Sustainability is the only choice

01 Oct 2014 by Alejandra Araúz, Communication Adviser, UNDP in Panama

Banyan tree trunkGuaranteeing the long-term success of people, companies, businesses and countries while contributing to the conservation of natural resources and the environment requires more than the usual rhetoric. Photo: UNREDD
The term “sustainability” is increasingly being used among NGOs, governments, public sector and civil society, but unfortunately there is a huge gap between what is being said and what is being done. Looking at the most basic meaning of sustainability - meeting the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations - the list of individual, collective, private and public activities that could be considered completely sustainable in this day and age is rather short. Guaranteeing the long-term success of people, companies and countries while contributing to the conservation of natural resources and the environment requires more than the usual rhetoric; it involves a social change based on an active, forward-thinking approach, which in turn drives a significant increase in the empowerment of all stakeholders. Besides improving their reputation, which also results in better yields and prosperity, both public and private organizations that include sustainability as an inherent part of their operations establish stronger, trust-based links with their stakeholders and partners, thereby ensuring loyalty in the medium and long term. How can we bring these same principles to the field of human development? What impact would this have on our societies? The concept of “strategic planning” has not … Read more

Will global goals with national targets meet global needs?

25 Sep 2014 by Paul Ladd, Team Leader, Post-2015 Development Agenda

girl learning about development in RwandaChildren between the ages of 12-18 learning about the MY World Survey in Rwanda. Photo: Mark Darrough/Girl Hub Rwanda
Some of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lend themselves to a discussion within each country on how, and how quickly, they wish to pursue global goals. For example, if the people of country A want to achieve free secondary education for all children by 2028 through recruiting more teachers, while the people of country B want their government to reach that aspiration three years earlier through other means, both are legitimate and should result from democratically grounded national discussions.  Critically, the level of ambition adopted by country A has little or no impact on the expected progress in country B. But what about the other SDGs that relate to the global commons, where actions are required by all countries to keep our human progress within the means of the planet?  What if the political contexts in each country lead governments to make commitments that, in the aggregate, do not sum to the global action required? Our experience with climate change and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ (CBDR) points to some of the immediate problems we can face.  The distribution of responsibilities between countries is incredibly complex and inevitably political, and more often than not we end up with a stand-off that … Read more

Reversing the “Silent Earthquake of the Century”

24 Sep 2014 by Gary Lewis, Resident Coordinator, IR Iran

woman sitting in a desert in IranThe Carbon Sequestration Project's achievements prove that degraded lands can be economically and feasibly restored by, and for, local communities. Photo: Sadaf Nikzad/UNDP Iran
According to climate change predictions, the Middle East faces a hotter, drier future. Iran sits at the very centre of the Middle East.  About 80 per cent of its surface is already arid or semi-arid, and the challenge of desertification is literally creeping up on us.  Some have called it “The Silent Earthquake of the Century”. In many parts of Iran this has been caused by sheep herders letting their flocks overgraze the land.  Sometimes it is caused by villagers breaking off rangeland shrubs for firewood. Because much of this problem is man-made, it can be fixed. To re-green desert rangelands, what you need is to replant. Shrubs saplings are incubated and watered until they are ready to be transplanted into holes dug by the community.  When hundreds of thousands of these shrubs grow over hectares, this creates a small biosphere which allows other vegetation and wildlife to return.  Such newly-greened biospheres sustain people’s livelihoods in a number of ways. But, in order for these areas not to be overgrazed again or used for fuel-wood, you need the ‘buy-in’ of the community to preserve and protect them. I have seen this process at work successfully with the “Carbon Project”, a community-development-plus-environmental … Read more

Cambodia turns climate change crisis into opportunity

23 Sep 2014 by Kaylan Keo, Program Analyst at UNDP in Cambodia

UNDP in CambodiaMs. Khel Khem, a member of the Older People Association Bak Amrek village of Battambang, shows how she adapted her home garden to floods. Photo: UNDP Cambodia
Cambodia is ranked among the top 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change. This is not only due to climate risks, but also to lack of capacity to adapt and respond.  Eighty percent of the population lives in rural areas with limited knowledge, infrastructure and opportunities; and more than 70 percent rely on agriculture that is heavily sensitive to climate change, putting the country’s economic and social development at risk. Cambodia’s efforts to fight climate change began in 1995 when the country ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and later acceded to the Kyoto Protocol in 2002. In 2006, the Cambodia national adaptation programme of action to climate change (NAPA) was developed. In late 2013, the country launched its first-ever comprehensive Climate Change Strategic Plan, recognizing climate change as a challenge to development requiring urgent and joint attention. This is the highest political commitment in combating climate change in Cambodia. Now the crucial question is “What’s next?” – How will the strategic plan be effectively implemented in order to achieve its vision and strategic goals? We, at UNDP, have been providing technical and financial support to the Government to develop climate change policies and plans. One of … Read more

Latin America at a crossroads on climate and access to energy

22 Sep 2014 by Susan McDade

Woman in front of her fridge in Nicaragua About 10 million people, mostly rural poor, have gained access to modern energy services through UNDP-supported projects over the past decade. Photo: UNDP IN nICARAGUA
World leaders gathered at the Climate Change Summit  during the United Nations General Assembly have a crucial opportunity. In addition to mobilizing political will and advancing solutions to climate change, they will also need to address its closely connected challenges of increasing access to sustainable energy as a key tool to secure and advance gains in the social, economic and environmental realms. This is more important than ever for Latin America and the Caribbean. Even though the region is responsible for a relatively low share of global greenhouse gas emissions - 12 percent according to UN figures - it will be one of the most severely affected by temperature spikes.  And the region faces new challenges. Demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030, and, although nearly 60 percent is generated from hydroelectric resources, the share of fossil fuel-based generation has increased substantially in the past 10 years, mainly from natural gas.  Now is the time for governments and private sector to invest in sustainable energy alternatives—not only to encourage growth while reducing carbon emissions, but also to ensure access to clean energy to around 24 million people who still live in the dark. Latin America and the Caribbean is … Read more

The ocean is taking away my island

22 Sep 2014 by Ursula Rakova, Executive Director, Tulele Peisa

I was born on the Carteret Islands, a group of six atolls just off the north east coast of Bougainville Island in Papua New Guinea. They are home to over 2,700 people. Women are the traditional custodians of the land here. My grandmother passed our small island to my mother and she passed it on to me. But I will never be able to pass it to my daughter. Her heritage will be gone by then. I don’t know much about science. What I know is that our shores are being eaten away. And nothing can stop the erosion. The hardest thing I have ever had to do was tell my family and friends that we needed to leave our homes. We are climate refugees. And we are fighting for our lives. Our best option is now 71 hectares of land on Bougainville Island that has been generously allocated to us. One hectare of land has been given to the seven families who have already relocated. The kids here play barefoot rugby. The adults work the land. The family buildings are made of local wood and bamboo walling and roofing iron. We’re working with the school to build an additional four … Read more

Bhutan continues to face the risk of glacial lake flooding

18 Sep 2014 by Yusuke Taishi, Regional Technical Specialist

A documnetary team on glacial floodsThe film crew seen here during the production of the 'Himalayan Meltdown' documentary. Photo: UNDP Asia/Pacific
In Bhutan, about 5,000 meters above sea level, meltwater trickles down from glaciers to form some of the greatest rivers in the world and provide freshwater and energy to nearly 1.3 billion people throughout the Himalayas. But with the effect of climate change, glaciers are melting too fast, jeopardizing an economy mostly based on hydropower production, but also endangering lives. Water can accumulate in unstable lakes on the glaciers, and when these lakes become too heavy, their natural barriers burst , setting loose a massive volume of water, boulders and mud, causing significant damages in the valleys below. Between 2008 and 2013, the Government – with our support and financial assistance from the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Government of Austria and the World Wildlife Fund – successfully lowered the water level of Lake Thorthormi, a glacial lake that ranked as one of the most dangerous in the country. Bhutanese men and women trekked to an altitude of 4,500 meters above sea level to excavate moraine and rocks in near-freezing water against the strikingly cruel contrast of beautiful ice-capped Himalayan Mountains. It is an image that vividly depicts the unfairness associated with climate change and the fact that these communities who … Read more

Can small islands expect a sea-change from the latest UN development conference?

03 Sep 2014 by Gail Hurley, Policy Specialist

Women in a farming village in ComorosNew irrigation methods revive farming in a Comorian village. Photo: UNDP/Comoros
This week, the tiny Pacific island of Samoa is hosting the UN’s 3rd international conference on small island developing states – or SIDS. It’s a novelty for sure; an island nation of less than 190,000 people suddenly plays host to over 3000 people from around the world. But the island’s embrace of the event is also indicative of the scale of what’s at stake; it’s about survival. Climate change threatens to not only undo many years of impressive development progress but to erase whole countries and cultures. A few days ago, the Prime Minister of Samoa wrote simply, ‘we are drowning’. So what will be achieved this week? With small populations and limited international influence many islands often slip through the cracks in larger – and wealthier – countries’ list of priorities. Most SIDS have underscored their significant fragility and vulnerability, especially to shocks such as extreme weather events. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan laid waste to the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada. The devastation caused over US$1 billion in damages, equivalent to over 200% of the country’s GDP. In addition to the terrible human cost of such disasters, there are also significant reconstruction costs and some countries have seen their debt … Read more

One number that tells a much bigger story in the Pacific

02 Sep 2014 by Peter Batchelor, Manager, UNDP Pacific Centre

Samoan children With support from UNDP and funding from the GEF, the Government of Samoa has stepped up to integrate climate risks into the agriculture and health sectors and into forestry management. Photo UNDP/Samoa
Small islands face big challenges. This week’s Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Conference in Samoa probes some of the most pressing ones. How do we protect our ocean resources for future generations? How do we prepare for the destructive forces of climate change on fragile islands? How can countries find the human and financial resources to sustain productive businesses, homes, schools and health services? How can countries stem rising youth unemployment? The list is as long as the oceans are wide. There is one important, often overlooked development indicator that lurks behind these larger issues and is a pre-condition for development progress in all countries. This worrisome indicator which is under discussion this week is mentioned in a new United Nations report, The State of Human Development in the Pacific: a Report on Vulnerability and Exclusion in a Time of Rapid Change. The report is being launched days ahead of the SIDS Conference in Samoa. What is it? Life expectancy. It provides a simple measure of the overall health status of a population. And the picture in the Pacific is not good. An average person in New Zealand or Australia can expect to live about 10 years longer than a person … Read more

Boosting resilience in the Caribbean

29 Aug 2014 by Jessica Faieta

destroyed structure in CubaInvesting in the resilience of people and countries to increase their capacity to cope successfully with climate change is crucial. Photo: Carolina Azevedo/UNDP
Having lived and worked for more than a decade in four Caribbean countries, I have witnessed firsthand how Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are extremely vulnerable to challenges ranging from debt and unemployment to climate change and sea level rise. Such aspects make their paths towards sustainable development probably more complex than non-SIDS countries. That was my experience, working closely with governments, civil society organisations and the people of Belize, Cuba, Guyana and Haiti – where I led the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) reconstruction efforts after the devastating January 2010 earthquake. That’s why the upcoming UN Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), taking place in Samoa, Sep. 1-4 is so important. It will provide an opportunity to increase international cooperation and knowledge sharing between and within regions. And it takes place at a key moment, ahead of the Climate Change Summit at the UN General Assembly, to be held on Sep. 23. Climate change—and all natural hazards, in fact—hit Small Island Developing States hard, even though these countries haven’t historically contributed to the problem. Extreme exposure to disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, droughts, landslides and earthquakes place these countries at a particularly vulnerable position. In the Caribbean, two key sectors, agriculture and tourism, which … Read more