Natural solutions such as tree planting, protecting peatlands and better land management could account for 37% of all cuts needed by 2030, says study
Planting forests and other activities that harness the power of nature could play a major role in limiting global warming under the 2015 Paris agreement, an international study showed on Monday.
Natural climate solutions, also including protection of carbon-storing peatlands and better management of soils and grasslands, could account for 37% of all actions needed by 2030 under the 195-nation Paris plan, it said.
Combined, the suggested “regreening of the planet” would be equivalent to halting all burning of oil worldwide, it said.
“Better stewardship of the land could have a bigger role in fighting climate change than previously thought,” the international team of scientists said of findings published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The estimates for nature’s potential, led by planting forests, were up to 30% higher than those envisaged by a UN panel of climate scientists in a 2014 report, it said.
Trees soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they burn or rot. That makes forests, from the Amazon to Siberia, vast natural stores of greenhouse gases.
Overall, better management of nature could avert 11.3bn tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year by 2030, the study said, equivalent to China’s current carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use.
The Paris climate agreement, weakened by US president Donald Trump’s decision in June to pull out, seeks to limit a rise in global temperature to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial times.
Current government pledges to cut emissions are too weak to achieve the 2C goal, meant to avert more droughts, more powerful storms, downpours and heat waves.
“Fortunately, this research shows we have a huge opportunity to reshape our food and land use systems,” Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, said in a statement of Monday’s findings.
Climate change could jeopardise production of crops such as corn, wheat, rice and soy even as a rising global population will raise demand, he said.
The study said that some of the measures would cost $10 a tonne or less to avert a tonne of carbon dioxide, with others up to $100 a tonne to qualify as “cost-effective” by 2030.
“If we are serious about climate change, then we are going to have to get serious about investing in nature,” said Mark Tercek, chief executive officer of The Nature Conservancy, which led the study.
Image: “Planting trees is one of the best ways to harness the power of nature to cut carbon emissions, says study”. Photograph: Ben Curtis/AP
Hotels are slowly getting more eco-friendly, but travel journalist Dan F Stapleton says there’s still much more to do before the industry moves beyond towels-on-the-floor tokenism
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City bolstered his environmental credentials in December when he announced that he had convinced 16 major hotels, including the Grand Hyatt and the Waldorf Astoria, to reduce their carbon emissions by 30 per cent over the next 10 years. The plan, which forms part of New York’s broader carbon-reduction strategy, is the clearest signal yet that this low-lying coastal city is taking climate change seriously, and that its key players understand the importance of limiting global warming.
“De Blasio’s announcement signals a shift in the way that both the hospitality industry and those who travel view sustainability”
The symbolism of such a move cannot be overstated. Until recently, the only hotels that emphasised green living were so-called ‘eco lodges’ in remote – and usually tropical – climes. The idea of such places was to enable guests to commune with nature without damaging it, but there were few concrete promises from hoteliers about exactly how these resorts would operate sustainably, and the light planes and Jeeps required to reach the resorts often cancelled out any carbon savings.
De Blasio’s announcement signals a shift in the way that both the hospitality industry and those who travel view sustainability. Increasingly, travellers expect accommodation to be responsibly managed – whether it’s in a bustling urban location or on a faraway island. Hoteliers, meanwhile, have begun to recognise that going green doesn’t only please customers – it makes financial sense, simply through reduced utility bills.
Across the globe, hotels are moving towards a new, sustainable model. In the US, the new hospitality group 1 Hotels is pioneering the concept of eco-focused properties in dense urban areas. To date, three hotels have opened (two in New York and one in Miami) with meaningful policies like no paper or plastic in guestrooms, plant-based soap in laundry rooms, and organic linens on beds. Repurposed timber features prominently at each property, and guests can borrow bicycles and electric cars.
More broadly, the hospitality industry is responding to consumer demand for green policies by offering not to wash towels and bed linen every day – even at five-star properties, where such a move was once considered ‘cheap’. In America, most hotel companies now aim to achieve LEED certification from the US Green Building Council for new properties.
The stories coming out of the United States and elsewhere sound promising – but it’s too early to say that a hospitality revolution is underway. Announcing a planned 30 per cent reduction in carbon emissions may be great PR, but it’s hardly a game-changer at opulent properties like the Waldorf Astoria. Gestures like re-using bed-sheets may make guests feel good, but they’re insignificant when measured against the energy used to heat and cool old, poorly designed hotels. It seems that many hotel groups are tinkering around the edges – acknowledging the importance of sustainability but limiting their action until compelled to do otherwise.
“Let’s be optimistic about the future of green hotel accommodation, without taking these moves towards sustainability for granted.”
There are exceptions to the rule, like the Belgian brand Martin’s Hotels, which now operates nine carbon-neutral properties. Even the old-fashioned eco-lodge concept is getting a shake up thanks to companies like Pacific Beachcomber, which recently opened an incredibly luxurious (and carbon neutral) tropical resort, The Brando, in French Polynesia. The suite of innovative programs at the resort includes industrial-strength air conditioning powered by cold water pumped from the ocean floor – the type of too-good-to-be-true concept that can only become reality if businesses commit themselves.
Let’s be optimistic about the future of green hotel accommodation, without taking these moves towards sustainability for granted. After all, in any market, meaningful change only occurs when consumers demand it.
Research worldwide shows that environmentally-friendly buildings are much better for the health of the people who live and work in them, as well as for the Earth.
Buildings that are designed to cut water and energy use and make as little impact on the surrounding environment as possible make life much better for their occupants too.
Studies into 69,000 buildings − homes, offices and factories − in 150 countries show that there are fewer illnesses among residents and workers, who report they are more comfortable and happier. Employers also find they are more productive.
Companies that opt for “green” buildings gain because workers stay longer in their jobs and have fewer absences, while recruitment is easier because new employees are attracted to environmentally-friendly buildings.
Dr. Joseph Allen and fellow environmental health researchers at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in the US studied reports from across the world into the effect of green buildings on the health of the occupants. Fifteen studies are incorporated into the review, published in the journal Current Environmental Health Reports.
There are now 3.5 billion square feet (0.325 sq metres) of certified green building space available worldwide, and researchers in many different countries have been measuring the effects to see if these buildings are also “ healthier” buildings.
“Overall, the initial scientific evidence indicates better indoor environmental quality in green buildings versus non-green buildings, with direct benefits to human health for occupants of those buildings,” Allen says.
Occupants of green buildings are in general more satisfied with the indoor air quality, their workspace, building cleanliness, and maintenance in general, he adds.
The research measured internal air quality, light, noise and the presence of chemicals that might adversely affect health, as well as asking the people who live and work in them about their experience.
The information is important for future building design because, as the researchers point out, modern humans spend 90 per cent of their time indoors.
To gauge the effect on health and well-being, the scientists looked at many studies that had taken into account factors that influence health − including radiological, chemical, biological and physical aspects of indoor environmental hazards.
They looked at air quality, ventilation, filtration, lighting and acoustics, and studied the architecture, the quality of the canteens, access to natural light, and the building’s surroundings.
In residential buildings, there were fewer asthma and other respiratory illnesses among children, and across all green buildings there fewer cases of sick building syndrome symptoms, with better physical and mental health all round.
The one area that did not score better was acoustics, with several studies reporting lower satisfaction about noise levels.
Where hospitals had been constructed as green buildings, the researchers found a better quality of care for patients. In one study, there were 70 per cent fewer blood stream infections, improved record keeping, and overall patient mortality fell by 11 per cent − although the scientists were unable to pinpoint what factors produced such a startling improvement.
Political instability, limited access to resources and funding, poverty, skills shortages and a changing climate are just some of the challenging factors impacting food security in Africa. The lack of interest in farming among young rural people is also a risk to consider when it comes to Africa’s agricultural landscape. Thought leaders and experts in the field of food security, agriculture and fisheries will share the latest thinking and best practice in the changing face of this industry during Sustainability Week, which will take place on 24 June 2015 at the CSIR.
Four interactive sessions will contribute to the formulation of consensus on the best course for African countries in the food security, agriculture and fisheries sectors. The first session will focus on climate change mitigation and adaption where Inge Kotze, Senior Manager for Sustainable Agriculture at the World Wide Fund for Nature – South Africa’s (WWF-SA) will define the issues of climate change and agriculture. The session will close with a panel discussion addressing key actions to mitigate primary causes of emissions and how to adapt to inevitable changes in the sector.
“There is an urgent need for the world’s farmers to be empowered to produce more food per unit of land, water and agrochemicals, while confronting widespread physical resource scarcity, a changing climate, and rapidly increasing input costs,” says Kotze.
Biodiversity and productivity in land use will be the theme for the second session where Jan Coetzee, Project Extension Officer at The South African Breweries (SAB) will enlighten attendees with a case study on better barley, better beer. This session will ultimately address the big question of whether intensive farming work can co-exist sustainably with the local biodiversity to ensure conservation and the ongoing supply of ecological services.
During the household food security session, freelance science writer Leonie Joubert will shed light on what food security really means. Paul Barker from Here We Grow Again will speak about the direct impact food gardens have on food security. The panel discussion will round off this session by framing the required policy and infrastructure foundations to enable broad-based urban farming.
The final compelling session will address rural poverty by stimulating the rural economy. Speakers will explore how to convert subsistence farmers into successful commercial farmers to extract the economic potential of land. The session will also delve into Afrocentric labour intensive approaches to improve productivity and uplift rural communities.
“A company such as BASF can play a defining role in addressing the challenges facing our planet, including those of energy and food resources, as well as urban living,” says Joan-Maria Garcia-Girona, Vice-President and Managing Director of BASF South Africa and Sub-Sahara. “In 2050, the world’s population will reach nine billion with 70% of the people living in cities. Resources are already scarce and we have only reached almost seven billion people. To feed nine billion people in 2050, we will need twice as much food as today. Innovation in agriculture is vital to address the gap between food demand and supply. We at BASF have a 150 year legacy of providing farmers with innovative solutions to protect crops and improve sustainable agricultural production.”
The Food Security Seminar, sponsored by Nedbank and BASF forms part of the larger Sustainability Week, organised by alive2green, which runs from 23 to 28 June 2015. Associate sponsors of the Food Security Seminar include: Participate Technologies, Massmart and Backsberg Estate Cellars.