Wednesday, September 02, 2009

UNEP/TEEB "Climate Issues Update" Calls For Investment In Ecosystems

Sep 2: A new climate issues update by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), a project launched by Germany and the European Commission in response to a proposal by the G8+5 Environment Ministers (Potsdam, Germany 2007), indicates that investing in restoration and maintenance of the "Earth's multi-trillion dollar ecosystems" -- from forests and mangroves to wetlands and river basins -- can have a key role in countering climate change and climate-proofing vulnerable economies. TEEB designed to develop a global study on the economics of biodiversity loss is hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The issues update was launched by TEEB study leader Pavan Sukhdev, with German Federal Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel; Director-General for Environment, European Commission, Karl Falkenberg; and UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner.

The update says the planet's biological diversity and 'ecological infrastructure' are increasingly being put at risk from the impact of climbing greenhouse gases. The update indicates that "natural systems represent one of the biggest untapped allies against the greatest challenge of this generation." The paper is part of a stream of work towards a final study in 2010.

The update underlines that an agreement on funding for forests is a key priority for governments attending the crucial United Nations COP15 climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in December -- just 95 days away. An estimated 5 gigatonnes or 15 per cent of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions are being absorbed or sequestrated by forests every year, making them the "mitigation engine" of the natural world. A release indicates that this could also be described as "green carbon."

Investing in ecosystem-based measures such as financing Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) could thus not only assist in combating climate change but could also be a key anti-poverty and adaptation measure. Forests also provide services such as freshwaters, soil stabilization, nutrients for agriculture, eco-tourism opportunities and food, fuel and fiber -- all of which will be key to buffering vulnerable communities against the climate change already underway.

The TEEB team indicates in the Climate Issues Update that a more complete report on these and several other areas of relevance to national and international policy-makers will be published in November 2009. "However, in view of the climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009, we thought it appropriate to publish our climate-related conclusions and recommendations more urgently for policy-makers, negotiators, and the general public."

The Update addresses ongoing work in four domains which TEEB says it believes need to be highlighted in the run-up to Copenhagen as follows: "(1) Coral reefs: We now understand that the survival of these ecosystems is at risk. (2) Forest carbon: including forests in mitigation is a cost-effective way of preventing further emissions and removing CO2. Forests also provide cobenefits in the form of other ecosystem services. Giving rewards for these benefits is an important step towards a greener global economy. (3) National accounts: these currently do not measure natural capital, so it can not be managed well. The most urgent step is to include adequate measurement of carbon storage as this is an institutional prerequisite for a serious payment scheme for tropical forests. [and]

"(4) Public investment in ecological infrastructure: This has demonstrable value for adaptation to climate change, not only in terms of relevance and effectiveness but also in terms of cost-effectiveness. In the context of the current economic crisis and the fiscal stimulus packages unveiled by many nations, ecosystems represent an attractive area for high-return investment. our ‘natural capital’ can be a much-needed source of growth in a time of recession, a provider of new and decent jobs in a time of increasing unemployment, and a solution to persistent poverty, a vast human problem which we cannot ignore."

UNEP head Achim Steiner said, "It is clearly emerging that investments in the planet's ecosystem infrastructure can deliver the twin, Green Economy gains of curbing and cutting emissions while assisting vulnerable communities to adapt. Currently governments are considering multi-billion dollar investments in carbon capture and storage at power stations. Perhaps it is time to subject this to a full cost benefit analysis to see whether the technological option matches nature's ability to capture and store carbon -- a natural system that has been perfected over millions of years and with the multiple additional benefits for water supplies up to reversing the rate of biodiversity loss."

In the meantime, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on September 2, standing on the Polar Ice in Norway said, "I feel the power of nature, and at the same time, a sense of vulnerability. This is a common resource for human beings, and we must do all we can to preserve this Arctic ice. The Arctic is ground zero for analyzing the impact of climate change. In the Arctic, climate change is accelerating much faster than in any other region in the world. I am here to see for myself just how much damage this fragile Arctic is suffering from as a result of climate change. The ice is melting faster -- drifting, you have seen while coming here -- many icebergs, the glaciers are drifting and retreating; this is a very alarming situation.

"I'm sending [a message] from the Arctic to all world citizens, particularly world leaders, to draw urgent attention to take action immediately, to preserve Planet Earth, to preserve all that we can do to help our succeeding generations to be able to live in a hospitable environment in a sustainable way. . . we are losing the glaciers at the rate of 150 cubic km per year, that is 150 billion tonnes a year. . . To generate political will, the United Nations is going to convene a summit meeting on September 22 in New York; we have invited all world leaders, we expect more than 100 world leaders to participate. I expect them to demonstrate their political leadership. I expect them to play [their role] as global leaders, addressing these challenges, which require global leadership, global solidarity. We do not have any time to lose. The time is short. We must seal the deal in Copenhagen in December. . ."

Access a lengthy release from UNEP with links to additional information (
click here). Access the 34-page TEEB Climate Issues Update (click here). Access the TEEB Study website for extensive information (click here). Access a release and link to the complete statement from the UN Secretary-General (click here).