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THE ENVIRONMENT IN THE NEWS
Thursday, 19 April, 2012
UNEP and the Executive Director in the News
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Environmental News from the UNEP Regions
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UNEP and the Executive Director in the News
Valor Econômico (Brazil): Will environment always come on fourth position?
10 April 2012
The English player David Beckham won, in 2011, US$ 40 million - half of what the governments of the world reserve to take care of the global environment. Only US$ 80 million is the annual budget of UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme, that is 40 years old and became one of the main points of debate at the Rio+20, the United Nations Conference to be held in June, in Rio. “What is important to know is whether countries want to strengthen their Ministries of Environment and developing a real green policy,” says Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director. “Or if the environment will always come in second, third, fourth position.”
More than 130 countries - all European and all Africans - want that the Conference in Rio to decide to transform UNEP into a specialized UN agency, as WHO is for Health. It is to give equal status to the environmental area. The USA does not want it. Brazil prefers the option of establishing a council on sustainable development and "strengthens" UNEP. This means making universal the participation in the planet of the environmental arm (its council has only 58 Member States) and mandatory the budgetary contribution, which is now voluntary, oscillating and vulnerable to economic crises. But leave it as a programme, based in Nairobi, Kenya, and with decisions subject to the scrutiny of the UN General Assembly.
UNEP is unknown to the general public, but it is reference to specialists in environment and development.
Here Steiner explains why the per capita consumption must be drastically reduced, says that one should not fear the green economy and justifies how important is giving economic value to nature:
Valor: Is it time for UNEP to give its cry for freedom?
Steiner: UNEP was created with a mandate that looked forward and that would help us to understand what happens to the planet. We began studying how to reduce the impacts of 200 years of industrialization, the emergence of chemicals and pollutants. Another point was to see how the environmental dimension of sustainability relates to the development.
Valor: What is more important in UNEP’s work?
Steiner: Someone already described UNEP as the environmental conscience of the world, which is kind of prosaic. We try to bring scientific understanding of what happens on the planet and the consequences of a blind developing that does not recognize that the environment is the foundation of life.
Valor: What is actually the big environmental challenge?
Steiner: We are reaching 9 billion people and close to the risk zone where natural systems are threatened. The challenge for UNEP is trying to bring the best science possible close to who decides. We seek the science of the atmosphere, oceans, the impact of chemicals and connect studies into the political arena where people can act. We also show that the future of development is threatened because we do not understand how ecosystems are central to the functioning of life.
Valor: You say that per capita consumption in a world of 9 billion people will have to be reduced from the current 9-11 tonnes to 4-6 tonnes. Could you explain this?
Steiner: We created a panel of experts to study how to keep developing our economy, but dissociating the consumption growth from natural resources. The panel found a critical scenario: if we continue growing the way we've always done, we will triple the current consumption of natural resources in the next 40 years. In 2050, we will need three times more. It is an impracticable scenario. The central question is how, with populations and increasing demands for electricity, food and mobility, not to let us get into a scenario of environmental collapse. We study the technological options available and the policies that governments could enforce, such as energy efficiency and life cycles of materials. We have to put that into the economy. Economic development cannot simply continue using natural resources as if they were eternal.
Valor: The question is how to divide this bill, isn't it?
Steiner: If we do not invest in efficiency, the shortage will become increasingly common. And shortage destabilizes markets because it opens the way for speculation. It also makes resources less available to not very industrialized countries or emerging economies. We must face shortage investing now in recycling. We already recycle 70% of what we produce in steel and iron. We do not recycle cell phones, microwave ovens, and any electronics available today, an extraordinary missed opportunity. Recycling cell phones recovers gold, silver and other metals very precious that end up in landfills. And it takes a third of energy to return these metals into the production cycle compared to the spending in extraction.
Valor: You said that using 2% of GDP for "greening" ten key sectors of the economy changes the development track to a low carbon path. How?
Steiner: In the report on Green Economy, UNEP suggests policies and technologies that would enable countries the transition to green economy - and green economy does not mean that environment is the only topic. It is uniting environmental sustainability to the other two pillars of sustainable development, especially economic opportunity and social equity. The calculation of 2% of GDP is based on a model that we have done for ten different sectors - agriculture, industry, energy, transportation. The change does not happen overnight, but those 2% are sufficient to catalyze this movement and some policy instruments, as ending perverse subsidies. Why does the world spend US$ 600 billion a year for using more fossil fuels and subsidies for renewable energies are less than US$ 70 billion? It is not rational.
Valor: Some countries fear the green economy. Should not they?
Steiner: I challenge who says that the developing world is afraid of the green economy, this is not correct. Wherever I speak with leaders of North and South there is interest in the approaches, because countries identify with the problems that we describe and why the transition to green economy make sense. There are some concerns, particularly due to the Rio +20, when the debate comes out from the national level to the international level. Some countries worry that they will lose sovereignty or whether this concept can be used for green protectionism. These are legitimate questions, but I saw very few countries fearful, perhaps with the exception of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela.
Valor: There are criticisms about the mercantilization of nature.
Steiner: It’s the criticism of the social movements, but we have to analyze a key point. In socialist or capitalist economies, finance ministers and economics are crucial in defining how our countries are investing their resources. If we try to give economic value to the benefits of a healthy watershed brings to a nation, we are not arguing in favor of commercial enterprises. We are saying that our economies suffer from the fact that public and private capital gives zero value to nature. This explains why we destroy forests and soils, because we allow the degradation of nature to continue in the name of economic development. Our economies are paying a heavy price for this destruction. Bring this economic perspective is a way to open the debate of what is meant to protect a forest in relation to jobs and growth.
Valor: About the Rio+20, the topic of governance…
Steiner: I am worried with the idea that the debate in Rio is not about environment, but about sustainable development. I see a fundamental weakness in this argument. When we say that the environment is less important and sustainable development is more important, the question for me is: is the environment not part of sustainable development? The fact that these sustainable development conferences have a very strong component of the element environment is not something we should drop or minimize, to the contrary.
Valor: Instead, how?
Steiner: We would have to strengthen the understanding of how the environment is central to the future of economic and social development. My hope is that Brazil, as host nation, does not let the Rio conference be one that has kept the environment away from the economic dimension of sustainable development. It would be a setback.
Valor: The world needs an environmental agency; the creation of a council for sustainable development is a good idea?
Steiner: Environmental sustainability is fundamental to the future of our societies. If we continue on an international level as an institution so weak such as UNEP is today ... In the context of multilateralism, strengthening UNEP is a precondition for environment ministers to give a platform so they can together develop agreements that will allow the world meet these challenges. At the same time, the logic is to strengthen sustainable development. Everyone recognizes that the sustainable development committee of the UN was well-intentioned, but it does not function. We need to better coordinate the three dimensions of sustainable development. This point is also a priority.
Valor: You do not speak of a new environmental agency. You talk about strengthening UNEP.
Steiner: As Executive Director of UNEP, I have no authority to ask for one thing or another. But more than 130 countries are calling for the creation of a specialized agency, with universal participation, better flow of resources and more authority to decide on environmental issues. The model is more like the World Health Organization than the World Trade Organization. This is not about policing governments, but to provide better service to the international community.
Valor: The economic crisis may have some positive effect on the changes that are needed?
Steiner: In the short term I believe it has a negative effect, without a crisis we would have more progress. On the other hand, the financial crisis is the tip of the iceberg of the many other crises of the future that we must face, such as food safety, management of water resources, energy security, climate change. They are threats to the stability of the economy of the future. The Rio +20 should be seen as an economy major international gathering, but quite different from the meetings of the G-20 or the IMF.
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Telegram (Newfoundland and Labrador): Local environmentalist a finalist for Big Blog Off
18 April 2012
Scott Bartlett, a burgeoning novelist from Paradise, has made the Top 10 in a blogging contest hosted jointly by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and treehugger.com.
His blog submission is in third place.
The winner of the contest, which closes April 30 at midnight, will become the official live blogger for the events taking place on World Environment Day June 5 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The 25-year-old has produced three novels — including one he self-published — that couldn’t be more different from each other. The first was a science-fiction novel, the second he describes as a “medieval comedy novel,” and his most recent novel, “Taking Stock,” is “more true to life,” he says, and is about a guy who works in a grocery store.
The only thing that ties his books together is that they are all fiction, but it was non-fiction that put him on the path to environmental activism.
“There was actually one book in particular that first kind of alerted me to the gravity of the challenges that we face in this century, and that was called ‘A Short History of Progress’ by Ronald Wright,” says Bartlett.
He recalls first becoming vocal about environmentalism in December 2010, when he started an environmental blog with an unconventional name — Batshite.
“The idea behind (the name) is in order to overcome the challenges we face in the 21st century, it’s important for us at times to defy both convention and instinct. In other words, we might need to be a little batshite,” he says with a laugh.
For more than two years he has written countless blog posts about environmental issues and ideas, but none as big as his submission to treehugger.com and UNEP’s Rio+20 Big Blog Off, titled “Build a future you can be proud of.”
In his submission, Bartlett talks about the creation of the Molai Woods — a 1,360-acre forest in India that was first planted by a local 30 years ago after he noticed snakes that had been washed up from floods baking in the sun. Without trees in the area, the snakes didn’t have the proper shade to survive.
Bartlett says Jadav (Molai) Payeng wasn’t an environmentalist, but rather a 16-year-old boy who was deeply moved by nature.
“Similarly, when we consider who we would like to include in June’s worldwide effort (in Rio) to build a green future, we should not look only to those who satisfy our personal definitions of environmentalism,” writes Bartlett.
“Since the fate of every last human being is bound up with the fate of the planet, we must seek to include everyone.”
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