Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Why celebrate World Environment Day - make it the year

When we see or experience the negative effects of climate change and environmental degradation it is easy to blame others, but what are we doing to make a difference? World Environment Day on 5 June is one day we put aside our differences and celebrate the achievements we have made towards protecting the environment.

We remind ourselves and others of the importance of caring for our environment. But remember that every action counts, so join us for the year, not just a day.

The United Nations has declared 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.

World Environment Day this year will complement this global concern with the official tagline – ‘Green Economy: Does it include you?’

This year is also the 40th anniversary for World Environment Day, since the creation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1972.

In this significant year for the environment and sustainable development, the world leaders will once again meet at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development twenty years after the historic Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992. Dubbed Rio+20, one of its main themes is ‘a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication’.

Green economy – your actions count
The Green Economy touches almost every aspect of our lives and concerns our development. For example, it is about sustainable energy, green jobs, low carbon economies, green policies, green buildings, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, industry, energy efficiency, sustainable tourism, sustainable transport, waste management, water efficiency and all other resource efficiency. These are all elements involved in the successful implementation of a green economy.

The theme is a proposal for an alternative and far more sustainable way of doing business. It highlights that the Green Economy as an essential rethink to the way we do business, if we are to create a brighter future.

However, more importantly, the theme accentuates the fact that ‘you’ are an important element to its success and invites you to evaluate whether the steps taken by the government, private sector, civil society and community in your area, ‘include you.’

The UN Environment Programme defines the Green Economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy is one that is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.

Business tourism
As conferences, events and exhibitions organisers, we are committed to green events and we would like to share some of the United Nations’ thoughts on tourism.

Tread lightly on your travel destinations
Tourism can be great for local economies, but not if it results in negative environmental and social impacts. The same principles apply to supporting a Green Economy both at home and afar - buy local, travel with others, limit water and energy use, etc. When you support ecotourism, you help the communities in your travel destinations achieve economic growth without sacrificing environmental and social well-being.

Green tourism has the potential to create new, green jobs. Travel and tourism are human-resource intensive, employing directly and indirectly 8% of the global workforce.  It is estimated that one job in the core tourism industry creates about one and a half additional or indirect jobs in the tourism related economy.

The greening of tourism, which involves efficiency improvements in energy, water and waste systems, is expected to reinforce the employment potential of the sector with increased local hiring and sourcing and significant opportunities in tourism oriented toward local culture and the natural environment.

Waste investing in the greening of tourism can reduce the cost of energy, water and waste and enhance the value of biodiversity, ecosystems and cultural heritage. Investment in energy efficiency has been found to generate significant returns within a short payback period. Improving waste management is expected to save money for tourism businesses, create jobs and enhance the attractiveness of destinations. The investment requirement in conservation and restoration is small relative to the value of the areas that provide ecosystem services essential for the foundation of economic activities and for human survival; the value of ecosystems for tourists remains undervalued in many cases.

If everything you buy becomes waste, where will we put it all? Throwing something away means losing the chance to reuse materials and can contribute to methane (the most potent greenhouse gas) emissions from landfills. Electronics in particular are only recycled at a rate of 15% globally. Recycling appropriate materials and composting food waste reduces the impact of landfills as well as the demand on our natural resources to produce more materials. Learn about recycling opportunities in your community and support a more resource-efficient Green Economy.

Cultural heritage
This concept is of enormous importance to us at Litha Communications and to South Africa as a whole. The country has eight of the world’s sites and these represent a tourism opportunity and a challenge. The UN has more to say on this matter.

Investment in cultural heritage—the largest single component of consumer demand for sustainable tourism—is among the most significant and usually profitable investments. Under a green economy investment scenario, tourism makes a larger contribution to GDP growth, while significant environmental benefits include reductions in water consumption (18%), energy use (44%) and CO2 emissions (52%), compared with business as usual.

The largest single component of consumer demand for more sustainable tourism is for cultural authenticity. This includes living cultures, both mainstream and minority, as well as historical, religious, and archaeological sites. Tourism can offer opportunities for continuation, rejuvenation or enhancement of traditions and a way of life.

Culture is rarely static, and linking tourism and cultural survival may bring benefits as well as changes and challenges for a community to address. The possible socio-cultural costs and benefits of tourism to a vulnerable culture are rarely quantified. Tourism projects need to include a programme to monitor economic and cultural benefits so that vulnerable cultures can assess and manage the impacts of tourism on their communities.

Aside from the intangible benefits, most commentators believe that investment in cultural heritage is among the most significant and usually profitable investments a society, or tourism sector, can make.
Benefits of cultural heritage tourism
Sustainability drivers
Likely implications
  • Tourist preference for experiences that involve contact
  • with authentic cultural landscapes
  • Expectations from guests that their tourism operators respect and protect traditional culture
  • Increased awareness of World Heritage Sites
  • Recognition and appreciation for cultural diversity
  • Respect and recognition of traditional culture, particularly in context of assimilation into a dominant culture
  • Help community members to validate their culture, especially when external influences of modern life cause the young to become disassociated from traditional life and practices
  • Conservation of traditional lands and natural resources on which the culture has traditionally relied
  • Help to reduce poverty within a community or cultural group
  • Increased opportunities for young to remain in community instead of seeking alternative opportunities in cities and towns
  • Meet the needs of cultural groups, such as health care, access to clean water, education, employment and income
  • Reduced risk of losing unique cultural attributes
Keep our world breathing, keep it green

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