Historically, economic prosperity has come at the cost of the environment. But the effects of climate change are making sustainable growth a priority in many places around the world.
Many countries are exploring nature-based solutions, which are strategies to promote sustainability of natural ecosystems. These projects protect the environment, but can also help mitigate climate change, protect indigenous rights and stimulate the economy, said Jennifer Turner, director of the Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum.
One important natural ecosystem is wetlands, such as mangrove forests, which can store as much as three to five times more carbon than tropical forests.
“There are some Chinese NGOs that are working on mangrove protection in China and Southeast Asia, so trying to get lessons learned for this kind of bottom-up protection of mangroves. And I think you’re going to see a lot more of that, the idea that across Asia the activists are coming together,” Turner said.
Turner also pointed to mangrove protection in Kenya as another example. “There’s a community there that they started restoring and about 140 mangroves. And they’re the first community in the world that was able to sell them as carbon credits to companies,” she said. “This is an interesting kind of model that I think we’re going to start seeing replicated elsewhere.”
The Arctic and the green transition
The effects of climate change are perhaps the most visible in the Arctic, where the impacts of melting ice affect sea level rise worldwide. In the face of these challenges, governments and companies in the north are embracing sustainable economic development.
“In the Arctic region, the good thing is that we can export a lot of what we call sustainability…What we have in the Arctic is we have fish to feed the world, we have energy to power industries, renewable energy, and then we have raw materials you need in the green transition,” said Mads Frederiksen, executive director of the Arctic Economic Council.
Some Arctic companies are also finding ways to make their practices less harmful to the environment. One example is the Icelandic company Kerecis.
“They take the skin of the codfish and they use it for burn wounds. So today the skin of the cod is worth more money than the filet of the cot. So that means what you used to throw out, today is making high-value products,” Frederiksen said.
Sustainability and education
Hands-on sustainability education is central to the curriculum at one school in New York City, where the city is the classroom and the lessons carry real-world impacts.
“We use a model of education that’s called Expeditionary Learning, which means that our students learn through interdisciplinary expeditions,” said Emily Hollyday, science teacher at West End Secondary School. “Students are connecting what they’re learning in each of their classes and going out to do fieldwork in the city to learn from their environment.”
The school works with the Children’s Environmental Literacy Foundation (CELF), which is has a mission to establish sustainability as a central part of every child’s K-12 learning experience. “I think students get excited about this kind of work because it’s getting them out of the textbook, out of this theoretical way of learning, and connects all the disciplines in a holistic way that is based in their place, based in their community, based on what they see around them and what they think is important,” said Tara Ocansey, the organization’s executive director.
Another community is coming together around sustainability, this one in Washington, D.C. Lederer Gardens is a community garden where residents learn to grow food in a sustainable way. “In a food desert, the young people don’t have anything to eat. The children don’t know where their food comes from, so they go over the 7-11 … So when people come and they get this produce, they are as grateful to this program as you can imagine,” said Michelle Coleman, the gardens’ recreation specialist.