Thursday, October 26, 2006

Cuba's sustainable footprint

When I went to check out Cuba's entry in Wikipedia, I was greeted by the following message: "Because of recent vandalism or other disruption, editing of this article by unregistered or newly registered users is currently disabled. Such users may discuss changes, request unprotection, or create an account."

There are undoubtedly other topics in Wikipedia that warrant such a notice but this was my first encounter with one. Controversy seems to follow Cuba everywhere.

Cuba continues to baffle, perplex and defy being pigeonholed (see earlier post). Its recent recognition by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as the only country in the world to have achieved sustainable development will only add to Cuba's mystique.

In 1987 The World Commission on Environment and Development released a landmark report entitled "Our Common Future". Commission members defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) began its Living Planet Reports in 1998 to show the state of the natural world and the impact of human activity upon it. Since then it has continuously refined and developed its measures of the state of the Earth. (GW)

WWF cites Cuba as only country with sustainable development

By Antonio Broto
Beijing, Oct 24, 2006 (EFE via COMTEX)

Cuba is the only country in the world to achieve sustainable development, a leading global conservation organization said here in its biennial appraisal of the state of the natural environment.

"The world's natural ecosystems are being degraded at a rate unprecedented in human history," according to the WWF's 2006 Living Planet Report, presented this year for the first time in Beijing.

Extrapolating from current trends, the group predicts that humanity will be consuming "two planets' worth of natural resources by 2050 - if those resources have not run out by then."

What occurs, therefore, is a vicious circle: poor countries produce much less damage to the environment per capita, but as they develop - and China and India are going through that phase - the rate increases to unsustainable levels for the planet.

The World Wildlife Fund, or WWF, has included in its report a graph in which two variables are superimposed: the U.N.-devised Human Development Index and the so-called "ecological footprint" which shows the amount of energy and resources consumed per person in each country.

"No region, nor the world as a whole, met both criteria for sustainable development. Cuba alone did, based on the data it reports to the United Nations," the report says.

"That does not mean, of course, that Cuba is a perfect country, but that it does meet the necessary standards," Jonathan Loh, one of the authors of the study, said in response to a question from EFE.

"Cuba has reached a good level of development according to United Nations' criteria, thanks to its high literacy level and a very high life expectancy, while the ecological footprint is not large since it is a country with low energy consumption," said Loh, who presented the study in Beijing.

The fact is that Latin America in general seems to be remain closest to sustainability, since countries like Brazil and Mexico are close to the necessary minimums, compared with regions like Africa, which has low energy consumption but is very underdeveloped, and Europe, which is just the opposite.

Despite the good vibrations from Latin countries, the global situation as portrayed by the WWF report is disheartening; for example, the number of surviving vertebrate animal species has dropped 30 percent in the last 33 years.

"We are in serious ecological overshoot, consuming resources faster than the Earth can replace them," said WWF International's director general, James Leape, who was also on hand in Beijing for the presentation of the report.

Man's ecological footprint, his consumption of resources, tripled between 1961 and 2003, according to WWF, which means that human impact on the planet is 25 percent greater than the natural regenerative process of the Earth can compensate.

And the situation is getting worse, despite such efforts as the Kyoto Protocol to try to fix it; the previous WWF report published in 2004 had human impact outstripping the planet's regenerative capacity by about 21 percent.

The organization's new report puts on its blacklist of countries with high per-capita consumption of energy and resources the United Arab Emirates, the United States, Finland, Canada, Kuwait, Australia, Estonia, Sweden, New Zealand and Norway.

The fact that the report was presented in China shows the importance the WWF gives to the future of the Asian economy: "its growing economy and rapid development mean it has a key role in keeping the world on the path to sustainability."

China is second worldwide in emissions of contaminating gases, but spread over its enormous population its ecological footprint per capita is, as in the case of India, very small compared with wealthy countries.

The expert Jiang Yi from Beijing's Tsinghua University said at the event that one of the keys to improving consumption of resources and energy in China is "to develop a rural system of energy balance" and to study alternatives for heating and air conditioning in Chinese homes.

The subject is not a trivial one in a country where temperatures soar in the summer and air conditioning causes huge energy deficits and power outages in the most developed areas of China, particularly in the delta of the Yangtse River.


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