Danish Prime Minister offers advice on how governments can drive the green revolution

Speaking to the World Economic Forum 2014 Annual Meeting of the New Champions, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt has laid out a prescription for how governments can drive the green agenda. Among her key points:

  • As prime minister of a country that for decades has worked towards a green society, I am fully aware that the green transition is not an easy task. In order to succeed, governments, the business community and citizens need to join hands. To educate and innovate together.
  • The global financial crisis, the mounting pressure on the world’s resources and the immense climate and environmental challenges have placed sustainability on top of the international agenda.
  • Sustainability is an investment in future economic growth, new market opportunities and job creation. And it is an important social parameter to secure a more harmonious society in which economic growth is not causing polluted air, water and soil.
  • Governments can act as a driver for the green transition setting up conducive legal and political frameworks and introducing economic incentives and standards that promote innovation, develop new markets and build global champion industries.
  • Governments can lead in decoupling economic growth and energy consumption, reconciling economic growth with ambitious green policies, and encouraging education and innovation among producers and consumers.

Key elements of a government drive towards a greener economy which she identifies include:

  • adopting a long-term political vision.
  • creating broad alliances and political support which have led to long-term predictability for a green transition.
  • reconciling economic growth and sustainable development in an inclusive manner. Denmark has established so-called growth teams to strengthen the competitiveness of Danish enterprises. Representatives of business, research, public sector and other stakeholders join hands to discuss and recommend concrete initiatives to improve the conditions for green growth.
  • engaging the business community is a top priority for the Danish government. By applying comprehensive policy frameworks, the Danish government has nudged Danish companies out of their comfort zones – into a greener and more innovative direction. Several Danish companies are today among the frontrunners in the development, testing and promotion of green technologies and sustainable solutions.
  • setting up framework conditions. The private sector can come up with concrete solutions, innovation and deliver results. That is why the Danish government initiative, the Global Green Growth Forum, where China is one of our partner countries, engages leaders from governments, businesses and civil society in green growth partnerships.
  • engaging consumers. Promoting a green society requires sustainable consumption. Also here a joint effort from government and businesses is important. Through information and education, governments can foster a green-growth mindset. Through innovative business models, companies can promote consumer demand for sustainability. And through new valuation methodology, investors can encourage a more sustainable economy. We have seen broad public support and engagement throughout generations and across political beliefs. And we continue to see new citizen-led initiatives to reduce and reuse waste.

The full speech is available at http://forumblog.org/2014/09/the-green-revolution/

Food wastage is associated with GHG emissions equivalent to 33 million vehicles in the US

A new analysis from researchers in the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan calculates that food waste in the US is associated with greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than 13% of the US automobile fleet. The good news is that the researchers also find that “real and important opportunities exist to improve the resource use efficiency and environmental impact of the U.S. food system that do not require increased yields or shifts in production practices, but are instead dependent on consumer behaviors”.

The researchers findings include that:

  • Food losses at the retail and consumer levels contribute 1.4 kilograms carbon dioxide equivalents per person per day.
  • Food losses add 28% to the overall carbon footprint of the average U.S. diet.
  • An iso-caloric shift ( a shift in dietary intake that does not change the total number of calories consumed) from the current average U.S. diet to USDA dietary recommendations could result in a 12% increase in diet-related GHG emissions, whereas a shift that includes a decrease in caloric intake, based on the needs of the population (assuming moderate activity), results in a small (1%) decrease in diet-related GHG emissions.
  • Globally, direct emissions from agriculture represent 10% to 12% of overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; when including the impact of fertilizer and chemical production, fuel use, and agriculturally induced land-use change (which carries large uncertainty), the figure rises to 17% to 32%.
  • Though transportation, housing, and food (in that order) are the largest contributors to the carbon footprint of the typical U.S. household, dietary changes are among the most economically effective abatement options.
  • Food overconsumption and obesity contribute not only to human health dangers, but also translate directly and indirectly
    into increased agricultural demand, excess resource utilization, and concomitant environmental impacts.
  • Dietary choices ultimately drive the makeup of food purchases and consumption patterns, which will also affect the GHG emissions associated with food losses.

While GHG emissions are only one of numerous environmental impacts to be considered, this research speaks to the need to incorporate the environmental costs of food production into dietary recommendations. Increasing the efficiency of our food system by reducing food waste and improving diets is an important strategy for climate change mitigation and requires collaborative efforts by businesses, governments, and consumers.

The 10 page paper is available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jiec.12174/full

Global and Canadian forests are disappearing at a very rapid rate

A recent study from Greenpeace, the University of Maryland, and Transparent World, in collaboration with World Resources Institute and WWF-Russia, paints a distressing picture of the state of the world’s forests. According to the study, which is based on analysis of satellite imagery, more than 8 percent of the world’s Intact Forest Landscapes, often known as Old Growth Forests, have been degraded since the year 2000. This is an area measuring 104 million hectares, or three times the size of Germany. In other words, human activities disturbed 20,000 hectares of pristine forest every day for the past 13 years.

Among other interesting findings published by WRI:

  • Fragmentation is the biggest form of Intact Forest Landscapes degradation, accounting for almost three-quarters of the global total. Fragmentation is the splitting up of IFLs—think slicing a pie in half versus taking a whole piece of it. It’s caused by the expansion of logging, mining and development activities, as well as the infrastructure that comes along with these, such as roads. Fragmentation opens remote forest areas to further development, including increased logging and permanent conversion to other land uses.
  • The fragmentation of IFLs is problematic because smaller, more isolated forest patches will lose species faster than those that are larger or less isolated. Small forest “islands” typically cannot support the same biodiversity or ecosystem services that a single contiguous forest would, even if their combined area is much larger than the single contiguous forest. Many species, particularly large mammals, depend on large tracts of unbroken forest to maintain viable populations. The only way to maintain IFLs’ full range of ecosystem services is to maintain their “intactness.” They cannot easily be restored once fragmentation and degradation have occurred.
  • Three countries – Canada, Russia and Brazil – contain 65 percent of the world’s remaining IFLs.
  • The largest areas of IFL degradation are found in the Northern boreal forest belt of Canada, Russia and Alaska (47 percent) and tropical forest regions such as the Amazon (25 percent) and Congo (9 percent) basins.
  • The country with the highest total area of degradation since 2000 is Canada.

According to Greenpeace, the destruction of forests is responsible for up to a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – more than every plane, car, truck, ship and train on the planet combined.

This study is likely to add to pressure to reduce use of, and protect, forest resources. WRI recommends:

  • Government leaders should steer development away from IFLs. In addition, officials can slow IFL destruction by prioritizing legal protection of these areas.
  • Companies with sustainability commitments should avoid IFLs when sourcing commodities like timber, palm oil, beef and soy.
  • Forest sustainability certifications such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil should give special consideration to include IFLs in their assessment criteria and ensure effective implementation of commitments to protect intact forests.

Greenpeace International is campaigning for zero deforestation, globally, by 2020. To achieve this, the organization challenges destructive industries to change their practices and it encourages consumer action to demand that food, paper and timber products aren’t linked to forest destruction. It also lobbies politicians to take the co-ordinated international and local political action that’s needed to protect the world’s forests, the rights of the people who depend on them, biodiversity and the climate.

More information, including links to the report’s methodology and maps, is available at http://www.wri.org/blog/2014/09/8-percent-worlds-remaining-pristine-forests-degraded-2000

New Alberta Premier may show greater interest in the environment

Jim Prentice, Premier-designate for the Province of Alberta, was federal Minister of the Environment from October 2008 to November 2010. He left Cabinet, and his seat in the House of Commons, in 2010 and was quoted in the press as saying that “I am closing the door on political life.” He was not a particularly auspicious environment minister and took a lot of flack for the Federal Government’s inaction on climate change but many observers considered that he was severely constrained by Prime Minister Harper.

In February of this year Prentice told a Conservative conference in Ottawa “Our position as a country will be amongst the most precarious since we are an industry democracy, with a solid record of environment achievement — but also with a developing economy that relies heavily on resource extraction.” He is quoted by CBC as saying “Focusing on environmental policy isn’t exclusively a question of morality. Increasingly, it’s an economic imperative.” “As conservatives we can’t be in the position of providing our political rivals with the opportunity to portray us as out of touch with the values of Canadians and the prevailing sentiment of the global community.”

During his term as Environment Minister, he was frequently asked questions in the House of Commons. His responses, though sometimes attacking the opposition, included:

  • The policy of the government is to strike an appropriate balance between the environment on the one hand and the economy on the other.
  • Climate change continues to be a major priority for Canadians.
  • Canadians want our country to lead the way in the fight against climate change, and renewable energy sources are key to such efforts.
  • Canada is committed to going to Copenhagen with the targets that we have announced of minus 20% by 2020 from a 2006 base.
  • We have to develop a sustainable economy.
  • The government is working forward on the proposition of a continental cap and trade system. Our plan will include hard caps for all major emitters, if that is the case.
  • Canada is a huge producer of energy, including clean gas. One of our biggest challenges is to find the cleanest way possible to produce energy. That is the case for the oil sands. Our plan will include absolute targets for all major emitters. That is also the case for the oil sands. Our government is working on developing other technologies, for example, carbon capture and storage.
  • The only abatement technology to actually reduce carbon emissions from, for example, coal-fired electricity plants is carbon capture and storage. . . . over 40% of the carbon in the atmosphere today actually came from burning coal. This is the only technology that holds the promise of reducing these emissions. Canada leads the world. We are spending more per capita on these investments than any other country. This has been acknowledged by the International Energy Agency and many other agencies.
  • Mr. Speaker, I am tabling Canada’s first federal sustainable development strategy. [6 October 2010]
Time will tell whether these commitments carry forward to his new role as Premier of Alberta. We will be watching and reporting on environment and sustainable development initiatives of interest to the environment and business community.
The above article contains Prentice quotes extracted from Hansard, the official reporting service of the House of Commons, and CBC news at http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/high-profile-conservatives-urge-government-action-on-environment-1.2555789
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