Here Are the 10 Best (and Worst) Countries for the Environment

In spite of a tumultuous year, 2016 laid a foundation of promise for taking better care of the planet. 170 countries agreed to ban a major climate change contributing chemical, and 130 countries signed the United Nations Paris Agreement pledging to curtail efforts to reduce global climate change on Earth Day.

However, the top country when it comes to investing in the environment for its own society’s prosperity  might surprise you more than this year’s progress toward environmental care. The top spot for the country with the highest quality of environment, and pressure to preserve natural habitats goes to a country that doesn’t hit top 10 in any other category — Slovenia. The tiny country has been investing in protecting the environment to boost economic and social prosperity for years. Slovenia has been No. 1 on Legatum’s list since 2012.

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Five Pacific islands lost to rising seas as climate change hits

Five tiny Pacific islands have disappeared due to rising seas and erosion, a discovery thought to be the first scientific confirmation of the impact of climate change on coastlines in the Pacific, according to Australian researchers.

The submerged islands were part of the Solomon Islands, an archipelago that over the last two decades has seen annual sea levels rise as much as 10mm (0.4in), according to research published in the May issue of the online journal Environmental Research Letters.

The missing islands, ranging in size from 1 to 5 hectares (2.5-12.4 acres) were not inhabited by humans. But six other islands had large swaths of land washed into the sea and on two of those, entire villages were destroyed and people forced to relocate, the researchers found.

The Solomon Islands, a nation made up of hundreds of islands and with a population of about 640,000, lies about 1,000 miles north-east of Australia. However, the study raises questions about the role of government in relocation planning, said a Solomon Islands official.

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11 Ways to See How Climate Change Is Imperiling the Arctic

While the average temperature of the planet is slowly creeping up, the Arctic is warming far more quickly, as much as two to three times faster. On December 22, a weather buoy near the North Pole reported temperatures at the melting point of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. And recent research suggests that the average summer temperature in the region over the last century is higher than in any other century for at least 44,000 years.

Maps and visualizations of the resulting changes in the Arctic make it clear that global warming is no hoax.

Scientists are getting a vastly improved picture of what is happening in the Arctic today as sea-ice extent, thickness, and volume are tracked by satellites, ocean buoys, and submarines with upward-looking sonar. The measurements show that the Arctic keeps breaking records for rising temperatures and declining ice cover. The sea-ice extent hit an all time low in 2012—1.27 million square miles less than the average since 1979. And the winter maximum hit its lowest extent ever at the beginning of this year—620,000 square miles less than average.

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HSBC funding destruction of vast areas of Indonesian rainforest, new report claims

A major British bank is financing the destruction of vast areas of rainforest in Indonesia, a new report claims.

HSBC has allegedly helped provide billions of pounds in funding for companies that destroy natural forests to make way for palm oil plantations – despite the bank promising to not finance deforestation.

The London-based bank is part of a group that provided over $16 billion (£13.2 billion) in loans and a further $2 billion (£1.7 billion) in corporate bonds to palm oil producers, according to Greenpeace International.

Greenpeace alleges the companies have been involved in destroying vital rainforest without permission. Some producers are also accused of exploiting workers and using child labour.

HSBC’s sustainability policy says it does not “knowingly” finance deforestation. 

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Pakistan upscales efforts to combat desertification through sustainable land management

Under the leadership of Ministry of Climate Change Pakistan in partnership with UNDP, GEF and all four provinces , the Programme Steering Committee (PSC) meeting of Sustainable Land Management Programme (SLMP, Phase-II) was held  in Islamabad.

The progress of the programme in four provinces of Pakistan was discussed and programme’s achievements were appreciated by the PSC members. The committee further approved stepping up of Sustainable Land Management (SLM) up-scaling activities in 2017 which envisage SLM integrated provincial policies, technical trainings, effective land use planning  with Geographic Information System (GIS) and implementation of climate-resilient SLM activities in partnership with communities across landscapes in the country.

Chairing the meeting, Secretary Ministry of Climate Change, Syed Abu Ahmad Akif emphasized importance of combating desertification and land degradation in Pakistan’s context and appreciated program’s achievements, he said:

“Better management of land resources through this program will go a long way in poverty reduction, better livelihoods, food security and improved ecosystems in the country.”

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Three New Year’s resolutions for US corporations to accelerate climate action

It is that time of year again where we look back at the year gone by and collectively resolve to do better in the year ahead. And when it comes to corporate climate action, 2016 had indeed been a milestone year. The Paris Agreement which was ratified this year sent a clear message: we need to transition to a low-carbon economy and do what it takes to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C.  Support by US businesses was instrumental in reaching the agreement, and will be critical to implementing it.

Much work lies ahead to achieve the long-term vision of a low carbon economy that stimulates clean energy growth and builds the resilience of poor and  vulnerable communities who are most impacted by climate change. Now more than ever, business leadership is pivotal in achieving the ambitious goals set out in the Paris agreement.

While the incoming president of the United States and some of his key appointees have questioned the need for climate action and the reality of well-established climate science, we know that climate change is already a fact of life for thousands of communities across the world – especially the poor who are bearing the brunt of the impacts from more severe storms, intense droughts and unpredictable weather.

Many US companies already recognize the business case for investing in clean energy and climate action. Several food and beverage companies, for instance, recognize that extreme weather is threatening food supply chains and food security around the world, and last year, in the run up to Paris, the CEOs of 14 leading US food companies came together to pledge to accelerate business action on climate change and urged governments to do the same.

So here are three resolutions US businesses can make to further accelerate climate action in 2017:

1. Disclose how you measure and manage climate risks

2. Set long-term targets guided by science

3. Speak up in support of ambitious climate action

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The Role of Food and Beverage Packaging in Limiting Climate Change

The Paris Climate Change Agreement one year later

It has been almost a year since the Paris Climate Change Agreement was adopted in December of 2015.  The agreement set out a goal and initiated a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. 

It took most of 2016 for the Agreement to be signed and ratified and the Agreement did not enter into force until November 4, 2016.  Key to this process was a joint ceremony on April 22, 2016 in which President Obama of the United States, and President Xi Jinping of China signed and ratified the Agreement on behalf of their respective countries.  The US and China are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases on the planet.

So now the hard work begins – turning aspirations of the Paris Climate Change Agreement into action.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is in the process of investigating the environmental footprint of a variety of foods, understanding that food production, processing, distribution, and wastage are responsible for significant impacts.  The foods to be considered in these reviews include tomatoes, wine, pork, beer, coffee, citrus fruit and juices, and fish from freshwater aquaculture.  So far the DEQ’s contractor, the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, has conducted literature reviews and produced draft summaries for two foods, tomatoes and wine, and the results show that:

1. Packaging contributes to the overall environmental impacts of the food and beverage industry; and

2. Packaging choices can make a significant difference in greenhouse gas impacts of the food and beverage industry.

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Soil and Plants Need Each Other

It is common knowledge that plants need soil. However, not often enough is it asked; does soil actually need plants? The relationship between plants and soil is more mutually beneficial than most would think. Soil is the uppermost layer of the earth in which plants grow. It is a composite of rock particles, organic materials and microorganisms. Within the soil there is an entire complex ecosystem of microorganisms, insects, and burrowing critters—their activity is as vital to soil composition as are the nonliving (abiotic) components of soil.

Floods spread water over a floodplain once soil becomes too saturated to hold additional water. Flood water moves across the earth and erodes soil as it washes over a landscape. Wind, which is also a fluid force of nature, can contribute to soil erosion as well. This is especially the case in certain narrowed areas of the landscape where wind funnels through a “corridor” – this increases wind velocity by reducing air pressure, a phenomenon explained by the Venturi effect. Some erosion is simply a natural process, but as with many things in nature, there must be a balance.

Too much erosion leads to arid soils deprived of organic materials and incapable of supporting life. A cover-crop grown over an underutilized agriculture field can significantly preserve the soil’s quality in the area and protect it from abrasive forces. Windbreaks which perpendicularly intercept prevailing winds in an open space also help protect soil, by decreasing wind velocity. These windbreaks can be trees, or even shrubby herbaceous plantings. Windbreaks created by trees in a field can be a critical way for increasing soil health by protecting surface soil from powerful windflows across a wide-open space. Adding vegetation can also protect soil from erosion caused by floods by giving the soil something to “grab” onto as floodwaters sweep an area. Some types of trees can also help decrease a local water table by taking-up water; consider that just one large tree can lift up an average of 100 gallons of water out of the ground.

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