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Rio+20 Discussion Themes
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Rio+20 Discussion Themes
To share its expertise and knowledge on sustainable development, UNU-IAS will cover the following themes in its main Rio+20 publication: Green Economy and Good Governance for Sustainable Development: Opportunities, Promises and Concerns.

Technology & Equity
Green Growth Tradeoffs
Education
Landscapes
Africa
Geothermal Energy
Biodiversity
Global Governance
Oceans
Indigenous Peoples
Health
Cities

Technology & Equity
Toward Equity and Sustainability in the “Green Economy”

Sustainable Development (SD) and Green Economy (GE) are wildly popular phrases today. The long debated definition of the former continues to contain some ambiguity. The latter, while more recent in its popularity and reportedly less ambiguous in its meaning and prescriptions, remains crucially incomplete. This chapter adopts an understanding of sustainability as a state of human affairs with three specific attributes. The first is that the economic system, recognizing that it is a sub-system of the ecosystem, is organized to function within the energy-material limits of the latter. Second is the idea of environmental justice. This attribute is the mirror image of today’s reality of disadvantaged communities (human as well as non-human) forced to make room for expanding industrial society and to deal with the latter’s detritus. The third attribute of sustainability, recognizing that efforts to find a “technical fix” to the problem have rendered the challenge more daunting, grapples with structural and normative foundations of nature-society relations to complement its technological capabilities. An urgent question in this regard is to understand whether the so-called green economy, being re-issued as a tool to finally actuate sustainable development, can be faithful to the necessary attributes of sustainability presented above.

Related UNU-IAS initiative: Science and Technology for Sustainable Societies
Related OurWorld 2.0 article:
Green economy and growth: Fiddling while Rome burns?


Green Growth Tradeoffs
The political economy of Green Growth: food, fuel and electricity in Southern Africa

Concepts like Green Growth imply that developmental objectives, such as job creation, economic prosperity and poverty alleviation, can be easily reconciled with environmental goals. This chapter, however, argues that rather than being win-win, Green Growth is similar to most types of policy reforms that advocate the acceptance of short-term adjustment costs in the expectation of long-term gains. In particular, Green Growth policies often encourage developing countries to redesign their national strategies in ways that might be inconsistent with natural comparative advantages and past investments. In turn, there are often sizeable anti-reform coalitions whose interests may conflict with a Green Growth agenda. We illustrate this argument using case studies of Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa, which are engaged in development strategies that rely on inorganic fertilizers, biofuels production, and coal-based energy, respectively. Each of these countries is pursuing an environmentally suboptimal strategy for addressing critical development needs, including food security, fuel, and electricity. Yet, we show that adopting a Green Growth approach would not only be economically costly but also generate substantial domestic resistance, especially amongst the poor.

Related UNU institute: UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER)


Education
Learning for Green Society: Towards Sustainable Consumption and Production

There has been significant evolution of perspectives in Sustainable production and consumption (SCP) over the last three decades. Whereas towards the 1980s with the rapid industrialization and the negative environmental consequences there was growing emphasis on cleaner production, by the mid-1990s with the attention shifting towards sustainability there emerged an increase in focus on sustainable consumption. Following the Johannesburg Summit in 2002 the focus expanded to SCP calling attention to relations of local-global, equity and justice, local innovations, co-creation, local production and consumption. This is accentuated by the fact of high complexity in relationships of production and consumption, diversity of choices and increasing socio-economic disparity among and within regions.

The article critically reflects on the diverse learning experiences of the network of the Regional Centres of Expertise (RCEs) on education for sustainable development (ESD) and a network of higher education institutions namely the Promotion of Sustainability in Postgraduate Education and Research (ProSPER.Net). It investigates the type of learning systems that would support more sustainable consumptions and production patterns – the main strategy behind the green economy. By analysing the characteristics of “liquid modernity” the authors argue that principles of ESD such as value-orientation, holistic approach, focus on partnerships and others, position it as a philosophy of learning transformation fitting the aspirations of the green economy

Related UNU-IAS initiative: Education for Sustainable Development


Landscapes
Revitalizing Socio-ecological Production Landscapes through Greening the Economy

Sustainable production systems characterized by close linkages between people and nature have already emerged in many places around the world, forming socio-ecological production landscapes (SEPLs). This chapter provides a brief overview of such landscapes in addition to a discussion of the importance of incorporating economic considerations into efforts to sustain these landscapes, which embody many aspects of the green economy concept. The chapter continues by providing an analysis of how international efforts can play a key role in promoting a green economy. Finally, an example is provided in the form of the Satoyama Initiative, a global effort started through a joint collaboration between the Ministry of the Environment of Japan and the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies in 2009 to sustain such landscapes. On the basis of this example, the chapter concludes by pointing out the importance of the global movement towards a green economy taking into account existing local-scale efforts by people who are directly dealing with natural resources in SEPLs.

Related UNU-IAS initiative: International Satoyama Initiative
Related OurWorld 2.0 article:
Revitalising socio-ecological production landscapes


Africa
Governance Challenges for promoting Green Economy in Africa

For 20 years after the first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio Earth Summit, the world is still confronted with widening social and economic inequalities with continued deterioration of the environment, ecological degradation and loss of biodiversity. One of the reasons for such moderate results of sustainable development in Africa is the highly deficient institutional structure of sustainable development governance in most countries. Without the appropriate governance structures, Africa may enter Rio+40 with the same modest results of sustainable development in the continent. In paradox of Africa’s enormous wealth in natural resources, Africa remains to be the poorest continent with worsening environmental degradation that will still be valid 20 years from Rio+20.

The chapter explores the necessary elements of governance that should support the institutional arrangements for green economy governance in Africa. It also provides the theoretical framework of governance based on the major conceptual building blocks of governance and makes recommendations for the institutional imperatives that should represent the appropriate governance framework for green economy in Africa.

Related UNU institute: UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA)


Geothermal Energy
Geothermal energy and the millennium development goals

A key issue to improve the standard of living of the poor and achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to make clean energy available at prices they afford. Almost 70 per cent of the countries with quantified records of geothermal utilisation are categorised as developing and transitional countries. Some 70 per cent of the world´s population lives at per capita energy consumption level below one-quarter of that of Western Europe, and one-sixth of that of the USA. Over two billion people, a third of the world´s population, have no access to modern energy services. The world’s population is expected to double by the end of the twenty-first century. To provide sufficient commercial energy (not to mention clean energy) to the people of all continents is an enormous task. The renewable energy sources are expected to provide 20-40 per cent of the world’s primary energy in 2050, depending on the scenario. The technology has been developed for the main renewable energy sources, but the experience is mainly confined to the industrialized countries. A key element in the mitigation of climate change is capacity building in renewable energy technologies in the developing countries, where the main growth in energy use is expected. Geothermal already contributes significantly to the electricity production of several countries in Central America, Asia and Africa. The direct use of geothermal can also replace fossil fuels in densely populated areas where space heating and/or cooling is needed. Geothermal is used in 79 countries of the world, but known in over 90. The total electricity generation is 67 terawatt-hours per year (TWh/a) in 24 countries. The direct heating use is 122 TWh/a in 78 countries. Geothermal is number four of the renewable energy sources in world electricity production after hydro, biomass and wind; it is followed by solar and wave energy.

Related UNU programme: UNU Geothermal Training Programme (UNU-GTP)


Biodiversity
Enabling green economic transitions through biodiversity conservation: Potential and challenges

Biodiversity contributes in numerous direct and indirect ways to human economy. Several studies have highlighted the significant role that biodiversity plays for the provision of ecosystem services that are essential to human wellbeing. The important role of biodiversity within the economic system was recently re-affirmed as biodiversity was identified as a key pillar of the green economy. A major challenge of the next decades is to articulate policies that aim to ensure conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, as a corner-stone towards realizing a green economy. While currently a slew of intergovernmental and national policies and regulations are in place to address the alarming rates of biodiversity loss, it is also well recognized that their effectiveness has been limited primarily due to their poor implementation. Often the spirit of enforcing such policies is lost in the rule of the letter as they do not generally match with local contexts and realities. It is possible to reverse this trend and ensure that biodiversity conservation can become an agent of transitioning to green economies, through the innovative implementation of strategies that involve stakeholders on the ground who continue to be highly dependent on biological resources for their livelihoods and sustenance. This would require a flexible approach that would enable such communities to perceive the relevance of global goals and mandates to their wellbeing, and providing incentives that can be developed endogenously. Nevertheless the potential emergence of poverty traps around conservation areas, the need to conserve biodiversity beyond protected areas, institutional fragmentation and the lack of appropriate biodiversity targets at the interface of biodiversity conservation and green economy pose significant challenges for achieving such win-win solutions. Concerted effort between policy-makers, practitioners and academics is required to overcome such challenges.

Related UNU-IAS initiative: Biodiplomacy Initiative


Global Governance
Visioning Transformative Sustainable Development Governance

While incremental changes have enabled some progress toward sustainability, the current system governing sustainable development is no longer sufficient, given the number, impact, interdependence, and complexity of problems associated with global change. Governance for sustainability requires transformative reforms and clear vision. This chapter presents the process and result of a series of exercises among social scientists specialized in environmental governance to identify issues that require more serious attention towards the fundamental transformation of the institutional framework for sustainability. Noting that the issues and political dynamics in the twenty-first century are different from those in 1945, when the institutions in the United Nations were founded, the ideas for visions for transformative governance were clustered around three interrelated issues: aspirations, actors, and architecture. Drawing on the discussion we have determined that proposals for a Sustainable Development Council deserve more serious consideration, and see Rio+20 as the beginning of a charter moment. Ultimately, this may involve amending the UN Charter to better reflect the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Related UNU-IAS initiative: Sustainable Development Governance
Related OurWorld 2.0 article:
New visions of sustainable development governance


Oceans
Oceans and Sustainability: The Governance of Marine Areas beyond National Jurisdiction

The deep and open oceans beyond the limits of national jurisdiction are home to rich biodiversity and provide important goods and services to humankind. They are also the largest, least known and least protected areas on the planet. The governance and management of marine areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction has historically been difficult due to their status as global commons; the prevalence of the principle of “freedom of the high seas” that has often driven the unsustainable exploitation of resources; as well as a fragmented and inadequate international legal framework. Additionally, the lack of equitable access and benefit-sharing arrangements in regards to genetic resources in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction has created a divide between some developing and developed countries. A sustainable governance framework would thus need to comprehensively address conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and resources, as well as equity issues related to marine genetic resources. In addition, the application of modern conservation principles and tools, which have long been in use in coastal areas, is an important component of a future governance regime.

Related UNU-IAS initiative: Global Marine Governance


Indigenous Peoples
The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Global Environmental Governance: Looking Through the Lens of Climate Change

There is a strong relationship between diversity (biological, cultural, knowledge) and sustainable development processes. Increased engagement of indigenous peoples in global environmental governance over the past few decades has therefore made an important contribution to the development of international policies and decision making, with global interventions benefiting from local level experiences, perceptions and actions.

This chapter examines indigenous peoples’ involvement in global environmental governance and discusses the ways in which indigenous peoples have enriched these processes and strengthened resultant outcomes in a number of important ways. Specifically, these and other significant characteristics of indigenous peoples’ participation in global governance are appraised through an analysis of the engagement of indigenous peoples in global climate change governance, which simultaneously addresses numerous topics including health, diversity, poverty, equity and sustainable development. The challenges and benefits of integrating different sources and types of knowledge (particularly scientific research and traditional knowledge) are considered, and opportunities and implications for future governance processes are explored.

Related UNU-IAS initiative: Traditional Knowledge Initiative


Health
Global Environmental Health Governance for Sustainable Development

The dynamic changes in human population, depleting natural resources and disrupted ecosystems are beginning to seriously impact upon human health, changing morbidity and mortality trends. Even though global economic development has helped alleviate health problems related to poor sanitation like waterborne and food borne diseases, some glaring deficiencies in health remain, especially in the developing world. Globally, 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, while 2.6 billion people lack proper sanitation. An estimated 24 per cent of the global disease burden and 23 per cent of all deaths can be attributed to environmental factors. Globally, about 1.5 million deaths per year from diarrhoeal diseases are attributable to environmental factors of contaminated water, poor sanitation and hygiene. Another 1.5 million deaths annually from respiratory infections are attributable to the environment, mainly indoor and outdoor air pollution. Stratospheric ozone depletion and climate change are two global environmental disruptions stemming from unsustainable development with serious health implications. Amongst the health effects of increased ultraviolet radiation due to holes in the ozone include increased incidence of skin cancers and cataracts. While mitigations against ozone depletion have been generally successful, the same cannot be said of efforts to mitigate climate change. Over the twentieth century, global temperature has increased by about 0.74 degrees Celsius. Among the environmental impacts of climate change are rising temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, rising sea levels and ocean heat content. Amongst the health impacts of climate change will be thermal stress from heat waves. Decreased precipitation causes severe droughts that may trigger forest fires leading to respiratory problems; give rise to famine and hunger; and reduce surface water flow and pollute drinking water sources. Increased precipitation and rising sea water levels cause flooding of low-lying areas leading to accidental deaths, and the spread of waterborne, vector borne and zoonotic diseases. This chapter analyzes the needed changes in governance of environmental health to tackle the current and future stresses influenced by global environmental problems. These are determining factors for improving the health conditions of many people, particularly those more vulnerable in the developing countries.

Related UNU institute: UNU International Institute for Global Health (UNU-IIGH)


Cities
Good Governance in Cities for Promoting a Greener Economy

Urbanization is one of the key defining features of humanity as a whole. The progressive shift of people from rural areas and activities into towns and cities is a complex process inextricably tied to economic development and technological change. Most of the world population lives in urban areas currently. Besides population, cities concentrate disproportional parts of the economy, resource consumption and the decision making power in most countries. Seventy-five per cent of the global economic production takes place in urban areas. Cities are responsible for 67 per cent of total global energy consumption and more than 70 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, the challenges and opportunities for creating a greener economy and the institutional framework for sustainable development pass necessarily, or mostly, to how cities are developed and managed. Moreover, cities are centers of knowledge and innovation both technological and institutional that can make viable a greener economy and better governance within and beyond the cities.

Urban growth not only increases the number of people living in cities but also intensifies the opportunities and challenges in cities. Perhaps the most important opportunity linked to urban growth is sustainable economic growth. With the processes of urbanization and rural-urban transformation, the economy in cities, especially in cities of developing countries, has been shifting from traditional artisanal crafts and markets to modern industry and service sectors. The concentration of people, resources, knowledge and economic activities in urban areas, if properly managed, can provide economies of scale and efficiency gains that lower the use of resources and energy, and thereby promote doing more with less. In this sense, transition from the traditional economy to green economy could be achieved by reducing resource and energy consumption in cities through improving the key components of urban development.

This chapter analyzes the role of cities in promoting green economy, not only the idea of greening the city economy, but also the city decisions that go beyond the cities. The institutional framework for a more sustainable development is intrinsically linked to the way cities operate and “think”. The large concentration of decisions with a massive scale and far reaching impacts put cities in the centre of the discussions about sustainable development. Understanding how the city economy and politics functions and how it is connected to a larger world (regional, national, global) is fundamental to understand to create institutional mechanisms to move the world towards a green economy.

Related UNU-IAS initiative: Sustainable Urban Futures

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