demonstrates how a major oil company was suddenly faced with society’s valuations of marine and coastal ecosystems, and forced to internalise the costs of environmental damage.

As more businesses begin to address such impacts, it is essential that biodiversity rises up the political and boardroom agenda. While we might be some way off the chancellor presenting a natural capital budget alongside the fiscal budget, more attention on the long-term implications of the red list would be a good start.

Andrew Raingold is executive director at the Aldersgate Group, an alliance of leaders from business, politics and society that drives action for a sustainable economy.”

via Natural capital: putting a price on the priceless | Guardian Sustainable Business | guardian.co.uk.

Posted November 30, 2011 by arnoneumann in biodiversity, Sustainability, TEEB

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FAO Media Centre: Scarcity and degradation of land and water: growing threat to food security   Leave a comment

“Prospects for the future

FAO estimates that by 2050, rising population and incomes will require a 70 percent increase in global food production. This equates to another one billion tonnes of cereals and 200 million tonnes of livestock products produced each year.

“For nutrition to improve and for food insecurity and undernourishment to recede, future agricultural production will have to rise faster than population growth and consumption patterns adjusted,” says SOLAW.

More than four-fifths of production gains will have to occur largely on existing agricultural land through sustainable intensification that makes effective use of land and water resources while not causing them harm.

Recommendations

Improving the efficiency of water use by agriculture will be key, according to the report. Most irrigation systems across the world perform below their capacity. A combination of improved irrigation scheme management, investment in local knowledge and modern technology, knowledge development and training can increase water-use efficiency.

And innovative farming practices such as conservation agriculture, agro-forestry, integrated crop-livestock systems and integrated irrigation-aquaculture systems hold the promise of expanding production efficiently to address food security and poverty while limiting impacts on ecosystems.

FAO recently highlighted its vision for the sustainable intensification of agricultural production in its publication, Save and Grow: A New Paradigm for Agriculture, released earlier this year.

Another area where improvement is needed is increasing investment in agricultural development. Gross investment requirements between 2007 and 2050 for irrigation water management in developing countries are estimated at almost $1 trillion. Land protection and development, soil conservation and flood control will require around $160 billion worth of investment in the same period, SOLAW reports.

Finally, greater attention should be paid not only to technical options for improving efficiency and promoting sustainable intensification, but also to ensuring that national policies and institutions are modernized, collaborate together and are better equipped to cope with today’s emerging challenges of water and land resource management.”

via FAO Media Centre: Scarcity and degradation of land and water: growing threat to food security.

Posted November 29, 2011 by arnoneumann in agriculture, Global Crisises

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By Barcoding Trees, Liberia Looks to Save its Rainforests by Fred Pearce: Yale Environment 360   Leave a comment

Can something as simple as barcoding enable Liberia to resume its timber trade while still protecting its forests? The system’s inventors at the British company Helveta call it “the world’s most advanced nationwide verification system for wood products.” Initially funded by USAID, the scheme has covered all the country’s commercial logged forests for the past two years.

Every tree in a forest with a logging concession must be tagged with a unique barcode. When that tree is cut, the action is recorded and new tags are attached to each log. Every log that turns up at a port has to be traceable back to a stump in a forest. It’s as simple and as foolproof as checking out at the supermarket, says Ivan Muir, the local boss of SGS, the Swiss specialists in forest certification systems who are in charge of making it happen. Muir also issues export permits for the timber — which mostly gets turned into furniture and paneling — and monitors royalty payments to the government.”

via By Barcoding Trees, Liberia Looks to Save its Rainforests by Fred Pearce: Yale Environment 360.

Posted November 27, 2011 by arnoneumann in Africa, Forestry

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Arab League risks Russian wrath by approaching West over Syria | World | Deutsche Welle | 18.11.2011   Leave a comment

Seldom does a nation’s internal affairs remain with influence singularily within  its own borders. The interplay of politics on the global level is not that simplistic..

“Catalyst for a wider conflict?

Any military intervention in Syria could act as a catalyst for a wider conflagration in a volatile region already primed to explode, with al-Assad’s main ally Iran under increased pressure from the West over its nuclear program and under threat from an Israeli administration which appears to be preparing to take matters into its own hands.

Not only would Western-led intervention in a major Arab state threaten to plunge the Middle East into a wider regional conflict, it would also ratchet up the tensions between the West and Syria’s powerful allies in Russia.

Russia, a long-term supporter of the Syrian regime and one which maintains a naval base in the country, has already accused Western countries of inciting opposition to al-Assad’s rule, as well as condemning the Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria. Moscow, in tandem with China, also blocked a UN Security Council motion last month to bring sanctions against Syria. “

 

via Arab League risks Russian wrath by approaching West over Syria | World | Deutsche Welle | 18.11.2011.

Posted November 27, 2011 by arnoneumann in Syria

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Squabbling while the world burns – Climate change, Science and Policy   Leave a comment

The sceptics aren’t the block to action on climate change.They just wish they were.

When you write about climate change, you get even more angry emails than when you write about Muslims. Last time I tried, one reader berated me for mentioning “fictional pompous Al Gore’s enriching scheme of global warming” in my “ridiculous article”. This man ended with a quote from Einstein: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” Another reader, whose sign-off cited his PhD, explained to me that all the international summits weren’t “about man-made climate change ‘science’ … but really about a larger ‘global wealth distribution scheme’.”

It’s tempting to blame “climate sceptics” for the world’s inaction on man-made climate change. (The United Nations’ latest summit, starting in Durban on Monday, won’t save the planet either.) Greens often talk as if the enemy were not climate change itself, but a self-taught band of freelance sceptics. No wonder, because fighting culture wars is the fun bit of politics. However, this fight is pointless. The sceptics aren’t the block to action on climate change. They just wish they were. Instead, they are an irrelevant sideshow.

Sceptics and believers quarrel about the science because they both start from a mistaken premise: that science will determine what we do about climate change. The idea is that once we agree what the science says, policy will automatically follow. That’s why the Nobel committee gave Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change a peace prize.

Mysteriously, though, the policy still hasn’t followed the science. Almost all scientists already agree on the science. An article in the PNAS, journal of the US National Academy of Sciences, last year found that 97 per cent of actively publishing climate scientists believe man-made climate change is happening. Nonetheless, the world hasn’t acted.

Clearly then, science doesn’t determine policy, concludes Daniel Sarewitz of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes in Washington. Yet the pointless quarrel about science continues.

It’s pointless first of all because what most people believe about climate change has little to do with science. After all, hardly any layperson understands it. Rather, people’s beliefs about climate change follow from their beliefs about the world. “We disagree about climate change because we have different belief systems,” writes Mike Hulme, professor of climate change at the UK’s University of East Anglia.

American sceptics, for instance, are disproportionately likely to be conservative white males, say the sociologists Aaron McCright and Riley Dunlap. Conservative white males don’t like governments interfering with business. They don’t like global co-operation. Nothing will convince them that we need global co-operation to interfere with business and tackle climate change, especially not if Al Gore says so.

Conversely, liberals who do like global co-operation and interfering with business are going to believe in climate change, even though hardly any of them understand the science either. “Climate change has joined gun control, taxes and abortion as a form of social identity marker,” writes Matthew Nisbet, social scientist at American University in Washington. In this debate, and not just in the US, almost nobody is open to persuasion.

Beating the sceptics around the head with the science just gives them attention. It also allows them to roar in triumph whenever the believers get any bit of science wrong, as when the IPCC exaggerated the melting of Himalayan glaciers. The squabble also creates a one-dimensional argument about climate change: do you believe it’s real or not? I’ve found to my cost that many people can only read articles about climate change as statements of either belief or scepticism. This obscures better questions, such as what exactly we should do about climate change.

The quarrel with the sceptics is additionally pointless because they are a small minority – under a fifth of the 35 million Americans who actively engage in this issue, estimates Jon Krosnick, social psychologist at Stanford University. In a poll sponsored by the World Bank in 15 countries in 2009, “in each country the public believed climate change to be a serious problem,” writes Roger Pielke Jr, political scientist at the University of Colorado. He adds: “The battle for public opinion has essentially been won.” Admittedly, he cautions, most people who believe that climate change exists feel only lukewarm concern. However, trying to convince them with even more science is probably pointless too.

The sceptics and the apathetic will always be with us. There’ll never be full consensus on climate change. But if governments could only act when there was unanimity, no law on anything would ever be passed. The US invaded Iraq, bailed out banks and passed universal healthcare with much less consensus than exists over climate change. In short, the sceptics are not the block to action.

Rather, the block is that the believers – including virtually all governments on earth – aren’t sufficiently willing to act. We could do something. But shouting at sceptics is easier.

via Squabbling while the world burns – FT.com.

Posted November 27, 2011 by arnoneumann in Climate_change, Science

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Loneliest Man in Davos Foresees 2015 Bank Crisis While Global Elites Party – Bloomberg   Leave a comment

‘An Avoidable History’

Wilkinson’s report, titled “The Financial Crisis of 2015: An Avoidable History,” isn’t so sanguine. The 24-page study describes how banks, unwilling to accept the lower returns on equity, or ROEs, that result from higher capital requirements, may fuel a new bubble by chasing high returns in commodities or emerging markets. Regulators, by focusing their restraints on banks, may drive risk-taking into unregulated funds that also pose danger to the system.

The report urges bank executives and shareholders to accept that returns of the past are unsustainable and that they need to do a better job of monitoring risks, especially in areas that produce unusually high profits.

“Banks need to be less leveraged,” said Wilkinson, 38, who has an engineering degree from the University of Cambridge’s Trinity College and has worked since 1993 at Oliver Wyman, where he focuses on risk management. “The true test for me of whether they’ve deleveraged is if the industrywide ROEs come down. If they don’t, I’m very suspicious that there are hidden risks in the system.”

via Loneliest Man in Davos Foresees 2015 Bank Crisis While Global Elites Party – Bloomberg.

Posted November 27, 2011 by arnoneumann in banking, finance

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European Banks Get ‘False Deleveraging’   Leave a comment

Interesting how creative banking gets, and how the Banks, the Regulators, and the Buyout Groups interplay in the behind the scenes financial world.

“The use of such funding can reduce the riskiness of the assets and free up regulatory capital, David Abrams, in charge of European nonperforming loan investments at Apollo Global Management in London, said in an interview.

“The risk for the banks changes,” he said. “In a way, they are turning nonperforming loans into performing loans.”

The buyers need to inject sufficient equity for the banks providing vendor financing to benefit from a regulatory capital point of view, said Alexander Greene, managing partner at New York-based private-equity firm Brookfield Asset Management LLC.

“Ultimately, regulators scrutinize those deals,” Greene said. “The question is then, will the investors be able to earn their returns if they overcapitalize?”

Banks must be innovative to sell the “stickiest” of their assets, said Ian Gordon, an analyst at Evolution Securities Ltd. in London.

“Banks will be naive if they use vendor finance to notionally dispose of assets at whatever price the market will take,” he said. “They could fall in the trap in giving away the upside without meaningfully reducing the downside.” ”

via European Banks Get ‘False Deleveraging’ – Bloomberg.

Posted November 27, 2011 by arnoneumann in banking, finance

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On eve of election, Egypts Copts worry about outcome   Leave a comment

“Egypt’s always potentially explosive religious fault line between its Muslim majority and its large Coptic Orthodox Christian minority feels more ominous here than elsewhere.

“This used to be the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city in the country, but it has been slowly fading for more than 20 years,” said businessman and blogger Mohammad Hanou. “It has become poorer and more conservative. The conservatives are not only Muslims. There are conservative Copts, too. But their differences need a trigger — an event.

“One of those flashpoints occurred at a midnight mass marking the beginning of 2011 when a homemade bomb exploded at the front of the al-Qiddissin Saints Church. Twenty-three worshippers died and nearly 100 were injured.

That act of violence was followed by a sporadic acts on churches across the country. It is one of the reasons why Copts fret about the potential electoral successes of the Muslim Brotherhood and their more extreme allies, the Salafis, whose Saudi-like puritanical ideas about Islam are popular in Alexandria’s slums.

“Many Muslims are tolerant and feel free to elect Christian parliamentarians,” said Hany Mikhail Botros, a prominent Copt businessman who was only five metres away from the blast and lost his future daughter-in-law and many close friends in the attack.

Proof of this tolerance, he said, was that many Muslims personally contacted him to express their sorrow after the New Year’s bombing.

“I can even say that some Muslims fight more for our rights than we do ourselves,” Botros said as he looked up at a wall in the church with photographs of those who died in the bombing.

There was, however, inevitably, a “but” coming as Botros continued his reflections.

“But such turmoil has always existed under the surface here. Kids in some primary schools are actually taught to hate Christians. After this year’s revolution such sentiments began to come out more.”

Alexandria was once the largest Jewish city in the world, but only a handful of Jews live here today. Whether a similar fate may befall the Copts is a subject that is not much discussed in public but it is at the back of many minds.

“Do we have a Plan B? No,” Botros said. “We could live overseas and I have the chance to do that, but I do not see that as a solution. I really love this country and I am not only making a speech.”

Religion is such an emotive topic that there has never been a reliable census of how many Muslims and Christians there are in Egypt. Copts claim they number about 15 million and make up about 20 per cent of the population. Many Muslims reckon that the true percentage of Copts is only eight or 10 per cent.

via On eve of election, Egypts Copts worry about outcome.

Posted November 26, 2011 by arnoneumann in Egypt

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Amid dire warming warnings, Canada is MIA   Leave a comment

Later this month, the countries of the world will gather in Durban, South Africa, to discuss climate change. The omens for progress are poor; the forecast for global warming is worse.So says the International Energy Agency, hardly a left-wing pinko organization but, rather, one that collects and analyzes information for energy-importing industrialized countries.

The IEA minced no words. “On planned policies, rising fossil-fuel energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change.”

“Irreversible and potentially catastrophic” are words not written lightly. They don’t come from the United Nations, the favourite target of the climate-change deniers and skeptics. They don’t pour forth from the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace or the Sierra Club. Rather, they come from the blue chip of energy analysts, relied on by government and industry alike around the world.

The IEA, charged with tracking energy use, reported that, in 2010, emissions of carbon dioxide – the principal greenhouse gas – rose by 5.3 per cent. Little is being done, says the IEA, to “quench the world’s increasing thirst for energy in the long term.” Demand for oil, natural gas and coal continues to rise.

If these trends continue, the world will blow past the target most scientists – and the world’s governments – have said must be achieved if climate change is not to produce negative consequences. That target is a rise of 2 degrees Celsius. Ideally, greenhouse-gas emissions should be reduced sharply so warming doesn’t occur. But anything above that increase, say scientists, would bring on a series of very undesirable events. ”

via Amid dire warming warnings, Canada is MIA – The Globe and Mail.

Posted November 19, 2011 by arnoneumann in Canada, Climate_change, IEA

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Maurice F. Strong on Rio + 20   Leave a comment

(Excerpts from a statement by Maurice F. Strong, delivered to theSpecial United Nations General Assembly Event on Rio+20, New York, October 25th, 2011)


Time precludes my elaborating on the various actions that could be taken at Rio+20 which would make it a major milestone on the pathway to sustainability. As most of these have already been raised at the High-level Symposium in Beijing and the Delhi Ministerial Dialogue in New Delhi, I will note them only briefly here.

Objective evaluation by civil society organizations in each country of their performance in implementing their commitments at the Earth Summit and other fora;

Establishment of a process of continuing assessment of the performance of each country in its implementation of past commitments and accountability for them. This should lead to a system in which countries which fail to meet their commitments are subject to penalties and sanctions.

Establishment of an investment instrument in the form of “Earth Bonds” to be purchased by private sector foundations, funds and individuals, for investment in sustainable development projects, principally in developing countries; The World Bank’s initiative in issuing Green Bonds to finance climate change projects provides a useful precedent. The World Bank and/or its private sector affiliate the International Finance Corporation could also be the issuers of the Earth Bonds. They and the regional development banks could initiate and manage projects funded by the Earth Bonds. A high level group of experts is now developing the proposal.

Agreement to establish a system based on Principles 21 and 22 agreed at the Stockholm Conference in 1972 through which victims of environmental damage in one country resulting from development in another country can seek legal recourse and compensation for the damages they have suffered.

Under today’s conditions, this and other measures that I am raising will be deemed unrealistic. But denial cannot change the reality, only increase its dangers. What seems unrealistic today will become inevitable tomorrow, too late to change. The need for such actions is real and urgent. Rio+20 cannot do it all but it can and must set these processes in motion and give them the support and impetus they require.”

via Maurice F. Strong.

Posted November 19, 2011 by arnoneumann in Rio +20, UN

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