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Toward a Green Economy


By Stephen Leahy
Inter Press Service
June 1, 2007


Humanity is facing historic and truly unprecedented challenges from
climate change and the rapid decline of ecosystems that sustain life.

The 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) found that 83 percent of the
planet's natural systems are in serious decline or on the brink. Adding to
this already dire situation are the twin pressures of population growth
and increasingly consumptive lifestyles.

Global population is expected to soar from today's 6.6 billion to 9
billion by 2050. Even though we crossed the point of sustainable use of
natural resources in the mid-1980s, many of the 2.4 billion people living
in China and India are striving mightily right now to approach the
materialistic lifestyle of the average North American.

So how can we find our way around the global calamity the human race seems
to be hurtling towards?

"Humanity needs a fundamentally new approach to managing the assets upon
which we all depend," said Janet Ranganathan, director of the People and
Ecosystems programme at the World Resources Institute, an environmental
group based in Washington.

"We need new ways of making decisions at all levels that fully value
ecosystems and the services they provide us," she said.

Farming and forestry in nearly all countries is only about maximising food
or lumber production, but that has to start including maximising the
ecological goods and service those ecosystems also offer. And since they
are extremely important services, the stewards of these lands to ought to
compensated so these services will be preserved and enhanced.

"Healthy ecosystems are our best insurance to buffer us from the impacts
of climate change," Ranganathan told IPS.

Funds to pay for such services should come from taxes on polluters,
including a carbon tax, cap and trade or other financial mechanisms, she said.

In Ecuador, a Water Conservation Fund (FONAG) collects user fees from
those who benefit from the water in the Condor Bioreserves -- a
5.4-million-acre network of public protected areas, farms, ranches and
indigenous territories. It uses these funds to support watershed
management projects, according to a new report called "Restoring Nature's
Capital: An Action Agenda to Sustain Ecosystem Services", co-authored by Ranganathan.

In Brazil, states allocate some revenues from taxes on goods, services,
energy and communications to municipalities to help them support protected
areas for forests and other resources. With massive deforestation
threatening the viability of the Panama Canal, insurance and shipping
companies are helping finance a major reforestation effort.

"At the very least we should stop subsidising economic activities that
degrade ecosystems," Ranganathan said.

Since humanity is facing unprecedented challenges in a markedly changed
world from 50 years ago, there is a vital need to create new institutions.
One idea is the creation of Ecosystem Service Districts to protect and
maintain natural capital at the local level in ways that support human need.

Local protection won't be enough, so on a larger scale the report
recommends Biome Stewardship Councils. Biomes are large ecosystems with
similar climate, soils, plants, and animals -- like woods, deserts,
mountains, grasslands and tundra. The MA identifies 15 biomes and a
stewardship council for each would maximise ecosystem protection and human
welfare within a biome.

Since ecosystems are vital to poverty reduction and achieving other U.N.
Millennium Development Goals by 2015, there is also a need to create a
Commission on Macroeconomics and Ecosystem Services for Poverty Reduction.
This commission would broadly communicate the fact that healthy ecosystem
services are fundamental to reducing poverty and achieving economic
development and provide guidance on development projects so that they
would protect and enhance ecosystem services.

At the highest level, something more inclusive than the current G8 is also
needed. The G8 is a group of leaders from industrialised democracies that
meets to discuss economic and trade issues primarily, although the
environment is getting more attention.

However, a new forum has been recommended by the U.N. High-Level Panel on
Threats, Challenges, and Change. This "Leader's Forum" would include heads
of state from countries at different levels of economic development and
also different cultures and deal with cross-cutting environmental and
social as well as economic issues.

What these proposed institutions have in common is that they integrate
knowledge about ecosystem services into daily decision making rather than
the current silos of information trapped in separate government
departments such as agriculture, environment, economic development and so
on, says Ranganathan.

And they also emphasise local rights to resources and local rights to
decision making that must be part of the new way forward.
"Big change is coming, the era of cheap oil is ending and people are
unhappy in their lives and with the state of the environment," said Fran
Korten, executive director of the Positive Futures Network, a U.S. group
with a focus on "active engagement in creating a just, sustainable, and
compassionate world".

"Most people aren't sure what they can do or how things could be
different," Korten told IPS.

The lack of general public awareness of these issues is one reason why the
Network started publishing its magazine "YES! A Journal of Positive
Futures" to profile the many and highly varied creations of viable,
sustainable and healthy communities.

Green entrepreneur and social activist Paul Hawken estimates in his new
book "Blessed Unrest" there are likely one to two million grassroots
organisations around the world working toward ecological sustainability
and social justice. Hawken calls this "the largest coming together of
citizens in history".

Still, "it's unknown if [most] people will rise to this enormous
challenge," said Steve Chase, director of the Environmental Advocacy
Programme at Antioch University in New Hampshire.

"We do know that people have done so in the past," Chase told IPS.
Ghandi's independence movement in India, the Solidarity Movement in Poland
and the U.S. Civil Rights movement are examples, and have many parallels
with the renewed environmental movement, he said -- including the very
powerful and wealthy interests opposed to any changes perceived as
threatening to the status quo.

Despite the enormous pressure and propaganda to keep people passive and
make them believe they can't make a difference, the only way forward is
for the public to become educated, mobilised and organised, he argued.
"People will have to roll up their sleeves and work hard to be active
citizens," Chase said.

Voting and choosing environmentally-friendly products is good but not
nearly enough, he noted. Only collective action will produce the
substantial changes that are needed. "You can't choose to use public
transit if there isn't one available," Chase said.

 

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