Category Archives: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity

The sustainable food movement has pioneered labor-sustainability collaboration. Image courtesy of Wisely Woven via Flickr

Labor and Sustainability: Together at Last

The sustainable food movement has pioneered labor-sustainability collaboration. Image courtesy of Wisely Woven via Flickr

It has become almost a cliché that unions and environmental activists don’t get along. Environmentalists want environmental protection; unions want jobs. The longstanding assumption that these two goals are contradictory underlies the conflict between the two lobbies.

Judith Gouverneur and Nina Netzer, authors of Chapter 21 in State of the World 2014: Governing for Sustainability, contest this assumption, however. They write that there are “no jobs on a dead planet,” and that, ominously, “38 percent of all workers worldwide are employed in carbon-intensive sectors.” Rallying for better pay, working conditions, and other standard labor requests will do little to avert environmental degradation (and mass worker displacement). Yet a smooth transition to sustainability will not be possible without unions to back up the vast numbers of workers who work in industries which are simply unsustainable. We need unions, but not unions as usual.

A resolution to this paradox has developed in the labor-sustainability collaboration which has helped propel the sustainable food movement to prominence in the last few years. For example, at every “real food” conference I have been to – and these are conferences dealing mostly with sustainability issues – there has been a presentation on labor and the importance of unions. We have even had union representatives speak before. Unions and environmental activists have worked together in pushing the agricultural and food-service sectors towards sustainability, including persuading nearly 30 colleges to transfer large percentages of their food purchases to sustainable sources. Highlighting the mistreatment of farmworkers inherent in mechanized mass agriculture has been as helpful as discussing toxic pesticides. Perhaps nothing shows the success and the depth of the labor-sustainability collaboration like an incident I remember from my first year in the food movement. The national company which provided my college’s dining services refused to work with us on our campaign to serve more local and organic food in our dining halls. Their excuse? We were allegedly a front group for a union!

Dozens of Real Food Challenge student activists at a food sustainability conference. One of the activities was attending a workers' rally. Image courtesy of Real Food Challenge

One reason this symbiosis works so well is that industries with poor working conditions are also often environmentally damaging. This is especially so with mass agriculture. It is really, in fact, the same tendency towards penny-pinching and profit maximization which results both in horrible labor conditions and in environmental harms, such as those resulting from cheap, mono-crop farming. In other words, labor issues and environmental issues are (often) inseparable. When an industry is structurally unsustainable, labor and environmentalists can agree that the only real solution is to fundamentally reshape it. This need not mean fewer jobs, but new jobs. It is an opportunity. In fact, at least in agriculture, more sustainable production methods often  require more, and more skilled, labor. Workers and the environment can both win.

It is encouraging that every year, “real food” or “sustainable food” continues to grow and become more recognized. We thus already have a successful, working model of labor and environmental cooperation, holding together over many years. This cooperation is a milestone in labor-environmental relations. There has previously been some cooperation in opposing “free trade” deals, but in the food movement, there is a largely new understanding that the fates of labor and the environment are linked.

The challenge is to replicate this success in other industries, where it may admittedly be more difficult. For one thing, food must be produced no matter what. There are, however, entire industries which may not survive a transition to sustainability, such as oil refining. Gouverneur and Netzer write that within unions, “[t]he …system-challenging question of sufficiency – how lifestyles and business need to change to end the overuse of goods, resources, and energy – has been largely neglected.” In other words, unions may need to readjust their entire understanding of how an economy runs.

The good news is that is not just theory. We can see it beginning now. More change will be required – of unions and of the economy as a whole – but given decades of operating experience and recent successful work in the sustainability arena, there is no question that unions and and will be part of a sustainable future.

Offering Thanks at the End of 2012

There is a lot to be thankful for in 2012. The Sustainable Prosperity Project, which Worldwatch began in 2011 as an effort to help shape the Rio+20 summit this past June, has had a number of successes in mapping out key elements of sustainable prosperity, from what the green economy would look like to how to degrow overdeveloped economies, from how corporations should look in the future to how to reform local and international governance. While this project will now come to a close, hopefully you’ll find the ideas generated during this year–discussed in detail in State of the World 2012, in news articles stemming from the report, and the Sustainable Prosperity blog–useful in coming years.

But before this project closes, we do want to list some of the successes of the year. First of course, were the many opportunities to discuss our research, at the Rio+20 conference, at the Stockholm+40 briefings in Sweden, through the help of partners in Milan, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Washington, Berlin, São Paulo, and in fora like the International Degrowth Conference. Through these we talked directly with policymakers like the German Science and Technology minister, the Finnish Environmental Minister, and the former environmental minister of Brazil, Marina Silva.

Second were the opportunities to share our report findings in other languages. Thanks go to our partners in producing translations of the report in over a dozen languages including Portuguese, Spanish, German, Korean, Japanese, Finnish, French, Italian, and Taiwanese. Third, were the many opportunities to spread our message in the media: an excellent series in CSRWire, several strong op-eds including one on economic and environmental prosperity and one on biodiversity in IPS and one on economic degrowth in (of all places) the Wall Street Journal. Needless to say, the comments on that op-ed weren’t all that positive!

And let's not forget the most important offering of our gratitude–to the Earth for sustaining our burgeoning human population for another year.

We also want to lay out our many thanks. Our gratitude, first and foremost, goes to the Ford Foundation who made this project possible. Not only did it provide the generous support that made the activities around the book possible, but a number of chapters drew directly from a series of “White Papers” commissioned by Senior Program Officer Don Chen for the Rio+20 conference. We also thank others who have collaborated with us—our publishing partners, the authors of the many report and blog articles, Sustainable Prosperity Project Fellow Antonia Sohns, and research interns Alison Singer and Tucker Hirsch. Thanks to everyone for all your help!

While this blog will now wrap up, we will of course keep this website live, with videos, discussion guide, blog archives, and as a special year end gift, two additional chapters available free for download. You can now read Worldwatch President Robert Engelman’s chapter “Nine Population Strategies to Stop Short of 9 Billion,” and Worldwatch Institute-Europe Director Bo Normander’s chapter “Biodiversity: Combating the Sixth Mass Extinction.” We hope you enjoy both of these chapters if you haven’t read them already!

Thanks for reading the Sustainable Prosperity blog this year and get ready for Worldwatch’s new blog, “Is Sustainability Still Possible?,” which will replace this and the Transforming Cultures blog. The new blog will continue to offer positive visions of how to transform cultures, economies and societies to get to truly sustainable prosperity. But it will also provide a new element, namely how to prepare for a disruptive ecological transition, which every year gets a bit more probable as we dilly-dally with implementing the solutions we know we need to pursue. The new blog will be available here—starting in 2013. Thanks for reading!

–Erik Assadourian and Michael Renner, Sustainable Prosperity Project Directors

Growing City Populations Face Unique Challenges

Smokey Mountain in Manila (courtesy of Getty Images)

The world’s urban population is expected to grow by 2.6 billion people between 2011 and 2050, bringing the total number of urbanites from 3.5 billion to 6.3 billion, according to new research conducted for Vital Signs Online. This urban expansion will be especially burdensome for developing countries, where 82 percent of the world’s population currently lives.

Although the developing world is less urbanized than the industrial world in relative terms, developing countries are home to an estimated 1.54 billion more people. In absolute terms, the developing world is projected to add approximately 2.45 billion people to its cities by 2050, while the industrial world is due to add just 170 million.

Within the developing world, the vast majority of this urban growth is projected to occur in Asia and Africa. Asia far outstrips Africa in total population, with 4.2 billion people in 2011 compared with Africa’s 1 billion. But these regions are also the least urbanized areas on Earth: Asia’s population was 45 percent urban in 2011, and Africa’s was only 40 percent urban. In Latin America and the Caribbean, by contrast, 78 percent of the regions’ 599 million people live in cities.

A characteristic feature of Asian urbanization is the prevalence of “megacities” that are home to more than 10 million people. In 2011, there were 23 such cities worldwide, 13 of which were Asian. By 2025, the total number of megacities is expected to reach 37—with 21 in Asia alone. Southeast Asia is the most densely settled subregion in Asia, with approximately 16,500 people per square kilometer (compared with only 4,345 people per square kilometer in Europe in 2000).

Cities, especially in the developing world, must find a way to provide essential services to their ever-increasing populations. When cities fail to meet these essential needs on a large scale, they create areas known as slums, where households typically lack safe drinking water, safe sanitation, a durable living space, or security of a lease. According to UN HABITAT, 828 million people in developing-world cities are considered slum dwellers—one in every three residents. Slum populations are expected to grow significantly in the future, and UN HABITAT projects that 6 million more people live in slums every year.

Young boy reading a comic on Smokey Mountain (Getty Images)

The World Health Organization identifies the rapid increase of urban populations, especially slum populations, as the most important issue affecting health in the 21st century. The agency cites overcrowding, lack of safe water, and improper sanitation systems as the primary factors contributing to poor health among the urban poor. Slums often become breeding grounds for diseases like tuberculosis, dengue, pneumonia, and cholera, and slum dwellers contract water-borne or respiratory illnesses at much higher rates than people in rural areas do.

Cities and their slums will continue to grow as long as rural populations continue to migrate to cities to find economic and other opportunities, such as access to cultural amenities, education, and health care. The only question is whether urban infrastructures will be able to keep up with this growth.
Grant Potter is an Executive Assistant with the Worldwatch Institute.

Uncertain Role of Extractive Reserves in Conservation

During the 1980s, Brazilian rubber tapper Chico Mendes was a prominent activist for the preservation of the Amazon region. He urged his government to set up reserves for rubber tappers and was instrumental in creating various organizations and unions for his peers. In 1988, Mendes was murdered by a rancher intent on logging the site of a future reserve. Partly in response to the international media outcry, Brazil created the Chico Mendes Extractive Reserve, consisting of 980,000 hectares of land protected for forest-dependent indigenous inhabitants.

The extractive reserve model aims to simultaneously conserve forests and extract their resources in an economically sustainable way. Forest managers use collaborative strategies to reconcile these goals. By enhancing collaboration among local residents, non-governmental organizations, government institutions, and the private sector, extractive reserves have the potential to increase economic independence for local communities and conserve the Amazon rainforest.

Fires along the Rio Xingu, Brazil (Photo via Flickr, by NASA)

Extractive reserves are not limited to extractive activities, such as nut harvesting and rubber tapping, but can also be used for agricultural activities. Since the inception of extractive reserves in the 1980s, the idea has gained momentum due to international support. More than 3.4 million hectares of Brazilian land are now part of extractive reserves, and several more reserves are in the planning process.

Because of the relative newness of Brazil’s extractive reserve programs, researchers are still evaluating their success in balancing conservation with development. One study analyzed the Alto Jurua extractive reserve and found that while deforestation is occurring, its frequency is much lower than in neighboring non-reserve lands. The majority of households and individuals that live in the reserve have organized into the Rubber Tappers and Farmers Association, expressing their desire to continue living in the reserve. Rubber has become a less valuable commodity, so some residents have switched to bean cultivation and livestock. While these activities require land clearing, the management power of the community has been able to keep the clearing to a minimum.

Although the Alto Jurua reserve has been successful at limiting deforestation and providing opportunities for the local community, much of its success is due to external forces. For example, the Brazil Pilot Program controls deforestation on rural properties. Through Brazil’s Pilot Program, Brazil is developing a spatial database of private land boundaries and ownership. Brazil also limits land availability by placing unclaimed public lands under management in order to increase land and timber values.

Brazil has expanded its extractive reserve model from land to water. While the majority of the country’s reserves are land-based, there are a few marine ones, and many of the proposed future reserves will protect marine fisheries. But the results so far are mixed.

One researcher spent a year studying Brazil’s first marine extractive reserve, Arraial do Cobo. Although the reserve has created a more democratic forum for decision-making, it has yet to be utilized, as many fishers fear the consequences of participating outside of the traditional social hierarchy. The fishers also deeply distrust the government and view the reserve as a burden. Meawnhile, a lack of government funding and minimal cooperation from local fishermen limits monitoring and enforcement capabilities. The result is that traditional, self-imposed governing systems have eroded as more fishermen gain access to the fishing grounds, racial tensions persist, and certain families have gained economic and social control of the community. So far, the reserve has failed to replace the traditional governance structure with anything productive and sustainable.

The international community has touted extractive reserves as a way to protect valuable resources while simultaneously spurring local economic growth and development and protecting indigenous communities. But research shows that this fanfare may be premature, as the extractive reserve model is dependent on adequate funding and implementation, as well as the ability to monitor. Its success also depends on cooperation and communication among different levels of participants.

Certainly, extractive reserves are a step in the right direction, as local stakeholders are integrated into the decision-making process, improving conservation and development. If governance of extractive reserves can be improved, the reserves may well be a success story for all parties. But until then, their impact remains unclear.

(Written by Alison Singer; Edited by Antonia Sohns)

Producing Condoms Sustainably

Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 classic, The Population Bomb, warned of a future of famine, increased global death rates, and environmental degradation. The book spurred worldwide concern over uninhibited population growth, and while many of the book’s somewhat apocalyptic predictions have not yet come to pass, the link between population growth and an (un)sustainable future cannot be ignored. In his chapter of State of the World 2012, Robert Engelman outlines strategies to slow population growth before we reach the projected 9 billion mark around 2050. His suggestions include female education, comprehensive family planning, removing financial incentives to have more children, and quantifying environmental costs and impacts of childbearing, among others. These practices must be integrated into political and cultural systems in order to slow global population growth.

Condoms (Photo via Flickr, by superkimbo)

Family planning, however, is not a costless endeavor. Global Industry Analysts, Inc. predicts that the worldwide condom market will reach 27 billion units by 2015. Indeed, as the world moves through a recession, condom sales have actually increased, as parents are postponing having children until their financial resources become more stable. Asia, and Malaysia in particular, lead the world in condom production, exporting over 10 billion condoms annually. Much of the latex used in condoms comes from cultivated rubber plantations in Southeast Asia, but the Amazon rainforest is home to a huge population of rubber trees that has been tapped by locals for hundreds of years. While rubber tapping is widely considered a sustainable activity–as it does not harm the trees and provides incentive for preserving the rainforest–there is a long history of conflict between rubber tappers and developers, loggers, and ranchers.

The Brazilian government is the world’s largest single buyer of condoms. Brazil has actively promoted condom use as a way to prevent HIV/AIDS, and includes condoms in the basic goods provided to low-income families.

Brazil is also home to a long tradition of rubber tappers who live and work in the Amazon rainforest. In 2008 the government initiated a policy to produce local, environmentally sustainable condoms in order to reduce import-dependence and to increase local jobs and preserve the rainforest. The new condom factory produces 100 million condoms a year, provides jobs for 550 families, and reduces deforestation incentives. Local rubber tappers have enjoyed increased incomes due to the price demanded for their native latex.

While Brazil is thus far the only national government with a sustainable condom policy, entrepreneurs are embracing innovative manufacturing techniques. Sir Richard’s Condom Company uses sustainable packaging and its products recently became available on the U.S. market. Perhaps more importantly, the company promises that for every condom sold, it will donate one condom to non-profits around the world, beginning with Haiti. Another company, French Letter fair trade condoms come from organic plantations in India with good working conditions and high wages. Providing consumers with the choice to buy sustainable condoms is certainly an improvement, offering eco-conscientious couples to even take their values to bed with them. These sustainably manufactured condoms not only help in stabilizing the human population and prevent disease but also help improve local economies and preserve essential rainforest habitat. With all those benefits, these condoms heighten pleasure for everyone.

(Written by Alison Singer; Edited by Antonia Sohns)

The Role of Open Governance in Sustainable Development

This month, Brazilian headlines showed an uncommon move by a national court in environmental matters.  A Brazilian federal judge stopped the Belo Monte Dam on the grounds that the licenses were invalid given the lack of consultation of the indigenous population. In a subsequent press conference, Judge Souza Predente said, “only in a dictatorial regime does a government approve a project before holding consultations.”

While I claim no expertise in the specifics of the case or Brazilian law, it shows a growing move on the part of many governments to protect the rights of citizens to participate in decisions before major projects are permitted that have lasting impacts on the environment and livelihoods.

Belo Monte Dam (Photo via Flickr, by International Rivers)

As the Belo Monte case shows, without adequate access to information, public participation, and access to justice, major development projects can be shut down, disrupted, or become a scene of violent protest.

The case of Belo Monte is far from over. Before long, the Brazilian people will need to decide whether the project is an unprecedented environmental and political disaster or is the best next step for a country desperate for reliable, inexpensive energy. Though the future of the Belo Monte Dam is unclear, it is apparent that having a tribunal that can fairly and openly adjudicate these matters and provide a forum for public debate has been a tremendous boon, especially as other institutions, arguably, have failed to do so.

Beyond Brazil at Rio+20

Energy crises and lack of inclusivity in development are problems that plague many nations, not just Brazil. Without access rights—the right to access to information, to participate, and to have access to justice—voices that defend the poor and the environment are often not part of substantive decisions. This is not a new revelation, as these rights have been at the core of sustainable development since the 1992 Rio Declaration enshrined them as “Principle 10”. While these rights are supported in international human rights treaties, and many multilateral and bi-lateral agreements, they often fail to be enforced because legal frameworks at the national level and sub-national levels are often weak, institutions are unable to carry out necessary reforms, and civil society cannot demand the rights be fulfilled.

In the context of Brazil’s own domestic policies, Brazil hosted the Rio+20 UN Summit on Sustainable Development this June. Beyond the largely negative headlines in Western media, the Rio+20 summit actually made notable progress in re-affirming aspirations and working towards making these goals into access rights. Perhaps most promising was the groundbreaking step undertaken by Chile and nine other governments develop a regional convention for Latin America and Caribbean nations.

The Latin American-Caribbean region is plagued by escalating conflicts: in Bolivia conflict erupts over decisions about the use and protection of natural resources; in Peru and Ecuador, its the commencement of mining that ignites tension; in Panama, the construction of roads; and in Chile and Brazil the dams draw ire. Therefore, a regional convention could not be timelier. Political leaders are beginning to realize the importance of including all stakeholders and providing space for public deliberation.

Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janiero, Brazil (Photo via Flickr, by photog63

This regional convention follows on the heels of the Aahrus Convention, a regional convention for the European Economic Commission for Europe, and will therefore have a significant impact on the spread of access rights, and the standardization of laws and practices on the provision of information on releasing pollutants into the environment. Legally binding international agreements are critical in promoting and strengthening access rights, as well as driving the development of national legislation and practice. This Latin American-Caribbean convention also provides governments the opportunity to introduce innovative approaches to enhance compliance to international agreements, and methods to include poor and vulnerable communities into environmental decision-making.

Making “Open” meaningful on the ground

A convention process, though exciting, may take years to implement at the national level. At the local level, where many of the most significant environmental decisions are made, it could be decades, before new processes are adopted in certain countries. In my chapter for the State of the World 2012, I highlight innovations that my colleagues in The Access Initiative have worked on, taking place at the local level, where local governments have already begun to adopt practices which make profound, daily difference in peoples’ lives:

Access to Information:

  • Make information on all agency jurisdictions, budgeting, revenue, and procurement available and usable;
  • Adopt local access to Information laws, providing a mechanism for request of government-held information;
  • Pass open meeting laws for all local authorities;
  • Provide proactive information on land use, development planning, transportation, waste disposal, utilities, and regular environmental quality monitoring data.

Public Participation:

  • Accept and promote mechanisms for public accountability in service delivery, such as public social audits and report cards of agency performance;
  • Adopt reforms for early, meaningful public participation in policy and planning by a broad range of stakeholders;
  • Expand the number of decisions that incorporate public participation and oversight;
  • Increase participation of stakeholders by integrating the rights and means to obtain information into educational curricula.

Access to Justice:

  • Improve the authority and capacity of citizens that monitor and enforce environmental laws and protect civil rights;
  • Create public interest standing and mechanisms to allow citizen enforcement of environmental laws

These are just a few steps that can be implemented to progress the openness agenda.  In the coming years, many countries will pass further legislation and think globally, beyond regional conventions. Much of this work will be “trickle up” as cities and subnational governments test a range of programs and learn how to interact better with their constituents, incorporating newer, greener voices.

(Written by Joseph Foti; Edited by Antonia Sohns; Originally published on CSRwire Talkback as a part of a series on Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity).

Using Information and Communications Technology to Create Cohesive, Sustainable Cities

More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and countries such as India and China are in need of hundreds of additional cities to accommodate growing populations. People in many cities suffer from inadequate transportation, sub-standard buildings, lack of sanitation, and poor public safety, highlighting the need for sustainable and livable urban planning. Information and communication technology (ICT) can be a useful tool in helping cities improve their safety, cleanliness, and sustainability.

ICT not only contributes to sustainable urban initiatives, but also encourages more environmentally conscious consumer choices. In Singapore, for example, commuters can use mobile phones to avoid hours in traffic by accessing data mapping tools that display traffic and provide alternate travel routes. Commuters can also plan trips on public transportation and be notified of delays or changes in service.

iPhone Mape (Photo via flickr, by gothick_matt)

As cities try to become more sustainable, some municipal governments are finding out just how useful ICT can be. Cities can be run more intelligently with the help of digital infrastructure, such as motion-sensor street lamps and energy chips in transit passes that allow people to enter a subway or bus with the simple swipe of a card.

In many cases, cities are partnering directly with businesses to boost urban sustainability. The Dutch city of Rotterdam, for example, is working with General Electric (GE) in an effort to reach the city’s goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 50 percent compared with 1990 levels. GE will use data visualizations, smart meters, and other technologies to optimize energy efficiency and improve water management. The use of these ICTs will greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Rotterdam, which emits as much carbon dioxide as New York City, while being only a tenth of its size.

ICT can be an excellent tool, but it is not the silver bullet solution to greening cities. To be effective, ICT must be used not only in mapping problems encountered across cities, but also to find sustainable solutions to those problems.

In my chapter, “Information and Communications Technologies Creating Livable, Equitable, and Sustainable Cities,” in State of the World 2012: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity, I highlight three ways that communities can effectively use ICT to promote sustainability:

Open access to data. Improving data access is critical to creating sustainable cities. By sharing information, it is possible to make connections among seemingly disparate variables. The Spatial Information Design Lab at Columbia University in New York used data to establish the connection between crime and poor housing, education, and health care. By analyzing data from the criminal justice system, researchers found that a disproportionate number of felons were from specific neighborhoods in large U.S. cities. Similar research may help officials target policies around education and poverty reduction in these areas, which could help in preventing crime.

Nairobi skyline (Photo via Flickr, by fwooper)

Community mapping. Mapping all neighborhoods and regions of a city is vital to ensuring effective and sustainable urban planning. Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is home to approximately 1 million people. Yet Kibera has been excluded from city maps, discounting its thousands of residents. Recently, an independent team of researchers partnered with Kibera youth to create an interactive map of the slums. In 2009, the team succeeded in placing Kibera on official Nairobi maps, which resulted in a new project, Voice of Kibera, which helps citizens report the location of robberies or fires, and hold discussions by text message.

Community watch. ICTs can enhance community involvement and help authorities respond to local concerns. The Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science, a grassroots-mapping community based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, uses low-tech materials, including helium balloons and digital cameras, to take aerial photos of areas that may endanger public health or be of environmental concern. These tools helped identify contaminated areas in the Gulf of Mexico after a major oil spill and an illegal dumping site in Brooklyn, New York. In addition, FixMyStreet in the United Kingdom or SeeClickFix in the United States are websites where people can report concerns, such as a burned out street light. Each problem is logged on the site, making it easier for local governments to respond to issues of importance to the community.

Using ICT helps cities achieve sustainability efficiently while connecting with local communities, to ensure that diverse perspectives are included in the city’s plans.

Diana Lind is Editor-in-Chief of Next American City and contributing author to State of the World 2012.

Valuing Women’s Work in Agriculture

Globally, technological advancements have helped agriculture evolve to keep pace with an expanding human population, with more food being produced than ever before to meet world demand. But a less well-known trend has been the shift toward the “feminization” of agriculture, or the increased involvement of women in food production. Although this trend can empower women by providing a source of income and expertise, the dramatic shift in the agricultural workforce also has resulted in a shortage of labor and capital, and increases malnutrition and food insecurity in affected households.

The feminization of agriculture became apparent in the latter half of the 20th century, as violent conflict, HIV/AIDS, urban migration, and other developments led to a decline in rural male populations. As men’s role in agriculture decreased, women took on more duties in agricultural production and its management. In Latin America, many women are now employed in large-scale agricultural processes, such as staffing packing plants and providing field labor.

Farmer tending soybean field in Borno State, Nigeria (Photo via Flickr, by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture)

In some regions of Africa, rural male populations are shrinking rapidly, leaving women to oversee food production. Between 1970 and 1990, Malawi’s rural male population declined by 21.8 percent, whereas the female population fell by only 5.4 percent. In Nepal, the 2011 census revealed that approximately 9 out of every 10 people who left the country were men. Changing gender composition in rural areas is challenging women to run agricultural operations and households with little male help.

Yet women agriculturalists face additional obstacles. In many countries, the cultural norm is to deny women access to education from an early age, creating challenges to managing agricultural operations. Studies have revealed that, compared to male-run households, households run by females tend to be poorer, have smaller plots of land, and have less access to resources. Many women are now participating in food systems and markets that have traditionally been male-dominated, many of which depend on social capital and networks.

A United Nations report on the feminization of agriculture in Latin America finds that this trend reinforces traditional gender roles, with permanent jobs reserved for men and temporary jobs available to women. Despite women’s increasing role in agriculture, their work continues to have a low social value, resulting in low wages and a lack of recognition. Social norms and a lack of policy attention to female roles create significant hurdles. In India, for example, women have poor access to land ownership and control over resources, and improved technology is often reserved for irrigated lands generally controlled by men.

In many African communities, there exists a socially determined ownership system, regardless of labor performance. Larger commodity operations, such as cattle, coffee, and tea, belong to men, while vegetable gardens and small livestock belong to women, despite the fact that women often provide more labor in both cases.

Man works to till soil of a rice field in Indonesia (Photo via Flickr, by IFPRI)

Despite the increased female presence in agriculture, it is difficult to measure the full extent of both this involvement and the challenges that women face, as female participation is underrepresented in surveys and censuses. This leads to “gender blindness” among planners and policymakers, who often work under assumptions that do not reflect reality. In many developing countries, the men in power tend to focus on traditional male roles and male crops, largely ignoring the needs of women, resulting in a dearth of women in positions of power. Local organizations are often closed to females, either due to law or social customs, restricting access to knowledge, training, and resources.

It is imperative that policymakers at all levels of governance recognize the changing nature of agriculture, as well as the impacts that this shift is having on gender dynamics and equality. As women take on managerial roles in agricultural operations, or join men as migratory workers in order to find better wages and avoid landlessness (as in much of Latin America), policies must reflect this new reality.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recommends policies that “eliminate discrimination under the law, promote equal access to resources and opportunities, ensure that agricultural policies and programmes are gender-aware, and make women’s voices heard in decision-making at all levels.” Challenges exist in implementing such policies and in changing social norms to value the work of women—but such changes are necessary to ensure a secure future for all.

(Written by Alison Singer; Edited by Antonia Sohns)

Green Jobs on the Rise

Companies that recognize the potential of a green economy are employing skilled workers with knowledge of new design and construction techniques, in order to get ahead of the coming market transitions. Interest in green jobs continues to grow, but without defining, standard-setting, and benchmarking, this will remain a vague term that can be interpreted in many different ways. The US Bureau of Labor Statists (BLS) has developed tools to help us better understand the increasing role green jobs play in industries nationally.

The BLS measures green jobs using two approaches. It counts jobs associated with establishments that produce green goods and services (GGS), and jobs associated with environmentally friendly production processes and practices. By measuring the jobs created due to output of GGS and production processes, the BLS can quantify the total number of green jobs created in business practices.

Wind Farm (Photo via Flickr, by Bush Philospher – David Clarke)

According to the BLS, a green job produces goods or provides “services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources.” Additionally, green jobs are those in which workers’ duties involve making their establishment’s production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources. These technologies and practices fall into one or more of four categories: Generate electricity from renewable sources; improve energy efficiency, including cogeneration; reduce and remove pollution; conserve natural resources; and enforce environmental compliance, education and training.

The BLS report documents industries with the largest percentages of green jobs. Among the highest-ranking industries is construction, with 820,700 establishments, or about 38% of the industry having GGS, as of 2009.

Green construction aims to design and construct a building that uses environmentally responsible practices and is resource efficient. For example, green buildings reduce environmental impact by incorporating energy-saving technologies and reusing water. Companies like McGraw-Hill Construction are developing innovative, green building methods in order to meet the increasing demand. In 2005, McGraw-Hill Construction estimated green nonresidential building construction in the US to be worth approximately $3 billion. Just five years later, in 2010, McGraw-Hill increased that estimate to $43 to $54 billion – and by 2015, estimates it will be worth $120 to $145 billion.

Green Jobs now! (Photo via Flickr, by

In order to distinguish GGS from other goods, BLS employs standards or product ratings. For example, federal standards classify sustainable foods and food production as USDA Certified Organic, and goods and services that are energy efficient as Energy Star products. Furthermore, buildings can be classified as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which indicates the building has met the green industry standard. While labeling helps consumers purchase GGS, one concern is that many of these standards are voluntary. Therefore, establishments may opt out of the rating system.

Between 2000 and 2008, green construction supported more than 1 million workers, of the 7.2 million people working in general construction in 2008. The US Green Building Council suspects that this figure will increase to 3.3 million between 2009 and 2013. The 3.3 million people employed by green construction does not include those employed by suppliers of green building goods and services.

Companies will continue to innovate, producing more green jobs. The deployment of new technologies in the energy sector alone has the potential to support 20 million jobs and trillions of dollars in revenue by 2030. Government support of GGS, and increasing consumer demand for these goods will be vital to their competitiveness in the market. Developing green goods and services will bolster preparedness for climate change and buffer the rising costs of energy into the future.


(Written by Antonia Sohns)




Red Gold: Mining Governance in Chile

With 28 percent of the world’s copper reserves buried beneath their soil, the Chilean people consider copper “the wage of Chile,” el sueldo de Chile. The copper industry accounts for 15 percent of the country’s GDP and has had a profound impact on the development of social, economic and political institutions. Copper is thus at the core of Chile’s larger prospects and challenges. Copper’s abundance has enriched Chile for decades, but more recently resource governance and rising inequity have ignited protests throughout Chile as citizens call for equality.

In order for Chile to assuage social tensions and avoid an energy crisis that could halt mining production, Chile must invest in diverse renewable energy resources and enhance inclusivity.

Legacy of copper governance

Copper governance in Chile emerges from a complex historical legacy that spawned a governance framework with positive and negative dimensions. In the 1970s, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet instituted a program of neoliberaleconomic reform and began privatizing the management of extractive resources that had long been held in the public trust. Though copper remained under state control: in 1976, Pinochet consolidated copper governance by creating the Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile (CODELCO), a state-owned company managed by the military.

Chuquicamata Copper Mine (Photo via Flickr, by Pandolfo)

CODELCO’s creation and governance as a state-owned company significantly built on the era of statist developmentalism from 1930 to 1973, where the state consolidated strength through taxation and centralizing power. CODELCO would ensure the state’s competitiveness and leading role in copper mining. Until 2009, the military received 10 percent of CODELCO’s profits to purchase arms and fund new projects. Today, CODELCO remains the largest copper producer in the world.

Although CODELCO has enabled Chile to maintain copper as a national resource and helped the government avoid the resource curse, Pinochet’s neoliberal policies began to perturb the distribution of power in favor of free enterprise. Significantly, Pinochet modified the mining code, asserting private property rights by transferring the ownership of mining concessions to individuals or transnational companies. Previously, the Constitution had granted the state – and hence the Chilean people – the right to subsurface minerals.

By legitimizing the role of the private sector in economic development, Pinochet’s economic policies have had an enduring impact on Chilean society. Market liberalization has resulted in such a high degree of income and wealth concentration that in 2010 Chile was rated the most economically unequal country in the 34-nation Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 2011, Chile was given one of the lowest rankings for social inclusion and cohesion in the OECD.

Pinochet’s neoliberal policies have additionally marginalized communities by excluding them from the decision making process. Most recently, such inequity has spurred nationwide protests and litigation efforts to attempt to halt to many large development projects and spread the benefits of resource extraction more evenly.

Public resistance continues to gain traction as Chileans aim to draw attention to rising social inequity by opposing mining developments and other large-scale projects, such as the $3.5 billion HidroAisen hydropower project, which would benefit private owners at the expense of the public good.

Looming Energy Shortage

Another impediment to sustainable resource development in Chile is the country’s limited energy supply. The mining sector consumes 38 percent of Chile’s energy and will continue to demand a high share as the country further develops its copper resources. Chile hopes to develop these resources at an efficient rate and remain the world leader in copper supply, yet it faces insufficient energy supplies to meet this potential.

Protesting Hydroaysen development in Chile (Photo via Flickr, by NRDC)

To address the energy shortage, the Chilean government recently passed a new national energy strategy, La Estrategia Nacional de Energía (ENE) that will guide energy policy through 2030. The strategy aims to boost available energy supplies through increased efficiency, yet the plan falls short because it fails to decouple company profits from the amount of energy sold. Without this, companies will have little incentive to promote energy savings. However, if Chile does not rapidly increase its energy supply, it could lose 2 to 3 million tones of potential mining production annually by 2015.

Chile is exploring all possible solutions to avert this crisis. The country has remarkable renewable energy potential, particularly for geothermal, solar, wind, ocean, and biogas, yet these resources comprise a mere 3 percent of national electricity production. Harnessing these resources will be vital to a stable Chilean energy supply.

In both energy development and the governance of copper, it is critical that the Chilean government engage all stakeholders in the policymaking process. The business sector has gained a powerful position in Chilean politics, and has worked to promote neoliberal economic principles in all political institutions – often to the exclusion of both labor and environmental interests.

To ensure the development of an extractive industry that will combat economic disparities and address energy insecurity in Chile, the government must prioritize the active inclusion of all stakeholders. The government has substantial reform capabilities and through passing the ENE has revealed its ambition to avert crisis. Chile’s continued adaptability and strategic planning through policies that mitigate both an energy shortage and allay social inequity will be critical to the country’s socio-political stability and the security of its copper industry.


(Written by Antonia Sohns; first published on SGI News)