Tag Archives: Earth

They’re Healthy. They’re Sustainable. So Why Don’t Humans Eat More Bugs?

By Aryn Baker – Sylvain Hugel is one of the world’s foremost experts on crickets of the Indian Ocean Islands. So when he received an email from a fellow entomologist in March 2017 asking for help identifying a species in Madagascar that could be farmed for humans to consume, he thought it was a joke. “I’m working to protect those insects, not eat them,” the French academic responded tartly.

But the emails from Brian Fisher, an ant specialist at the California Academy of Sciences, in San Francisco, kept coming. Fisher had been doing fieldwork in Madagascar when he realized that the forests where both he and Hugel conducted much of their research were disappearing. Nearly 80% of Madagascar’s forest coverage has been destroyed since the 1950s, and 1-2% of what remains is cut down each year as farmers clear more trees to make room for livestock. The only way to prevent this, Fisher told Hugel in his emails, was to give locals an alternative source of protein. “If you want to be able to keep studying your insects, we need to increase food security, otherwise there will be no forest left,” Fisher wrote.

His proposal was insect protein. More than two-thirds of Madagascar’s population already eat insects in some form, usually as a seasonal snack. If there were a way to turn that occasional snack into a regular meal by making it easily available, it could help ease pressure on the island’s threatened forests. Crickets, which are high in protein and other vital nutrients, were already being farmed successfully in Canada for both human and animal consumption. Surely Hugel, with his vast knowledge of Indian Ocean crickets, could help identify a local species that would be easy to farm, and, more importantly, might taste good? more>

EU credibility as a people’s union rests on the social pillar

Buffeted by the pandemic and by populism, the EU needs the European Pillar of Social Rights to become a solid anchor of security for all.
By Liina Carr – Next week, the European Commission is set to unveil its Action Plan for putting the European Pillar of Social Rights into practice. The European Trade Union Confederation is pressing hard for an ambitious plan, which provides the means to achieve and monitor tangible social progress.

The EPSR was adopted by member states in 2017 but—partly due to the social and economic damage inflicted by the pandemic—European citizens might be forgiven for wondering what difference it has made to their lives. It was the former commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, who announced the initiative in his 2015 State of the Union address. The text was finally proclaimed by European Union leaders at the Social Summit in Gothenburg.

The ETUC played a major role in developing its 20 principles, which we see as crucial to strengthening the EU’s social dimension—ensuring that the welfare of workers and their families is not subordinated to the economic interests of the single market.

Despite its legalistic language, the pillar however lacks legal force: the principles do not give direct rights to any individual. It has been described as an agenda, ‘a compass for a renewed process of upward convergence towards better working and living conditions in Europe’.

The ETUC sees it as a guiding strategic framework, enabling the commission to bring forward legislation and other initiatives to strengthen social wellbeing. But at a time when the EU is under intense scrutiny for its handling of the Covid-19 crisis, implementing the pillar in a way that touches people’s lives is a question of credibility for European institutions and member-state governments in the eyes of their citizens. There is no time to waste. more>

Updates from McKinsey

America 2021: Renewing the nation’s commitment to climate action
To America’s leaders, innovators, and changemakers; here’s how you can help build a low-carbon economy that is resilient, competitive, prosperous, and fair.
By Dickon Pinner and Matt Rogers – The new federal administration has arrived in Washington with ambitious plans to address the climate crisis—and in so doing, revitalize the US economy and reclaim a leadership position on the international stage. During their campaign, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted “the opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable economy—one that will put the United States on an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide by no later than 2050 […] and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs.”

Their vision recognizes that the global transition to a low-carbon economy is well under way. The cost of many clean-energy technologies fell significantly during the past decade—as much as 90 percent for some renewable-energy projects. The capital markets are funding the use of these technologies at historically low costs of capital, thereby accelerating scale-up investments. A climate-friendly policy tilt is taking hold in many places. With China, Japan, and the European Union having announced targets to achieve net-zero emissions, more than 110 countries, accounting for more than 70 percent of global GDP, have made net-zero pledges. Of the US states, 23 have established emissions-reduction goals and 12 have instituted carbon-pricing policies. Groups representing prominent American companies have endorsed the use of market-based mechanisms to promote emissions reductions. Some large businesses, along with four former Federal Reserve chairs (including the new treasury secretary), have voiced support for a nationwide carbon tax. These trends are creating possibilities for American leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, competitive advantage, and economic growth.

With the wind at their backs, government agencies and private-sector organizations can continue advancing the new national climate agenda that’s been set in motion already. The stimulus and government appropriations bill of December 2020, which received bipartisan support, set out tax incentives and funding for energy innovation and climate-related programs. And within days of his inauguration, President Biden signed executive orders initiating the process to reenter the Paris Agreement, positioning climate as a foreign-policy and national-security issue and calling on federal agencies to coordinate an all-government push to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, purchase clean-energy technologies, support innovation, conserve nature, and create economic opportunities across America. 1 Making good on these intentions will require new information, products, operations, and market innovations from public officials and business leaders. To inform their work, this memo highlights four sets of practices with notable potential to deliver the prosperity, security, and social-justice outcomes that the administration has prioritized. more>

EU vows to work with international partners to be climate neutral by 2050

New Europe Online/KG – The Europe Union can be a powerful promoter of climate ambitions also because it can offer a model of a socially just Green Deal transition, which leaves no one behind. “We can share our experience of tools such as the Coal Regions in Transition Initiative, and the Just Transition Mechanism. We can show that economic and energy diversification is possible and can create better jobs and growth for societies,” Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said on February 1 at the EsadeGeo Annual Energy Meeting “Geopolitics of the Green Deal Month”.

Europe accounts for around 8% of global emission. “So, to address global climate change, we need others to follow the same path – to become our partners in the clean energy transition,” Simson noted.

“Europe has two assets to advocate here: our high climate ambition and our just transition policy model. The European Union showed leadership announcing its climate neutrality goal for 2050. Last December EU leaders also agreed to step up commitment to reduce emissions by 2030. This is now the EU’s nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement,” the Commissioner said, adding that several other major international partners have announced as well net zero commitments. “We can look at 2021 with optimism. As a year of global climate action. Thanks to the COP 26 but also the actions of G20 and G7 led by the UK and Italy, Europe will be a driving force of this collective effort,” she said.

“So, as I said, we want to be leaders, but we have important work to do as partners. The Green Deal is not just an agenda to transform Europe’s economy and society. It has an impact beyond our borders, and most of all, on our closest partners and in our neighborhood. That’s why this must be a focus of our external energy action,” Simson stressed. more>

Updates from ITU

Regulating for resilience: Reigniting ICT markets and economies post-COVID-19
By Raúl Katz – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues its relentless spread, governments, regulators, academics, and the global information and communication technology (ICT) community keep rethinking policy and regulatory frameworks to mitigate the effects of the crisis and chart a way out of it.

The 7th Economic Experts Roundtable convened by ITU provided a platform to generate ideas and solutions to render ICT markets an even more important contributor to social and economic resilience in the face of COVID-19.

The current crisis has brought new challenges to the ICT sector. Regulatory frameworks need to be adjusted to stimulate investment while maintaining a moderate level of competition. Markets and consumer benefits are now examined by decision-makers through the lens of financial adversity and uncertain outlooks.

Amid disruption, policy-makers and regulators need evidence-based guidance that provides a solid ground for their reforms.

A new study released at the Roundtable provides fresh insights backed by authoritative data on the evolution of ICT regulation since 2007, the ICT Regulatory Tracker, and a global dataset on ICT markets economics.

The study shows that ICT regulation has had a measurable impact on the growth of global ICT markets over the past decade.

The analysis uses econometric modelling to pinpoint the impact of the regulatory and institutional frameworks on the performance of the ICT sector and its contribution to national economies.

It provides policy-makers and regulators with evidence to advance regulatory reform and address the challenges and gaps in current regulatory frameworks for digital services and applications. more>

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Updates from McKinsey

A new consultation paper from McKinsey and the World Economic Forum explores the role that natural climate solutions can play in helping to address climate change and the destruction of nature.
Why investing in nature is key to climate mitigation
By Daniel Aminetzah, Emily Birch, Julien Claes, Joshua Katz, Peter Mannion, Sebastien Marlier, Dickon Pinner, and Antoine Stevens – As the world looks beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, a consensus is emerging: certain measures to curb the growth of greenhouse-gas emissions will be central to global economic recovery. Awareness is also growing around the urgent need to slow the destruction of the natural world, and it is becoming clear that the two environmental crises—a changing climate and nature loss—are inextricably linked and compounding.

Natural climate solutions (NCS)—conservation, restoration, and land-management actions that increase carbon storage and avoid greenhouse-gas emissions—offer a way to address both crises and to increase resilience as the climate changes. In fact, as argued in a new paper produced by McKinsey in partnership with the World Economic Forum, there is no clear path to deliver climate mitigation without investing in nature. Climate action requires both the reduction of emissions and the removal of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. NCS can help with both, starting today.

Private-sector commitment to climate action is gaining momentum, with companies increasingly adopting strategies aimed at reaching net-zero emissions and some pledging to invest in nature through the purchase of NCS-generated carbon credits (or “offsets”) as part of the effort. Based on current net-zero commitments from more than 700 of the world’s largest companies, there have already been commitments of carbon credits of around 0.2 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 by 2030. Some companies are even beginning to make commitments beyond carbon to biodiversity and water, which will be a growing trend over the next decade. As a core component of corporate climate mitigation, NCS are thus becoming mainstream, if not yet commonplace. While undersized overall, NCS now account for around 40 percent of retired carbon credits in voluntary carbon markets, up from only 5 percent in 2010. Leaders are also beginning to invest directly in nature through protecting and restoring large expanses of land and ocean. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Optimizing water treatment with online sensing and advanced analytics
Overlaying real-time advanced analytics on data from online sensing can help to stabilize operations and increase capacity in water-treatment facilities.
By Jay Agarwal, Lapo Mori, Fritz Nauck, Johnathan Oswalt, Dickon Pinner, Robert Samek, and Pasley Weeks – Metals and mining companies are adapting to an operating environment in which water is highly regulated, experiences unforeseen supply shocks, and carries substantial social value. By 2024, water-operating expenses for these businesses are estimated to increase by a 1 to 4 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), with a 4 to 7 percent CAGR expected for water-capital spending. Consequently, these metals and mining companies have made significant investments—an estimated $15 billion in 2019 alone—to reduce water withdrawal and increase water efficiency in operations, as well as mitigate reputational risk.

Digital tools can optimize water-management operations—offering stability, reduced costs, and deferred expenditures for new capacity. This article describes the application of such tools in water treatment (see, “The five domains of water management”).

Central to sustainable operations is water reuse, wherein water is reclaimed after processing and treatment (to remove metals, reagents, or suspended solids). Reuse obviates the need for additional fresh water; it significantly reduces water-operating expenses and is critical to addressing low water availability in stressed areas. Anglo-American, for instance, has pledged to adopt techniques that will allow for more than 80 percent water reuse at their mining facilities, saving an estimated $15 million per year. more>

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The ‘circular economy’—neither safe nor sustainable

The circular economy holds out the hope of living within the planet’s resources. Turning aspiration into action is another matter.

By Vera Weghmann – A little over a year ago, schoolchildren across the globe embarked on huge strikes over the climate emergency. Our global economic system is unsustainable: continuous economic growth and endless consumption mean ever-increasing waste. Waste which is buried, dumped at sea or turned into ash pollutes the environment and creates the need to extract further raw materials.

The European Union’s ambition to move towards a circular economy, and in particular its Circular Economy Action Plan, should therefore be welcomed. The circular economy implies radical change to how production and consumption are organized—away from a linear model of growth (extract, make, dispose) to a sustainable alternative (recycle, reuse, remake, share). Waste then becomes a resource.

In a report commissioned by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU), I showed however that the circular economy does not operate of itself. Especially, waste management—central to the circular economy—is an essential public service. Unfortunately, the pay of workers in waste management is often low, working conditions hard and unpleasant and, on top of that, health and safety is often disregarded. The report highlighted that very little attention has been paid to workers operating essential waste services to keep society running and maintain a sustainable environment. In the EU action plan the workers—formal and informal—relied upon are not even mentioned. more>

The Coming Post-COVID Anarchy

The Pandemic Bodes Ill for Both American and Chinese Power—and for the Global Order
By Kevin Rudd – In January and February of this year, there was audible popping of champagne corks in certain quarters of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. What some observers had long seen as this era’s giant geopolitical bubble had finally begun to deflate. China’s Communist Party leadership, the thinking went, was at last coming apart, a result of its obsession with official secrecy, its initial missteps in responding to the novel coronavirus outbreak, and the unfolding economic carnage across the country.

Then, as China began to recover and the virus migrated to the West in March and April, irrational jubilation turned to irrational despair. The commentariat greeted with outrage any possibility that the pandemic might in fact help China emerge triumphant in the ongoing geopolitical contest with the United States. This concern was a product of China’s seemingly cunning remolding of the narrative on the origins of the virus, the brutal efficiency of the Chinese authoritarian model in containing it, and Beijing’s global COVID-aid campaign. China’s own nationalist commentariat happily piled on, delighting in the United States’ distress and noting the supposed contrast between Chinese largesse and American indifference: the “people’s war” against COVID-19 had been won, and the virtues of China’s political model had been vindicated.

Yet despite the best efforts of ideological warriors in Beijing and Washington, the uncomfortable truth is that China and the United States are both likely to emerge from this crisis significantly diminished. Neither a new Pax Sinica nor a renewed Pax Americana will rise from the ruins. Rather, both powers will be weakened, at home and abroad. And the result will be a continued slow but steady drift toward international anarchy across everything from international security to trade to pandemic management. With nobody directing traffic, various forms of rampant nationalism are taking the place of order and cooperation. The chaotic nature of national and global responses to the pandemic thus stands as a warning of what could come on an even broader scale.

As with other historical inflection points, three factors will shape the future of the global order: changes in the relative military and economic strength of the great powers, how those changes are perceived around the world, and what strategies the great powers deploy. Based on all three factors, China and the United States have reason to worry about their global influence in the post-pandemic world.

Contrary to the common trope, China’s national power has taken a hit from this crisis on multiple levels. The outbreak has opened up significant political dissension within the Chinese Communist Party, even prompting thinly veiled criticism of President Xi Jinping’s highly centralized leadership style. This has been reflected in a number of semiofficial commentaries that have mysteriously found their way into the public domain during April. Xi’s draconian lockdown of half the country for months to suppress the virus has been widely hailed, but he has not emerged unscathed. Internal debate rages on the precise number of the dead and the infected, on the risks of second-wave effects as the country slowly reopens, and on the future direction of economic and foreign policy.

The economic damage has been massive. Despite China’s published return-to-work rates, no amount of domestic stimulus in the second half of 2020 will make up for the loss in economic activity in the first and second quarters. Drastic economic retrenchment among China’s principal trading partners will further impede economic recovery plans, given that pre-crisis, the traded sector of the economy represented 38 percent of GDP. Overall, 2020 growth is likely to be around zero—the worst performance since the Cultural Revolution five decades ago. China’s debt-to-GDP ratio already stands at around 310 percent, acting as a drag on other Chinese spending priorities, including education, technology, defense, and foreign aid. And all of this comes on the eve of the party’s centenary celebrations in 2021, by which point the leadership had committed to double China’s GDP over a decade. The pandemic now makes that impossible.

As for the United States’ power, the Trump administration’s chaotic management has left an indelible impression around the world of a country incapable of handling its own crises, let alone anybody else’s. More important, the United States seems set to emerge from this period as a more divided polity rather than a more united one, as would normally be the case following a national crisis of this magnitude; this continued fracturing of the American political establishment adds a further constraint on U.S. global leadership.

Meanwhile, conservative estimates see the U.S. economy shrinking by between six and 14 percent in 2020, the largest single contraction since the demobilization at the end of World War II. Washington’s fiscal interventions meant to arrest the slide already amount to ten percent of GDP, pushing the United States’ ratio of public debt to GDP toward 100 percent—near the wartime record of 106 percent. The U.S. dollar’s global reserve currency status enables the government to continue selling U.S. treasuries to fund the deficit. Nonetheless, large-scale debt sooner or later will constrain post-recovery spending, including on the military. And there’s also risk that the current economic crisis will metastasize into a broader financial crisis, although the Federal Reserve, other G-20 central banks, and the International Monetary Fund have so far managed to mitigate that risk.

Chinese leaders have a simple Leninist view of the United States’ power. It rests on two fundamentals: the U.S. military and the U.S. dollar (including the depth and liquidity of the U.S. financial markets that underpin it). Everything else is detail.

All states are mindful of what Leninists call “objective power” and the willingness of the great powers to deploy it. But the perception of power is equally important. China is now working overtime to repair the enormous damage to its global standing that resulted from the geographical origin of the virus and Beijing’s failure to contain the epidemic in the critical early months. Whatever China’s new generation of “wolf-warrior” diplomats may report back to Beijing, the reality is that China’s standing has taken a huge hit (the irony is that these wolf-warriors are adding to this damage, not ameliorating it). Anti-Chinese reaction over the spread of the virus, often racially charged, has been seen in countries as disparate as India, Indonesia, and Iran. Chinese soft power runs the risk of being shredded.

For different reasons, the United States does not come out of the crisis much better. The world has watched in horror as an American president acts not as the leader of the free world but as a quack apothecary recommending unproven “treatments.” It has seen what “America First” means in practice: don’t look to the United States for help in a genuine global crisis, because it can’t even look after itself. Once there was the United States of the Berlin airlift. Now there is the image of the USS Theodore Roosevelt crippled by the virus, reports of the administration trying to take exclusive control of a vaccine being developed in Germany, and federal intervention to stop the commercial sale of personal protective equipment to Canada. The world has been turned on its head.

The crisis also appears to have shredded much of what was left of the U.S.-Chinese relationship. In Washington, any return to a pre-2017 world of “strategic engagement” with Beijing is no longer politically tenable. A second Trump term will mean greater decoupling and possibly attempted containment, driven by Trump’s base and widespread national anger over the origins of the virus, although this strategy will be rendered incoherent at times by the president’s personal interventions. In a Biden administration, strategic competition (and decoupling in some areas) will continue, likely to be executed on a more systematic basis and leaving some scope for cooperation in defined areas, such as climate, pandemics, and global financial stability. On balance, Beijing would prefer Trump’s reelection over the alternative, because it sees value in his tendency to fracture traditional alliances, to withdraw from multilateral leadership, and episodically to derail the United States’ China strategy. Either way, the U.S. relationship with Beijing will become more confrontational.

In Beijing, China’s response to the United States’ ever-hardening posture is now under intense review. This process began in 2018, during the first full year of the U.S.-Chinese trade war. It has now been intensified, because of the pandemic and its international consequences. The review is part of a broader internal debate in Beijing about whether China’s national strategy, at this stage of its economic and military development, has in recent years become insufficiently reformist at home and excessively assertive abroad.

Prior to Xi, the strategy was to wait until the correlation of economic and military forces shifted in China’s favor before seeking any major adjustments to the regional and international order—including on Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the U.S. presence in Asia. Under Xi, Beijing has become significantly more assertive, taking calculated—and so far successful—risks to bring about changes on the ground, as demonstrated by island reclamation in the South China Sea and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The United States’ reaction to this approach has been deemed to be manageable, but that calculation could change in a post-trade war, post-pandemic world. Xi could seek to ameliorate tensions with the United States until the pandemic is lost to political memory; or facing internal challenges, he could take a more nationalist approach abroad. Both of these tendencies will likely appear in Chinese policy behavior until China’s internal policy review process concludes, which may not happen until shortly before the 20th Communist Party Congress in 2022. But if Xi’s style thus far is any indication, he is likely to double down in the face of any internal dissent.

That would mean hardening China’s posture toward the United States, including on issues such as Taiwan, the single most destabilizing element in the U.S.-Chinese relationship. Beijing is likely to sharpen its strategy of shrinking Taiwan’s international space, even as U.S. efforts to secure Taiwan’s readmission to the World Health Organization intensify. Given that this comes on the heels of other recent U.S. efforts to upgrade official-level engagement between Washington and Taipei, the understandings of the “one China policy” that underpinned the normalization of U.S.-Chinese relations in 1979 could begin to unravel. If these understandings collapse, the prospect of some form of military confrontation over Taiwan, even as the inadvertent result of failed crisis management, suddenly moves from abstraction to reality.

Prior to the current crisis, the postwar liberal international order was already beginning to fragment. The United States’ military and economic power, the geopolitical fulcrum on which the order rested, was being challenged by China, first regionally and more recently, globally. The Trump administration was adding to the order’s problems by weakening the U.S. alliance structure (which in conventional strategic logic would have been central to maintaining a balance of power against Beijing) and systematically delegitimizing multilateral institutions (effectively creating a political and diplomatic vacuum for China to fill). The result has been an increasingly dysfunctional and chaotic world.

The current crisis is likely to reinforce such trends. Strategic rivalry will now define the entire spectrum of the U.S.-Chinese relationship—military, economic, financial, technological, ideological—and increasingly shape Beijing’s and Washington’s relationships with third countries. Until the current crisis, the notion that the world had entered a new Cold War, or Cold War 2.0, seemed premature at best; the two countries’ financial systems were so intertwined that true decoupling was unlikely, and there seemed to be little prospect of geopolitical or ideological proxy wars in third countries, a defining feature of the U.S.-Soviet rivalry.

But the new threats that both sides are making as COVID-related tensions grow could change all that. A decision in Washington to end U.S. pension-fund investments in China, restrict future Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds, or start a new currency war (exacerbated by the recent launch of China’s new digital currency) would quickly remove the financial glue that has held the two economies together; a decision in Beijing to increasingly militarize the BRI would raise the risk of proxy wars. Moreover, as U.S.-Chinese confrontation grows, the multilateral system and the norms and institutions underpinning it are beginning to falter. Many institutions are themselves becoming arenas for rivalry. And with a damaged United States and a damaged China, there is no “system manager,” to borrow Joseph Nye’s phrase, to keep the international system in functioning order. It may not yet be Cold War 2.0, but it is starting to look like Cold War 1.5.

There are better alternatives to this scenario. They depend, however, on significant political and policy change in Washington; a reformist and internationalist readjustment in Beijing; the development of a new architecture of détente between the United States and China (drawing on the U.S.-Soviet experience), which places clear parameters around competition in order to avoid military disaster; and efforts by other countries to pool political and financial resources to preserve the essential multilateral institutions of the current system as a form of institutional triage until there is a return to geopolitical stability. History is not predetermined. But none of this will come about unless political leaders in multiple capitals decide to change course. With the wrong decisions, the 2020s will look like a mindless rerun of the 1930s; the right decisions, however, could pull us back from the abyss. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Interactive Tool Helps People See Why Staying Home Matters During a Pandemic
By Brittany Aiello – Social distancing has become one of the most impactful strategies in the battle to contain the spread of COVID-19, and a new interactive modeling tool can help people understand why it is so important to “flatten the curve.” Known as VERA, the artificial intelligence (AI) application was developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology to raise awareness about why it matters that individuals distance themselves during an infectious disease outbreak.

Led by College of Computing faculty members Ashok Goel and Spencer Rugaber, and Design & Intelligence Laboratory graduate researchers William Broniec and Sungeun An, the VERA Epidemiology project uses AI techniques to empower users to build their own visual models that simulate the impact of social distancing. The project evolved from earlier National Science Foundation-supported research on a virtual ecological research assistant that enables researchers to explore “what if” experiments about complex ecological phenomena.

The beauty of VERA is that users do not need a background in complex mathematical equations or computer programming to explore it. A high school student interested in finding out what it looks like to “flatten the curve” can log in to VERA and investigate. A parent handling middle school science lessons from home can log in to VERA and demonstrate the reason that it is important that they do lessons from home during the COVID-19 outbreak. more>

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