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UN-backed report finds that elephant poaching levels are worst in a decade

Elephant poaching levels are the worst in a decade and recorded ivory seizures are at their highest levels since 1989, according to a report published today by the United Nations-backed convention on endangered species.

“We need to enhance our collective efforts across range, transit and consumer states to reverse the current disturbing trends in elephant poaching and ivory smuggling,” the Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), John E. Scanlon, said in a news release on the report.

“While being essential, enforcement efforts to stop wildlife crime must not just result in seizures – they must result in prosecutions, convictions and strong penalties to stop the flow of contraband,” he added. “The whole ‘enforcement chain’ must work together.”

The report – Elephant Conservation, Illegal Killing and Ivory Trade – analyses data from the CITES programme on Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants; the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s data on the status of elephant populations; the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) managed by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC; and the CITES trade database managed by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

According to ETIS data, three of the five years in which the greatest volumes of ivory were seized globally occurred in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2011 alone, there were 14 large-scale ivory seizures – a double-digit figure for the first time in 23 years, when ETIS records were first compiled. They totalled an estimated 24.3 tonnes of ivory, more than in any previous year.

The sources of information have shown a very close correspondence between trends in elephant poaching and trends in large-scale ivory seizures, detecting essentially the same patterns at different points in the illegal ivory trade chain, CITES noted.

Large-scale ivory seizures – those involving more than 800 kilograms of ivory in a single transaction – typically indicate the participation of organised crime. Most of the ivory smuggling containers leave Africa through Indian Ocean seaports on the continent’s eastern coastline, primarily from Kenya and Tanzania, with China and Thailand the two primary destinations for illegal ivory consignments from Africa, according to the seizure data.

Some African and Asian countries have made significant efforts to enhance enforcement, CITES noted. For example, China conducted earlier this year a major operation which resulted in the seizure of more than 1,366 kilograms of ivory and the arrest of 13 suspects.

CITES said that the critical situation in Africa demonstrates the urgent need to implement the African Elephant Action Plan, which was created by all African elephant range States under the auspices of CITES in 2010. The plan envisages investing $100 million over three years into elephant conservation efforts.

The report’s findings, largely based on information submitted by governments, will be taken up at the 62nd meeting of the CITES Standing Committee, in Geneva from 23 to 27 July.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42295&Cr=endangered+species&Cr1=

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UN and partners unveil new initiative to achieve sustainable cities

The United Nations and its partners today unveiled a new initiative to achieve sustainable urban development by promoting the efficient use of energy, water and other resources, lowering pollution levels and reducing infrastructure costs in cities.

The Global Initiative for Resource-Efficient Cities was launched by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and partners in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, just days ahead of the start of the high-level meeting of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

The initiative, open to cities with populations of 500,000 or more, will involve local and national governments, the private sector and civil society groups to promote energy efficient buildings, efficient water use, sustainable waste management and other activities.

UNEP notes that by 2050, up to 80 per cent of the global population is expected to reside in cities, which are increasingly becoming the focus of international sustainability efforts.

Today, urban areas account for 50 per cent of all waste, generate 60-80 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions and consume 75 per cent of natural resources, yet occupy only three per cent of the Earth’s surface, the agency points out in a news release.

Yet water savings of 30 per cent, and energy savings of up to 50 per cent, can be achieved in cities with limited investment and encouraging behavioural change, it adds.

“In the context of rapid urbanization and growing pressures on natural resources, there is an urgent need for coordinated action on urban sustainability,” said UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner.

“This is essential both for preventing irreversible degradation of resources and ecosystems, and for realizing the multiple benefits of greener cities, from savings through energy-efficient buildings, or the health and climate benefits of cleaner fuels and vehicles,” he added.

UNEP also notes that the economic opportunities associated with making cities more sustainable are numerous. As centres of technology, cities can spearhead the creation of green jobs in sectors such as renewable energy. Projections show that some 20 million people could be employed in the wind, solar and biofuel industries by 2030, for example.

The practical steps that cities can take towards resource efficiency are the focus of a new UNEP report, also launched today at Rio+20.

Using case studies from China, Brazil, Germany and a host of other countries, Sustainable, Resource Efficient Cities in the 21st Century: Making it Happen highlights opportunities for city leaders to improve waste and water management, energy efficiency, urban transportation and other key sectors.

Rio+20’s high-level meeting runs 20-22 June, and is expected to bring together over 100 heads of State and government, along with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, chief executive officers and civil society leaders to shape new policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42264&Cr=sustainable+development&Cr1=

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Sustainable forests key to meet development goals

The world’s forests have a major role to play in the transition to a greener economy, but governments need to do more to ensure they are sustainably managed, according to a new report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), issued today.

“Forests and trees on farms are a direct source of food, energy, and cash income for more than a billion of the world’s poorest people,” said FAO’s Assistant Director-General for Forestry, Eduardo Rojas-Briales, in a news release on the report.

“At the same time, forests trap carbon and mitigate climate change, maintain water and soil health, and prevent desertification. The sustainable management of forests offers multiple benefits – with the right programs and policies, the sector can lead the way towards more sustainable, greener economies,” he added.

The report, The State of the World’s Forests 2012 (SOFO 2012), will be officially presented at an event organized by FAO and its partners at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Rio+20’s high-level meeting runs 20-22 June, and is expected to bring together over 100 heads of state and government, along with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, chief executive officers and civil society leaders, to shape new policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection.

SOFO 2012 makes the case that better and more sustainable use of forestry resources can make a significant contribution to meeting many of the core challenges being discussed at Rio+20.

The report notes that investments in wood-based enterprises can generate jobs, create assets and help revitalize the lives of millions of people in rural areas. Some 350 million of the world’s poorest people, including 60 million indigenous people, depend on forests for their daily subsistence and long-term survival, it adds.

Despite sometimes having a poor reputation due to concerns over deforestation, wood products – if sourced from well-run forestry operations – can store carbon and are easily recycled, the FAO report states. It highlights how forest-based industries around the world are innovating competitive new products and processes to substitute non-renewable materials, and by doing so are opening pathways towards low-carbon bio-economies.

The report also argues that sustainable forestry offers a renewable, alternative source of energy.

“Burning wood may be the oldest method by which humans acquire energy, but it is anything but obsolete,” said Mr. Rojas-Briales, adding that wood energy is still the dominant source of energy for over one third of the world’s population, in particular for the poor.

“And as the search for renewable energy sources intensifies, we must not overlook the considerable opportunities for forest biomass-based energy to emerge as a cleaner and greener alternative,” he added.

According to SOFO 2012, deriving energy from wood can offer a climate-neutral and socially equitable solution, provided wood is harvested from sustainably managed forests, burned using appropriate technologies, and undertaken in combination with reforestation and sustainable forest management programs. In addition, by both reducing deforestation and restoring lost forests on a large scale, significant amounts of carbon can be removed from the atmosphere, reducing the severity and impacts of climate change.

SOFO 2012 also notes that putting forests at the heart of a new, green economy will require, first and foremost, policies and programmes that give entrepreneurs incentives to pursue the sustainable utilization of forest resources.

It says that this includes “the removal of perverse incentives that result in deforestation and degradation and conversion of forests to other uses, as well as those promoting the use of non renewable raw materials like steel, concrete, plastics or fossil energies that compete with wood and bamboo.”

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42261&Cr=sustainable+development&Cr1=forest

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UN officials stress importance of healthy soils to sustainable development

Top United Nations officials have called for greater efforts to preserve the soils on which human subsistence depends and to halt and reverse land degradation.

“Without healthy soil, life on Earth is unsustainable,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in his message for the World Day to Combat Desertification, which is observed annually on 17 June and falls this year on the eve of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

“Global efforts to halt and reverse land degradation are integral to creating the future we want,” Mr. Ban said. “Sustainable land use is a prerequisite for lifting billions from poverty, enabling food and nutrition security, and safeguarding water supplies. It is a cornerstone of sustainable development.”

The upcoming sustainable development conference, to be held from 20 to 22 June in Rio de Janeiro, follows on from the Earth Summit held in the same city in 1992, during which desertification, along with climate change and the loss of biodiversity, were identified as the greatest challenges to sustainable development.

Over 100 heads of State and government, along with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, chief executive officers and civil society leaders will gather at “Rio+20” to shape new policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection.

“Rio+20 is our opportunity to showcase the many smart and effective land management systems and options that exist or are in the pipeline,” said Mr. Ban, calling on countries to ensure that a commitment to sustainable land management features prominently in the meeting’s outcome.

Speaking to reporters in Rio yesterday, Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), called on countries to reiterate their commitment at the conference to combat desertification and achieve zero net land degradation by 2030.

“Efforts to combat desertification by fostering sustainable land management practices have potential co-benefits for climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use through protecting and restoring the productive potential in drylands,” he stated.

While only three per cent of the Earth is fertile land, 75 billion tonnes of fertile soil are lost every year, Mr. Gnacadja said, making it more essential to focus on policies that will help regenerate the soil.

In a separate message to mark the Day, Mr. Gnacadja noted that, as the global population is growing, competing claims on this finite resource are sharply increasing.

By 2030, the demand for food is expected to grow by 50 per cent and for energy and water for 45 and 30 per cent respectively. The demand for food alone is likely to claim an additional 120 million hectares of productive land – an area equal to the size of South Africa. Unless degraded land is rehabilitated, forests and other lands will have to make way for the required food production.

Mr. Gnacadja said world leaders at Rio+20 need to adopt a stand-alone goal on sustainable land use for all and by all. “To achieve this goal, we need to avoid land degradation in the non-degraded areas and restore soil fertility in the already degraded lands. We also need to avoid deforestation and adopt drought preparedness policies in all drought-prone countries and regions.”

He added that governments should introduce sustainable land-use into their policies, make it their priority and set up national targets to halt land degradation. Businesses should invest in practices that increase efficiency in land-use. Scientists, media and civil society should help spread the word that this goal is crucial.

“Together, we can make this paradigm shift,” said the Executive Secretary.

As part of the events in Rio to mark the Day, the winners of the Land for Life Award will be announced today by the reigning Miss Universe 2011, Leila Lopes, who is also the UNCCD Drylands Ambassador. The award, with a total prize fund of $100,000, recognizes innovations from around the world that show tangible evidence of combating land degradation, but need scaling up.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42256&Cr=desertification&Cr1=

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Rio+20 Feature: Seven Issues, Seven Experts

World leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations and other groups will come together next week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to take part in the UN Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20).

The Conference aims to shape how countries and their citizens can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection to achieve long-term growth.

Seven key areas have been identified by the UN as needing urgent attention: creation of jobs, access to energy, building sustainable cities, ensuring food security and sustainable agriculture, access to water, managements of oceans and disaster readinessEconomic development can and should proceed around the world under a whole series of new rules and new laws that allow us to do this in a sustainable way..

At the moment, the oceans are facing a number of very serious challenges and those challenges not only affect the environment. They also affect and threaten economic services that depend on oceans.

But what do each of them entail and how can people contribute to a sustainable future?

In our Seven Issues, Seven Experts series, UN officials tell us more about each area and how we can contribute to make our planet more sustainable.

In the second instalment, the UN News Centre spoke with a member of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s High-Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All, the UN Foundation’s President, Timothy Wirth, about why sustainable energy is a cornerstone for economic development and why shifting to green energy sources is easier than we think.

A UN-supported renewable energy project in Tokelau converts solar-generated power to electricity. UN Photo/Ariane Rummery

UN News Centre: How does energy fit into the sustainable development picture?

Timothy Wirth: Economic development is one of the UN’s two central missions; the other being peacekeeping. But we can’t do development without energy. You can’t have any type of development in terms of economic growth, job development, manufacturing – just about anything – without energy. And then, over a long period of time, it is not possible to continue the use of energy without a focus on its sustainability. We have to think about sustainable energy.

So, if access to energy is a necessary first step towards any kind of development goals, then sustainable energy becomes the second step, the second route we have to pursue at the UN for reducing poverty, empowering women, providing healthcare and education, plus developing the basic job structure of the economy.

UN News Centre: There are many sources of energy. Where does sustainable energy come from?

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visits a Beijing power project producing biogas for electricity. UN Photo/M. Garten

Timothy Wirth: Energy itself comes from a whole variety of different sources, as you know – oil, nuclear, solar, biofuel, natural gas and so on. Low-carbon energy is the one that is necessary if we are going to stabilize the planet’s climate system without catastrophic consequences. Fossil fuels, when burned, create carbon, which goes up into the atmosphere, warming it up, and causing global climate change, which is not sustainable in the long-term. When thinking about long-term energy use, we also have to consider long-term concerns related to our own atmosphere. Thus, the issue of sustainable energy becomes the equation linking energy with atmospheric health.

Solar energy, nuclear energy and wind do not produce carbon unlike fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal. The important mix over a long-term period of time consists of developing energy strategies that combine both non-fossil fuels with fossil fuels, so that we end up with a low-carbon mix overall.

UN News Centre: What do governments need to do to get this energy mix right?

Timothy Wirth: Governments have to provide the right structure to encourage lower carbon fuels, and there are lots of ways of doing that. One of them, which has been tried and is working in Europe, is the development of an economic system called a cap-and-trade system, which caps the amount of carbon that can be emitted and then has a pricing mechanism that goes with that.

It is hoped that more rural households in developing countries will be able to get clean renewable energy. Photo: CDM-UNFCCC

There are other rules that can be applied. For example, to require that in any utility, a certain percentage of its production comes from renewable fuel sources. It cannot come from oil or gas; so that is a second way of doing it. There are a variety of mechanisms that governments can follow to attempt to lower the intensity of carbon going into the atmosphere and, therefore, to try to salvage our overall environment.

UN News Centre: Many of these measures require a regulation of the market. Will this compromise economic growth?

Timothy Wirth: It doesn’t have to. One can do energy systems that are absolutely consistent with the goal of economic growth. For example, in many, many countries, the increasing amounts of solar energy and wind energy have in fact, by most measures, helped the economy to grow more rapidly than it would if the economy was dependent upon only traditional fossil fuels.

In addition, usually a strategy related to energy includes a major commitment to energy efficiency, to use the energy one already has much more efficiently – which makes, in effect, energy efficiency the most important fuel of all. It becomes the so-called first fuel. So economic development does not have to depend on traditional sources of fossil fuels, but rather can depend upon cleaner fuels which in many situations are even less expensive than traditional fossil fuels.

A family in Mongolia using a solar panel to generate power for their tent. UN Photo/E. Debebe

UN News Centre: Why is there still resistance to shifting to more sustainable energy sources?

Timothy Wirth: Well, the very large companies that have enormous investments in traditional fossil fuels like coal and oil are going to be opposed to any kind of change. So they are going to argue that it is impossibly expensive to shift from our traditional fossil fuels into a non-fossil fuel economy. But the fact is that this is not true. That, in fact, the shift to non-fossil fuels is ultimately going to be much less expensive, much less damaging, and, in the long-term, it is going to be sustainable. And it will be able last from generation to generation, rather than having to, in a couple of generations, worry about totally fouling up the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Secretary-General’s Group on Sustainable Energy for All is absolutely focused on developing a mix of energy resources that are going to allow access to energy for the world’s poorest people, that are going to double the rate of energy efficiency around the world, and that are going to double the amount of renewable energy that is used in the world’s energy systems. So the Secretary-General’s group and this Secretary-General are deeply committed to the idea of sustainable energy.

UN News Centre: Can you give an example of a successful sustainable energy initiative already in place?

Timothy Wirth: There are many, many examples of this kind of sustainable energy access. For example, the United States went through a remarkable shift from about 1910 to 1940 in which electricity was made available to practically everybody in the United States, through the rural electrification energy initiative. China, Viet Nam and Brazil are all currently involved in extending their own grids. In Brazil, almost 90 per cent of the electricity comes from renewable energy sources like hydropower or biomass and wind. So we have examples of access, like in the United States, and of sustainable energy, as in Brazil.

Other countries are now working very hard at trying to achieve this. In India, for example, we were just there and Jairam Ramesh, the rural development minister, was describing, with enormous energy, how solar-water pumps are providing access to clean water and effectively are transforming people’s lives all over rural India.

A UN Environment Programme solar energy system, the largest of its type in Africa. Photo: PresseBox.de flickr

UN News Centre: What actions can people take to contribute to a world where there is sustainable energy?

Timothy Wirth: People in their individual lives can use their own energy resources much more efficiently. We know that that will be the first and the cheapest way in which to move us toward a world of sustainability. We can then make sure that we are speaking with our governments about the changes in policy that have to be made.

These are choices that governments themselves are going to make, not the UN. But the governments are going to be making choices about renewable energy, about the requirements of renewable energy in the grid, about carbon requirements… there are going to be a whole range of actions by individual governments about what they can do, and must do, related to long-term sustainable energy. And we will have many examples of that in Rio, both in the main deliberations at Rio and at many of the energy side events that will be occurring in a couple of weeks in Rio.

The Middelgruden offshore wind farm which was developed off the Danish coast in 2000 and consists of 20 turbines. UN Photo/E. Debebe

UN News Centre: Is there a specific goal from Rio+20 that you are hoping for in relation to sustainable energy?

Timothy Wirth: We are hoping that the Rio [outcome] document, overall, maintains a focus on sustainable energy, energy efficiency and the importance of renewable energy. All are absolutely critical elements for economic development. Again, to go back to where we started, the United Nations has two fundamental missions, one is peacekeeping and the second one is economic development. And economic development can and should proceed around the world under a whole series of new rules and new laws that allow us to do this in a sustainable way.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42232&Cr=sustainable+development&Cr1=

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Rio+20 Feature: Seven Issues, Seven Experts – Oceans

World leaders, along with thousands of participants from governments, the private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other groups will come together next week in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to take part in the UN Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20).

The Conference aims to shape how countries and their citizens can reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection to achieve long-term growth.

Seven key areas have been identified by the UN as needing urgent attention: creation of jobs, access to energy, building sustainable cities, ensuring food security and sustainable agriculture, access to water, managements of oceans and disasterAt the moment, the oceans are facing a number of very serious challenges and those challenges not only affect the environment. They also affect and threaten economic services that depend on oceans. readiness.

But what do each of them entail and how can people contribute to a sustainable future?

In our Seven Issues, Seven Experts series, UN officials tell us more about each area and how we can contribute to make our planet more sustainable.

In the first installment, the UN News Centre spoke with Andrew Hudson, the head of the Water Ocean Governance Programme of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), about the importance of regulating the shipping industry, choosing fish in the supermarket, and why microscopic plankton may be the most important organism on Earth.

UN News Centre: How do oceans fit into the sustainable development picture?

Andrew Hudson: Well, every time you take a breath, you should know that half of the oxygen is produced in the oceans – it is actually produced by the plankton. Many people don’t realize that. At the moment, the oceans are facing a number of very serious challenges and those challenges not only affect the environment. They also affect and threaten economic services that depend on oceans, and that, of course, ultimately threatens people’s livelihoods and their security, food security, job security and so forth. So, having oceans part of Rio is a really fundamental aspect of the conference.

Tara Oceans vessel in front of UN Headquarters. The Tara expedition represents an extraordinary human endeavour by focusing on the key major gaps in our knowledge on plankton Photo: Tara Expeditions/V. Hilaire

UN News Centre: What are the most pressing issues that governments need to act on regarding oceans?

Andrew Hudson: The key challenges the oceans face are numerous, but some of the most important are: overfishing, pollution – in particular the so-called nutrient pollution which comes from untreated waste water – invasive species that move from one part of the ocean to another through the ballast water of ships, and ocean and coastal habitat loss such as mangroves, sea grasses, and coral reefs which are declining every year.

Lastly, and this is a new aspect of the climate change issue, there’s ocean acidification, which occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere dissolves in seawater making it slightly acidic. As we build up the CO2 in the atmosphere, the oceans absorb about 30 percent of it, and over time we are already seeing that oceans are getting more and more acidic; and if we don’t change our pathway, this could actually start to affect certain organisms in quite serious ways.

UN News Centre: What impact does ocean acidification have on other ecosystems?

Andrew Hudson: Well, quite a bit actually. The organisms that fix calcium carbonate – which are a large fraction of the organisms in the oceans such as shells and shellfish, but also microscopic organisms which are the basis of the food chain in the oceans – might face increasing acidification. If the acidity gets too high, they can no longer fix the calcium carbonate into their shells, they will literally dissolve, and then the potential impacts on ocean ecosystems are quite worrying, because the plankton are the foundation in which the rest of the ecosystem is built – the lowest level in the ecosystem, and if they’re not surviving and prospering everything above them will suffer as well.

Marine life. Photo: UNESCO

UN News Centre: Are there any activities underway which help ensure that oceans are managed in a sustainable way?

Andrew Hudson: It isn’t all gloom and doom. There are some success stories, which is very important because that gives us hope and promise for replicating things that work to address these issues at a larger scale.

A very good example where something is working is in the issue of invasive species, which are microscopic organisms that are pumped into ships’ ballast water when it is unloading cargo at a port, and then the ship may travel halfway around the world, say from Shanghai to New York, carrying that ballast water. When it unloads new cargo at a new port, it will also unload that water.

It may be a long journey and most of the organisms are trapped in the dark in very bad conditions and will not survive the journey. But every once in a while, an organism survives and it’s not a native organism so it can actually establish itself and, in a few cases, overwhelm the ecosystem they’ve been introduced to. This happened in the Black Sea with Comb Jellyfish.

Invasive species can cause billions of dollars in damage and completely impact the ecosystem. So the shipping industry, working with the UN, the International Maritime Organization, UNDP [UN Development Programme] and others have taken quite serious steps on this issue by adopting the global convention on ship ballast water in 2004, and calling for very specific management and treatment measures to ensure that that ballast water is no longer going to be transporting these invasive species. As that process ensues in the next few years, it will actually have a significant impact in reducing risks to oceans by reducing this transfer of these invasive species. That’s a very positive step in the right direction.

Another example has to do with pollution issues and nutrients. One of the world’s most significant hotspots for this issue of excess nutrients into the oceans was also the Black Sea. In the late 1980s, mainly due to the huge build up in the green revolution application of fertilizers, growth in livestock farms, etc. the Danube River was transporting massive quantities of these nutrients into the Black Sea and this leads to an issue called hypoxiam – which is basically when the system gets so overwhelmed with production that bacteria consume that excess production and in doing so consumes the oxygen of the water, and the water can become either oxygen-free or with very low oxygen, and that’s not good for most of the organisms there.

The Black Sea entered a serious period of hypoxia where thousands of square kilometres of the northwest portion were hypoxic.

Fishermen in the ocean near Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. UN/M. Grant

So what we did over a 15 year period was work with the 17 nations around the Black Sea – the two commissions that were merging for the Danube River in the Black Sea, the UN system, the World Bank, the European Union and many other partners – to help the countries put together a plan and a long-term vision and programme to begin to reduce these pollution impacts. And what we found over time is that by changing agricultural practices, by investing more in waste water treatment, by implementing certain industrial reforms, we have now seen a start in meaningful reductions in the amount of pollution that’s reaching the Black Sea, and the good news is that the hypoxic zone has largely been eliminated.

There are now known to be over 400 of these hypoxic zones in the world, and it’s still increasing, so the problem is getting worse and yet we do have a good example of what might work in terms of collective efforts of governments of industry, of consumers also, working together towards a solution that can deliver results.

UN News Centre: What can members of the public do to contribute to the sustainability of oceans?

Andrew Hudson: Consumers are involved in the choices they make in the use of fertilizer on lawns for example. Some parts of the world have banned phosphorus, one of the big culprits of pollution in coastal areas, such as here in New York City. People can reduce the use of fertilizers in their property.

They can also get involved with the issue of overfishing. Half the world’s fish stocks are at their maximum allowable exploitation. A quarter are overexploited or depleted, which means that more fish have been taken out that the system can maintain, and maybe a quarter or less are healthy.

There are increasing efforts by a number of non-governmental groups to identify fish species and fish stocks that are fished sustainably, and one thing a consumer can do is to be aware of which fish you see in the supermarket and whether it’s considered to be fished sustainably or not. There was a very recent and very admirable decision by The Whole Foods Market to specifically only purchase seafood that has been certified by a number of bodies as sustainable. That’s a very important step that involves both the industry but also the consumer.

UN News Centre: Is there a specific goal for Rio+20 regarding oceans?

Andrew Hudson: Well, obviously it’s still a fluid situation as the outcome document is still being negotiated. The good news is that, from the outset, oceans appeared quite prominently very early on the zero draft outcome document and that was a very good sign.

The International Maritime Organization has been developing technical and operational measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships and has also been working on market-based instruments to address this issue. Photo: IMO

Most of the key issues are highlighted from that stage and remain in recent versions, but of course the real outcome that we hope to see is specific commitments to new initiatives or enhanced approaches to existing initiatives. There are a lot of programmes in place to address some of the issues discussed. Some of these are making progress, but it more is needed.

One of the underlying aspects of all the issues I mentioned, and really the whole ocean picture, is that it’s fundamentally what’s known as a ‘market failure.’ The markets are not quite right, in different contexts.

For example, in fisheries, you see roughly a $20-30 billion a year flow to the fisheries industry in subsidies, mainly on things like cheaper fuel but also in low interest loans.

Unfortunately, subsidies can be good, but they can also be bad as well, and what has happened is because of these subsidies in particular, most of the fishing industry has become over capitalized – that is, there are too many boats catching too few fish and so that would be a key step, to find mechanisms to move toward the reduction of subsidies to non-sustainable fisheries while at the same time respecting and reflecting the needs of the poorest who catch fish for food.

Ocean acidification is the classic [example] of an externality, the externality being carbon dioxide. Of course, the only way to internalize that externality is to put a price on carbon to send the right economic signals to the energy markets to move toward a low-carbon economy. Then we would see the benefits, not only in slowing down the impacts of climate change but also the impact of ocean acidification.

UN News Centre: Can the world address issues such as ocean acidification without compromising economic growth?

Andrew Hudson: Absolutely, and this is what happened in the case of the invasive species. Because of the expectation of a new global legal regime on what big ships must do once the convention [on ship ballast] comes into force, the estimation is that investments are going to be up in the $30-35 billion range. This is internalizing the externality, passing the cost of creating clean ballast water to the shipping industry.

What was amazing about the ballast water process was that the shipping industry was supportive and at the table from the start, and to this day, and one of the reasons was that until this convention came forward different countries were applying different standards and this was confusing, difficult and costly.

Photo: UN/Martine Perret

Everyone knows that the private sector likes a level playing field and shipping is a truly global industry. In the grand scheme of things, the costs are pretty small, and the industry can easily absorb these them. What’s exciting is that this global legal mechanism created a completely new industry that didn’t even exist ten years ago which is the treatment of ballast water.

Some companies have already invested more than $100 million in research and development and technology for this issue. Policy and, in this case, global legal new mandates aren’t necessarily bad for the economy because they create huge opportunities in other areas.

Ocean terms explained

Ballast water: Large ships often take on extra water into their ballast tanks to maintain stability when transiting in the open ocean. The water may be discharged when the ship gets into a new port, discharging new organisms in the water along with it.

Hypoxia or oxygen depletion: A phenomenon that occurs in water environments as dissolved oxygen quantities diminish in concentration to a point that it negatively affects aquatic organisms. Most fish cannot live below 30 percent of dissolved oxygen saturation.

Link: Issues Brief 4 – Oceans, UN-DESA

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42221&Cr=Sustainable+Development&Cr1=

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PRESS RELEASE: Revolutionary Panelized Structures for Guyana


HILLSIDE, NJ  (June 13, 2012)  – New Jersey-based Crane Group International (CGI), manufacturer of all-inclusive steel-framed commercial and residential structures, has established its presence in South America.

On June 8, 2012, a container carrying the first complete home for a residential/commercial development community in Guyana known as “Promise Land” was shipped from the Port of Elizabeth, NJ to the Port of Georgetown in Guyana.  The home, which includes all components, was built in CGI’s state-of-the -art manufacturing facility in Hillside, NJ.   A local construction company will implement the on-site infrastructure requirements and assembly process of the structure.

“We are delighted to provide Guyana with a proven technology that will be an effective solution to eliminating the shortages in housing, medical clinics, schools and nutrition/education centers.  The Promise Land project will directly benefit and enhance the lives of the people of Guyana,” said Neal Balasny, CEO of Crane Group International.   “The Guyana project is an example of our commitment to create a truly international company, which will be able to respond to the needs and requirements of local markets worldwide.”

CGI was engaged by local Guyanese-American developer Moses Rambarran, owner of PromiseLandGuyana.com.   Both Balasny and Rambarran believe that this is the beginning of a revolutionary new approach to housing in South America, the Caribbean, and throughout the world, where housing shortfalls are staggering.

“Our proven building system has installations worldwide including in South Korea, Germany, Mexico and South Africa.  We have the expertise and experience to make a real contribution to the economy not only in Guyana but also, in New Jersey through our manufacturing operations,” stated Balasny.

CGI’s unique system manufactures structures in its factory and then assembles them on pre-prepared foundations on-site.  The manufacturing facility is close to the Port of Newark and capable of producing up to 30 homes per day utilizing an innovative containerization assembly process. CGI’s goal is to produce a sustainable development model to address the critical demands for high quality, affordable, energy-efficient residential and commercial structures domestically and worldwide.

Through a strategic partnership with global chemical leader BASF Corp. and the inclusion of several of its products, CGI’s structures are engineered for durability, energy efficiency, sustainability, and are flexible enough to meet local aesthetics and cultural sensitivities.

Balasny notes the many advantages of   CGI’s panelized structure process which include:

  • Exceptional product quality and integrity, proven over time in a wide-range of different applications.
  • Speed of delivery – pre-wired, pre-plumbed basic structures can be erected in as little as seven days.
  • Significant cost savings. CGI structures cost less than the equivalent brick & mortar or traditional site- built structures and the knock-on savings resulting from the speed of erection are considerable.
  • Fast response to individual engineering and design requirements due to centralized design facilities and factory-built process.

“One of the most important advantages,” stated Balasny, “is the social upliftment that we are striving to achieve including job creation and skills training at all levels of production. Not only does our factory have a sizeable labor force, but the manufacturing process will create a formidable assembly line of support vendors that will significantly boost local economies.”

An important aspect of the success of the Guyana venture will be in the training of personnel at the site level.  CGI Chief Marketing Officer, Matt Leshetz, will oversee construction of the first home in Guyana and help establish a skills set locally that can be easily transferred to future structures shipped to Guyana by CGI.   Leshetz has been in the site-built construction business for more than 15 years and has built over 150 new homes and is convinced that this approach is the way of the future.

“I am very much looking forward to working with the local Guyanese construction crew to assemble our first home,” says Leshetz. “I am certain they will find it quite simple to assemble the main structural elements of the building, and quite convenient to have all of the building materials delivered to the site at the same time—all the way down to ceramic tile, towel bars, robe hooks, paint, and yes, even the kitchen sink.  We are confident this home will be a big hit in Guyana.”

Previously, CGI built, shipped and assembled residential and commercial structures in South Africa.  As part of its commitment to corporate social responsibility, CGI donated a Nutrition Center to the country’s Department of Education for the Banareng School in Atteridgeville.

“We were very grateful for the opportunity to donate this structure to South Africa.  It was exciting to be part of this community project.  As with any country, the children are the future of South Africa and need proper tools, such as good nutrition, to build the foundation for their future.  The Nutrition Center effectively delivered not only a formidable place for children to receive nutritious hot meals in a clean, sanitary environment, but also a safe haven for after-school activities,” says Balasny.

Beyond Guyana, CGI is currently working on projects in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle-East.

“CGI’s goal is to be the global leader in mass-produced, panelized steel-framed residential and commercial structures.   Our focus is to deliver affordable, high quality, sustainable, community development products that ultimately provide true value to the end-user,” states Michael Taylor, CGI’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer.



Neal Balasny

President and CEO

Crane Group International, LLC

201-489-0419 ext. 101


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French President calls for action ‘today’ ahead of Rio+20 conference in Brazil

French President Francois Hollande today spoke of the need for urgent action on sustainable development issues ahead of a major United Nations conference in Brazil later this month.

“We need actions, not for tomorrow, but for today,” Mr. Hollande said in his keynote speech to the more than 1,000 civil society and private sector representatives gathered in Paris for three days of events linked to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), which takes place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20 to 22 June.

The events were organized by Comité 21, an umbrella organization for civil society and municipal actors, in partnership with the UN Regional Information Centre in Brussels (UNRIC).

More than 100 heads of State and government, along with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, Chief Executive Officers and civil society leaders are expected to attend, to shape new policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection.

The gathering follows on from the Earth Summit in 1992, also held in Rio de Janeiro, during which countries adopted Agenda 21 – a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.

In his remarks, Mr. Hollande spoke of France’s “active” engagement in the Rio+20 process, and reiterated his call for the creation of a so-called World Environment Organisation, which he said would contribute to the success of Rio+20. “An agency like the World Trade Organisation or the International Labour Organisation,” he said.

The French President also noted that the political negotiations on the outcome document “will not be easy.”

“There are risks, the risk of division, even of failure, the risk of empty words,” Mr. Hollande said, adding that “Rio is not about preventive measures, the world needs a new development model with economic and social dimensions.”

Negotiators concluded the last round of Rio+20 preparatory talks – focussed on the gathering’s outcome document – in New York last Saturday, and they have now reached agreement on more than 20 per cent of the document, with many additional paragraphs close to agreement.

Following the latest round of negotiations in New York, the next and final preparatory talks will be held in Rio de Janeiro from 13 to 15 June, just ahead of the Conference.

Earlier this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that there is still much work ahead, but foundations are in place for agreement on the remainder of the negotiating text that is expected to become the outcome of the conference.

“I expect the negotiators to accomplish this in the days before ministers and world leaders arrive in Rio. Leaders will then act to resolve all outstanding issues,” he said in a press conference on Wednesday. “Their job is to achieve renewed political commitment for sustainable development. We aspire to nothing less than a global movement for generational change.”

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42186&Cr=sustainable+development&Cr1=

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UN bike ride highlights importance of sustainable transport

United Nations officials, diplomats and members of civil society organizations today took part in a bike ride in New York City to highlight the benefits of bicycling as a sustainable urban transportation method.

“I would much rather see bicycles and bike-riders around here than the limousines, armoured SUVs and other gas-guzzling cars that we all use at the United Nations!” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the ride’s participants, who rode from the Organization’s Headquarters to the offices of the Netherlands Mission to the UN, which organized the event.

The Netherlands is one the world’s most avid bicycling advocates, with a population of 17 million people and 18 million bicycles.

In recent years, bike share schemes have increased in popularity and have successfully been implemented in major cities around the world including Paris, London, Beijing, Mexico City, Montreal and Tel Aviv, among others. New York is scheduled to launch its own bike share programme next month.

The Secretary-General said he hoped biking culture continues to grow in cities as it is not only a low-carbon transport method, but also beneficial for people’s health.

“Last year, in a speech on health, I mentioned that bikes are great for our bodies and for our planet. The next day, a blog called me ‘the world’s newest biking advocate’ I like that title,” Mr. Ban said.

“Bicycles are important, but they are just part of a bigger picture: our global efforts to achieve truly sustainable development. Our challenge is to get the world to use renewable energy to power our trains, planes, buses and boats. This is especially important for cities,” he added.

Mr. Ban also said that the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, later this month, will provide an opportunity for countries to agree on cleaner and greener approaches to development, including sustainable transport.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42188&Cr=sustainable+development&Cr1=

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On World Oceans Day, Ban urges countries to protect marine environment

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today urged countries to boost their efforts to protect the world’s oceans, which are threatened by overfishing, toxic waste, and climate change.

“We must do more for our world’s oceans, which are threatened by pollution, depleted fishery resources, the impacts of climate change and the deterioration of the marine environment,” Mr. Ban said in his message marking World Oceans Day, which also coincides with the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea – the so-called ‘constitution of the oceans.’

Given the important role played by oceans for the planet’s food security, and the health and survival of all life, as well energy needs, the General Assembly decided that, from 2009, 8 June would be designated by the United Nations as ‘World Oceans Day’ to raise global awareness of the current challenges faced by the international community in connection with the oceans.

In his message, Mr. Ban stressed that the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), in Brazil later this month, will provide a once in a generation opportunity for Member States to act and have a significant impact on this issue.

“The protection of the world’s oceans and coasts is among the key goals of [Rio+20],” he said. “Rio+20 must mobilize the United Nations, governments and other partners to improve the management and conservation of oceans through initiatives to curb overfishing, improve protection of the marine environment and reduce ocean pollution and the impact of climate change.”

The Secretary-General also called on governments that have not done so to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which governs all aspects of ocean space, from delimitation of maritime boundaries, environmental regulations, scientific research, commerce and the settlement of international disputes involving marine issues.

The Convention was first opened for signature in 1982 and entered into force in 1994; it has so far been ratified by 60 States.

“We can learn from three decades of experience with the Convention, which should continue to be our guide in establishing the rule of law on the world’s oceans and seas,” Mr. Ban told a group of experts at a roundtable panel discussion commemorating the Convention, at UN Headquarters in New York.

The convention is “an important contribution to the maintenance of peace, justice and progress for all peoples of the world,” Mr. Ban underlined. “Let us make 2012 another milestone year for the world’s oceans, so that we can set sail toward the future we want.”

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42183&Cr=oceans&Cr1=

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Despite agreed environmental goals, world still on unsustainable path

The United Nations environment agency today warned that the world “continues to speed down” an unsustainable path in spite of hundreds of internationally agreed goals to protect the planet, and stressed that drastic actions and big-scale measures are needed to reverse this pattern.

“If current trends continue, if current patterns of production and consumption of natural resources prevail and cannot be reversed and ‘decoupled,’ then governments will preside over unprecedented levels of damage and degradation,” said the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner.

The fifth edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5), launched ahead of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil later this month, assessed 90 of the most important environmental goals and objectives and found that significant progress had only been made in four.

The four goals entail eliminating the production and use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, the removal of lead from fuel, increasing access to improved water supplies, and boosting research to reduce pollution of the marine environment

According to the assessment, while some progress was shown in 40 goals, including efforts to reduce deforestation, little or no progress was detected for 24 of them, including climate change, desertification and drought. In addition, there were eight goals which showed no progress and instead further deterioration, such as the state of the world’s coral reefs.

The assessment emphasizes that countries can still meet sustainability targets if current policies are changes and strengthened and provides examples of successful policy initiatives to this end.

GEO 5, which was produced over a period of three years and with the collaboration of over 600 environment experts, also highlights that when international treaties and agreements have tackled goals with specific, measurable targets they have demonstrated considerable success.

“GEO-5 reminds world leaders and nations meeting at Rio+20 why a decisive and defining transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient, job-generating green economy is urgently needed,” said Mr. Steiner. “The scientific evidence, built over decades, is overwhelming and leaves little room for doubt.”

“The moment has come to put away the paralysis of indecision, acknowledge the facts and face up to the common humanity that unites all peoples,” he added. “Rio+20 is a moment to turn sustainable development from aspiration and patchy implementation into a genuine path to progress and prosperity for this and the next generations to come.”

More than 100 heads of State and government, along with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, Chief Executive Officers and civil society leaders are expected to attend Rio+20 to shape new policies to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and advance social equity and environmental protection.

The gathering follows on from the Earth Summit in 1992, also held in Rio de Janeiro, during which countries adopted Agenda 21 – a blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42166&Cr=sustainable+development&Cr1=

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Countries must fully support right to water at Rio+20 conference, says UN expert

A United Nations independent expert today called on governments to “fully support” the right to drinking water and sanitation at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil later this month.

In an open letter to States negotiating the outcome document of Rio+20, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, expressed concern that a clear recognition of the human right to water and sanitation is at risk of being suppressed from the document after three rounds of negotiations in New York over the past three months.

“Some States suggested alternative language that does not explicitly refer to the human right to water and sanitation,” Ms. de Albuquerque said in a news release. “Some tried to reinterpret or even dilute the content of this human right.”

She noted that the right to water and sanitation has been recognized as a human right under international law, including by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council in 2010.

More than 100 world leaders, along with thousands of parliamentarians, mayors, UN officials, Chief Executive Officers and civil society leaders will come together at Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro from 20 to 22 June, seeking to renew commitments to find solutions to the world’s most pressing social, economic and environmental challenges, including access to water and sanitation.

Negotiators concluded the last round of Rio+20 preparatory talks – focussed on the upcoming event’s outcome document – in New York last Saturday, and they have reached agreement on more than 20 per cent of the document, with many additional paragraphs close to agreement. The next and final preparatory talks will be held in Rio de Janeiro from 13 to 15 June.

Ms. de Albuquerque emphasized that Governments need to set a target for water and sanitation for all, without discrimination, to protect the health and dignity in particular of marginalized populations.

“I call on all States to maintain their support to this fundamental human right and its explicit inclusion in the Rio+20 outcome document,” Ms. de Albuquerque said. “It is clear that a commitment to water and sanitation without the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation is insufficient to achieve the future we all want.”

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42161&Cr=water+and+sanitation&Cr1=

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