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As part of USAID’s efforts to mark Earth Day on April 22nd, Acting Administrator Alfonso Lenhardt publicly issued the official call for concept notes to the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge. Read more

As a Task Order under the REPLACE IDIQ, Integra has conducted a mid-term performance evaluation of the Sustainable and Thriving Environments for West Africa Regional Development Program (STEWARD III), being implemented for USAID/West Africa by the US Forest Service International Program in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and Côte d’Ivoire.

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Integra LLC is pleased to announce that it has been awarded an Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract for USAID’s Restoring the Environment through Prosperity, Livelihoods and Conserving Ecosystems (REPLACE). This five-year, multi-award contract with an overall ceiling price of $700,000,000 will provide technical services to USAID Missions and operating units to improve the sustainable, long-term management of natural resources.  Read more

The four categories of ecosystem services, and examples of those services, as defined by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005.

Ecosystem Services: Categories and Examples

According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, ecosystem services are defined as the benefits people obtain from ecosystems, split into four categories of provisioning, supporting, regulating and cultural services. Because they are so beneficial in a variety of ways, the international community has begun to monitor and monetize these services, in addition to advocating for environmental sustainability.

Each category of ecosystem services provides a certain type of benefit to the global population.

  • Provisioning services are often described as ecosystem goods, and refer to benefits such as food production.
  • Supporting services are services that enable other categories to work, including but not limited to nutrient production and habitat provision.
  • Regulatory services, such as carbon storing, are processes often considered to be public goods, and are perhaps the most difficult to measure.
  • Lastly; cultural services refer to social aspects of the ecosystem, such as the services sacred land provides and eco-tourism.

As climate change increasingly warrants international attention, a system that measures and monitors the benefits of ecosystem services will prove to be more necessary than ever before. In addition to having a set measurable indicators, it will also be valuable to monetize these services for both the public and private sector.  Fortunately, some of the information and technology needed to perform these functions are already in development. The US Department of Agriculture for example, recently launched Comet 2.0, a web-based tool to help farmers estimate farm-specific carbon sequestrations and net greenhouse gas emissions from soils, biomass, annual crops, and fossil fuel usage.  Another tool, the i-Tree, allows municipalities to monetize the value of urban trees, and is used in over 6,000 communities worldwide for city planning initiatives.

Recognizing the monetary value of ecosystem services, the private sector has also begun to show their commitment to the environment as part of an overall business strategy. This past June at the Rio+20 Summit, 24 global Fortune 500 companies including Coca-Cola, Dell, General Motors and Xerox, released a report called The New Business Imperative: Valuing Natural Capital. The report, sponsored by the Corporate Eco Forum and The Nature Conservancy, urges businesses to recognize how their companies are dependent on ecosystem services in a range of areas, from supply chain to cost savings.  Complete with a commitment from each company involved, the report estimated the world’s ecosystem contributes about $72 trillion in goods and services per year to the global economy.

While ecosystem services may be a relatively new topic on the environmental agenda, the momentum behind the discussion is building. In fact in February 2012, the UN Statistical Commission recently approved the System for Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA) to account for material natural resources in a nation’s economy. It should be noted however, that an internationally accepted method of accounting for ecosystem services, as opposed to goods and materials, does not currently exist.

Because this is an increasingly important topic with a potential impact on Environmental Natural Resource Management (ENRM), we’ll be taking an in-depth look at ecosystem services in the areas of disaster risk reduction, food security, health and technology. Each week, we’ll look at specific areas of ecosystem services and how they fit into the larger development picture.

 

Photo credit: Sustainable Futures

980 million people traveled internationally in 2010, a 4% increase over the previous year, and forecasts expect 1.6 billion tourists by the year 2020. Travel & Tourism as a sector accounts for 258 million jobs globally, and provides crucial opportunities for investment, economic growth, and fostering cultural awareness.  Tourism can also be a powerful tool for tackling major challenges such as conservation and poverty alleviation.

But how do environmentally and socially conscious travelers navigate the complex differences between ecotourism, sustainable tourism, socially responsible tourism and the other myriad forms of traveling responsibly?

Ecotourism vs Sustainable Tourism

Industry consensus agrees ecotourism is more focused on ecological conservation and educating travelers on local environments and natural surroundings, whereas sustainable tourism focuses on travel that has minimal impact on the environment and local communities. Ecotourism is a form of tourism, or a category of vacation similar to beach, adventure, health, or cultural, while the concept of sustainability can be applied to all types of tourism.

As established by The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) in 1990, ecotourism is “Responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” Another widely cited definition of ecotourism is “purposeful travel to natural areas to understand the culture and natural history of the environment; taking care not to alter the integrity of the ecosystem; producing economic opportunities that make the conservation of natural resources beneficial to local people.”

The Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) is a global initiative dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism practices around the world. GSTC and its global members of UN agencies, global travel companies, hotels, tourism boards and tour operators follow the Global Sustainable Tourism Criteria. The 23 criteria focus on best practices to sustain natural and cultural resources, maximize social and economic benefits for the local community, and minimize negative impacts to the environment.

Currently there is no internationally accredited body charged with overseeing the standards, monitoring and assessment, or certification for the ecotourism or sustainable tourism industries. Without an established standard it is easy to be confused by organizations that greenwash services and offerings as “environmentally friendly.” Others argue that ecotourism is an oxymoron, as travel implicitly entails activities that are detrimental to the environment. Planes, trains and automobiles use harmful fossil fuels that emit CO2, and forestland is often cleared for roads and railways.

Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism in Action

Photo Credit: Visit Costa Rica

Costa Rica was a pioneer in ecotourism and exemplifies how tourism can be a key pillar of economic development policy. Costa Rica is now the premiere destination for ecotourism, and in 2010 tourism contributed 5.5% of the country’s GDP. Jordan serves as another model of successfully integrating conservation and socio-economic development. Ecotourism generated $2.1 million in 2010, and Jordan’s Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature has received several global awards for its success in alleviating poverty and creating employment for local communities, in combination with integrating nature conservation.

Myriad sites offer options for tours and hotels that cater to a more environmentally friendly and sustainable type of traveling experience. The New York Times travel section allows viewers to search potential destinations using ecotourism as a criteria, and Condé Nast Traveler highlights Ecotourism and Sustainable Travel under Expert Travel Tips.

The Earthwatch Institute, organizes trips where travelers work alongside scientists and explorers on field expeditions and Sierra Club’s travel arm Sierra Club Outing allows environmentalist to learn something on vacation and inflict minimal harm on the surrounding environment.

At the industry level, hotels and resorts are taking on sustainability commitments that focus on recycling, decreasing water and energy usage, reducing greenhouse gas emissions,and environmentally friendly design. Many in the industry show a commitment to a holistic approach to sustainability which includes  the construction of Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings, providing eco-friendly and organic food and wine selections, and rewarding guests who make “green choices.” Marriott, which boasts 2,800 hotels worldwide, offers guests hotel points or vouchers for the hotel restaurant should they choose to not having linens and towels washed daily.

Understanding the difference between sustainable tourism and ecotourism educates travelers on the significant impact their travel decisions have on the environment, economy and local communities they visit. Participating in sustainable tourism, or more specifically ecotourism vacations, means travelers can contribute to development and conservation efforts, while enjoying themselves on vacation.

Headshot of Melanne Verveer

Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer. (Photo: US Dept of State)

On Monday, July 23, 2012 the Center for American Progress hosted Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer for a discussion on “Women’s Economic Success and Global Growth.” Amb. Verveer’s talk focused on the crucial role women play in sustainable development and economic growth worldwide. US women generate $3.5 trillion yearly, and women’s employment in developing countries contributes more to the global economy than China. By 2050, women will control 2/3 of all spending worldwide. Noting that women traditionally spend their earnings in sectors that create a multiplier effect (i.e., health, education, food), Amb. Verveer emphasized the tremendous consumer power women will wield in global markets. She also highlighted growing research that shows how countries where women’s rights are more closely equal to those of men are more peaceful and prosperous than  countries that ignore, marginalize or limit the role of women.

Amb. Verveer spoke of three main areas the State Department focuses on increasing the role and influence of women: Economic Empowerment, Women in Development, and Peace and Security.  Within the Women in Development sector, three initiatives discussed fit squarely within Integra’s areas of expertise: Feed the Future (Agriculture), Global Climate Change Initiative (Environment) and mWomen (Information and Communications Technology).

Agriculture: Women are vital to agricultural development, often making up the majority of farmers in developing countries and the backbone of agriculture-based economies. FAO reports claim that if men and women farmers had equal access to credit, training, property rights and technical inputs, yields could improve 20 to 30 percent and the number of malnourished people worldwide could be reduced by 150 million people.

Environment: Women bear the burdens of climate change disproportionately more than men. Yet women are uniquely empowered to address climate change because of their central role in agriculture, forest management, and running the home (i.e., making crucial energy decisions as pertains to energy sources used in the home).

ICT4D: Increased technological access creates opportunities for financial security and independence. With mobile access, women are able to gain information about the current market, including data on pricing and weather systems, in addition to business insights and trainings, access to support networks, and the ability to transfer and save funds. “The significance of mobile technology cannot be underrated,” said Ambassador Verveer, who emphasized both the economic and social value of mobile technology. While 350 million women still do not have access to cell phones, the State Department is working to bridge this gap in connectivity through various initiatives, including the GSMA mWomen initiative. mWomen is committed to reducing this gender gap in connectivity by 50%.

In each development sector highlighted, Ambassador Verveer reiterated that gender equality is not only smart economics, but in line with US values and “a moral imperative of the 21st Century.” While the State Department and USAID continue to add gender guidance components to trainings and major international initiatives, true change will only be achieved once gender equality becomes institutionalized and integrated across all bureaus. Women’s rights need to be viewed as human rights essential to fostering economic growth, social stability and a more peaceful prosperity worldwide.

 

To view full event video, click here. To read Ambassador Verveer’s article on “Why Women Are a Foreign Policy Issue,” click here

 

In June 2012, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Marking the 20th Anniversary of the Earth Summit, Rio+20 provided an opportunity for the world to reaffirm commitments to poverty erradication, sustainable development and environmental protection. Below, we explore various outcomes of Rio+20:

Rio+20 logo

Photo credit: Voices of Youth

1. New Sustainable Development Goals

As a replacement for the Millennium Development Goals which end in 2015, the governments of Colombia and Guatemala have proposed Sustainable Development Goals. These goals would link environmental and human development concerns within broad categories such as changing consumption patterns, combating poverty, and advancing food security. While negotiations in Rio did not agree to specific themes, terms or commitments, an “open working group” of 30 nations was appointed to determine priorities for the pledge by September 2013.

2. Words, Words, Words

From cries of disgust and disappointment—Greenpeace deemed the summit “a failure of epic proportion” — to careful phrased optimism about sustainable development, Rio+20 was a war of words. Promises were made, fingers pointed, and cries of injustice abound, but in the end the most important words were found within “The Future We Want”.  A non-binding communiqué ratified by all UN members that resulted in no financial commitments or concrete benchmarks.

Instead, much of the conference discourse centered around the dominant buzz word and concept of “the green economy.” We at Integra recently blogged about inclusive green growth efforts and sustainable development initiatives of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Graphic displaying the Zero Hunger Challenge spectrum of milestones

Photo credit: UN

3. An Initiative to End Hunger 

At the conference, UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon launched the Zero Hunger Challenge, an initiative that aims to put an end to hunger, ensure resilient food systems, increase productivity and income of smallholder farmers, especially women, and eliminate food waste.  The UN campaign is supported by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the World Food Programme, Unicef, the World Bank, and various governments.

 4. An Appreciation for the Energizing and Influential Power of Sideshow Events

More than 3,000 fringe events took place outside of the negotiations, producing significant outputs and exciting commitments. Passionate and innovative individuals, committed grassroots organizations, and forward thinking corporations were able to mold policy and influence international agreements in new and exciting ways. These outside movements energize and influence negotiations, and are an important reminder that individuals still have incredible influence on the state of the world.

5. Innovative Pledges from Unlikely Sources

While government negotiators could not agree to binding pledges, various corporations, individual states and industry groups committed to bold and creative ways of approaching the challenge of sustainable development. Some of the more interesting pledges include:

Grenada announced its transport and electricity sectors will only use clean energy sources by 2030.

Unilever promised to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2020 and find sustainable sources of beef, soy and palm oil to prevent the deforestation now stemming from production of these three major crops.

Eight international development banks agreed to invest $175 billion to sustainable public transport systems over the next decade.

European PVS industries made a commitment to recycle 800,000 tons of PVC each year through the VinylPlus programme.

Microsoft will roll out an internal carbon fee on its operations in more than 100 countries, part of a plan to go carbon-neutral by 2013.

Map of the world in a field

Photo credit: UNEP

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was strengthened with more funding, stronger powers to initiate scientfic research, a leadership role in coordinating global environmental strategies, and a vote of confidence for the organization’s much publicized transition to a focus on creating a green economy backed by strong social provisions.

 

Marianne Fay, Chief Economist of the Sustainable Development Network, presenting the World Bank report, "Inclusive Green Growth".

Marianne Fay, Chief Economist of the Sustainable Development Network. Photo credit: World Bank

On June 26, 2012, Dr. Marianne Fay, Chief Economist of the Sustainable Development Network presented the World Bank report entitled “Inclusive Green Growth”, followed by a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. Commentators included Dr. David Reed, the Senior Vice President, Policy of the World Wildlife Fund, and Dr. Rosina Bierbaum, Professor of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy at the University of Michigan.

Following the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, panelists upheld the importance of inclusive, sustainable economic growth. Accordingly, the report puts forth a three-pronged strategy to achieve this goal. Highlighted methods include appealing to immediate and short-term benefits, creating incentives for private sector investment, and promoting sustainable decision and policy making such as natural capital accounting.

Referencing Christine Lagarde’s recent speech on sustainable development, Dr. Fay pointed out that while “getting the prices right” is fundamental to building a green economy, that it would not act as a catalyst on its own. Similarly, Dr. Bierbaum informed the audience that cost-efficient alternatives are insufficient for stimulating investment. Panelists insisted that in order to achieve a green economy, a change in human behavior must occur, alongside a shift in private investment, given the proper incentives. Nevertheless, while each commentator recognized the importance of  attracting the private sector and communities to facilitate this change, little was discussed as to what those incentives might be.

Pointing out another important issue, Dr. Reed emphasized the need for a micro-level focus on members of the communities such as farmers, civil society members, microfinance institutions and social entrepreneurs. While he supported the World Bank report, he also pointed out what he called a “major disconnect” between the document and a strategy on how to involve all stakeholders in fostering a green economy; not just the World Bank and government agencies. His comments raised the question as to what incentives could build such a network to support this effort?

As Dr. Fay mentioned, no matter how high gas prices rise, the majority of a population will continue to pay for the fuel if they do not have a public transportation system that provides them with another option. Accordingly, governments and the private sector must work together to provide and invest in the infrastructure necessary to support green growth. Sustainable transportation systems and increasing access to ICT, for example, are two topics that took center stage at the Rio+20 conference last week. Multilateral banks committed over $175 billion dollars to support sustainable transportation systems in the developing world, and ICT has been recognized as a key strategy for inclusive sustainable development.

While the World Bank and similar financial institutions may not be able to provide incentives for private sector investment, they can provide funding to assist financially struggling governments pursue this path of sustainable development. Marianne Fay suggested that a combination of both regulatory policies and price instruments be used, in conjunction with social policies that help the poor deal with the transition. The discussion concluded with a reminder to the audience, that the goal is not to slow growth, but to change the way in which we develop. Perhaps once the incentives are better defined, and strategies are tailored to the context of each individual country, drivers of the economy will be more open to change.

 

 

 

Rural villages around the world lack reliable access to water and technology. Like a broken record, a common mistake made my aid groups that go into such communities is the failure to properly teach local groups how to properly care for, use, and integrate complex, expensive equipment. It breaks and becomes a physical reminder of broken promises.

Kayarani, a small village in Bolivia made up of subsistence farmers is one such example of a locality where past campaigns to improve sanitation has produced mixed results. The NGO Water for People is attempting to avoid previous mistakes by working with local community and government officials for effective engagement in building a sustainable water system and latrines.

A critical aspect of Water for People’s approach in remote villages like Kayarani is its Android feature that uses GPS and GoogleEarth software. The feature program is called FLOW (Field Level Operations Watch). FLOW offers an easy way to collect data, aggregate photos, conduct surveys, and communicate information via mobile phone within the area. FLOW was built by Water for People in 2010 to provide accountability and transparency to donors and the public.

FLOW is different from other programs in that it’s much easier to maintain accountability through its instant feedback electronic database. This accountability allows Water for People and the local community to find creative, collaborative solutions using data that challenge anecdotal norms. FLOW is adaptable, allowing users to create surveys on any topic in order to best reflect the impact of the project. The fact that it’s a phone feature means that data can be collected anywhere and later automatically uploaded if there isn’t a mobile connection.

In 2011, Kayarani built a gravity-fed water system with assistance from Water for People and the local government. This system provides reliable and safe water for the fifty families in the community. The infrastructure was co-financed by the local community to encourage maintenance. The local government also provides hygiene education through a worker who regularly visits every household to collect data throughout the different phases of the water and sanitation project. A FLOW worker will continue to monitor and evaluate the project for ten years, ensuring that everyone in the village has adequate access to water and sanitation forever.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is growing in popularity worldwide as a way to provide faster, more efficient transportation that is lower in carbon emissions than traditional bus routes and less costly than light rail. BRTs are growing in popularity particularly in Latin America and Asia.

BRTdata.org was launched at the end of March by EMBARC, World Resources Institute, Across Latitudes and Cultures (ALC-BRT CoE), and International Energy Agency (IEA). The website is useful for researchers, transit agencies, city officials, and others who wish to better understand  and improve bus corridors in their cities. BRTdata.org compares BRT systems and bus corridors in 134 cities in 36 countries using metrics such as system operations, design and cost, passengers per day, commercial speed, and length of corridors. IEA wrote that, “this database will be helpful to planners, and is an essential component in calculating energy efficient scenarios which inform decision makers of practical ways of transitioning to a more secure, sustainable and affordable energy future.”

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