Environmental challenges need integrated solutions

Posted on: January 14, 2016

Lead Environmental Specialist


The future of all life on Earth depends on how we manage the interdependencies between environment and development. Photo: Olga Kashubin/Shutterstock.
The future of all life on Earth depends on how we manage the interdependencies between environment and development. Photo: Olga Kashubin/Shutterstock.

At last month’s landmark Paris Conference, world leaders committed to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.

The historic agreement is a major boost for efforts to spur investment towards a low carbon, resilient and sustainable future.  But, delivering on the promise of Paris will not be easy for many reasons.  Here is one.

Three major socio-economic trends could exacerbate global environment degradation and significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the coming decades:

  1. The projected human population increase that may result in 9 billion people sharing the planet by 2050, along with a growth in the global middle class from under 2 billion today to around 5 billion by 2030;
  2. The rising demand for food, energy, and water; and
  3. The rapid pace of urbanization, with global urban population expected to rise to 60 percent by 2030, mostly in Asia and Africa. Already, cities account for some 70% of all GHG emissions.

The good news is there is a way forward.

In Paris, the potential of new, scaled-up, integrated approaches to tackle these and other challenges was a major highlight of activities on the margins of the negotiations. The business community turned out in full force to showcase new technologies for increasing energy efficiency and harnessing renewable energy across a wide range of sectors. The agriculture and forests community highlighted a diversity of options for promoting sustainability and resilience in global food production, and for sustainable sourcing of commodities to reduce deforestation. City municipalities and networks showed off new ways of embracing urbanization to create smarter cities as hubs of environmental sustainability. Going forward, the interest and commitment expressed by this diversity of actors can be greatly leveraged for integrated and systemic actions to promote transformational change.

In its role as financial mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and several other multi-lateral environmental agreements, the Global Environment Facility is already helping to advance integrated approaches for sustainability and resilience. At the core of this effort are three new Integrated Approach Pilot programs or IAPs– Fostering Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa, Taking Deforestation out of Commodity Supply Chains and Sustainable Cities

Fostering Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa

Twelve African countries  - Burkina Faso, Burundi, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Swaziland, Tanzania and Uganda , all located in the dryland regions where the threat of environmental degradation and food insecurity is greatest, are participating in the GEF program on food security. The program promotes multi-stakeholder frameworks at national and regional levels to increase focus on sustainability and resilience. By promoting the integrated management of natural resources in smallholder agriculture, the program helps farmers strengthen soil health, improve access to drought-tolerant seeds, and maintain or increase diversity on their farms. This will contribute to bring 10 million hectares of production landscapes under improved and sustainable practices, and mitigate 10-20 million metric tonnes of CO2e emission.

Taking Deforestation out of Commodity Supply Chains

The program on commodity supply chains focuses on soy, beef and palm oil, which together account for about 80% of the approximately 7.6 million hectares of tropical forest that are lost every year – an area roughly the size of the Czech Republic. In major producer countries there are already a number of initiatives underway that promotes the sustainable production of these commodities. The GEF approach is to link such efforts with the work of governments and other sectors along the entire global supply chains, strengthening the engagement of the wide range of stakeholders involved, from smallholder farmers to global corporations. Instead of treating production-side and demand-side interventions as separate tracks, the program promotes a holistic approach that encompasses the entire commodity supply chains. This will bring an estimated 23 million hectares of land under sustainable management practices and mitigate 80 million tonnes CO2e of GHG emissions. 

Sustainable Cities

The sustainable cities program is an ambitious attempt to promote urban sustainability by addressing the growing demand for innovative tools and knowledge to help city municipalities and local governments make informed decisions. The program will initially engage 23 cities in 11 developing countries (Brazil, China, Cote d’Ivoire, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Senegal, South Africa and Viet Nam). Initiatives such as the Compact of Mayors, C40 Large Cities Climate Leadership Group, and the International Council for Environmental Initiatives’ Cities for Climate Protection are already playing an important role in helping address needs for designing cities of the future. The program builds on these initiatives and promotes the integration of environmental sustainability in urban planning and management initiatives.  It is estimated that it will contribute towards avoiding more than 100 million metric tonnes of CO2e emissions.

These programs offer only a glimpse of how complementarity and synergy can be advanced in seeking multiple environmental benefits, including climate change mitigation and adaptation. In line with the Sustainable Development Goals, there are clear opportunities to broaden the scope and application of integrated approaches for greater transformational impact in the years ahead.

History has taught us that sector by sector or issue by issue approaches alone do not change the status quo or reverse trends. Rather, innovative solutions based on holistic and integrated thinking are needed to harness synergies, manage negative tradeoffs, and increase potential for impact at scale. Such thinking acknowledges the multi-disciplinary nature of both threats to the global environment and the solutions to them. 

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