Wednesday, 20 March 2013

São Tomé and Príncipe: A Tiny Nation with an Environmental Perspective

São Tomé and Príncipe is a small nation in the Gulf of Guinea off the west coast of Africa.  Its name was given for the two main islands that comprise the country, the largest of each archipelago that it is made of.  While such a tiny nation would not normally register for its green record, looking at what they have done to improve their environment shows that no country in the world is exempt from caring for it. 

As a developing nation, São Tomé and Príncipe’s needs are different that those of Canada or Europe.  However, they still strive for sustainability, economic growth, and cultural expression, just like any other.  In pursuing this, they are working with other nations and organizations to ensure that their growth is not only economically sustainable, but that it is environmentally viable as well.  This article seeks to explore the Small Island Developing State (SIDS) that is São Tomé and Príncipe and show how every nation is responsible for protecting this world.

Food Security

As a part of the National Poverty Reduction Strategy, São Tomé and Príncipe are working to reduce poverty by half and add annual real GDP growth of 5% per year.  As a part of this, the African Development Bank has invested in São Tomé and Príncipe’s fisheries.  The goal is to reduce the food deficit in the country through sustainable practices that will ensure a lasting supply of food for the population as well as maintain environmental standards that will make it lasting.

São Tomé and Príncipe estimates it could bring in between 23,000 and 29,000 tonnes of fish per year.  This would help lower the current 22% of citizens who do not have enough food resources.  Environmental awareness actions within the program are meant to educate fishery workers on sustainable and green practices in order to ensure that a consistent stock is available every year.  This has been received through the Environmental and Social Management Plan, designed based on previous African Developmental Bank initiatives in other nations.  Such measures include:

  • Cleaning of runoff water before re-entry into the ecosystem;
  • Repopulation of old fishing tracks in order to protect historical and cultural fishing areas as well as ensure sustainability within existing water systems; and
  • Ensuring proper disposal of waste and toxic liquids through controlled landfills and incinerators.

Implementation of this plan is also a part of the island nation’s National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, signed in 2005.

Ocean Protection

Much of São Tomé and Príncipe can be classified as coastal.  The country has a rich diversity of undeveloped coastal areas; however these are threatened by deforestation, coastal erosion due to mining, desertification, unregulated tourism development, and a general lack of township planning.  There is also a newly emerging offshore petroleum industry that is growing and contributing to environmental concerns.  This is why a National Ocean Policy has been proposed by the United Nations for São Tomé and Príncipe as well as all SIDS nations.  This is important as continued erosion is damaging environments as well as tourism and fisheries development.

To counter growing oil production, the government passed the Oil Revenue Management Law, which is now considered a model for other nations.  Through the aid of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the World Bank, a percentage of oil revenues are diverted to future environmental needs.  This means that any offshore oil development must is required to contribute to environmental protection of the surrounding ocean area.

The Rio Convention of 1992 deals with sustainable development on a global level in dealing with resource development.  While non-binding, it has been used in the case of São Tomé and Príncipe to manage economic growth from natural resources in coastal areas while ensuring sustainability in the environment where it is being conducted.  The 1994 UN Conference on Sustainable Development of Small Island developing states, held in Barbados, is also being used to establish programs that take into account coastal and ocean issues for any new construction development on the islands.  This includes paying attention to coral reef habitats, wetlands, and life-support systems for marine wildlife.

National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA)

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Article 4.9, recognizes a classification of nations known as Least Developed Countries (LDCs).  These nations, of which São Tomé and Príncipe is a part of, have special needs when it comes to how they are able to incorporate climate change initiatives while continuing to develop other areas of their country.  Article 4.9 states, “The Parties shall take full account of the specific needs and special situations of the Least Developed Countries in their actions with regard to funding and transfer of technology.”  The use of NAPAs in such nations enables foreign aid for adaptable changes that place an emphasis on climate variability.

There are two NAPAs currently operating in São Tomé and Príncipe.  First, there is the Adaptation to Climate Change initiative that was begun by the World Bank.  The second is the Strengthening of the Adaptive Capacity of Must Vulnerable Sao Tomean’s Livestock-Keeping Households, initiated by the African Development Bank.  Key environmental vulnerabilities were outlined in six sectors: agriculture, forests and livestock; fisheries; public works, infrastructure and tourism; energy and water; health; and public safety and civil protection.  By working on climate change initiatives as well as certain social areas, the goal is to improve both the environment and the standard of living.  The UNFCCC is also coordinating their efforts, as well as those of the World Bank and African Development Bank, through the Poverty Reduction Strategy and the Rio Convention on desertification and biodiversity.  Additional funding for these programs have also come from the Japan Adaptation Programme.

It is important to note that this is only the beginning of the work that NAPAs wish to do in São Tomé and Príncipe.  There are a total of 22 projects currently outlined for the island nation.

The Future of São Tomé and Príncipe

As a SIDS and LDC nation, São Tomé and Príncipe has severe restrictions on what it is able to accomplish environmentally.  However, through external aid, such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and the United Nations, they have been able to implement new strategies and begin projects to ensure a higher standard of life, meet basic needs of the population, and do so through sustainable and environmentally sound methods. This environmental transformation is also helping economically as new and existing industries are strengthened and can have an environmentally sound future.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Environmental Awareness and Action in Australia

Australia typically holds their federal elections in March and this one was expected to focus on environmental initiatives.  The Opposition was set to announce a promise to reign in mining and carbon taxes, adding fuel to the fire of what governing party would win and what their commitment to environmental action would look like.  However, Prime Minister Julia Gillard shocked many when she announced that the election would take place in September, sparking the longest election campaign in Australian history. 

Given that the environment is set to become a hot topic in Australia throughout the summer and this campaign, it begs the question: What is Australia doing in terms of environmental action?  What is their environmental stance on international agreements?  Have they met or are they working towards meeting these accords?  How proactive is Australia in affirming a commitment to environmental action? In this article, we explore Australia to discover how the nation from Down Under is working towards a better world.


Australia has been monitoring chemical emissions being released into the air since July 1998. The National Pollutant Inventory was established to track 90 different chemicals, most of which are considered air toxins. From this list and monitoring, the Ambient Air Quality National Environment Protection Measure has calculated emissions of these chemicals and has set out a plan to lower such toxins in the air, such as carbon monoxide and photochemicals, and to eliminate some altogether, such as lead and sulphur dioxide. This is detailed within a ten year plan.

Climate Change

Australia has a three pillar approach to climate change: mitigation, adaptation, and a global solution

Mitigation refers to reducing emissions. The belief is that without any action, carbon related pollution could be as high as 20% higher than 2000 level by 2020. The goal of the government is to lower emissions by at least 5% compared to the 2000 level, which will require cutting net expected pollution but roughly 25% by 2020. This includes investments into clean energy alternatives and supporting individuals and businesses in their unique efforts.  More than $5 billion has been invested into clean energy technologies as defined in the Clean Energy Legislative Package. The government has also established the Australian Carbon Trust, a $100 million fund designed to finance businesses in retrofitting commercial and industries sectors to more energy efficient options.  The creation of education for green-collar job training will also help train people in a variety of industries with the skills necessary to facilitate such a green business revolution. 

Adaption is an educational initiative designed to help people cope with a changing Australia. A $126 million fund in the Climate Change Adaptation Program help educate individuals on managing climate change risks including water conservation, health and emergencies management, and in helping to transition industries that use a lot of resources, such as farming and mining to better alternatives.
Global solutions are underway as Australia is an active partner under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The goal is to create a legally binding framework for all nations that manages pollution reduction and enforcement.  Australia is also the current chair of the Umbrella Group, a coalition of non-European Union developed nations who are working towards climate change solutions. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Australia has also publically pledged to reduce their emissions by 25% lower than 2000 standards, a plans that has affected the creation of the domestic Clean Energy Legislative Package.

The Australian plan to increase clean energy initiatives is very unique and involves all of their citizens. 

First, within the Clean Energy Legislative Package, all Australians who make under $80,000 per year will receive tax rebates based on the government’s new carbon pricing strategy. There is an expected 0.7% increase in the cost of living as commodities that increase carbon production are taxed at higher level. The rebate in meant to offset consumer costs. This also includes the rollout of a nationwide education initiative so that everyone understands how carbon pricing works, what commodities it is attached to, and what appropriate rates should be. 

There have also been two local projects, one in Tweed and the other in Moreton Bay, to test different energy alternatives. 

Since 2009, Tweed has worked to reduce organic wastes ending up in landfills. They have been able to reduce waste production by 42% and instead, have used organic wastes in a new methane gas extraction system, which is capable of generating 3,000 megawatt hours of electricity. The capture and burning of methane also reduces 12,900 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Moreton Bay is tackling their landfill as well. Since 2006, the introduction of curbside recycling has removed 25% of all waste from entering landfills.  The city also has other recycling initiatives, which brings the total waste removal to 42%. The installation of landfill gas management systems also further reduces landfill gas emission by 50%. Under the new carbon pricing strategy, the city believes that they will save $3.2 million through lower carbon production. These are two strategies that are being investigated for potential national rollouts.

It has been 14 years since the Biodiversity Conservation Act was enacted in 1999. This piece of legislation has served as the cornerstone for all Australian environmental legislation that has since followed. The goal is to preserve and protect flora, fauna, and ecological heritage sites from damage and pollution. Australia is a nation of large wilderness of many diverse landscapes. In working with the states and territories, their legacy can be preserved in their original states, untouched by humans, as a living monument to the natural world as well as helping as natural carbon captures.

Environmental sustainability is an important issue as urban communities continue to grow. A $2 billion plan is meant to ensure biodiversity of Australia’s natural environment while bringing forth sustainable agricultural practices. There are 56 regional natural resource management groups that are working in conjunction with the government to protect untouched areas of the country, minimize damage to animal habits, and to ensure that natural carbon capture within forested areas are not cut down so as not to increase emissions.

Pollution and Waste Management
The National Waste Policy outlines the nation’s waste management and recycling programs, currently dated to include implementations until 2020. Between 2002 and 2007, Australia has noticed a 31% increase in waste generation. Much of this increase is in technologically outdated commercial goods, which may contain metals and chemicals that are harmful to the environment, in addition to taking up space in landfills. The aims of this policy are meant to serve 4 goals: reducing waste generation, re-imagining waste as a resource, safe disposal, and the reduction of contaminants entering the environment from landfill sites. Part of the mandate of this proposal also includes an adherence to monitoring and accurate data collection.

The National Water Commission was created from the National Water Commission Act in 2004 and further amended last year. This gives them the authority to manage Australia’s water systems through the Water Act of 2007. They also work in conjunction with regional, state, territorial, and local authorities in water management and conservation practices.  Current major projects include the Murray-Darling Basin audit. The Commission acts as an independent reviewer in such audits in order to find areas where increased water resource management can benefit.

What the Future for Australia Holds
Australia is one of the more progressive developed nations that is working towards an environmental strategy that balances environmental action with sustainability. This is a difficult thing to manage and the upcoming election shows exactly that. People have many different ideas of what a sound environmental strategy is. So far, Australians have benefitted from a government that has looked for national solutions as well as has contributed to global organizations in a leadership role. Let’s hope that Australia continues to be an example for the rest of the developed world and show that environmental action can work with sustainability!