|Picture Credit: pakistaniat.com|
Environmental degradation takes diverse forms, ranging from pollution and destruction of ecosystems to degraded fresh water supplies and arable land.
The international agenda often focuses on broad-based concerns of environmental degradation such as desertification, climate change and air pollution. However, for the world's most vulnerable and marginalized groups, issues of environmental degradation tend to be more localized and immediate in their nature. Degradation of a resource base can result in decreased production - for example reduced soil fertility may produce lower yields and deteriorated water quality can impact fishing. Such problems are of great concern to the poor, with direct impacts on livelihoods, food security and health.
Additionally, although environmental factors are by no means the sole cause of violent conflicts, environmental degradation, exploitation of natural resources and related environmental stresses are increasingly understood as drivers of conflict: A reciprocal relationship wherein conflict, in turn, can further degrade the environment.
Projections in climate change as well as in population growth and distribution present additional future challenges to environmental sustainability.
Articles and Documents
The shrinking Lake Chad, on which approximately 30 million people in surrounding areas of Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger depend, is proof of the growing problem of water scarcity worldwide. It has depleted to 1/5th of its original area and is expected to disappear by the end of the century if nothing is done to protect it, according to the FAO. Farming and fishing are the main livelihoods in the basin; however, fishing activity is already threatened. Tensions over scarce resources have also led to conflicts between users. To help replenish the lake, a $14 billion project to divert water from the Congo River is currently awaiting funding. The future of Lake Chad cannot be ensured solely through large water diversion projects, requiring instead greater focus on sustainable management of current and future water demands within the basin. (Al Jazeera)
Villagers of Niger Delta are seeking justice in the Netherlands after a futile effort to find justice for Shell’s actions in Nigeria. The Anglo-Dutch multinational oil and gas company headquartered in The Hague is accused of oil spills that have “devastated communities, destroyed livelihoods, and endangered the health of local populations and the ecosystem.”The verdict expected in 2013 will determine if pursuing action against Shell abroad was a viable legal strategy. A successful case could have a wide impact by enforcing accountability on multinational companies. (Think Africa Press)
Following the Arab Spring and the US presidential campaign, the topic of US energy independence has sparked back to life. The article summarizes the most high profile environmental disasters brought about by oil giants, who were given the green light to find alternative oil sources, no matter the cost. On this risky path to achieve ambitious energy targets, extreme alternatives such as arctic drilling, hydro-fracking and tar sands production are all on the table. As Professor Michael Klare puts it, one thing remains certain: “extreme energy= extreme methods= extreme disasters= extreme opposition.” (Al Jazeera)
Nigerian villagers are suing Shell Petroleum Development Co, the largest oil and gas company in Nigeria, for polluting land and water in the Niger Delta region. The applicants demand compensation in the case currently heard in The Hague. Shell denies responsibility and claims that the leaks that caused the pollution were the result of sabotage and theft. The verdict of this case could be an important precedent for corporate liability. (Reuters)
Shell Frack Eqypt, Threatening Scarce Water Resources; Egyptians Demand Moratorium (September 19, 2012)
The US justice department held the oil giant British Petroleum (BP) responsible for what is generally acknowledged to be the biggest environmental disaster in US history. The 2010 oil spill took place when an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig caused the rig to sink and “gushed at least 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 straight days.” The spill took a heavy toll on the environment, and the fishing industry is now facing abnormalities in seafood catches. But now BP is attempting to cover up its actions through a nationwide PR campaign. The British Multinational oil and gas company has failed to pass critical safety standards that led to the oil spill which the justice department says amounts to “gross negligence.” (Al Jazeera)
The oil leaking from the container ship Rena into the sea off the Tauranga coast in New Zealand increased by as much as ten-fold. Although concerns had been raised about the seaworthiness of the Rena, at the time of the accident it was carrying 1,368 shipping containers, of which at least 22 contain hazardous goods. Fears have escalated that the 47,000-tonne vessel could break up, triggering an environmental and ecological catastrophe of unprecedented scale. (Guardian)
Investors at the World Agroforestry Center believe that wide-scale restoration efforts and natural regeneration techniques can help to recover some of the world’s forest cover, including 450 million hectares of deforested land. This belief challenges traditional government approaches to land degradation, which focus on decreasing land use and limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Land restoration is a viable alternative, but it will have to mobilize sufficient investment and support by governmental leaders to be truly effective. (Mongabay)
As part of the “REDD+” Indonesia-Norway partnership to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, the Indonesian government has placed a two-year moratorium on new permits for primary natural forests and peatland. The two-year suspension is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. The bill correctly identifies governance as an area for improvement, noting that local and national agencies must work together to decrease forest loss. However, the bill needs more transparency about its land exemptions, such as their size and location, to be implemented most effectively. (World Resources Institute)
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, bees pollinate around 71 of the 100 crop species which provide 90 per cent of food worldwide. But bees are dying out rapidly. A new report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says that toxic chemicals in pesticides cause a loss in the sense of direction and memory for bees, which they rely on to find food. UNEP advises farmers to take more care when applying insecticides and other chemicals, and restore bee-friendly habitats. (The Australian)
Exploitative fishing, pollution and climate change endanger coral reefs, which provide a living for more than 275 million people. A report by the World Resources Institute calls for greater protection of coral reefs to avoid their complete destruction in 50 years. Researchers say that societies most affected include those where much of the population depends on reefs for their livelihood, and those with low adaption capabilities. The South East Asian region needs the most protection, with 95% of reefs on the threatened list. (BBC News)
This year, August 21st marked the day that humanity had reached and consumed its annual environmental resource budget. And from now until the end of the year we will be running in the ecological red, consuming more natural resources and producing more waste than the world can replace and absorb. We have been exceeding the planet's annual resource budget since the 1980s, but the date that we reach this point arrives earlier every year. We currently consume in 12 months what takes 18 months for the planet to regenerate. (Guardian)