“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” wondered Anne Guerry in a Stanford University article in which Sarah Cafasso explains how Researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities.
Stanford researchers develop new software for designing sustainable cities
By 2050, more than 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Stanford Natural Capital Project researchers have developed software that shows city planners where to invest in nature to improve people’s lives and save billions of dollars.
New technology could help cities around the world improve people’s lives while saving billions of dollars. The free, open-source software developed by the Stanford Natural Capital Project creates maps to visualize the links between nature and human wellbeing. City planners and developers can use the software to visualize where investments in nature, such as parks and marshlands, can maximize benefits to people, like protection from flooding and improved health.
By 2050, over 70 percent of the world’s people are projected to live in cities. As the global community becomes increasingly urban, cities are looking for ways to design with sustainability in mind. (Image credit: Zhang Mengyang / iStock)
“This software helps design cities that are better for both people and nature,” said Anne Guerry, Chief Strategy Officer and Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project. “Urban nature is a multitasking benefactor – the trees on your street can lower temperatures so your apartment is cooler on hot summer days. At the same time, they’re soaking up the carbon emissions that cause climate change, creating a free, accessible place to stay healthy through physical activity and just making your city a more pleasant place to be.”
By 2050, experts expect over 70 percent of the world’s people to live in cities – in the United States, more than 80 percent already do. As the global community becomes more urban, developers and city planners are increasingly interested in green infrastructure, such as tree-lined paths and community gardens, that provide a stream of benefits to people. But if planners don’t have detailed information about where a path might encourage the most people to exercise or how a community garden might buffer a neighborhood from flood risk while helping people recharge mentally, they can’t strategically invest in nature.
“We’re answering three crucial questions with this software: where in a city is nature providing what benefits to people, how much of each benefit is it providing and who is receiving those benefits?” said Perrine Hamel, lead author on a new paper about the software published in Urban Sustainability and Livable Cities Program Lead at the Stanford Natural Capital Project at the time of research.
The software, called Urban InVEST, is the first of its kind for cities and allows for the combination of environmental data, like temperature patterns, with social demographics and economic data, like income levels. Users can input their city’s datasets into the software or access a diversity of open global data sources, from NASA satellites to local weather stations. The new software joins the Natural Capital Project’s existing InVEST software suite, a set of tools designed for experts to map and model the benefits that nature provides to people.
To test Urban InVEST, the team applied the software in multiple cities around the world: Paris, France; Lausanne, Switzerland; Shenzhen and Guangzhou, China; and several U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Minneapolis. In many cases, they worked with local partners to understand priority questions – in Paris, candidates in a municipal election were campaigning on the need for urban greenery, while in Minneapolis, planners were deciding how to repurpose underused golf course land.
Running the numbers
In Shenzhen, China, the researchers used Urban InVEST to calculate how natural infrastructure like parks, grassland and forest would reduce damages in the event of a severe, once-in-one-hundred years storm. They found that the city’s nature would help avoid $25 billion in damages by soaking up rain and diverting floodwaters. They also showed that natural infrastructure – like trees and parks – was reducing the daily air temperature in Shenzhen by 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) during hot summer days, providing a dollar value of $71,000 per day in benefits to the city.
A map of the Paris metropolitan area of France showing neighborhoods with the lowest access to green spaces (yellow), the lowest income neighborhoods (red), and an overlap of the two (blue) where, according to the Urban InVEST software, investing in green spaces like parks would have the greatest impact on reducing inequalities. (Image credit: Perrine Hamel et al)
Nature is often distributed unevenly across cities – putting lower-income people at a disadvantage. Data show that lower-income and marginalized communities often have less access to nature in cities, meaning they are unable to reap the benefits, like improved mental and physical health, that nature provides to wealthier populations.
In Paris, the researchers looked at neighborhoods without access to natural areas and overlaid income and economic data to understand who was receiving benefits from nature. The software helped determine where investments in more greenspace – like parks and bike paths – could be most effective at boosting health and wellbeing in an equitable way.
Planning for a greener future
In the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota region, golf revenue is declining. The downturn has created an appealing opportunity for private golf courses to sell off their land for development. But should developers create a new park or build a new neighborhood? Urban InVEST showed how, compared to golf courses, new parks could increase urban cooling, keep river waters clean, support bee pollinators and sustain dwindling pockets of biodiversity. New residential development, on the other hand, would increase temperatures, pollute freshwater and decrease habitat for bees and other biodiversity.
Healthy city ecosystems
Urban InVEST is already seeing use outside of a research setting – it recently helped inform an assessment of how nature might help store carbon and lower temperatures in 775 European cities.
“Cities, more than any other ecosystems, are designed by people. Why not be more thoughtful about how we design the places where most of us spend our time?” said Guerry, also an author on the paper. “With Urban InVEST, city governments can bring all of nature’s benefits to residents and visitors. They can address inequities and build more resilient cities, resulting in better long-term outcomes for people and nature.”
Najib Saab writes in ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English how in his opinion, climate change should be faced up, most appropriately in the MENA region. So is it A Race to Protect the Environment or Control Natural Resources?
For the last 100 years, the region that supplied the world with liquid and gaseous fossil fuels should take a stand that the energy transition to cleaner sources is underway and that fossil fuels would not have acceptability forever. And that the already ongoing shift towards the clean energy ecosystem the world over will only increase to the point where there will not be a need for any action towards lessening any global warming anymore.
A Race to Protect the Environment or Control Natural Resources?
20 June, 2021
When US climate envoy John Kerry called to transform the science of climate change into policies and laws, he only got it half right, because setting public policies is not a simple matter. It rather is a complex issue that requires compromises to balance economic, social and environmental aspects. Even when scientific facts indicate the need to immediately stop carbon emissions in order to confront the impacts of climate change, fast full implementation may not be feasible. Any abrupt change is likely to affect the economy and disrupt human life, instigating poverty, hunger and death no less than the dangers of climate change itself. What is required is to provide appropriate conditions and find viable alternatives. Those do exist in most cases, but achieving them requires serious political will and adequate funding.
The major interrelationship between environmental and climate decisions on one hand, and social and economic conditions on the other, was evident in recent days, both at the Group of Seven (G7) summit and the Swiss popular referendum. While the seven world leaders, hosted by Britain, tried to bridge a fine line between climate commitments and the economy, Swiss voters rejected a government proposal for a radical cut in carbon emissions, arguing that it will affect the economy. The complications from the coronavirus pandemic were the main factor in both cases.
Fifty-one percent of Swiss voters rejected a government proposal to introduce an additional tax on fuel and airline tickets, in order to reduce consumption and enhance efficiency, to achieve the goal of reducing carbon emissions in half by 2030, compared to 1990. While the proposal was supported by 49 percent, it was rejected by a small margin by a group that feared its effects on the economy, especially during the coronavirus recovery period.
It is noteworthy that Swiss voters also rejected, by a large majority, in another referendum, a government proposal to ban the use of synthetic pesticides, and to limit aid and support to farmers who stop using chemicals. The farmers believed that these measures would compromise their competitiveness and eventually lead to bankruptcy, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that some pesticides and fertilizers pollute the water and harm plant, animal and human life. Now, the Swiss government has no choice but to come up with alternative solutions that preserve the environment, and protect the economy and the people at the same time.
In conjunction with the announcement of the results of the Swiss referendum, the G7 final statement included an item on environment and climate, under which the leaders committed themselves to launching a green revolution that creates jobs, halving carbon emissions by 2030 and reaching zero before 2050, as well as conserving and protecting at least 30 percent of land and oceans by 2030. The summit also renewed the commitment to keep the increase in the average global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is the most ambitious target set by the Paris Climate Summit. The G7 also pledged to stop all coal-fired power plants in their countries, unless they relied on techniques to safely capture carbon, rather than release it into the atmosphere. It also promised, in return, to help developing countries get rid of polluting coal plants and adopt other clean technologies for energy production, in parallel with stopping all funding for new polluting plants. But effects of this measure will be limited, as long as China continues to build hundreds of coal plants in developing countries, requiring intense international cooperation to reach common grounds.
However, all these pledges fell short of what environmental activists and many experts and the scientific community expected, especially in the field of finance. While the leaders renewed their pledge to contribute annually until 2025 to a $100 million climate fund, from the public and private sectors, to help poor countries reduce carbon emissions, they did not address the gap in these commitments, since the announcement was made back in 2009. But the United States, Germany and Britain have tried to make up for this collective failure, by promising hundreds of millions of bilateral aid to support the communities most affected by climate change. On another hand, Lord Nicholas Stern, a British economist who is a world authority on the implications of climate change, called for a doubling of government support to fund climate action in developing countries. He also emphasized the economic feasibility of investing a large part of the thousands of billions of dollars earmarked for economic recovery from the pandemic, in projects that promote the transition to a green economy.
Economic revival was the main item in the G7 summit, albeit under environmental and social headlines. As a collective challenge to China’s Silk Road projects, the summit established a Global Infrastructure Fund, to support the transportation network in poor countries and help their transition to green growth, mainly comprising renewable energy and clean technology.
Can the Western-Chinese rivalry be utilized as a race in the interest of the environment, climate and sustainable development, or would it lead to a new cold war, of sorts, to control natural resources? Should this happen, the first victims will be poor people, which both blocks claim to serve.
Planting trees, although a very commendable effort, could not be an end in itself. Carbon180 in ‘We can’t just plant our way out of the climate crisis’ holds that ‘while forestry is a key piece of the complicated CDR puzzle, it’s no silver bullet — no solution is.’
In late March, Saudi Arabia’s leader, who aims to transform the petrostate’s economy and society, plans to plant 10 billion trees over the coming decades to increase the area covered by existing trees by twelvefold. This is, if at all possible because of the prevailing climate, would perhaps require more maturing, notably through Carbon180’s stuff. Here it is.
We can’t just plant our way out of the climate crisis
by Maya Glicksman, policy advisor and Ugbaad Kosar, deputy director of policy
As technological carbon removal has garnered widespread attention, one response resurfaces again and again: Why complicate climate solutions with expensive, experimental technology when Earth’s most efficient carbon removal machines already exist in nature? Why not just plant more trees?
While we understand the uncertainty that comes with any burgeoning technologies, it’s risky to paint any approach (even trees!) as a silver bullet solution. In fact, an oversimplified “this-or-that” mentality can do more harm than good — it shuts down nuanced conversations, ignores the complexity of different CDR pathways, and pits tech- and land-based solutions against each other. In reality, we’ll likely need a combination of tech, land, and cross-solution pathways to achieve necessary gigaton-scale removals by mid-century.
First, the merits of forestry approaches
It’s true that forests are valuable carbon sinks — trees can remove and store huge amounts of carbon for decades to centuries, and US forests alone capture nearly 12% of national annual emissions. If expanded and restored at scale, US forests could remove nearly 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year for as low as $5 per ton.
On top of their carbon-storing power, forests provide a wide range of benefits that serve community health, local economies, and climate resilience needs. These myriad benefits make forests key to meeting equitable carbon removal goals, supporting a strong case for their protection, restoration, and sustainable management.
But scaling up tree planting is no easy feat
New research revealed that US nurseries face a serious shortage of tree seeds and seedlings, a limiting factor in ramping up reforestation. To replant about half of the total reforestable area in the US by 2040, the study estimates that nurseries would need to produce an additional 1.7 billion seedlings per year — 2.3 times the current rate of production.
The scarcity of seedlings presents a real challenge, but it’s not just about seedlings — it’s also about people. The same study found that only 32% of nurseries currently produce at full capacity, citing workforce shortages as the greatest barrier to expansion. Specifically, nurseries depend heavily on a seasonal migrant workforce, and survey respondents cited immigration policy as their single largest concern.
Forest carbon removal also raises complex land use concerns, as many of these approaches require large swaths of arable land. Planting can intensify competition with other uses like agriculture or depend on land that is not suitable for long-term carbon storage under a changing climate. The way we reforest is key — the site, scale, and mix of tree species must be selected to protect whole ecosystems and the services they provide.
A disproportionate dependence on forest carbon removal
Our exploration of carbon offsets highlighted the blurred line between removals and reduction efforts in forestry projects, undermining the quality of these offsets and their total carbon impacts. Most corporate, national, and international emissions targets depend on forests to meet climate goals, but these projects depend on a handful of carbon accounting assumptions that, in many cases, overestimate the carbon stored in forests and perpetuate global injustices.
Land-based pathways are used to offset emissions from fossil fuels, assuming all forms of carbon are equivalent when, in reality, they are not. Fossil carbon trapped underground naturally cycles much slower than biotic carbon found in forests — fossil carbon can stay put underground for hundreds of millions of years, while forest carbon turns over every few centuries. This million-fold difference reflects that there is simply a lot more carbon stored in fossil reservoirs beneath the Earth’s surface (aka millions of years worth of sedimentary rock) than in forest ecosystems. The assumption of carbon equivalence ignores these enormous differences in both pace of carbon cycling and the size of these natural reservoirs.
Because they belong to this shorter-term, smaller-scale carbon cycle, forest carbon sinks have finite capacity that reflects losses over time, primarily due to disturbances like land use change. In other words, planting trees restores carbon that forest ecosystems have already lost — but this restoration can’t account for the vast amounts of carbon humans have released from fossil sources, which took millions of years to accumulate underground.
Carbon removal solutions (and climate action in general) typically work under the assumption that the specific site of removals or emissions doesn’t matter because carbon dioxide is diffused equally across the Earth’s atmosphere. This assumption of geographic equivalenceallows wealthy countries and corporations to finance removal projects elsewhere to meet emissions targets in an international exchange of mitigation responsibilities. The exchange usually includes Global North countries paying for forest offset projects in the Global South — a system of transactions coined by some as carbon colonialism.
Pursuing large-scale forest carbon removal requires governance frameworks that protect the livelihoods and well-being of vulnerable communities. While some geographies are simply more suited to certain types of carbon removal, project developers can’t ignore the complex social, political, and cultural factors for communities that exist within those geographies. Forest carbon removals must not come at the expense of communities’ access to and sovereignty over ancestral forests, key natural resources, and economic vitality.
No silver bullets
While forestry is a key piece of the complicated CDR puzzle, it’s no silver bullet — no solution is. We are in the midst of a climate emergency and need to deploy all solutions at our disposal. We should view different approaches as additive and complementary in the solutions landscape, each with unique merits, opportunities, and restraints.
Many forestry approaches are shovel-ready today and can be fully realized with policies that support carbon removal, community well-being, and ecosystem resilience. Here are five key recommendations to support an equitable and durable scale-up of forest carbon removal.
1. Increase investments across reforestation activities to ensure that regional seedling supply can meet accelerating planting demand.
USFS should address the backlog for replanting public lands, as outlined by the REPLANT Act. The government should also expand investment in public and private nurseries to address the national seedling shortage, as outlined in the SOS for Seedlings Act.
2. Expand and create new federal corps programs to support job creation and workforce development in forestry within vulnerable and underemployed communities.
Developing local expertise and workforce capacity in forest stewardship and climate mitigation will support long-term community resilience and economic diversification. The Public Lands Corps, AmeriCorps, and Job Corps should reorient to prioritize forest restoration and management projects, tailoring programs to meet local community employment and ecosystem needs. A new Civilian Climate Corps could serve as an important workforce development opportunity, building on President Biden’s recent executive order.
3. Advance forest carbon monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) technologies and approaches.
Robust MRV will be critical to accurately measure how much carbon is stored in forests across geographies, species, and management approaches. Combining high-resolution remote sensing, field data, and modeling can help improve these efforts, given the growing interest in monetizing forest carbon.
4. Explore policy options to separate land-based and fossil-derived carbon accounting to reflect their different carbon sinks and cycling rates.
Policy can lay the groundwork for regulating carbon removals by sector, e.g. land-based removals for land-based emissions and technological removals with geologic storage for fossil emissions. By limiting cross-industry reliance on land carbon removal, this transition would spur innovation in tech CDR and emissions reductions efforts to decarbonize industries dependent on fossil fuels.
5. Increase international collaboration to support equitable and global scale-up of carbon removal.
The government should support efforts that promote international collaboration and provide technology, information, and funds to Global South countries for carbon removal RDD&D. The US should work to ensure that Global South countries have the tools and autonomy to make decisions about the suite of carbon removal projects they want to see deployed on their lands.
Alongside robust and justice-oriented tech CDR policy, these recommendations can support a multi-pronged approach to carbon removal, maximizing the carbon impacts of each pathway while supporting an equitable transition.
Robert P. Beschel Jr. and Tarik M. Yousef inform that In a region where the governance news is seldom good, on May 6, something very unusual happened in Qatar. Was it a quiet governance revolution in Qatar? wondered these authors in a Brookings article. We would agree that this is happening in the so-called autocratic monarchy of the Gulf and not the other republics of the MENA region. Here is the story.
A quiet governance revolution in Qatar?
17 June 2021
The Minister of Finance, Ali Sharif al-Emadi, was taken in for questioning over a variety of alleged crimes, including misuse of public funds and abuse of power. Al-Emadi had held his position since 2013 and was widely perceived to be one of the most effective finance ministers in the Gulf. Within a day, he was stripped of all governmental duties, as well as his roles in other publicly owned companies and financial institutions. Moreover, the anti-corruption probe is reportedly widening, with scores of businessmen and government officials being questioned by law enforcement authorities and financial regulators.
The publicity surrounding al-Emadi’s ouster is unusual. Throughout the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, most high-level cases of corruption or official malfeasance are handled quietly and without ceremony. The officials involved typically resign or leave their posts suddenly, with limited media coverage. Rumors swirl but are rarely confirmed, and investigations almost never result in prosecution, fines, or imprisonment. Kuwait, for example, witnessed a number of high-profile corruption allegations that led the prime minister to leave office in 2011 and the cabinet to resign en masse in 2019, yet no prosecutions followed. In the United Arab Emirates, a corruption probe resulted in the late Mohammed Khalfan bin Kharbash, the Minister of State for Finance, being removed from office in 2008 and charged with embezzlement in 2009. However, he pleaded not guilty, and the case never went to trial.
There is one major, and controversial, exception to this rule: the November 2017 arrest and imprisonment of 400 prominent Saudis in the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh. Supporters of this decision, including many Saudi citizens, maintain that the imprisonment of these individuals was well deserved and long overdue. Critics allege that it had more to do with the consolidation of power by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman than with the actual guilt or innocence of those charged; they also claim that the funds recouped came from an effort that resembled a “shakedown” more than a bona fide attempt to recover stolen assets or enforce the rule of law.
In the immediate aftermath of the Ritz Carlton arrests, some observers maintained that the move would be disruptive and create uncertainty, scaring investors away. Others argued that it would signal a seriousness of intent and purpose that would be beneficial to the country in the long-term. The short-term effects of the arrests were indeed disruptive: foreign direct investment in Saudi Arabia fell precipitously in 2017 before rebounding in 2018 and 2019, albeit to lower levels than before. The long-term effects of the decision remain to be seen, although there is a wealth of evidence that countries with lower levels of corruption are better at attracting investment and have higher levels of economic growth over time. It would not be surprising if other countries conducting public crackdowns on corruption followed a similar trajectory to that of Saudi Arabia—an initial drop in foreign investment due to added uncertainty, followed by increased investment downstream if the effort is viewed as serious and credible.
According to Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region “is still perceived as highly corrupt, with little progress made towards controlling corruption.” The reality is more nuanced, with wide variation in performance across the region. For instance, the U.A.E. and Qatar are ranked 21st and 30th, respectively, by the Corruption Perceptions Index—a position placing them ahead of countries including Spain, South Korea, and Portugal. The bulk of MENA countries fall in the mid-range. There is also a significant cluster of countries in the lowest ranks, including Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, which are perceived to be among the most corrupt countries in the world.
Two elements of the region’s anticorruption efforts are particularly worrying, even with regard to regional leaders such as the U.A.E. and Qatar. The first, as the International Monetary Fund and others have noted, is the delayed progress on “next generation” governance reforms, which stretch beyond eliminating petty corruption and improving the quality of service delivery. This agenda involves thinking more carefully about the boundary between the public and private sectors; improving transparency and public accountability; making regulatory processes more streamlined and predictable; and strengthening the independence of agencies charged with investigating and prosecuting corruption. It also involves moving forward legislation on income and asset disclosure, as well as cracking down on money laundering.
The second troubling feature of MENA anti-corruption efforts is the relatively static nature of the region’s performance over time. According to the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, the region’s composite scores for controlling corruption have actually fallen consistently from their peak in 2002. The persistence of these chronic “governance deficits” has been viewed by many as the root cause for the region’s repeated political crises over the past decade, starting with the Arab Spring revolutions in 2011 and continuing through to the protest movements of 2018-19 in Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Sudan. In all of these countries, concerns about corruption were among the most prominent public grievances.
Could it be that Qatar’s recent move heralds a transition toward new and more serious anti-corruption efforts in the Gulf and wider region? And could the country’s public efforts inspire other MENA governments to do better? In response to queries about the arrest warrant for al-Emadi, the Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs underscored the importance of institutions and noted emphatically that “no one is above the law.” A day prior to the finance minister’s arrest, Qatar’s emir abolished immunity from prosecution for public officials, leveling the legal playing field for all. Such steps, if translated directly into a robust governance reform agenda and taken forward with skill and tenacity, could very well open a new chapter in strengthening the rule of law and building effective and equitable state institutions in both Qatar and the wider MENA region.
A story by Bea Mitchell on blooloop of 15 Jun 2021 illustrates well the ambitions of those countries around the Red Sea in terms of diversified economic development. It is about the Saraya Aqaba Waterpark set to open on July 3 in Jordan. The employment of Jordanian people will obviously improve as of this summer. But not only; here is the story.
The picture above is for illustration and is of Mashable ME.
Saraya Aqaba Waterpark set to open on July 3 in Jordan
Saraya Aqaba Waterpark, the first world-class water park in Aqaba and the largest in Jordan, is scheduled to open on July 3.
Saraya Aqaba Waterpark in Jordan features more than 25 rides, slides and experiences across more than 28,500 square metres. It opens in Aqaba on July 3.
The water park’s rides and attractions are inspired by Jordan’s iconic landmarks, including Dead Sea Drop, Wadi Rum Race and Aqua Jerash.
Dead Sea Drop guests will take a vertical plunge, while Wadi Rum Race is a competitive multi-racer. Aqua Jerash features play attractions for young guests, including slides, waterfalls and rotating water jets.
“We are excited to announce that Saraya Aqaba Waterpark will be the first of its kind waterpark in Aqaba and the largest in the kingdom,” said Chris Van Der Merwe, general manager of Saraya Aqaba Waterpark.
25 rides, slides and experiences
“At Saraya Aqaba Waterpark, guests from Jordan and around the world are in for an aquatic adventure like no other with slides, rides and experiences suitable for guests of all ages.
“The water park has been carefully designed with families in mind and as such guests can expect a family-friendly environment, both in and out of the water.
“We are looking forward to welcoming you at Saraya Aqaba Waterpark for unforgettable memories that will last for a lifetime,” added Van Der Merwe.
Also opening at the water park is the Rose City Diner, alongside refreshment kiosks around the park serving snacks, ice cream and drinks. The attraction’s signature shopping outlet is called Al Siq Souk.
Jordan’s landmarks inspire rides
Saraya Aqaba Waterpark is located within the Saraya Al Aqaba Residential City, which features a combination of residential, business, leisure and entertainment facilities.
Originally posted on Spotlight Origin: Tin Akachaker or the gem of Tassili, also called the Citadel, a place full of surreal rock formations and dunes found in the Sahara Desert, Hoggar, Ahaggar Mountains, Algeria Image Information TITLE Tin Akachaker AUTHOR Andrea Alborno DATE TAKEN 2009 SOURCE LINK 4Corners | eStock | SIME Spotlight File Name…
Originally posted on Cayden Hebert: Clear fresh water in Chebika Oasis, western Tunisia
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