Posts Tagged ‘Economy’

Oct01

Ireland Takes Strides to Walk Its “Green” Talk

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By Robert Engelman

True to its iconic national color—green—Ireland may be the first country whose government is taking steps to measure sustainability and to integrate the concept into its economy.

Poster and “sustainability extension agent” on government-funded research farm in Count Meath, Ireland. (Photo Credit: Robert Engelman)

They’re small steps, not remotely on a scale or schedule that can stop the world’s climate from heating up to well past 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial times. But Ireland is a small country, and (as Worldwatch has discovered working with small-island states in the Caribbean) small nations can act as beacons pointing the way to sustainable behavior—particularly when large nations refuse to lead.

Ireland’s “scheme” (the term, while pejorative in American English, means program or plan here) is called Origin Green. It’s an apt name that calls to mind both the deep history of the country’s people and the lush verdure of its land. Origin Green is the brainchild of Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, an independent agency funded largely by the government to promote Irish food exports to a globalized world. The board held a one-day conference last week on sustainable food production, and used the opportunity to educate some 800 attendees on the Origin Green program. (Full disclosure: the board covered my expenses to attend.)

Having written a chapter in Worldwatch’s State of the World 2013 called “Beyond Sustainababble,” I tend to apply a skeptical ear to the use of the words sustainable and sustainability, especially by corporations. As I note in the chapter, the S-words are often used without meaning or verification to pitch brands and products to consumers who want to help the planet through their purchasing power. And indeed, some of the corporate executives presenting at the meeting on their companies’ efforts did skirt past the tough question of what sustainability really means, particularly for their own operations.

Got sustainability? (Photo Credit: Robert Engelman)

There were plenty of PowerPoint slides showing reductions in the use of energy, water, and other resources. And there were some mentions of long-term targets and even a few goals of achieving zero waste or net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the future. These are healthy signs that these companies—ranging in this meeting from Irish firms like Errigal Seafood to multinationals like PepsiCo—are at least showing some leadership and are ahead of the many others that can’t be bothered to worry about their impact on the future of humanity.

But what was more interesting than the individual corporate efforts is the role that the Food Board—and thus indirectly the Irish government—is playing in trying to introduce real metrics of sustainability into the food industry, all the way to the farm itself.

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Jan08

Reforming Energy Subsidies Could Curb India’s Water Stress

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By Alyssa Casey

Water scarcity is a global problem, as demonstrated by the recent droughts across the U.S. Midwest and the Horn of Africa. And it is projected to become increasingly widespread in the coming years: the 2030 Water Resources Group estimates that by 2030, one-third of the world’s population will live in regions where demand for water exceeds supply by more than 50 percent.

Energy subsidies in India perpetuate inefficient water use in agriculture. (Photo Credit: Kolli Nageswara Rao)

The rapidly growing and urbanizing global population will need more natural resources, especially water, to feed and sustain itself in the coming years. The effects of climate change will only exacerbate water scarcity. A rise in sea levels will increase the salinity of already-limited freshwater resources. Changing weather patterns will further polarize rainfall levels around the world: according to climate experts, many wet regions will see more rain and increasing flood risk, while many dry regions will experience less rainfall, increasing the frequency of drought.

India’s water woes

Although water scarcity is a global concern, some countries, such as India, are more affected than others. Home to 1.2 billion people, India struggles to feed 17 percent of the world’s population with just 4 percent of the world’s freshwater resources. More than 85 percent of India’s villages and over half of its cities rely on groundwater for agriculture, domestic use, and industry, but overuse has resulted in sinking water tables. Despite relative scarcity, India is the largest freshwater user in the world.

Water levels of India’s dams are falling to record lows. According to an analysis by NASA hydrologists, India’s water tables are declining at a rate of 0.3 meters per year, and between 2002 and 2008 more than 108.37 cubic kilometers of groundwater disappeared—double the capacity of India’s largest surface water reservoir. Decreasing levels of dams and rivers could lead to political conflict within the country, as well as conflict with neighboring countries, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan.

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Aug03

Soybeans in Paraguay: A Boom for the Economy, Bust for Environmental and Public Health

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By Carly Chaapel

Soybean fields extend for miles on what was often thickly forested land in Paraguay. (Photo credit: MercoPress)

They are in bread, peanut butter, cookies, coffee creamer, crayons, candles, cows, and even cars. Soybeans, hailed as a “miracle crop” by many, have been harvested, pulverized, and processed to such an extent that it is nearly impossible to go a day without using them in some way.

In 2011, the United States and Brazil were the top two soybean producers in the world. Though Paraguay only contributes 3 percent of the global soybean supply, the rising demand for this cheap oil and protein has dramatically altered the Paraguayan agricultural landscape. Oxfam International executive director Jeremy Hobbs recently highlighted in the New York Times the destructive power that soybeans may have on the country’s entire political and economic stability.

This past June, President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay was impeached because of strong opposition to his agrarian reform and deaths during an attempt to remove squatters at a large farm belonging to a political opponent. He was a strong advocate for agricultural reform that would redistribute land and pull many of his people out of poverty. Just 2 percent of the Paraguayan population owns over three-quarters of the arable land.

Since 1996, over 1.2 million hectares of Paraguayan forest have been cleared and replaced with large swaths of treeless soy fields. Paraguay is currently the fourth largest exporter of soy, and much of the harvest is shipped to Europe and China as cattle feed and biofuels. According to the World Bank, however, undernourishment affects 10 percent of the population in Paraguay. Regardless of Paraguay’s booming US$1.6 billion soy export economy, 40 percent of the population still lives in poverty.

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Apr26

UN Report Highlights Marine Sector’s Potential for Sustainable Economic Growth

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By Eleanor Fausold

What if we could take better care of the world’s marine ecosystems and boost the global economy in the process? A recent report, Green Economy in a Blue World, released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), WorldFish Center, and GRID-Arendal suggests that by promoting practices such as renewable energy generation, ecotourism, and sustainable fishing, we can improve the health of the world’s marine ecosystems while also boosting their potential to contribute to economic growth. 

Small-scale producers must also benefit from industry improvements. (Photo credit: USAID Bangladesh)

For each of six marine-related economic sectors, Green Economy in a Blue World lays out a series of recommendations based on the current state of the resource including:

1. Fisheries and Aquaculture

With 50 percent of the world’s fish stocks fully exploited and another 32 percent overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion, aquaculture is growing in popularity as a way to meet the rising global demand for fish. But aquaculture can also be harmful when it is poorly planned, and in such cases it can actually increase stress on suffering marine and coastal ecosystems. Technologies that encourage low-impact and fuel-efficient fishing methods, as well as aquaculture production systems that use environmentally-friendly feeds and reduce fossil fuel use, could reduce the sector’s carbon footprint and strengthen its role in reducing poverty and improving economic growth and food and nutrition security. The report also recommends strengthening regional and national fisheries agencies and community and trade fishing associations to encourage sustainable and equitable use of marine resources. It also suggests that there is a need for policies that ensure that the benefits of these industry improvements also impact small-scale producers and traders, particularly in developing nations.    

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Mar09

Farmworkers Fast for Fair Food in Florida

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By Alison Blackmore

On March 5th, more than 50 members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) began a 6-day fast in Lakeland, Florida, hoping to urge Publix Super Markets to implement the Fair Food Program.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has organized a fast to protest unfair wages and working conditions in Florida. (Photo credit: www.ciw-online.org)

The program focuses on implementing strategies to improve wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers. It challenges major tomato buyers to pay a premium of one penny more per pound for their tomatoes and works directly with farm laborers to establish a just code of conduct. The fast will culminate on May 10th in a three-mile procession to Publix headquarters.

These CIW members join faith leaders, students, and community leaders from across the country with hopes of bringing attention to Publix’s refusal to support measures ensuring the fundamental rights of farmworkers who labor in America’s fields. By entering into a partnership with the CIW, Publix will take a big step toward providing Florida farm workers more fair wages.

The CIW is a community-based organization of farmworkers working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Since 1993 they have organized hunger strikes, boycotts, interfaith prayer vigils, rallies, and marches calling for fairer wages and better working conditions that have led major food companies such as Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to sign Fair Food Agreements.

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Mar01

What You Need to Know About Hunger

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