An estimated 19,000 people died in March 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami destroyed entire Japanese towns, and triggered the worst nuclear disaster in a generation. Fifteen months and 5,000 miles later, debris swept away in the tsunami has begun to wash up on North American shores. A 66-foot dock, weighing 160 tons, landed this month on Agate Beach, near Newport, Oregon.
Marine researchers study ocean debris of all sizes to help them understand the currents, eddies and winds that serendipitously deliver material from one watery part of the world to another. It’s not a new phenomenon. Anthropologists have even suggested that Native Americans mined iron from wrecked Japanese ships that floated to North America.Read more »
The European Union pushed hard last week to promote the notion of a "green economy" at the UN's Rio+20 summit, where the final 49-page document was endorsed by all and pleased no one. U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said "dilution and compromise is the name of the game," after the EU failed to get the goals and timelines it was seeking included in the declaration. At the summit’s conclusion, I caught up with EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik, who spearheaded the 27-nation bloc's efforts.
Q: Rio has produced a declaration that the EU has said it isn’t happy with. In fact, no one is happy with it. What's the way forward from here?
A: The document we will be adopting does not match the ambition and the challenges the world is facing. But it’s a certainly an important step in the right direction.
The Indian Olympic Association excoriated the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in December for making Dow Chemical Co. a sponsor of this summer’s London Games. The reason: Dow Chemical owns Union Carbide, which owned the Bhopal chemical plant that exploded in 1984 and killed an estimated 20,000 people. "The very presence of this company is against the spirit of the Olympic ideals," acting president Vijay Kumar Malhotra wrote.
Dow Chemical Chief Executive Officer Andrew Liveris said opposition to the sponsorship was "beyond belief," given the 17-year gap between the Bhopal tragedy and Dow's acquisition of Union Carbide. The IOC gently made a similar point.Read more »
Why is it that we share a common future, but so little common ground?
The result from Rio+20 is so lackluster, leaders and their delegates declined to bequeath it one of the grandiloquent titles normally attached to such things. It is not a Rio+20 Declaration, nor even a "roadmap." It is simply, awkwardly, uninspiringly, a "Rio+20 Outcomes Document."Read more »
As prime minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark championed sustainability in its many forms -- climate change, women and leadership, the nation's relations with indigenous people. As administrator of the United Nations Development Program since 2009, Clark oversees the organization's work in 177 nations advocating for democracy and environmental health, and fighting poverty and HIV/AIDS. I spoke with her in New York before the start of the UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.
Q: Paralyzed by money, political deadlock or fear of further economic shock, many national governments say they can't tackle sustainability issues right now. They need to ensure their citizens get their next meal. What do you tell them?
A: We have been pushing very hard on triple-win policies -- where countries agree to design a set of policies that all lead up to sustainable development. Take Ethiopia: they pay unemployed people to work, and the work is prioritized around irrigation, reforestation, etc. It's in the dry region of the country, but with some income, you can put food on the table. That's now helping some 8 million people.
The Rio+20 Summit is the biggest-ever conference organized by the United Nations, said Pragati Pascale, the lead spokeswoman for the meeting in Rio de Janeiro. The UN issued 45,381 passes for the Riocentro conference center. That includes 10,822 passes for national delegations; 9,856 passes for NGOs and the Major Groups (What's a Major Group?); and 4,075 for media. Security personnel took up another 4,000. Thousands more observers attended conference and the "Dialog Days" held in the run up to the arrival of the world leaders.
By comparison, the 1992 Rio Earth Summit had about 17,000 participants.Read more »
Richard Branson has lent his name and directed his profits to the search for carbon-light business models. Virgin Airlines is developing biofuels. The Carbon War Room works with industry to identify market opportunities that can make money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. At the UN Rio+20 Sustainability Summit, he signed on his support to a Greenpeace call banning Arctic oil drilling. I caught up with him at the world green summit, one of dozens of side events that have sprouted up around the UN's Rio+20 Summit.
Q: No one seems happy with the negotiated document
coming out of Rio. What's the role of companies going
A: The role of companies is all the more important for the world because so little has come out of governments. Governments could have made some big announcements this week that wouldn’t have cost their countries any money -- that could have made their companies money. They could have got rid of the subsidy on fossil fuels, which would have helped start a complete clean industry and given it the massive boost it needed and save their countries money. They chose not to do that. They could have agreed to protect the open seas and police the open seas instead of letting them carry on getting decimated by fishing and so on. So companies have really got to step in and do the best they can without the proper ground rules set by governments.
It’s impossible to come to Rio de Janeiro without seeing the city’s slums, known as favelas.
They’re collections of ramshackle buildings clinging precariously to the steep hillsides in the city. They overlook shiny new skyscrapers, luxury hotels and Rio's pristine beaches, where beautiful people with chiseled bodies bob in the waves.Read more »
Twenty years ago, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the world’s governments negotiated a treaty — it’s known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — in which they promised to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Some 192 countries, including the U.S. and China, signed on.
Since then, the UN, politicians and climate campaigners all have labored to get the world’s major economies to curb the use of fossil fuels. They haven’t had much success. President Obama failed in his first year of office to move national climate legislation through Congress. Australia did recently enact a national greenhouse gas law, and several U.S. states, including California and parts of the Northeast, have cap-and-trade programs. China, Vietnam, Costa Rica, and at least a dozen other emerging nations are implementing emissions trading.Read more »
Here’s an overlooked metric among the hundreds available for evaluating how sustainable a company is: The ability to scale change far beyond its own organization.
The model sustainable company generally looks like this. It has a phenomenal track record of stock growth and a full bucket of cash. It militantly roots out inefficiency from its operations and supply chain and invents new products that take into account social change and resource availability. It increases the transparency of its operations and invites outside scrutiny to make sure it’s in compliance with the highest legal and social standards.Read more »