How do you ensure access to safe water, energy and land in a way that benefits the poorest people on the planet but does not harm the environment?
The latest European Development Report (EDR), launched in Brussels on Wednesday, sketches out a few broad ideas, but the big question is how do we translate this 200-page document into practical action?
The overriding message of the report, Confronting scarcity: managing water, energy and land for inclusive and sustainable growth, is one of urgency – we have to act now to find sustainable ways to meet the increasing demand for resources. Fair access to water, energy and land can no longer be addressed in a piecemeal fashion. There needs to be joined-up thinking to meet the challenges. The authors have called this the "WEL nexus".
A joined-up approach is sensible. But how do we do this? The report calls for a "radical reduction" in consumption among developed countries, more innovation and scale-up of renewable energy technologies, more effective management of resources, inclusive land policies that make access to land and water for the poorest a prerequisite, and appropriate pricing of natural resources that safeguards the welfare of the poorest.
Achieving this will require efforts from the public and private sectors and the international community – in this case the EU.
The public sector provides the framework and some of the capital, the private sector brings new, sustainable business models and investment opportunities, and the international community backs this up with policies to promote corporate social responsibility, good governance and aid. There is also scope for public-private partnerships.
There are many things to applaud about the report; its acknowledgment of "land grabbing" being one.
The report is clear that the right government legislation needs to be in place to ensure any private sector investment in land is fair and transparent. It says land tenure needs to be addressed and acknowledges that an awful lot of land, particularly in Africa, is held under customary law, ie it may not have title deeds.
The report also calls for the separation of water and land rights. As a report by the International Institute for Environment and Development pointed out last year, investors are leasing tracts of land to get hold of the water rights to boost their productivity. Land acquisition should not imply water rights, said Imme Scholz, from the German Development Institute, at the EDR launch.
All good stuff, but how do you get the private sector to play ball?
The private sector involvement in development makes many people shudder. But increasingly business is being hailed as a saviour in times of austerity. The UK's Department for International Development set up a private sector department last year, and the US aid agency, USAid, has also given private sector involvement the green light.
At the EDR report launch, the EU commissioner Andris Piebalgs said the private sector has the resources and flexibility to do more and have a greater impact on development. It can "strengthen" the work of the European Commission and drive a country's growth – economically and socially – he said.
In the EC's new policy document, Agenda for Change, endorsed by European ministers on Monday, the EC outlined its commitment to increase private sector involvement, offering grant funding to manage investment risks in poorer countries. Working with national governments will be crucial in establishing clear legal obligations that investors must adhere to, so benefits are felt in a country rather than in overseas boardrooms, said Piebalgs. Land deals need to be transparent, he added.
The commissioner sees the private sector as crucial to increasing access to energy, a particular interest of his, and one that is being taken up by the UN. The UN general secretary Ban Ki-moon launched the Sustainable Energy for All initiative to ensure universal access to a modern energy source by 2030. The challenge is to provide innovative renewable energy sources, something the private sector could play an important part in generating.
But what is the best way to engage the private sector? How do you provide incentives for business to invest while at the same time make sure they act responsibly? And how do you support local investors and ensure the benefits of any new ideas trickle down to the poorest?
Big questions, but so far no satisfactory answers. And with a poor track record, it is perhaps not surprising that civil society groups are nervous about business investing in poorer countries.
Madiodio Niasse, director of the International Land Coalition, said at the EDR report launch: "We need to ensure local entrepreneurs, local people can invest in their communities. That's missing [from the report]."
And that brings us back to the question of how we translate the report into concrete actions for the benefit of all.
The EDR authors hope it will provide a good base for discussions at next month's Rio+20 summit, but with summit negotiations already behind schedule amid concerns there is no broad agreement on what should be in the outcome document, it is difficult to see what influence the report will have on proceedings. Piebalgs said the EC would take the report into account when designing policy, but surely only the bits that chime with member states.
Niasse said it is going to take a "quantum leap" to put the points of the report into practice. He's not wrong.
Over the last decades, the use of primary resources has been increased due to the growing global population, the improvement of economies and a new life-style which is changing the habits of populations from high income and developing countries. However, some goods, such as fossil fuels, free lands, metals and mineral reserves are mostly limited, while renewable resources such as water and recyclable materials are commonly mismanaged. As a result, the sustainable use of resources is becoming mandatory for the development of current economies in a viable way, in order to maintain a clean environment for long time.
Since the second half of the 20th century, research and studies have focused their interest on environmental concerns such as air pollution, water and soil contamination, excessive mine extraction, deforestation, waste mismanagement and unplanned land use, among others. This attention is due to the increasing frequency of events which affect the lives of people worldwide and which are introduced mostly by anthropic activity. Hence, changing the form of industrialization, resource management and project development has been suggested by many authors, providing many solutions that can be viewed as a real opportunity. For example, the main solution suggested is the inclusion of the so-called “Circular Economy” in current and future management plans. This theory has been developed in order to encourage change in the general behavior of public policies which adopted the concept of the linear economy (i.e., buy–use–waste), introducing a few management steps to change the end-of-life stage of resources, with the aim of recovering and reusing something that is not necessary at the current moment. Thus, the reuse of recyclable materials, the inclusion of renewable energies, the treatment of wastewater for its reuse, the construction of new facilities adopting green policies (reducing the energy consumption and improving efficiencies), and the reuse of low-value materials, are all solutions that were recommended for the enhancement of new economies in a sustainable manner and by viable means. On one hand, many efforts were introduced at international and local level for the adoption of these proposals into new management policies. On the other, more studies are required, in order to boost the development of sustainable technologies and projects.
This section focuses on original research and reviews regarding the sustainable development and re-use of natural resources according to the principle of the Circular Economy. In this framework, studies concerning the sustainable use of water resources, biomass valorization, recycling of waste, energy recovery, renewable energy provision and the sustainable exploitation of natural resources are welcome as well as other related arguments, in the form of both specialized and interdisciplinary manuscripts.
Prof. Dr. Eng. Vincenzo Torretta
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