Addressing Sustainability for the Future

While businesses are taking great strides towards climate action, there is still a lot of progress needed to obtain a sustainable climate solution. Some businesses still view sustainability as a PR issue but as one of the speakers at COP25 said, “CSR is dead. Now companies must truly integrate sustainability into their business to achieve a truly sustainable business model.”

There are many leading companies working to achieve this integration of sustainability throughout their business, such as those present at COP25 in Madrid. But what are some of the barriers to achieving this?

Panel discussing actions needed to promote industry transformation at COP25. Photo by Katelyn Boisvert

One major issue for a lot of corporate sustainability initiatives and action in local governments is a lack of fossil free electricity. Without this, the progress that can be made in the energy sector is limited. This is a major concern for transportation and mobility focused initiatives.

Another issue is the lack of differentiation of function from means. In the transportation sector especially, too much focus is placed on solving the issues of the car industry instead of solving mobility issues. This causes businesses and local governments to fall back into current patterns instead of considering innovative changes that could have a larger impact for climate.

There are three other major concerns for businesses: supply chain thinking, value creation and transparent data.

In order for any corporate sustainability effort to be successful, supply chain thinking must be expanded. Supply chain emissions can account for up to 80% of a company’s total emissions, and not addressing this is a major loss for the sustainability of a business.

Recently, Daimler (Mercedes-Benz) has set a goal of only sourcing from zero-emissions suppliers by 2039. As a result, companies are rushing R&D dollars into low carbon steel and other products in order to supply this demand, thus expanding the corporate sustainability movement. Microsoft is also looking towards its supply chain and is working closely with CDP to require suppliers to report to the program. Just as companies are willing to make changes if asked by their investors, suppliers will work to create sustainability initiatives if asked by their retailer.

Currently, economies of scale is the major driver of business action. Unfortunately, the source of value for sustainability initiatives will never be able to come from volume and thus their value must arise from a system other than economies of scale. As this system is yet to be created, there is a major question point for business leaders about where the value for sustainable initiatives will be sourced. Consumer actions and interests in sustainable products may offer a potential solution, but consumer interests are not yet of a scale to support ambitious change in the business sector.

One of the last major issues for companies working to implement sustainability initiatives is access to measurable and transparent data. In order to determine solutions and evaluate effectiveness of initiatives, companies must be able to access data on their company and others working towards similar programs. CDP is one program working to improve emissions data availability, but many companies still lack the ability to obtain accurate information within their own operations.

Me in front of SDG blocks featured at COP25.

Overall, my time at COP25 taught me a lot about the innovative approaches being taken by business to tackle the climate crisis, as well as some of the shortfalls and areas of improvement that need to be addressed in the coming years.

As I prepare to enter the field of corporate sustainability, the lessons and skills I have learned from my time exploring the interactions of business in the climate conversation will be invaluable.

Public-Private Partnerships

Outside of a few countries stepping forward, like the EU’s pledge to be net zero by 2050, current climate policy is not strong enough to adhere to the Paris Agreement and make significant strides towards combating the climate crisis. Governments will not be able to achieve goals on their own, and current trends are increasing pressure on the private sector to step up for climate. Businesses will hold the key for effective climate action, and for companies, climate change is increasingly becoming the core of a responsible business model.

However, businesses alone are also unable to achieve goals independently, just as much as governments can’t. The only way to combat the climate crisis will be to establish effective and ambitious public-private partnerships.

Panel discussing integrated approaches for business and public sector. Photo by Katelyn Boisvert

Many of the side events and pavilion events at COP25 in Madrid presented speakers from both public and private sectors in order to discuss the potential for collaboration and the solutions and needs of each group. A common question asked by moderators in these panels was for the public and private actors to switch roles and discuss what they would like to see brought to the table.

This provoked fascinating conversations about some of the disconnects between public and private actors, and the solutions to bridge the gap between these two entities. Business felt that they could offer invaluable scale and climate solutions, but were in some cases restricted by current legislation. Nonprofit members and local governments called out to businesses to be the leaders of the climate movement and to help encourage policy transformation.

A great example of public-private partnerships occurs in cities on a regular basis. Cities are in a unique position in that many city services are provided by the private sector, offering an opportunity for public-private collaboration efforts focused on sustainability. There are three common areas for such programs:

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Waste Management: including increasing recovery of materials and/or  increasing energy from waste initiatives
  • Transportation: such as fleet monitoring and optimization 

Policy action could offer a great way to support and engage businesses. Business leaders at COP25 asked for governments to create transition policies that give time for business to adapt, but also set stringent goals of where they should be heading.

Businesses need to encourage this type of policy transformation and seek out partnerships with the public sector. While climate policy may currently be at a standstill, especially in the U.S., business can serve as models for climate action. The experience of the private sector can support the initiatives of the public sector and together, we can tackle climate change.

Coming Up Next In Sustainability

While circular economy certainly took the stage at COP25, there were many other topics that arose in side events and discussions surrounding corporate sustainability efforts. These topics represent areas of interest in sustainability that are gaining momentum in the corporate world. More conversations on these topics are expected to emerge over the next year and have an even greater presence at COP26 in Glasgow next November.


Side event discussing the importance of adaptation strategies in the private sector. Photo by Katelyn Boisvert

Adaptation is no longer a concern for countries and cities alone, but many businesses are starting to look towards developing adaptation plans. Adaptation planning offers many incentives for corporations including: managing risk and avoiding reactionary costs; capitalizing on new markets and business opportunities; and ensuring compliance for policies, regulations and investor interests.

As the narrative shifts and begins to highlight opportunities for companies, many are realizing the importance of addressing areas of risk for the business, especially in regard to their supply chains. Without changes in the strategy, governance and risk management of corporations only small-scale efforts will get done, and adaptation planning is an important step towards achieving these changes.

Land Use

Land use is a new area of concern for businesses, such as Mars and Danone, whose climate goals depend on the use of the land where they grow the ingredients for their products. For Mars, emissions from deforestation and land use for the production of cocoa accounted for the greatest proportion of their carbon footprint. They are working towards ensuring there is no deforestation on lands they use and also are supporting reforestation efforts.

As corporate sustainability continues to grow, company liability for land use change is a likely future. This raises a lot of questions and concerns, especially around the idea of double-counting and the interaction between deforestation and a company’s reforestation efforts. Deforestation must be accounted for prior to any reforestation efforts could be counted in order to avoid many of these concerns.

Other companies, such as Danone, are pursuing options including regenerative agriculture. These types of farming practices have a three-fold sustainability benefit helping to increase biodiversity, mitigate climate concerns and improve food security issues.


Water offers a cross-cutting solution to many climate challenges. It is a complex issue but there are many strategies available for resilient water management. Water resilience can be achieved locally, with the key being to bridge the gap between the public and private sector. Both the production of potable water and the treatment of wastewater are critical to aspects of both public and private sector activities and must be considered equally by both.

The private sector plays an important role in the goal of reducing carbon footprint through changes to packaging, transportation and waste of water. With the rise of the circular economy, water is on the list of resources to become circular, as several companies are already looking towards strategies for packaged H2O and other water intensive products.


Panel discussing the role of plastic in mitigating carbon emissions at COP25. Photo by Katelyn Boisvert

Plastic is an issue quickly gaining momentum in many countries, cities and businesses. Speakers at COP25 discussed how the plastics issue may be ten years behind the climate crisis, but it also potentially easier to solve. One of the speakers described waste as a “design error”. For companies it is important to understand your products and the waste they produce to be able to address the plastic issue effectively.

Many solutions have been proposed, from bio-based products to banning plastic products, however each of these alternatives needs to be carefully considered depending on the situation to ensure that it is the most sustainable alternative. Some bio-based products are not decomposable, and may potentially have higher emissions. This leads back to the importance of addressing the waste issue at the initial design stage and having a better understanding of where we actually need to use plastic versus other material options.

Reduce, Reuse, Re… Circulate?

The buzzword at COP25 in Madrid was Circular Economy. From business to water to land use, everyone was talking about the concept of developing a more circular economy, and this is right at the heart of corporate sustainability.

One of many panel conversations on circular economy at COP25. Photo by Katelyn Boisvert.

Currently, most products are disposed of after use. The culture surrounding products is make-use-dispose, but circular economy is working to change that model. Many people assume that circular economy is the same as recycling, but instead it takes it a step further, working to reuse or repurpose materials to keep them in the economy and preserve resources for other uses. 

So many potentially valuable products, such as electronics, are thrown away on a regular basis. One of the speakers at a panel I attended joked about how the future mining operations of the world won’t be in the ground, but in the drawers and attics of people’s homes. 

45% of emissions are a result of how we make, use and handle our products; how we grow our food; and how we manage our land. This shows that these sector economies need to change in order to become more sustainable.

There are two main ways that companies can work to improve circularity in their business and reduce emissions:

1. Product Design 

Circular Economy of O’Right Shampoo Products. Diagram from O’Right 2018 CSR Report.

Many companies are starting a movement to prevent emissions at the source by reevaluating the design of their products in order to be more sustainable and circular. At an event I attended at COP25, IKEA discussed how they are re-evaluating their entire product line to align their products with their climate goals. 

Another company which presented at Investment COP, O’right, based in Taiwan, is creating shampoo completely out of used coffee products. The bottles are fully biodegradable and each has a coffee seed in the bottom, encouraging consumers to grow a new coffee plant from their bottle— a perfect image of the idea of circular economy. 

2. Customers

The carbon footprint of a shampoo product is 90% the use of the product—the hot water and/or the use of a hairdryer. While the use of a product after you buy it is not often considered in the footprint of the product itself, this is an important step towards moving towards a more circular lifestyle and economy. 

As circular initiatives continue to grow, they could offer a new edge of competitiveness for sustainable businesses. Currently, many circular economy programs focus on recycling programs. However, new and innovative pilot programs, such as programs for appliance re-manufacturing, will be the future of circular economy.

Circular economy is gaining momentum, but there is still a long way to progress. In the beginning of 2019, the Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE) published a Circularity Gap Report highlighting leadership and actions needed to bridge this gap.

Overall, circular economy plays a key role in improving the sustainability of a company. The power of a company’s supply chain and their connection with consumers can be used to drive change in the private sector and beyond.

COP25: Time for (Business) Action

One of many official COP25 signs seen at the conference, highlighting the “Time for Action” slogan. Photo by Katelyn Boisvert

While the decisions made at COP25 fell short of its goal to be a COP of action, many conversations and commitments were made outside of the negotiation rooms. Reports on the negotiations throughout COP25 make the past two weeks sound like an endless stalemate, when in reality, walking through the halls of the IFEMA Convention Center in Madrid was a journey filled with vibrant activity and those passionate about climate action. 

Me, visiting the IETA Business Pavilion at COP25 in Madrid

As a member of the Emory delegation to COP25, I attended side events, explored pavilions, and met with individuals committed to taking the next steps on climate. In particular, I spent the week following the role of businesses and corporate action in the climate conversation. 

With many policies and government actions at a standstill, businesses are stepping forward to do their part. Many side events that I attended had a business presence, even those that were not focused on business action. This shows how integral the private sector is in all conversations related to climate change and sustainable development. 

COP25 offered a multi-sectoral dialogue on the business world with leaders in government and non-profit sectors also contributing to the conversation about the wants and needs of business. I learned a lot about how businesses can be involved, important next steps, and the challenges preventing more ambitious action. It was inspiring to see the steps that corporations are taking to tackle climate change, and their goals for a more sustainable future. 

It is increasingly becoming clear that the private sector cannot ignore climate risk, just as much as the climate crisis cannot ignore the private sector. The private sector accounts for 60% of the world’s GDP, 80% of capital flows and 90% of jobs. This offers an incredible opportunity to create new jobs, finance sustainability efforts, and develop goods and services to become more climate resilient. 

Business leaders at COP25 discuss business ambition for 1.5°C pledge. Photo from We Mean Business

Yes, sustainable business doesn’t solve the problem on its own. There are still many very real issues with business dependence on fossil fuels, greenwashing and unsustainable investments, but there are also companies that are taking real steps towards addressing climate change. At COP25 the number of signatures on the Business Ambition for 1.5°C pledge more than doubled from 87 to 177 companies committed to ambitious climate action. 

It won’t solve the climate crisis but whatever we do solve is more than we had yesterday. So as much as the negotiations at COP25 were stuck in inaction, we cannot afford to confine the business world to the same fate. We must celebrate the small victories that occur in the private sector and support engagement and ambitious action for the future.

In the words of Barack Obama,  “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.” For me, COP25 was an opportunity to see the paths that businesses are walking and I was encouraged to see the number of companies walking down the path for climate. 

Dead Zones and Climate Change

The number of dead zones has doubled every decade since the mid 1900s (Greenhalgh, 2015). The spread and increase in severity of these anoxic areas resulted from a number of factors, but future changes are expected to be heavily influence by climate change. There are several ways that climate change will impact dead zone formation and location, but temperature changes and sea level rise are the two impacts with the greatest degree of certainty.

Warmer water is able to hold less dissolved oxygen because gas solubility decreases as temperature increases, resulting in bubbles of oxygen at the surface (Greenhalgh, 2015). In addition, stratification of the ocean due to warming of the surface layer creates layers with differing temperatures and decreases the amount of mixing in the water column (Altieri and Gedan, 2014). This means the oxygen bubbles tend to sit at the surface are not distributed to deeper waters. Deep waters are also cut off from the atmosphere, a primary source of oxygen in the ocean (NSF, n.d.). These are the general trends expected as a result of warming, but all areas will not warm evenly, resulting in differing impacts in some areas. Higher latitudes are expected to see the worst dead zone changes due to warming because these areas will be experiencing the greatest overall rise in temperatures (Altieri and Gedan, 2014). Coastal areas will be impacted greater because they are shallower, and temperatures are more closely dictated by the air temperature there than the open ocean is (Altieri and Gedan, 2014).

The primary focus of sea level rise from climate change is the impact on wetland habitats. Wetlands are natural buffers to the nutrient runoff that can cause algal blooms and eventually lead to dead zones. These habitats help by filtering nitrogen and phosphorus from runoff before it reaches coastal areas (Zielinski, 2014). These ecosystems are being threatened as sea level rises (Zielinski, 2014). Declines in wetlands will result in more nutrients reaching coastal areas and contributing to algal blooms and dead zones. Sea level rise is also increasing the total volume of water susceptible to eutrophication because of the expanse in volume of shallow coastal regions (Altieri and Gedan, 2014).

There are several other less impactful and more nuanced factors of climate change that can influence algal blooms and dead zones. The first is the timing and length of algal blooms. Warming and other changes in seasonality are causing seasonal algal blooms to appear earlier into the season and stay longer, extending the period of time that eutrophication can occur and cause dead zone conditions from which the system may not be able to recover from during the off season (Altieri and Gedan, 2014). Another hypothesized impact is a hypothesis formed by a researcher named Bakun. Climate change is expected to increase the land-sea temperature imbalance in some areas due to the land heating more significantly than the ocean (Bakun et al., 2015). This would drive a greater pressure gradient in these areas that could potentially drive upwelling favorable winds resulting in greater nutrient conditions for algal growth (Bakun et al., 2015).

Climate change will also have significant impacts on ecosystem health. As temperature increases, an organism’s metabolism also increases requiring them to take in more oxygen (Altieri and Gedan, 2014). This fact, paired with an overall decline in oxygen supply, leads to worse anoxic conditions and overall lowered ecosystem resilience.


Altieri, Andrew H., and Keryn B. Gedan. “Climate Change and Dead Zones.” Global Change Biology, vol. 21, no. 4, 10 Aug. 2014, pp. 1395–1406., doi:10.1111/gcb.12754.

Bakun, A., et al. “Anticipated Effects of Climate Change on Coastal Upwelling Ecosystems.” Current Climate Change Reports, vol. 1, no. 2, 7 Mar. 2015, pp. 85–93., doi:10.1007/s40641-015-0008-4.

“Dead Zones – Special Report – SOS: Is Climate Change Suffocating Our Seas?” NSF,

Diaz, Robert J, and Rutger Rosenberg. “Spreading Dead Zones and Consequences for Marine Ecosystems.” Science , vol. 321, no. 5891, 15 Aug. 2008, pp. 926–929., doi:10.1126/science.1156401.

Du, Jiabi, et al. “Worsened Physical Condition Due to Climate Change Contributes to the Increasing Hypoxia in Chesapeake Bay.” Science of The Total Environment, vol. 630, 15 July 2018, pp. 707–717., doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.02.265.

Greenhalgh, Emily. “Climate Change Likely to Worsen U.S. and Global Dead Zones.” NOAA, 2 Feb. 2015,

Zielinski, Sarah. “Ocean Dead Zones Are Getting Worse Globally Due to Climate Change.”, Smithsonian Institution, 10 Nov. 2014,

Georgia Invasives Case Study

Invasive species are a concern all over the U.S. and all over the world. Some invasive species are well known such as Lionfish or Kudzu in parts of the U.S. However, there are a multitude of other invasive species that can be just as harmful to the surrounding ecosystem, even if they aren’t well known. It’s important to raise awareness of invasive species to help prevent their spread to new areas. This post covers three invasive species that can be found in the state of Georgia.

NOTE: All three species presented below have been identified in some quantity in Lullwater Preserve at Emory University.

Chinese Lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata)

Lespedeza cuneata is a notoriously invasive perennial on the east coast of the United States, most often found in old fields or prairies (Schutzenhofer et al. 2009). The species was introduced from Asia deliberately in 1895 for use in erosion control and as a forage plant for wildlife (Schutzenhofer et al. 2009). The species became further widespread with the passing of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977, which listed L. cuneata as one of the acceptable ground cover species for reclamation of old mining sites (Bauman et al. 2015).  Old mining sites are often unproductive landscapes and provide more value in spreading invasives than for colonizing native species (Bauman et al. 2015).

L. cuneata is a successful invader of a range of habitat types due to several characteristics that increase the tolerance of the species. The species has a high seed production rate and high dispersal potential, increasing in abundance more than 20 fold in a single year(Schutzenhofer et al. 2009, Kibis and Buyuktahtakin 2017).Another feature of its survival is the large seed bank created, in which seeds can survive for decades (Kibis and Buyuktahtakin 2017). Plants also have a heteromorphic flowering system, producing flowers that can reproduce asexually in addition to flowers that are insect pollinated, which helps to increase the chances of successful reproduction (Schutzenhofer et al. 2009). L. cuneataalso engages in several behaviors that promote its survival over similar native species, such as L. virgnica: these include, shading of other vegetation, allelopathy, resistance to herbivory, and a greater efficiency of light harvesting (Allred et al. 2010).

Approaches to management of L. cuneatadepend on a variety of factors, but in most cases, it is preferable to apply treatment within the first two years of establishment to prevent the building up a sizeable seed bank (Kibis and Buyuktahtakin 2017). The species is most vulnerable in the early stages of its life, but has low rates of natural herbivory in the wild and thrives in disturbed habitats, which makes management strategies such as plowing not useful (Schutzenhofer et al. 2009, Bauman et al. 2015). The most successful treatments are ones involving herbicide and frequent monitoring (Bauman et al. 2015).

Alligator Weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides)

             Aternanthera philoxeroidesis a perennial, clonal plant originally from South America that has spread as an invasive species across multiple countries, in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems (Wu et al. 2017b). Since it is so widespread, little is known about the exact time and origin of the species within the United States. The species can effectively spread from aquatic systems to terrestrial systems, which may have played a role in its introduction (Wu et al. 2017a).

A. philoxeroidesis a major threat to a number of ecosystems, especially rivers, waterways, wetlands and a number of crops ecosystems, in which it has been linked to declines in crop yields (Tanveer et al. 2018). The species is fast growing, doubling its growth in less than two months and forming dense masses of underground root systems (Tanveer et al. 2018). Aquatic systems are more vulnerable to invasion by A. philoxeroides,but climate change is likely to increase the spread of the species onto land and to higher latitudes (Wu et al. 2017a, Wu et al. 2017b). The species reproduces vegetatively with efficient dispersal via stem fragmentation, and its high genetic variability allows it to occupy a number of niches enhancing its survival (Tanveer et al. 2018).A. philoxeroides inhibits other species through allelopathy and a greater ability to photosynthesize and capture water (Wu et al. 2017b, Tanveer et al. 2018). Its clonal integration also increases its competitive ability against natives and other species present in the habitat (You et al. 2016).

Management practices of this species are numerous, widespread and costly. China alone spends $72 million per year to manage its spread (Tanveer et al. 2018). Practices include physical removal, such as excavating roots, chemical management through herbicide use over a number of years, and biological control(Tanveer et al. 2018). The beetle, Agasicles hygrophila, has been shown to be successful in managing A. philoxeroidesand is used as a management practice in many countries (Tanveer et al. 2018).

Common Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

             Vinca minor is an evergreen vine originating from parts of Eurasia (Schulz and Thelen 2000). It is an edge forest species that was commonly used as a decorative plant (Panasenko and Anishchenko 2018). This particular type of periwinkle was introduced at the end of the 19thcentury, especially for its use as ground cover and an edge species in parks and other green spaces(Panasenko and Anishchenko 2018).

V. minor spreads prolifically through vegetative propagation and can form extensive curtains of vines when not controlled (Panasenko and Anishchenko 2018). The species thrives best in forest ecosystems such as pine forests, where it has been shown to greatly reduce forest biodiversity (Panasenko and Anishchenko 2018). Unlike other plants, V. minor grows well in shady regions helping to increase its spread into established forest ecosystems (Tatina 2015). It has been shown to exhibit high allelopathy to the point of inhibiting seed germination of neighboring species, which has greatly aided its survival in otherwise highly diverse forest ecosystems (Panasenko and Anishchenko 2018).

As a relatively new invasive species that has yet to cause the widespread removal efforts of more imposing species such as lespedeza and alligator weed, there is limited research on the successful removal and management of V. minor. The management practice of combined cutting and herbicide applications has been shown to be moderately effective, but further research into more aggressive means of management will be necessary as this species continues to spread and threaten diversity in forest ecosystems (Schulz and Thelen 2000). Herbicide impacts on surrounding native species is a concern in the management of periwinkle (Tatina 2015).

Works Cited

Allred, B. W., S. D. Fuhlendorf, T. A. Monaco, and R. E. Will. 2010. Morphological and physiological traits in the success of the invasive plant Lespedeza cuneata. Biological Invasions 12:739-749.

Bauman, J. M., C. Cochran, J. Chapman, and K. Gilland. 2015. Plant community development following restoration treatments on a legacy reclaimed mine site. Ecological Engineering 83:521-528.

Kibis, E. Y., and I. E. Buyuktahtakin. 2017. Optimizing invasive species management: A mixed-integer linear programming approach. European Journal of Operational Research 259:308-321.

Panasenko, N. N., and L. N. Anishchenko. 2018. Influence of Invasive Plants Parthenocissus vitacea and Vinca minor on Biodiversity Indices of Forest Communities. Contemporary Problems of Ecology 11:614-623.

Schulz, K., and C. Thelen. 2000. Impact and control of Vinca minor L. in an Illinois forest preserve (USA). Natural Areas Journal 20:189-196.

Schutzenhofer, M. R., T. J. Valone, and T. M. Knight. 2009. Herbivory and population dynamics of invasive and native Lespedeza. Oecologia 161:57-66.

Tanveer, A., H. H. Ali, S. Manalil, A. Raza, and B. S. Chauhan. 2018. Eco-Biology and Management of Alligator Weed Alternanthera philoxeroides) (Mart.) Griseb. : a Review. Wetlands 38:1067-1079.

Tatina, R. 2015. Effects on Trillium recurvatum, a Michigan Threatened Species, of Applying Glyphosate to Control Vinca minor. Natural Areas Journal 35:465-467.

Wu, H., J. Carrillo, and J. Q. Ding. 2017a. Species diversity and environmental determinants of aquatic and terrestrial communities invaded by Alternanthera philoxeroides. Science of the Total Environment 581:666-675.

Wu, H., M. Ismail, and J. Q. Ding. 2017b. Global warming increases the interspecific competitiveness of the invasive plant alligator weed, Alternanthera philoxeroides. Science of the Total Environment 575:1415-1422.

You, W. H., C. M. Han, L. X. Fang, and D. L. Du. 2016. Propagule Pressure, Habitat Conditions and Clonal Integration Influence the Establishment and Growth of an Invasive Clonal Plant, Alternanthera philoxeroides. Frontiers in Plant Science 7:11.

Environmental Justice Case Study- Arco Recycling

Working at an environmental nonprofit in Ohio last summer, I became very familiar with environmental issues facing the state of Ohio especially in regards to agriculture and its impact on water supply and toxic algal blooms. These issues are widespread across the state and fairly well documented and reported on, so I wanted to highlight a different type of environmental justice concern occurring in the state.

This fact sheet covers the Arco Recycling facility turned illegal dumpsite in East Cleveland, Ohio. The city permitted a recycling facility to aide in the safe removal of debris from home demolitions in the area but the company soon began using the facility as a place to store the materials, only recycling the smallest required amount. The facility quickly became an issue of public health for the East Cleveland community, especially those whose homes were directly behind the dumpsite. This community is a minority community with documented low-income families and a history of environmental issues and disproportional representation in these issues.

View the Fact Sheet Here!

The Realization of the Energy-Water Nexus

Water is the most frequently cited sector in all of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the adaptation chapter, and energy is a critical means through which we can reach the Paris goals. However, the true scope of these issues extends beyond simply their interactions within the Paris agreement.

The saying “one only understands the value of water when the well is dry” is the perfect depiction of the situation facing many of us in terms of water. Speakers on Water Action Day at COP23 noted that, “around 40 percent of the world’s population will face water shortages by 2050, accelerating migration and triggering conflict, while some regions could lose up to six percent of their economic output, unless water is better managed.” A side panel at COP23 stated a similar occurrence in regard to energy highlighting how access to reliable, clean and affordable energy is a necessary condition to reduce poverty and to support human development.

These impacts are not as thoroughly researched and understood as other impacts from climate change, and certain regions of the world that feel these types of issues won’t affect them may tend to disregard their importance. But the facts are that over 1 billion people lack access to electricity, about 850 million live without access to safe water, and another 800 million are undernourished.

It is only once water and energy resources are in a state of emergency that the world may be truly awakened to the extent of these issues, and that’s what makes the collaboration between energy and water so important.

“There is an urgent need to develop and enhance capacity and partnerships in relation to understanding three underpinning elements of a sustainable society: food, energy and water security.”  -Simon Langan, Director of the Water Future and Solutions Initiative at International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

If we are able to develop these partnerships now through integrated approaches, a variety of tools and sustainable methodologies, we will create a more resilient future for the world, not only in terms of climate change but also other related factors such as poverty, human development, and hunger.

These initiatives are addressed in an interrelated manner because tackling one sector, indirectly and sometimes directly, impacts aspects of the other sectors. This is especially seen with the interdependent nature of energy, water and agricultural resources:

“The production of food and energy are both highly dependent on the access to water and may compete for this resource, water supply and agriculture are major users of energy. Energy system and land-use change are the biggest emitters of GHGs. There is thus a high likelihood that pursuit of policy goals in one area could have impacts on other areas.” -IAEA

Initiatives that address the interconnectedness of these topics make it easier to find solutions for the others. This was seen with a number of the outcomes of COP23, especially solutions such as the nature-based solutions for water management, which form a crucial part of the “toolbox” for addressing climate change through conservation and sustainable management of ecosystems, as discussed at International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s COP23 event: Nature-based Solutions for a Climate Resilient Europe.

“Healthy, well-functioning ecosystems improve the resilience of nature and society and often have a high return on investment rate.” -IUCN

The Global Water Partnership (GWP) described water as a connector, an enabling resource for sustainable development. They state that water-intensive investments should assess and reduce climate risk even if they are not “water sector” projects. This similar result is seen with a number of other integrated solutions and methodologies.

Among the tools developed by the IAEA and other UN organizations, the Climate, Land, Energy and Water (CLEW), methodology helps countries analyze complex interactions between these key resources, together with climate change. The methodology supports policy and planning for sustainable development.

When all of these solutions, partnerships and tools are considered together, the picture that emerges is promising for the future of the energy-water nexus. We must work together in an innovative and optimistic manner. Maybe we won’t have to learn what happens when the well runs dry after all.

The Energy-Water Nexus Outcome @COP23

COP23 raised thoughtful and innovative discussions surrounding the many issues of the energy-water nexus. While there were few large decisions or policies made addressing energy and water, there were several important outcomes that will be key in reaching the goals set for these resources and responding to related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

  1. Nature-Based Solutions for Water

SDG 6 relates to water being more of a local issue but stresses that the consequences how water is managed have global impact  The need for an equally global solution was emphasized by the launch of a plan that will integrate nature-based solutions into water management strategies worldwide:

The declaration defines nature-based solutions as “actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.”

  1. Water Financing

Prime Minister of Fiji Accepting Aid from the EIB

SDG 6 addresses water and sanitation, prioritized in many countries’ climate action plans submitted under the Paris Agreement. However, water agencies at COP23 estimated that $295 billion (USD) would be needed for countries to fully develop water management strategies and take action as part of adaptation to climate change—a number that is three times the levels of investment prior to COP23.

In other progress, Fiji received the largest European Investment Bank grant for water management ever received by a small island state:

  • The EIB pledged $75 million (USD) toward a $405 million Fiji investment program to strengthen resilience of water distribution and wastewater treatment following Cyclone Winston.

While there was not much progress toward acquiring finance on this large scale, there was a call “for the sustainable use of water to be at the center of building resilient cities and human settlements and ensuring food security in a climate change context.”      – Mariet Verhoef-Cohen, President, Women for Water Partnership

    1. Energy Financing- 

SDG 7 addresses the use of affordable renewable and clean energy, which is continuing to grow with investments in renewables outweighing investments in fossil fuels, especially in developing countries. Finance is a major force to accelerate the global energy transition:

It will “provide cutting-edge technical support to governments whose energy policies will significantly impact the speed of a global transition toward more sustainable energy production and use, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and greater access to energy.” -IEA

Many other outcomes that emerged from COP23 relate to or are reliant on proper management of energy and water resources. One such event was the launch of the global Powering Past Coal Allianceformed to declare a phase-out of coal—led by the UK and Canada, and joined by more than 20 countries and other groups. Unfortunately, emissions rose this year after holding steady for three years, due to increased use of fossil fuels.

“Ending, or at least sharply reducing, the use of coal continues to be a major objective for many NGOs, and many governments as well.” -SDG 7

28 July 2017, Nepal- Village of Bhagawoti Kauledhara. Farmers’ Field School female members working in the fields trying new agricultural techniques.

As agriculture is closely tied to the energy-water nexus, another noteworthy outcome was the parties’ agreement to address issues of agriculture and climate change, which marked the “end of a deadlock on agriculture which had lasted for years.”

  • Leaders agreed that investing more in agricultural climate action and supporting sustainable livelihoods of small-scale farmers will unlock much greater potential to limit emissions and protect people against climate change.
  • The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a new Sourcebook on Climate-Smart Agriculture with guidelines to scale up public and private climate financing for agriculture, encourage partnerships, and build capacity.

“Countries now have the opportunity to transform their agricultural sectors to achieve food security for all through sustainable agriculture and strategies that boost resource-use efficiency, conserve and restore biodiversity and natural resources, and combat the impacts of climate change.”     -René Castro, Assistant-Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

Overall, COP23 was quite focused on setting the stage for COP24, which will hopefully see adoption of the Paris Rulebook. Great strides were achieved for the issues of the energy-water nexus and how they relate to climate change. Not only were these issues brought up more frequently in discussions across the COP, but also steps are being taken to integrate concepts and promote collaboration on these issues across many organizations, countries, and disciplines.