IANA – IVLP ALUMNI NETWORK OF THE AMERICAS
COMMITTEE 4 – ENVIRONMENT
Monica Gabay (Coordinator)
Laura Lang Patiño
OUR INPUTS FOR RIO + 20
This document aims at making a contribution to the Compilation Document for Rio + 20 on the following key issues:
– Managing natural resources at their carrying capacity
– Non-renewable energy and land management
– Waste reduction
1. Managing natural resources at their carrying capacity
We propose to create an International Carrying Capacity Index (ICCI) by country as an indicator of true sustainable development of nations and the life quality of its people.
Currently GDP is the most important economic indicator to measure the success of a country, as a measure of material well-being of society. Gross refers to the variation not accounted for inventory and depreciation or appreciation of capital; Domestic means that the production is within the boundaries of an economy; and Product refers to added value terms.
As is known, a country can increase its GDP by an intensive use of natural resources, which may decrease well-being of the population due to causes not measured by domestic product (pollution, disease, etc.) And at a long term, can result in a decrease of the GDP due to the unavailability of non-renewable resources. Moreover, GDP ignores the income distribution.
Considering the environmental deterioration that we actually live and the collapse risk of the human species by the development system and success that we considered so far is that the initiative was born in the America’s IVP community, to propose Rio + 20, the importance of the creation of the International Carrying Capacity Index, as an indicator of an essential balance that each nation needs to maintain quality of life for its people and their long-term business.
Using the example of Costa Rica, in the global happiness index, was appointed in 2010 as the happiest country in the world, according to the fourth State of Central America report, each Costa Rican person have a green “need” of approximately three global hectares, while Costa Rica’s biocapacity – defined as the potential for a place to meet the demand for natural resources – it is just two hectares. That is, Costa Rica needs an hectare more for each citizen in order to satisfy their water, energy, housing and transportation needs, among others (La Nación, October 12, 2011).
According to this reality, in Costa Rica, a country that has been a model in environmental issues, there is currently a mismatch between economic growth and the environment, which undoubtedly will deteriorate the country if nothing is done about it. Different scientists also mention that are overusing the planet in 30% of its natural ability to regenerate. In other words, we are not living with the “interest” as if we are “eating the capital.”
On the other hand, as this wise proverb, directed to family life, says: “Have the children that you can make happy,” each country should say: “Have the people and businesses that can sustain without impairing the resources to ensure quality of life and sustainable development in the nation.”
To this purpose, the ICCI could be a very important tool, which allows each nation to have a clear diagnosis of their integral development and allow you taking course to protect it from collapse by an unbalanced management.
The ICCI should be built by a multidisciplinary and international team, that can measure its governmental management ability to invest resources and create policies that reflect the capacity of its territory, mainly considering the area to support the consumption of resources, waste disposal, the ideal number of residents, amount and type of industries that can be maintained in balance with the environment that sustains them.
2. Non-renewable energy and land management
Between 1959 and 1999 the population of the world doubled from approximately 3 billion to 6 billion. According to current projections this is expected to expand to about 9 billion. As the population of the world continues to grow, so would the average standard of living, thus increasing the demand for food, water and energy. Over population is expected to exacerbate other environmental problems such as climate change, loss of wildlife habitat, deforestation and pollution. Currently the total world proven reserves for oil is 1,342.207 billion barrels (Oil and Gas Journal), while for natural gas its 6,254.364 trillion cubic feet (Oil and Gas Journal). Supplies of oil, gas, coal and uranium are forecasted to peak between the years 2010 and 2020 after which reserves will deplete. Recent calculations confirm that the world’s oil and natural gas supplies are running out too fast leading to critical situation in which the world’s supply of oil and gas falling below the level required to meet international demand.
At present oil accounts for between 34% and 37% of the world’s primary energy. In the Caribbean region 90% of the energy utilized is derived from oil. In addition the components of crude oil are feedstock to the chemicals, plastics and fertilizer industries.
Today and for the next 50 years the world’s dependence on oil and gas a means to obtain energy for transportation electricity and heating will continue, generating CO2 , VOCs, NOX and SOx emissions, thus affecting the health of the human beings mainly through breathing problems and cancer, also increasing the need for adaptation for natural disasters.
What we are not doing
The oil consumption on a yearly basis exceeds 25 billion barrels and this is increasing. Soon with the expected depletion of the commodity the demand for it will negatively affect all aspects of our existence. Energy intensive societies, such as those found in the Western World, are not sustainable without a stable and relatively low-cost supply of energy, as is currently provided by oil and gas. Yet even with this knowledge we seem not to be pressured enough to seek viable alternative sources of energy nor to decrease the dependency on these non-renewable resources.
In addition, the processes of extraction of the hydrocarbons over the years may change the physical and chemical characteristics of the land. In the case of surface extraction of oil (tar sands), the remaining soil tailings produced are infertile and usually in great abundance. After oil extraction and refining, the land may lay waste.
Today with the rising of new technologies to recover even more oil or by the fact that technology offers the possibilities to extract oil from a shale in tight formation which brings about more environmental threats to the area because large quantities of water are needed to extract oil.
Where do we want to be
– Reduced dependency on non-renewable energy.
– To treat with the problem of an early Peak Oil we need to work feverishly on the development of effectively harnessing the renewable energy.
– Renewable energy such as solar cannot presently be used to run large scale plants and refineries. It is therefore suggested that a hybrid approach be considered i.e. use both hydrocarbon and renewable energy. With a hybrid approach you include energy security.
– Replenish the forest and flora.
– Utilize wasted land for an alternative use as parking lots where it is available or to reforest or re-grass the area with local species.
– Incentivate local solution provided by the ancient cultures to solve the basic needs of the people on the base of the pyramid or out of the system. In this way a solution can be possible that will provide access to food, housing and electricity.
How do we get there
– Give every nation a deadline date to choose, develop and implement a suitable alternative energy source for their country. Also make the nations create and respect energy planning forecast to the future with legally binding actions.
– All oil and gas companies MUST have a land management plan while in operation as well as for after care.
– Each country should propose an appropriate crop mixes or a solution with a local grassing or planting local tree species, etc. (e.g. maize or sugar cane or legumes to plant on abandon oil fields). Where possible reforestation should be carried out.
– Use renewable energies like mini hydro, wind or solar to provide access to electricity to the people that are located in remote areas that are off grid, thus creating a sustainable solution to improve the living standards of the poor people.
3. Waste reduction
We all have responsibility in waste reduction
A list of global environmental issues would overwhelm even the most well-intentioned optimist. However, the mutual basis of all these issues (and their solutions) is human relationships with each other, and with the natural world. How relationships are conducted can be classified as occurring in communities or in markets.
The citizens of a community tend to be governed by public institutions and because communities are rooted in history, culture and geography these institutions tend to seek protection of exclusive interests but are slow to respond to influences from outside the community.
On the other hand, modern communities tend not to be self supporting in terms of desired resources and seek relationships outside the boundaries of the community, in markets. Contrary to communities, markets are directed by corporations that are nimble and able to respond quickly to consumers’ interests, indiscriminately of communal interests, and over large geographies.
Finding ways to reconcile market interests with community interests is a key to solving environmental issues.
One common result of market/community disharmony is the over-generation and mismanagement of solid waste. For example, where costs for waste management costs are borne by communities, through taxation, there is little incentive for producers and consumers to waste less and innovate more. One proposed conciliatory solution for consideration is to have costs of environmental damages considered in the accounts of those that exploit environmental resources. In the case of solid waste this would result in more product stewardship such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) where corporations and consumers bear the responsibility for the end-of-life management of products and/or packaging rather than taxpayers.
Innovative Construction & Demolition
Another proposed action is to take advantage of the increased rate of housing development occurring in cities around the world, by finding innovative ways to lessen waste materials generated at construction sites and foster innovation in the reduction, recycling and reuse of demolition debris.
Finally, another proposed action is to broadly promote composting of organic residuals, especially organic residuals coming from urban centres. Compostable organic materials comprise a significant portion of the mass sent to landfills. This: represents lost nutrients and other resources used in the production of food; is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions; and demonstrates a disconnected link in the relationship between people and the natural world. Establishing efficient and effective systems for the separation, collection, and composting of residual organic materials will create local jobs; clean up and extend the life of existing landfills; act as a sink for carbon rather than generate greenhouse gas emissions; and create a material that will improve horticulture and/or agriculture soils by retaining moisture and adding nutrients.
Governance is an issue of key strategic relevance in order to foster sustainable use of natural resources. We identify three main areas requiring urgent measures if the promises of Rio ’92 are to be realized:
– Global environmental governance
– Water governance
– Forest governance
Global environmental governance
At present, there are many similar on-going processes and overlapping international organizations dealing with different aspects of natural resources management, poverty reduction, sustainable livelihoods, food security, health, energy and sustainable development in general. This is true both within and outside the United Nations System.
The consequences of this situation are increased complexity in the organizational structure, rising operating costs, an expanding international bureaucracy and poor coordination among the different mechanisms, commissions, agencies, bodies, secretariats and other structures related to sustainable development.
An ever increasing number of multilateral meetings poses a heavy burden on developing countries in order to have a say in the international decision making process. This leads to either a poor representation of their interest at the meetings or a heavy burden on their budgets. In practical terms, the result is a weak participation in high-level decisions which are likely to have an impact on these countries.
We suggest that Rio + 20 takes this problems into account in order to promote a revision of the current governance arrangements. An enhanced global governance mechanism would free funds that could then be channeled into more field work and concrete actions to achieve the MDGs and other worthy goals.
The increasing pressure on water resources plus the implementation of the MDGs and the ‘new’ human right to water makes this issue most urgent. River basins often involve more than one jurisdiction and, often, more than one country. Although some improvements have been made, there is still a lack of coherent governance arrangements in many river basins. In particular, stakeholder involvement in decision making processes is still weak in most of the world. Besides, there is still a sub-optimal use of freshwater in many countries due to lack of adequate technology or poor water management practices.
It is therefore necessary to advance institutional arrangements that provide for an optimized water resources development. Participation —particularly that of marginalized groups— is an issue in which little progress has been made in spite of some small-scale success stories. Incentives for rational use of freshwater must also be implemented, with a special focus in financial and economical mechanisms.
Forest degradation and deforestation are still much alive in developing countries. In spite of the efforts, there is little —or no— progress in the implementation of effective forest governance models. Illegal logging is still a primary cause for deforestation and national governments are lacking effectiveness in controlling it. There are massive incentives for land-use changes, especially with commodities prices rising.
There is a need to review the incentives for sustainable forest management plus sustainable livelihoods for rural communities living in forest landscapes. It is also necessary to improve law enforcement, including appropriate measures in order to fight illegal timber trade. Participatory governance models at landscape level should be implemented when possible.
See this proposal on the United Nations official website for RIO+20: