Sustainable Development Update|
Issue 3, Volume 5, 2005
The Sustainable Development Update (SDU) focuses on the links between ecology, society and the economy. It is produced by Albaeco, an independent non-profit organisation. SDU is produced with support from Sida, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Environment Policy Division.
Dr. Fredrik Moberg, Editor
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Is small always beautiful?
Small is beautiful say the producers of so-called
nanomaterials. Nanoparticles measure only a
few billionths of a meter and are already used in
products like anti-aging creams, sunblocks, car
bodies, food additives and pesticides.
Proponents of this new technology also claim
that there are many potential benefits of “green
nanotechnology”, such as more efficient filters
for cleaning water and air; improved catalysts
for cars and more efficient solar cells.
Unfortunately, research has indicated that
when normally harmless materials are made
into ultrafine particles they can become toxic.
Generally, the smaller the particles, the more
reactive and toxic their effect. One of the wake
up calls was a study revealing that nanoparticles
known as “fullerenes” or “buckyballs” caused
brain damage in fish in a form, which has been
linked to illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease
Some say a mandatory moratorium is now the
only reasonable option. Others say it is better to
allow individual regulatory agencies to weigh in
on specific nanoproducts and applications before
they are introduced to the market. No matter
which approach you choose, it is about time to
start debating nanotech now. Any technology can
be used for good and for bad. Understanding of
both the complex scientific and societal issues
surrounding nanotechnology must be improved.
We will never be able to make wise decisions and
use nanotechnology for environmental and social
good without accurate information.
There is for example insufficient information
about whether nanoparticles used in cosmetics penetrate the skin. Moreover, much of the
research on the health effects of nanoparticles
has been carried out by industry and not in the
open scientific literature. Noteworthy, potentially
cancerogenic nanoparticles of titanium dioxide
are already available in sunscreens intended for
This brings me to this issue’s feature article
on children and the environment. Millions of
children under the age of five die every year due
to environment-related diseases. Children suffering from poverty, conflict and malnutrition are
particularly vulnerable. There is now a growing
interest in developing countries for nanotechnology. Can this tiny science bring big solutions to
the world’s poor children? I hope small will be
beautiful in both these respects and that the devil
does not show up in the details.
/Dr. Fredrik Moberg, Editor
| SDU - Feature|
Children and the environment - a lethal combination?
Sustainable development is much more than a vague responsibility
for forthcoming generations. It’s already this generation’s ability to meet their needs that is jeopardised. More than three million children under the age of five die every year due to environment-related diseases. Children suffering
from poverty, conflict and malnutrition are particularly
Children breathe more air than adults and are more sensitive to air-borne pollutants. Photo: Children protest against traffic pollution by wearing gas masks, ©Angelo Doto/UNEP/Still Pictures.
Children are the greatest victims of environmental degradation. Nearly two million children die every year due to diarrhoeal
diseases, and more than eighty percent of these cases are related to environmental
conditions, such as contaminated
water and inadequate sanitation.
Similarly, up to 90 percent of the one million children under the age of five who died of malaria in 1998 were attributed
to environmental factors. Over 40% of the global burden of disease attributed to environmental factors falls on children below five years of age, who account for only about 10% of the world’s population
Curios and developing
Kids are not just little adults and are therefore much more vulnerable to environmental
hazards. They are growing, consume more food, air and water than adults do in proportion to their weight, their immune, reproductive, digestive and central nervous systems are still developing and they spend their time closer to the ground where most dust and chemicals accumulate
Box 1: Six reasons why children are more vulnerable to environmental hazards|
1. They have a larger intake of food, air – and their contaminants – per kilo bodyweight than adults
2. ...are in a dynamic and sensitive state of growth, with cells multiplying and organ systems developing at a rapid rate
3. ...are curious, spend much time outdoors and often play close to the ground
4. ...have more time to develop environmentally-triggered diseases with long latency periods, such as cancer.
5. ...are weaker and less able to resist or escape from physical disturbances such as floods
6. ...have less knowledge to protect themselves
Children interact with the environment in a myriad of ways; some direct and others
less obvious. Characteristics associated
with children, such as their natural curiosity and lack of knowledge, are aggravating factors. Children can also be exposed to harmful environmental hazards
before birth, for instance through maternal addiction to tobacco and other substances. Exposure to environmental risks at early stages of development can lead to irreversible damage.
Children’s vulnerability to disturbance also means they are at greatest risk during
natural catastrophes. The child death toll following the tsunami in Southeast Asia was a harsh reminder of how important
a safe environment is. Children were unable to fight against the wave.
Poor countries’ kids most affected
In many poor countries malnutrition and diarrhoea form a vicious cycle. The organisms that cause diarrhoea harm the walls of children’s guts, which prevents them digesting and absorbing their food adequately, causing even greater malnutrition
– and vulnerability to disease.
Moreover, millions of poor children work in agriculture, putting them at high risk of pesticide poisoning. Children in poor countries are also disproportionately
vulnerable to global environmental problems, such as the impact of climate change, the depletion of the ozone layer and the loss of the planet’s biological diversity.
The case of organic pollutants
A major problem is that many of the toxic contaminants are persistent and spread via air, water and in animals, or in traded products such as food. For example, persistent organic pollutants as PCBs and dioxins are found in high levels in tissues of polar bears and indigenous
people living far from sources of pollution. In this sense, pollutants ignore political and economic boundaries.
In Milan (Italy), for example, women’s
breast-milk was found to have fairly high levels of dioxin that most likely came from foods imported from countries
where herbicides and pesticides still contain dioxin (4). In 1976, an accidental release of dioxin into the environment in northern Italy exposed the local population
to the highest-ever recorded levels of dioxin. Even 26 years later, women’s breast-milk in the area have dioxin levels twice those of women in Milan (4). It will take time to restore contaminated environments.
These compounds are known to cause cognitive and immunological deficiencies,
growth retardation with delay of puberty, reduced birth weight and increased
perinatal mortality (4). The last two should remind us that children are affected by their mothers’ environment, both when in the womb and when breast-
Many of these toxic persistent organic
chemicals have been phased out in the
west with conventions, but they continue
to be used in herbicides and pesticides
in much of the developing world. While
some of them make their way back to
us via imported foods, the bulk of these
impacts remain in the poor countries of
Do kids care about the environment?
Ironically, while children have little
power to choose their environment they often have a clear understanding of the
environment and its values. A study of
children in Brazil and in USA (1), for instance, found that children in both cases
valued the environment, were aware of
environmental degradation and did not
approve of it, even when the latter was
provided a living, such as logging in the
Both anthropocentric and biocentric
values were found and there were very
few differences between the two groups
of children. This suggests that children’s
moral reasoning may extend to the biotic
community, and that nature is not just a
cultural convention but part of the reality
that bounds children’s cognition.
Not only are they more likely to have
moral views of the way the environment
is treated, children are also more open to
information and learning about the environment. This is why there is so much
effort put into education of our children
and environmental awareness. If unused,
however, this knowledge – like any other
– will disappear. If we as parents, teachers and (willing and unwilling) rolemodels are not willing to practice the
lessons taught to our children we have
little hope of moving towards sustainable development.
Learn from kids
It is we, as adults and society, who
choose their environment. We can do this
by selecting a good environment and/or
by taking care of the environment.
One of the key issues addressed at the
2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg was the links
between health, environment and poverty, and many did acknowledge the special vulnerabilities of children. A number
of initiatives were launched to improve
children’s environmental health, for
example the WHO-led Healthy Environments for Children Alliance.
If we are going to care for our future
generations then we need to actively improve their environments – at school, at
home, at play and on the way to these activities. Given their susceptibility to many
of the pollutants in the environment, we
cannot afford to shun their presence by
hiding behind the view that “it is beyond
me”. It is not – it is all around you. Public
awareness on children’s special vulnerability to environmental health risks is ,
however, still low.
Join your children on their adventures
on land or at sea, learn from their own
insights and knowledge of the environment and think about how you can cut
down your own impacts on the environment. It will make watching them grow
up all the better.
/Miriam Huitric & Fredrik Moberg
(1) Howe DC and others.1996. Along the
Rio Negro: Brazilian Children’s Environmental Views and Values. Developmental
Psychology 32 (6): 979-987.
(2) WHO: Children’s Environmental
(3) WHO: The environment and health
for children and their mothers. Fact sheet
No. 284. February 2005.
(4) R. Zetterström, 2003: Industrial and
agricultural pollution: a threat to the
health of children living in the Arctic
region. Acta Pædiatrica 92: 1238-1240.
| Sustainability School|
(or bio-colonialism) refers to the hijacking
of natural products by ”bio-prospectors” without recompensing the country of origin, or when invalid patents
are granted. The term ”biopiracy” was launched in 1993
by the NGO RAFI (today ETC - Action Group on Erosion,
Technology and Concentration).
Prospectors looking for natural compounds that can be used in biotechnology are often helped by indigenous peoples with knowledge of for example the medicinal effects of plants. Many prospectors have come to the biodiversity-rich developing countries in the tropics, exported organisms, identified active compounds, patented them and sold them for large profits - without recompensing the indigenous peoples or the country of origin.
Theft of intellectual property rights
This ”theft of intellectual property rights” is of course an
ethical issue, but also an economic one, as these peoples and countries could have benefited greatly from the
income generated by their knowledge and natural resources. Measures proposed to prevent bio-piracy have
been requested by indigenous peoples or countries,
while many call for the
banning of the patenting
The patenting of lifeforms
and living processes is covered under Article 27.3(b) of
of intellectual property
rights), under the WTO.
TRIPS has, however, been heavily criticised for not protecting against biopiracy and looking
more into protecting industrial, technical innovations produced by individuals
or companies, rather than traditional knowledge.
| In Brief|
Environmental change now clearly seen from space
The rapid rise of shrimp farming in Asia and Latin
America, the deforestation in South America
and the enormous growth of cities like Delhi,
Beijing and Mexico City can now be seen from
space. This is made apparent in a new collection
of satellite images from the United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP).
Two of the satellite images from One Planet Many People: Atlas of our Changing Environment clearly show how
protecting an area can stop deforestation. Iguazú National Park, located in Argentina near Brazil and Paraguay,
contains remnants of highly endangered rain forest.
The new collection of satellite images
in One Planet Many People: Atlas of
our Changing Environment reveals
how the environment has changed
dramatically in recent decades. It
compares and contrasts satellite
images of the past few decades with
contemporary ones. We already
knew that rain forest deforestation in
Paraguay and Brazil was visible from
space, but now we have a new list of
illustrative pictures, probably worth
much more than thousand words, showing the impact man has
had on the planet's life-supporting ecosystems.
The atlas, released to mark World Environment Day, was
produced by UNEP in collaboration with other agencies such
as the US Geological Survey and the US space agency (Nasa).
World Environment Day was established by the United
Nations General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of
the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.
It is celebrated each year on 5 June. This year’s World
Environment Day was hosted by San Francisco and focussed
on ways to make cities more environmentally friendly
Growing cities in developing countries
– Cities pull in huge amounts of resources including
water, food, timber, metals and people. They export
large amounts of wastes including household and
industrial wastes, wastewater and the gases linked
with global warming. So the battle for sustainable
development, for delivering a more environmentally
stable, just and healthier world, is going to be largely
won and lost in our cities, said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s
The dramatic growth of Nairobi, Kenya, is one
example shown in the new atlas. The city’s sprawl is
clearly depicted when comparing satellite images from 1979
and the present. Nairobi’s population at independence in
1963 was 350,000 and is now home to well over three million
making it the largest African city between Johannesburg and
The growth of development along the edge of Nairobi
National Park and out to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport
is also underlined.
Not surprisingly, the satellite images also underline the
tremendous growth of Beijing, China’s capital city, and Delhi,
India’s capital. Beijing has mushroomed from a small central
area to one that has turned towns some distance away, such
as Ginghe and Fengtai, into suburbs. This expansion has also
eaten up the deciduous forests to the west and the rice, winter
wheat and vegetable plots that once surrounded the city.
Similarly, a huge expansion is seen for Delhi, that had
a population of 4.4 million or 3.3 per cent of India’s urban
population in 1975. By 2000, the city had well over 12 million
inhabitants. By 2010, it is set to rise to nearly 21 million.
These two images illustrate the increase in coverage by shrimp
farms in the Gulf of Fonseca, Honduras, between 1987 and 1999.
A conspicuous impact?
Researchers hope that One Planet Many People Atlas of
Our Changing Environment will have a conspicuous impact
on governments, private business, non-governmental
organisations and the private individual by highlighting how
globalisation is driving local and regional change.
Cities built for the rich or for the poor?
Within three years he transformed his city from
a congested and dangerous mess, where the
poor did not have access to transportation, into
a leading model for sustainable urban design.
Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá,
was one of the most appreciated speakers at
the Life in the Urban Landscape Conference in
Gothenburg, May 29th – June 1st 2005.
Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, wanted to
develop a city based on social justice, environmental
sustainability and economic growth.
It might be rare to have an active idealist with a concrete vision
as city mayor. But that is what Bogotá (Columbia) seems to
have opted for with Enrique Peñalosa, who was the mayor
there from 1998 – 2001. His vision? To develop a city based
on social justice, environmental sustainability and economic
growth. This raises the question: whom are our cities built
for? It seems that we build cities for cars, which are used by
the wealthier minority. They also have access to nature and
culture, while the poor rarely do. With this city structure, we
diminish the environmental and social quality of public spaces,
which are the majority’s space for leisure.
A political choice – not a technological one
Peñalosa used his term to begin a transformation in Bogotá
including: reducing car travel, developing bus infrastructure,
building and restoring parks, establishing pedestrian streets
and building sidewalks. He has pointed out that urban
transportation is a political choice, not a technological one.
During his administration the City of Bogotá developed
a highly efficient mass transportation system which cost
is 1/10 of a metro system. He also developed high quality
pedestrian public space and a 300-kilometer long bicycle
network. Moreover, 52 new schools were built in the poorest
neighborhoods of Bogotá as well as nurseries. Three major
libraries were built creating a network with 11 new small ones,
and 1,000 parks were built or rebuilt.
His long-term goal is that the money now spent on
maintaining infrastructure for a wealthy minority be used for
the needs of the poor. Equally encouraging is that for this
model to work, a high population density is desirable.
Enrique Peñalosa was one of more than 400 urban professionals,
policy makers and researchers from all continents
that met at the Life in the Urban Landscape Conference in
Gothenburg, May 29th – June 1st 2005.
/Fredrik Moberg and Miriam Huitric
For more information:
Project for Public Spaces:
Planting trees for peace, the environment and democracy
Last month, Wangari Maathai came to Stockholm
to discuss her view on peace with representatives
from NGOs, the government and academia. With
her infatuating enthusiasm, she walked us through
the challenges she has confronted and gone on to
solve with enticingly simple solutions.
– Planting trees is simple, attainable and
guarantees quick, successful results within
a reasonable amount time, says Wangari
Maathai. The over 30 million planted
trees provide fuel, food, shelter, income,
habitat for wildlife and improved soils
and watersheds. While a simple solution,
behind these trees are thirty years of
work with peace, the environment
and democracy – the three pillars that
Maathai has identified as necessary for a healthy society.
The message from the Nobel Committee’s decision was: we
should not have to wait for a conflict in order to address the
issues for peace. Many of the conflicts in the world today stem
from unsustainable management of natural resources, indeed
Maathai reminded us that:
“We live in a very rich continent [Africa]…
…but we do not manage our resources efficiently.”
To avoid conflict, resources need to be managed efficiently,
distributed equitably and accountability for those using and
controlling the use of resources. In other words, a democratic
space where all groups’ rights are respected and they have equal
standing. Sadly, this is not always the case.
“…the North in the South…”
This refers to the minority in developing countries that lives
as at the same level as people in the north. They are informed,
educated, wealthy and powerful, while the majority are poor.
This is even true at the global scale where a minority is
having a greater environmental impact and has power over the
majority. These minorities usually forget about, marginalize or,
at best, do things for this majority rather than with them. But,
empowerment is only possible if you do things with people,
which is why aid often fails to solve problems.
When asked if warning signs exist for when there are
problems with the three pillars, Maathai pointed out that there
have been many warnings. In Kenya land-use change has led
to the loss of ecosystem services and the creation of ecosystem
dis-services, such as loss of erosion control and the increase in
dry land cover from 30 to 80%, with direct social and economic
repercussions. The challenge for Maathai has been to teach
people to see these changes and understand their part in them.
She has gone on to help empower them to take action.
This has required commitment, persistence, patience, time
and political will from all involved. It is hard to comprehend
that these initiatives have led to imprisonment and torture; a
reminder that the solution is not always as easy as it seems,
though it should be. This is where we all need to put our efforts.
/ Miriam Huitric
Listen to Maathai’s lecture in the Stockholm Seminars:
|Stockpiles of chemicals threaten Africa’s poorest|
At least 50,000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides,
as well as tens of thousands of tonnes of
contaminated soil, have accumulated in African
countries. These pesticides pose serious threats
to the health of both rural and urban populations,
especially the poorest of the poor, and contribute
to land and water degradation.
A representative from the UK Pesticide Action Network is
investigating pesticides stored in Ethiopia. Photo: PAN UK
The Africa Stockpiles Programme aims to clean up and safely
dispose of all obsolete pesticide stocks from Africa and
establish preventive measures to avoid future accumulation.
It is a strategic partnership with several international agencies
including FAO, WHO, UNEP and the Basel Convention
Secretariat. The Swedish International Development
Cooperation Agency (Sida) has become a partner and will
make a commitment of US$3 million. This was declared
at the First Meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the
Stockholm Convention on Persistant Organic Pollutants
(POPs) in Punta del Este.
Weak import control
There are several reasons for the chemical stocking up: many
countries suffer from weak import controls, people lack
training on appropriate pesticide use, inappropriate donations
and aggressive sales practices, poor storage and stock
management, pressure to stockpile for unforeseen emergencies,
and a lack of safe destruction technologies.
Less responsible companies may export hazardous
chemicals, a subject highlighted after the tsunami catastrophe,
as it stirred up buried waste (SDU 1/2005).
Another global action regarding chemicals is the UNEP
Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management
decided on in Johannesburg 2002. Many developing countries
are eager to get this strategy; they see it as a tool for increasing
control of chemical trade and use. It will be adopted at the
“International Conference on Chemicals Management”
(ICCM) sheduled for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from 4 to 6
/Louise Hård af Segerstad
‘Magic’ mushroom to fight malaria
It sounds magic. It is said to be cheap (as little as 20 US
cents to treat a house), environmentally friendly and the
malaria mosquitoes have not yet developed
resistance against them. This refers to a group
of UK researchers who have found that an
oil-based fungal treatment could lead to
an 80-fold reduction in the number of
mosquitoes able to transmit malaria. This
could become an alternative to the many other
attempts to reduce the spread of the fearful disease:
the spraying of insecticides such as DDT, distributing
bednets, and possibly releasing genetically modified
mosquitoes that cannot carry the disease. The fungal spray
might replace or supplement chemical insecticides, particularly
in areas of high insecticide resistance, say the researchers
behind the study.
Any drawbacks? Fungal treatments might not last as long
as the chemical treatments, so finding out how long the fungal
treatments will last is key for its future applicability.
Malaria kills more than one million people every year, and
finding new ways to stop it would reduce much suffering. It
is, however, also important to tackle the underlying causes for
malaria’s spread, including poverty, hunger, lack of sanitation
and public health access, land-use changes, biodiversity and
Blanford S., and others. 2005. Science, 308. 1638 - 1641.
Biodiversity our future life insurance
“Biodiversity is life insurance for our
changing world,” said Hamdallah Zedan,
Executive Secretary to the Convention
on Biological Diversity when the second
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
report, was launched. It is called
Biodiversity and Human Well–being:
A Synthesis Report for the Convention
on Biological Diversity and shows how
human actions have the last 50 years
changed the diversity of life on the
planet more than at any other time in
Many people have been lifted out of poverty during the
same period, but at the price of a loss of biodiversity. If we
continue down this road, we will reduce biological diversity
and put the well-being of future generations at risk, says the
Biodiversity provides the materials we need for food,
clothing and shelter, and gives us security, health and freedom
“Loss of biodiversity is a major barrier to achieving
development goals, and poses increasing risks for future
generations,” said Walter Reid, Director of the Millennium
Assessment. “Management tools, policies and technologies do
exist to dramatically slow this loss.”
“We can’t say our
generation didn’t know
how to do it. We can’t say
our generation couldn’t
afford to do it. And we
can’t say our generation
didn’t have reason to do it.
It’s up to us, we can choose
to shift the responsibility,
or as the professor proposes
here, we can choose to shift
Pop star Bono from U2 in
the foreword of “The End
Of Poverty” by professor