Tag Archives: WRI

Environmental Cooperation and Resource Degradation

People commonly assume that environmental degradation and resource depletion will lead to conflict, however  ecological problems can also lead to cooperation.

Earthtrends reviews some recent research in this area in Using Environmental Negotiations Toward Peace:

Ecological resources have factored into many national conflicts–either through competition for scarce resources or greed to exploit plentiful ones. But some scholars see another role for the environment: fostering peace. Resources managed jointly can quell regional hostilities, or better, keep lines of communication open so that a conflict never starts, these scholars say, and it seems the idea is gaining traction.

Can Payments to Farmers Expand Agricultural Production and the Supply of other Ecosystem Services

greenhouse gas emissionsAgriculture are argueably is the human activity that has the largest impact on the world, impacting many ecosystem services. However, most farmers have minimal financial incentive to enhance ecosystem services other than crop yield. WRI Earthtrends reviews the evidence that Expanding Agriculture and Protecting Ecosystems: Can Payments to Farmers Accomplish Both?

How can farmers be encouraged to reduce these negative side-effects, while also meeting the growing demand for food and fiber?

Paying Farmers for Ecosystem Services

Farmers constitute the largest group of natural resources managers in the world–agriculture accounts for over 40% of global employment. The concept of paying farmers for the ecosystem services they provide, thereby creating a financial incentive for environmental protection, is an approach generating increasing support worldwide. In fact, the FAO’s State of Food and Agriculture Report 2007 provides an in-depth analysis of this concept, highlighting its great potential as well as existing challenges.

Farmers can generate enhanced environmental services in three main ways:

* Changing methods of production
* Diverting current agricultural land to other uses
* Avoiding future conversion of new land to agriculture

Examples of Payment Systems around the World

The demand for environmental services has been increasing over recent decades, both due to greater awareness of their value and to their increasing scarcity. Consequently, many industrialized countries have already implemented programs providing farmers with payments for environmental services. In the United States, for example, farmers can elect to receive annual rental payments for retiring farmland from crop production for 10 to 15 years, thereby enhancing soil conservation. Similarly, farmers in the United Kingdom can receive compensation payments for adopting less intensive farming practices.

One of the most notable programs in the developing world was established in Costa Rica in 1996. To enhance forest environmental services (i.e. carbon sequestration, watershed protection and biodiversity protection), land and forest owners receive compensation payments for reforestation, sustainable forest management and forest protection. The program is financed via a fossil fuel sales tax and revenues from hydroelectric companies, among other sources. Similarly, China’s “Grain for Green” program pays farmers to plant forests on sloping and degraded lands.

Policy Design Issues and Challenges

Environmental payment schemes have great potential but must overcome several implementation challenges. A successful approach must create a mechanism for measuring and valuing a service, identify how and where to enhance services most cost-effectively, and decide which farmers to compensate and how much to pay them. In some situations, it may make sense to use alternative policy approaches, such as reforms to reduce agricultural market distortions or command-and-control regulations. No matter what strategy is adopted, the FAO emphasizes that poverty implications must be kept in mind. Most of the world’s poor people live in rural areas and are dependent upon agriculture and their natural resource base for survival–any plan to implement payments for environmental services will have both positive and negative impacts for the poor that must be considered.

Wildlife, globalization, and resource wars

Diamonds, cocaine, coltan, oil and timber are valuable resources that finance armed groups that blur the distinction between gangs, rebels, and mafias.  Now WRI Earthtrend’s writes that the Illegal Animal Trade Finances War in Africa:

Illegal animal trade, once a high-profile environmental concern, has largely taken a back seat to climate change, habitat destruction, and pollution as a threat to biodiversity. Despite being out of the spotlight, however, so-called wildlife trafficking is a big business. The U.S. Department of State estimates that black-market trade in illegal ivory, snake skins and venoms, live birds, primates, tiger parts, rhino horns, and other wildlife and wildlife products generates between 10 and 20 billion dollars per year. China is the number one destination for such products; the U.S. is number two.The targeted animals are increasingly threatened by poaching, and many are critically endangered in the wild. But species conservation isn’t the only reason that wildlife trafficking has been drawing increased attention recently. Rather, the alarm is of a relatively new sort: national security.

The black market trade in endangered animals, once a crime committed by small groups of local poachers, has become dominated by organized crime syndicates. Like the conflict diamond trade that has funded brutal wars in Sierra Leone, trade in wildlife provides a steady stream of unreported money–some of which, it seems clear, is supporting civil war and terrorist organizations.

Mapping Coastal Eutrophication

Current industrial agricultural practices produce a tradeoff between agricultural production and the quality of coastal ecosystems, because agricultural fertilizers that increase crop yields lead to the creation of low oxygen hypoxic areas in areas which receive a lot of nutrient rich runoff.

The World Resources Institute and Virginia Institute of Marine Science, has updated Diaz et al’s recent map of coastal eutrophication. They identify 169 hypoxic areas, 233 areas of concern, and 13 systems in recovery.

Coastal Eutrophication WRI 2008

The WRI Earthtrends weblog writes about the project:

The map shows three types of eutrophic zones:

(1) Documented hypoxic areas – Areas with scientific evidence that hypoxia was caused, at least in part, by an overabundance of nitrogen and phosphorus. Hypoxic areas have oxygen levels low enough to inhibit the existence of marine life.

(2) Areas of concern – Systems that exhibit effects of eutrophication, including elevated nitrogen and phosphorus levels, elevated chlorophyll levels, harmful algal blooms, changes in the benthic community, damage to coral reefs, and fish kills. These systems are impaired by nutrients and are possibly at risk of developing hypoxia. Some of the systems may already be experiencing hypoxia, but lack conclusive scientific evidence of the condition.

(3) Systems in recovery – Areas that once exhibited low dissolved oxygen levels and hypoxia, but are now improving. For example, the Black Sea recovery is largely due to the economic collapse of Eastern Europe in the 1990s, which greatly reduced fertilizer use. Others, like Boston Harbor in the United States and the Mersey Estuary in the United Kingdom also have improved water quality resulting from better industrial and wastewater controls.

Given the state of global data, the actual number of eutrophic and hypoxic areas around the world is likely to be greater than the 415 listed here. The most under-represented region is Asia. Asia has relatively few documented eutrophic and hypoxic areas despite large increases in intensive farming methods, industrial development, and population growth over the past 20 years. Africa, South America, and the Caribbean also have few reliable sources of coastal water quality data.

A more detailed analysis of this data set will be available in February 2008 in a policy note entitled Eutrophication and Hypoxia in Coastal Areas: A Global Assessment of the State of Knowledge (a list of related publications can be found here.