Tag Archives: sustainable development

Six initiatives for sustainable agriculture announced at COP21

Climate change and agriculture are so strongly intertwined that you basically can’t talk about addressing climate change without bringing agriculture into the mix. At COP21, the climate summit in Paris, governments, NGOs and private entities joined hands to announce several initiatives focusing on some of the most pressing issues in agriculture: soils, the livestock sector, food losses, waste, sustainable production methods and resilience of farmers.

Image via Pexels.

Agriculture is responsible for 24 % of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which cause climate change, but that doesn’t even begin to describe how interconnected the two are; one of the main causes for deforestation in the world is agriculture, which brings additional carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Synthetic pesticides, the most common method of dealing with pests can leach through the soil and enter the groundwater, as well as linger in food products, and soil degradation from agriculture brings with it problems we are only now beginning to understand. The initiatives proposed at COP won’t revolutionize sustainable agriculture, but they are definitely steps in the right direction.

Here are the six:

The “4/1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate”

We rarely give soils enough credit, but they are at the base of our food and climate security. In the 4/1000 initiative, a hundred partners (developed and developing states, international organizations, private foundations, international funds, NGOs and farmers’ organization) will work together to protect and increase carbon stocks in soils.

Soils can store massive quantities of carbon, preventing it from going into the atmosphere and contributing to rising temperatures. The initiative will show that even a small increase of 4/1000 parts per year in the soil carbon stocks (most notably in agricultural soils, but also in forest soils), will not only store significant amounts of carbon, but also improve soil quality and therefore improve the life quality and resilience of farmers, contributing to the long term of sustainable agriculture on more than one front.

BigAg, a provider of current agriculture news, have also reported increased focus on advanced seed, fertilizer, and bioagriculture tech to help push sustainable farming.

Life Beef Carbon

Meat is one of the foods with the largest carbon footprints – beef especially. This European alliance will include France, Ireland, Italy and Spain, having the declared goal of reducing the beef carbon footprint by 15% over 10 years.

“Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme” (ASAP) 

This builds on an already existing initiative consisting of 44 developing countries; 12 additional countries have joined,  increasing the total amount of committed ASAP funds up to US$ 285 million. By 2034, this additional funding will avoid or sequester 80 million tons of GHG emissions (CO2e) and will strengthen the resilience of 8 million smallholders. Small farmers are among the best places to invest to fight climate change locally.

15 West-African Countries Transitioning to Agro-ecology

West African countries are among the poorest in the world, and if this initiative is successful, 25 million households will implement agro-ecological practices.

To be perfectly honest, I wish this initiative was clearer, both in terms of what these practices will actually be, and in terms of implementation.

The Blue Growth Initiative (BGI)

This will focus on reducing the greenhouse gas emissions caused by fisheries. The actions aim at a 10% reduction in 10 target countries within 5 years (building to 25% within 10 years), and if successful, there are plans to further expand it to other countries and companies.

The SAVE FOOD Initiative – (the Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction)

In the European Union, around half of all the produced food is wasted – and there are similar trends throughout most of the developed world. This initiative plans to drive innovations, promote interdisciplinary dialogue and spark debates to generate solutions across the entire value chain, “from field to fork”.

Signs that much of the world can go completely renewable

In unanimous vote, the city of Vancouver, Canada, passed its Greenest City Action Plan – to become the world’s greenest city by 2020; one of their goals is to use only renewable energy in only 5 years. In light of that and other recent developments, it’s starting to feel like much of the world might actually go renewable in the near future. Let me tell you what I’m talking about.

Vancouver has pledged to go 100% renewable in 5 years.

Vancouver joined other major cities that have made the pledge to go fully renewable, such as San Francisco, Munich, San Diego, San Jose, Sydney, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Frankfurt. Numerous other smaller cities have also made the same pledge. Sure, you could say, but as laudable as that is, it doesn’t really guarantee anything – it’s just a promise and a plan. But things are already starting to happen.

Small cities in the US like Georgetown, Texas and Leelanau Townshiearsp, Michigan already rely almost entirely on renewables – and they’re well on their way for going 100% in the next few y. Bonaire, the tiny island in the Caribbean is close to reaching its goal of 100% by 2015 through wind and energy storage. Countries like Denmark and Iceland get the majority of their energy from renewable energy, and they’re well on the way to taking it all the way.

In France, the Perpignan Méditerranée region already gets 75% of their energy from local renewables, while in Germany, more than 140 towns, cities and regional networks have achieved 100% renewable energy.

Germany is actually an amazing example: they’ve more than doubled their offshore wind capacity, and they already get about a third of their energy from non-hydro renewables. But what’s even more spectacular is that over half of Germany’s renewable energy is owned by individuals and farms, instead of companies. That’s a completely unique approach, and one from which we could learn a lot – no other country has built more eco-city projects than Germany.

Wildpoldsried, a small village in Germany produces 3 times more energy than it needs using renewable sources.

Wildpoldsried, a small village in Germany produces 3 times more energy than it needs using renewable sources.

It seems like small cities have a much easier time switching to renewables, which makes a lot of sense – they use less energy, they have less complicated infrastructure and usually don’t have a developed industry. But big cities are doing it too – it just takes more time.

San Jose, the third largest city in California already gets almost half of its electricity from renewable sources – they’ve pledged to go to 100% by 2022. Munich, Germany’s second largest city has done the same (by 2025), as has Sydney (by 2030). Brussels, Copenhagen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Georgetown, the country of Costa Rica, San Diego, San Francisco – all of them and many others have viable plans to go fully renewable in less than 20 years.

The people of Vancouver seem to have made their decision. Currently, 32% of Vancouver’s energy is met by renewables, including electricity, heating and cooling – and emissions are down 6% from 1990 levels since 2011.

“Cities around the world must show continued leadership to meet the urgent challenge of climate change, and the most impactful change we can make is a shift toward 100% of our energy being derived from renewable sources,” says Mayor Gregor Robertson.

Hey, and it’s not all about being eco-friendly, it’s also about the money. In some places of the world, renewables are already cheaper than oil, gas and coal – and this will soon start to happen more and more.

“The future of Vancouver’s economy and livability will depend on our ability to confront and adapt to climate change, and moving toward renewable energy is another way that Vancouver is working to become the greenest city in the world,” he says. “Cities that own renewables will own the future,” Councillor Andrea Reimer told Vancouver Observer.

We’re at a turning point in human history, and some places in the world are certainly moving in the right direction. Others are still lagging behind, not having the resources or the will to go all the way. How is your city or area doing? Share it with us in the comment section!

[Read more about 100% renewable projects here]

“Global Calculator” shows we can all live better while reducing CO2 emissions

The living standard of everybody in the world can be increased while also reducing CO2 emissions and limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius – that’s the conclusion of The Global Calculator, a new free, interactive tool developed by UK scientists in collaboration with organisations from India, US, China,and Europe.

Calculating the future

The Global Calculator can be used by businesses and researchers as well as the general public to explore how sustainable development can keep us on track for the “only” 2 degrees warmer planet by 2050. It’s also a really good tool to explore what possibilities this sustainable future yields.

The tool can be used by anyone and it doesn’t require special training – it’s quite intuitive to use, though it takes a while to get used to it. The goal is to basically explore scenarios through which our climate objectives could actually be reached.

“The calculator clearly highlights that we can meet our 2°C target while maintaining good lifestyles – but we need to set ambitious targets on all fronts and use innovation to address climate change,” said Mike Cherrett, director of operations at Climate-KIC, a European public-private partnership that jointly funded the tool.

The free and interactive tool uses data reviewed by 150 international experts. It acts on the assumption that global population will rise from 7 to 10 billion by 2050. It models the world’s energy and food consumption, among others. Using various models for various scenarios, it showed that even with the population increase, we can still live better lives and limit the environmental damage we are causing.

But it’s not going to be easy – forests around the world will need to grow by 5-15% percent, while crop yields will have to rise by 40-60%. The amount of CO2 emitted per unit of electricity would need to fall by 90%, with electric cars playing a key role.

The change will also have to come from us; people should shift their diets, and move the focus away from meat onto more healthier and less energy consuming foods.

A prosperous, eco-friendly future – hard but doable



Of course, this won’t come easy – we’ll all have to work in and pitch our part, but if the science behind this program checks out (and with the amount of researchers and specialists involved, it almost certainly does), then we can do it – and live more comfortably at the same time.

UK’s Energy and Climate Change Minister Ed Davey said,

“For the first time this Global Calculator shows that everyone in the world can prosper while limiting global temperature rises to 2 degree C, preventing the most serious impacts of climate change. Yet the calculator is also very clear that we must act now to change how we use and generate energy and how we use our land if we are going to achieve this green growth. The UK is leading on climate change both at home and abroad.”

Perhaps the most encouraging news is that protecting the environment doesn’t necessarily mean economic downfall (despite what some politicians or media outlets are saying) – on the contrary. A greener economy can work wonders, if the right decisions are made. British High Commissioner to India James Bevan said,

“The Global Calculator shows that with the right choices climate action is compatible with economic growth. This is a great tool which will allow business, policy makers, and civil society to explore ways to meet their energy demands while staying within the 2 degree C limit”.

The United Nations has released its Human Development Index for 2014. European countries dominate again, the US is 28th

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income indices used to rank countries into four tiers of human development. It is, while not nearly perfect, one of the best indications we have of a country’s general standard of living.

The 2014 report was released on July 2014, and the US have little reason for joy; while in the raw HDI the country ranks 5th, where it really matters, in the Inequality-adjusted HDI (IHDI), the US comes in at 28. This means that the very rich are pulling the country massively up in raw numbers, but overall, there is a huge gap between the rich and the middle class and poor.


As you can see, 8 out of the top 10 IHDI countries are from Europe, with Australia coming in at 2nd and Canada at 9. The trend continues further on, and out of the 27 countries which come above the US, 23 are European. It’s also interesting to note that in the past report, the US was on 16, so there has been quite a significant drop.

The one thing that America has to its defense is its population. The top countries generally have a much lower population than the over 300 million which inhabit the US, and it’s much more difficult to manage a higher population. To make things even worse, they are also dealing with a significant immigrant population – but then again, so are many countries from Europe.

Since 2001, Norway has been declared the top country every year except for 2005 and 2006, when Iceland took the crown. Before that, it was Canada’s reign, but Canadians are also starting to deal with major inequality.

However, the HDI and IHDI aren’t the be-all end-all of a country. There has been significant criticism on these rankings, especially that they don’t have any ecological considerations and ignore the technological advancements in a country.

You can read the full report here.

Stanford stops investing in coal companies

Following a recommendation of Stanford’s Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing, the Board of Trustees announced that Stanford will not make direct investments in companies which have coal mining as their principal activity.

Put your money where your research is

Stanford will stop investing in coal companies. Image via David J. Philip/AP

Major Universities are very active in terms of investments – which makes a lot of sense. If you have some of the world’s best economists, you’d want to somehow capitalize on that, right? But the thing is, if you’re a leading university, then you also want to act ethically and morally, and I’m glad to see that Stanford is doing just that.

“Stanford has a responsibility as a global citizen to promote sustainability for our planet, and we work intensively to do so through our research, our educational programs and our campus operations,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. “The university’s review has concluded that coal is one of the most carbon-intensive methods of energy generation and that other sources can be readily substituted for it. Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future.”

This means that Stanford will divest their investments in coal companies and will refrain, in the future, to invest in approximately 100 publicly traded companies for which coal extraction is the primary business. This initiative was started (or at least accelerated) by a student-led organization known as Fossil Free Stanford, who petitioned the University to stop these investments. It took a while, but Stanford finally acted.

“Fossil Free Stanford catalyzed an important discussion, and the university has pursued a careful, research-based evaluation of the issues,” said Steven A. Denning, chairman of the Stanford Board of Trustees. “We believe this action provides leadership on a critical matter facing our world and is an appropriate application of the university’s investment responsibility policy.”

The next step, and also an important goal, is replacing other fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, but the infrastructure and current alternatives don’t allow them to do this efficiently, without wasting a lot of resources. Hopefully, in the future, things will change for this too. 

Big University, big money

Stanford does not disclose specific investments in its portfolio nor their individual value, though it provides information on endowment holdings and performance by broad asset category. Last year for example, they had a whopping endowment of $18.7 billion.

In recent years, they became much more active in fighting climate change and promoting alternatives to fossil fuels. They conduct an extensive array of research in this area, are actively working on reducing campus emissions and employee drive-alone rates. I’m glad to see them also putting their money to more sustainable uses.

Puma replaces shoe box with reusable bags

I had some serious thought on whether to write this or not. It’s not a paid post or anything, and quite frankly, I’ve never owned anything from Puma. But I was absolutely thrilled to find out about their initiative to replace the shoe boxes with reusable bags. It’s exactly this kind of small thing, but that requires minimum efforts that I believe can make a significative difference.

Just to take a look at the numbers, they would save 8.500 tons of paper (that weights about as much as 80.000 soccer teams) and would also reduce the consumption of water and energy by 60 percent. They say they won’t save any money with this (don’t know if this is true though, but that’s what they claim).

“To begin with, we don’t expect to save costs with this. It may even have a negative impact in the short term. But over the long run, there should be cost savings,” Chief Executive Jochen Zeitz said “Sustainability is not only absolutely necessary considering the situation our planet is in, we as companies are also overdue to take responsibility,” Zeitz said. “We can’t wait for governments. Companies have to lead the way and we want to be among the leaders.”

Good initiative. My hat is off to you.

Earth Day 2009 – don’t let it be just another day!

In case you didn’t know, today is Earth Day and this year we are celebrating it for the 39th time. If you gladly supported Earth Hour this is a great new opportunity to show that you do care about the environment and that you believe in a sustainable future ( see here how). If you spent Earth Hour watching TV then you’d better ask about how Earth Day is celebrated in your area and if there is something going on check it out: it is up to each of us to make a change for the best!

Earth Day was celebrated for the first time in 1970 thanks to U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in. Now it is celebrated in 175 countries by about 500 million people. The UN is also celebrating an Earth Day on the March Equinox, which is often on the 20th of this month.

Oddly (or not), the first time Earth Day was celebrated coincided with Lenin’s one hundredth birthday, which was assumed by many to be a sign of the communist influence. However, out of 10 million people who celebrate their birthday everyday it’s a bit difficult to avoid such coincidences.

This year’s celebration will mark the beginning of The Green Generation Campaign, which will be the main aim of Earth Day 2010, the 40th edition (let there be a lot more!). Three main goals have been established:

– increasing the use of renewable energy sources up to the point in which society is no longer dependent on petrol and natural gas.

– get people involved so that they they will understand the importance of sustainable, responsible consumption and put their knowledge into practice

-the transformation of the economy into a green one which would offer jobs to many of the unemployed and also modifying the education system so that it will promote the right values, especially sustainability.

But until then see what it is that YOU can do in your area. A bit of energy, a lot of will, a good purpose and some good friends is what it takes to start something truly great! Happy Earth Day!