Wetlands provide a wide range of essential, life-supporting services and products to communities and businesses in countries the world over. Despite national governments having signed numerous multilateral environmental agreements, wetlands loss continues unabated and threats intensify amid population growth, coastal property development and land use change.
A host of international organizations are looking to change the economic calculus driving ongoing wetlands loss. Marking the Ramsar Convention’s World Wetlands Day 2013 on February 1, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Wetlands International, and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research with the support of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) and the Geneva Environment Network released an environmental policy paper that “urges a major shift in our attitudes to wetlands, to recognize their value in delivering water, raw materials and food, essential for life, and crucial for maintaining people’s livelihoods and the sustainability of the world’s economies.”
Ohio State University (OSU) expects to shave nearly $1 million off its energy bill in 2013, thanks to a 20-year power purchase agreement that entails buying a whopping 50 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable electricity from more than 100 wind turbines in northwestern Ohio. The wind-generated electrical power is being produced at the Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert and Paulding counties and delivered to OSU via American Electric Power (AEP) transmission lines, according to a report from the Columbus Dispatch.
OSU has set a goal of becoming carbon-neutral. More than 400 researchers are studying energy issues at the state university, and energy was recently singled out as one of three priority focus areas for university instruction and community research for the next ten years, according to Columbus Dispatch’s report.
Working both inside and outside the institution of higher education, “Together, we will make Ohio State a national leader in sustainability, while investing in renewable energy produced right here in Ohio,” OSU president E. Gordon Gee was quoted as saying when the wind power purchasing agreement was signed.
Taking a cue from retail warehouse buyers’ clubs, residential solar photovoltaic (PV) system buyers across the country are realizing substantial cost savings by joining group efforts to purchase and have rooftop solar PV systems installed.
By buying in bulk, the more than 60 participants who signed up for the Salt Lake City (Wasatch) Rooftop Solar Challenge team’s program — one of 22 regional teams participating in the Dept. of Energy’s (DOE) Rooftop Solar Challenge –- have saved 40 percent on the total installed price of their PV systems, the DOE announced in the January 16 edition of its SunShot newsletter.
Plugging electric and hybrid electric vehicles into the grid represents the ultimate vision of a distributed, decentralized and flexible electricity grid based on clean, renewable electric power generation. That goal that may be closer to becoming reality than many think.
The Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) Jan. 16 announced that it’s establishing public-private R&D partnerships with universities and industry in support of the DOE launching its Advanced Management and Protection of Energy Storage Devices (AMPED) program at a conference in San Francisco.
World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim and United Nations Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson announced the two international organizations will work together much more closely to address and help solve some of humanity’s most pressing problems, sustainability, health care and education prominent among them.
Pointing out that the two organizations have traditionally collaborated, “the founders of both organizations had more serious intentions and wanted us to be working as a team, not only on headquarters level, but out there in the field where the people of the world need our help,” Eliasson states in a World Bank video.
“With the leadership of Yong Kim and Ban Ki-moon, I know from personal experience of meetings that we are on to something which I would hope lead to a qualitative and quantitative new step in our cooperation.”
Access to electricity is a keystone of modern society and socioeconomic development, but there are different ways of getting there, and they have vastly different impacts and ripple effects at the nexus of society, economy and environment. As opposed to the centralized and mass-produced, Industrial Era electricity grids that have come to characterize our energy infrastructure, policies that foster development of distributed, clean and renewable energy systems afford developing and developed countries substantial advantages and benefits that address these challenges.
Significant strides in providing access to clean, renewable electricity are being made across Central America, but financing large-scale, grid-connected renewable energy projects continues to pose significant challenges to Central America’s governments and private sector. Moreover, taking this energy development path doesn’t address the problem of providing last-mile connectivity, a particularly salient point given the size of these countries rural populations.
In a June 2012 Worldwatch Institute blog post, Allie Goldstein highlights the cross-cutting benefits fostering small-scale, distributed renewable energy systems can have across the region and beyond.
Climate change, population growth, ongoing urbanization and land use conversion to agriculture is prompting government, public, non-profit and business organizations worldwide to pay greater attention and focus greater resources on finding ways to enhance the security, resiliency and overall management of water resources.
Striving to provide an organizational “toolkit” to realize these aims, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a report on November 16, Water Governance in Latin America and Caribbean: A Multi-Level Approach.
“The report underscores the importance of water governance in achieving the sanitation and water targets in the Millennium Development Goals,” the OECD explains, using “survey data and institutional mapping to examine the design, regulation and implementation of water policy” across 13 Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region countries.
Business and biodiversity haven’t mixed well, historically. The confluence of several significant trends—population growth, natural resource and materials scarcity, ongoing ecosystems services degradation, loss of biodiversity and climate change, among them—has business leaders increasingly focused on sustainability not just in economic, but in ecological and social terms as well.
The key to such efforts is internalizing economic externalities in market prices, business costs, planning and accounting. The concept of natural capital, in turn, is seen as a key for businesses to incorporate and place a fair value on the public and access goods, such as clean air, water and other ecosystems services. It is also a way for both businesses and nations to economically value and account for the depletion of natural resource stocks and the impacts of pollution, as well as degradation of ecosystems and the services they provide.
Illustrating these points was an international event in Singapore on Nov. 7, in which business, government and non-government organization leaders gathered to officially launch TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) for Business Coalition Headquarters, the aims of which are “to achieve a shift in corporate behavior to preserve and enhance, rather than deplete, the earth’s natural capital,” according to a press release.
A diverse coalition of UN agencies, international organizations and NGOs launched an international Biodiversity and Community Health initiative at the 11th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 11) that took place in Hyderabad, India this past October 8-19. Led by the UN University Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS), participating organizations “collectively called for the need to put biodiversity and health on the CBD agenda.”
“The new partnership envisages a global network of centers of excellence addressing these issues of health, traditional knowledge, biodiversity and community well-being,” according to a press release. In realizing this aim, the partners aim to conduct research that examines the “flows of biophysical resources to the food and health sectors; enable participatory assessment of biological resource use and health practices; and engage with relevant policy bodies and instruments.”
The World Bank Group continues to play a leading role in international development, assisting less developed and developing nations build the organizational structures and institutional frameworks, as well as the physical infrastructure, that serve as a foundation for social and economic development. As is true for intergovernmental organizations more generally, sustainable development continues to emerge as the centerpiece of the World Bank Group’s strategic policy and investment framework.
Climate change mitigation, and to a lesser degree, adaptation, have in turn emerged as the predominant aspects driving intergovernmental organizations’ sustainable development strategies. In a new report, the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) assesses “how, and how well, the World Bank Group has incorporated climate change risks into the design and appraisal of long-lived infrastructures,” whether they be physical or institutional in nature.
The number and extent of so-called marine “dead zones”–areas of coastal ocean waters where nearly all forms of marine life have been snuffed out due to lack of oxygen—has been on the rise for decades now, posing increasing threats to commercial and subsistence fisheries, recreational fishing and human health. Terrestrial runoff containing relatively high levels of phosphorous, primarily from agricultural fertilizers, has been identified as one of the main culprits.
Wastewater discharge from cities and urban centers is also to blame. In addition to phosphorous, there are growing concerns about a wide range of chemicals and substances being poured into coastal waters from urban sources—trace organics and hormones in pharmaceuticals and in personal care products (PPCPs) prominent among them.
Conducting an eight-week study as part of a multi-year partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Veolia Water North America found that adding its Actiflo Carb technology to the traditional wastewater treatment process removed 75 percent of selected PPCPs and reduced phosphorous concentration to 0.05 milligrams per liter (mg/L) or less, a level well below the Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) 1.0 mg/L threshold, according to a company press release.
Back in August, the largest blackout in history affected between 600-700 million Indians, roughly 10 percent of the world’s population. Researchers estimate that another 300 million Indians lack access to electricity. Despite an economy that’s been one of the fastest developing and growing in the world, it’s clear that energy access and energy security still pose critical economic, social and environmental challenges for the Indian government, society and commerce and industry.
The collective choices and decisions Indians make regarding energy supply and demand will either set the nation on a path of ongoing and increasing fossil fuel reliance and dependency or a more economically, socially and environmentally sustainable path of development centered on more local, distributed power generation from cleaner, renewable energy sources.
With developing nations predicted to account for the large majority of human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as well as economic growth out to 2050 and beyond, the ramifications of their choices will extend well beyond India’s borders. One thing appears clear and certain, emulating the fossil fuel, water and natural resource-intensive and consumption-driven development path of the U.S. would not only be unsustainable, it would be doomed to failure in the first place, potentially wreaking havoc across India and beyond.
Financial innovation—particularly at the retail level—is critical to fostering ongoing growth and development of solar and renewable energy projects. To see the triple bottom line potential to be realized, one need only look at the popularity and rapid growth of residential and community solar energy providers using third-party ownership business models by making home solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems affordable for a much wider range of Americans.
Adapting a well-known and tremendously successful investment vehicle—the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)—to finance solar power projects, San Francisco’s Renewable Energy Trust (RET) sees an opportunity to significantly broaden solar energy investment opportunities for individual, as well as professional, investors while at the same time substantially reducing the cost of capital for project developers.
Significantly for solar power project developers, San Francisco-based RET says applying the REIT structure to the solar power industry can lower the cost of capital for solar power development by as much as 20 percent.
With the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission sparking rapid growth, India presents a key, strategic and sustainable business opportunity for Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar, which has forged a world-leading, lowest- cost-producer position in the thin-film solar photovoltaic (PV) power market segment.
Supporting its strategic expansion plans in the country, First Solar and the Sir Ratan Tata Trust announced plans to collaborate on a solar power pilot project to provide a reliable supply of safe drinking and irrigation water to rural communities in India’s middle Himalayas region.
Solar PV to offer Himalayan Villagers a sustainable water supply
“Reduce, Recycle, Reuse”–the three R’s–is a central plank and green mantra being used by national governments and international organizations around the world to spur sustainable development and the transition to low-carbon green economies. Aiming to boost the uptake of sustainable raw materials across Europe, Spanish “waste-to-resource” company HERA Holding and Tucker, Georgia’s “green” materials supplier Lehigh Technologies, announced a partnership on September 26 that will provide micronized rubber powder (MRP) produced from end-of-life tires and post-industrial rubber for Europe’s tire, consumer and industrial plastics and coatings industries.
Europe’s economy, society and environment, as well as HERA and Lehigh Technologies, stand to gain as a result. Lehigh’s PolyDyne MRP offers manufacturers a lower cost, sustainable source of rubber “without sacrificing the reliability and performance of traditional raw materials,” Lehigh Technologies notes. With its MRP being used by five of the world’s ten largest tire companies in the world, more than 140 million tires have been manufactured using Lehigh Technologies’ MRP.