Home                                                
      Contributors                                   
      Reflections                                    
      Books                                    
      Rio+20 User Guide        
      Innovation                                    
      UNEP at Work
      Micro      
      WWW                                
      Star                                
 
 
 
UNEP at Work

 

Greening GDP

Here Fulai Sheng, a researcher in UNEP’s Economics and Trade Branch, explains UNEP’s role in the drawing up of a broader GDP

A key outcome of RIO+20 was the decision to draw up a new global indicator of wealth that goes beyond GDP’s narrowness (See Beyond GDP by Simon Upton on page 18). UNEP, working closely with other UN bodies, is closely involved in that process.

Background

UNEP, together with UN Statistical Division (UNSD), is currently discussing and planning the country-level implementation of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounts (SEEA), which was adopted in February 2012 as an international statistical standard.

The SEEA provides the means by which one can measure changes to the environment and natural resources in both physical and financial terms (where possible and appropriate) as a result of national economic activities. The results can be compared with GDP.

the Challenges

In the broader measurement of GDP now proposed and in line with UNEP’s mandate, UNEP would like to see ALL major environmental, natural resources, and ecosystem indicators included. However, this is a difficult and long process. The international effort to have broader measurement has been going on for at least two decades. It has taken that much time for the SEEA to be adopted.

Similarly, the World Bank’s Adjusted Net Savings approach has also been around for about 20 years. This looks at net changes to total capital stock, including produced capital like trucks, natural capital like forests, and human capital to see if a country is accumulating or losing capital stock.

There are also several other major initiatives such as the HDI. The key issue is not the lack of standards and methodology; the issue is the reluctance to use these broader measurements in policymaking as well as the problem of data availability/ collection/statistical capacity. These issues are not likely to be resolved anytime soon.

the Solutions

Greater attention needs to be paid to the policy relevance of/policy interest in the alternative measurements as well as the practical imperative to boost statistical capacity in many developing countries. As far as indicators are concerned, from the perspective of the green economy approach, greater emphasis needs to be placed on the environmental goods and services sectors.

Changes to the natural environment, natural resources, and ecosystem may be measured in economic terms through monetary valuation.

For example, when the environment is polluted, it involves a cost — people get sick and lose their ability to earn a living. When a natural resource is depleted, it involves a cost — as a result of fishery stocks collapsing, people in the fishing business lose their jobs and people in coastal areas are deprived of a major source of nutrition.

When an ecosystem service is destroyed, it involves a cost — as mangroves are removed for creating shrimp farms, the flood control function of mangroves disappears and the world knows only too well the cost of floods in terms of loss of life and properties.

The money value of these environmental/natural resources/ ecosystem costs can be estimated through established methodologies described in the SEEA, in order to strengthen the case for environmental protection and natural resource conservation, and in some cases, to penalize the culprits for the environmental destruction they have caused as in the case of a major oil spill.


 

Battling the effects of climate change

the Problem The beauty of the Darién landscape of eastern Panama and its people is unparalleled. The province, fed by the mighty Chucunaque River, is lush with vegetation and renowned for its great biological and cultural diversity as well as an abundance of water. Although the province has experienced considerable deforestation, it nevertheless is home to some of the most important rainforests of Central America and continues to nurture the cultural heritage of the Camaracs Ngaibe Bugle, Guna de Wargandi and Embera Wounaan indigenous groups. While the Chucunaque River basin is one of the country’s largest, it also runs through some of Panama’s poorest regions, making it extremely vulnerable to climate change, especially its impacts: drought and flooding. Moreover, the impacts of climate change are happening more frequently and with greater intensity. Indeed, in 2010 the 150,000 people living around Darién were struggling to survive floods that washed away houses and animals and contaminated the drinking water. The flooding also forced the closure — for the first time in 21 years — of the Panama Canal. the Solution While the December 2010 disaster was devastating, it could have been worse. An early warning system using weather satellitetransmissions, rain gauges, limnimetric scales and a radio communication system had been set up in 2009 by a UN Joint Programme operating under the Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund (MDG-F). Entitled Incorporation UNEP at work Battling the effects of climate change

the Problem

The beauty of the Darién landscape of eastern Panama and its people is unparalleled. The province, fed by the mighty Chucunaque River, is lush with vegetation and renowned for its great biological and cultural diversity as well as an abundance of water.

Although the province has experienced considerable deforestation, it nevertheless is home to some of the most important rainforests of Central America and continues to nurture the cultural heritage of the Camaracs Ngaibe Bugle, Guna de Wargandi and Embera Wounaan indigenous groups. While the Chucunaque River basin is one of the country’s largest, it also runs through some of Panama’s poorest regions, making it extremely vulnerable to climate change, especially its impacts: drought and flooding.

Moreover, the impacts of climate change are happening more frequently and with greater intensity. Indeed, in 2010 the 150,000 people living around Darién were struggling to survive floods that washed away houses and animals and contaminated the drinking water.

The flooding also forced the closure — for the first time in 21 years — of the Panama Canal.

the Solution

While the December 2010 disaster was devastating, it could have been worse. An early warning system using weather satellitetransmissions, rain gauges, limnimetric scales and a radio communication system had been set up in 2009 by a UN Joint Programme operating under the Millennium Development Goals Achievement Fund (MDG-F). Entitled Incorporation of Measures for Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change, the UN Joint Programme introduced the early warning system as well as a climate change monitoring system with the latest meteorological technology around the Chucunaque River basin, all of which helped to limit the impacts of the flooding on the local population.

What UNEP did?

As the convener of the Environment and Climate Change window under the MDG-F, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is the technical advisory on environmental issues in the UN Joint Programme in Panama that incorporates the expertise of UNDP, FAO, and PAHO/WHO. The Joint Programme also worked with national counterparts of four Panamanian institutions to set up a climate change information system. The collaborative effort also led to the installation of radio equipment in key places often hit by flooding. Thanks to the radio communication system, endangered communities can now be informed ahead of time on the cresting of the Chucunaque River.

Indeed, in remote areas like Darién, radio communication is still the best source of information and the UN Joint Programme has made most use of it. As a result, in the 2010 flooding there was a smooth evacuation and no loss of lives.

A communication strategy was developed to encourage local participation and dialogue on climate change. In addition, information was simplified and translated into the three indigenous languages to increase the diffusion of the messages in all water basins. Moreover, rather than imposing a strictly “scientific” communication of climate change, the Joint Programme sought to interweave this thinking with the more traditional paradigms found in the indigenous communities.

Support

The Environment and Climate Change Joint Programmes under the MDG-F are taking place in 17 countries around the world. Set up in December 2006 as an international cooperation mechanism to help countries reach the Millennium Development Goals, the MDG-F is completely funded by the Spanish Government.

For more information on the MDG-F, please see: www.mdgfund.org

For more information on JP Panama, please see: www.unep.org/drc

Lessons Learned

The Joint Programme had to consider a number of aspects from the outset. The basin areas of the river are not only remote, but access to some of them is very limited.

Moreover, Panama has several indigenous communities living in these areas, so in implementing the Joint Programme, respect for traditional knowledge was carefully considered.