Stories to Watch

Dr. Andrew Steer, World Resources Institute President and CEO, offered the global research organizaton’s perspective on the major worldwide developments in urban planning, natural resource management, sustainability, energy efficiency, and policy in the coming year. The far-reaching address covered the big events, influential people, and legislative decisions that will affect Earth and its citizens. Seven issues were identified as potential tipping points and game-changers for the environment.

1 | The Year of Cities: How Will They Grow

The recent explosion of the middle class has contributed to increased pressure on the planet. Cities around the world are booming with 274,000 people added each day for the next 30 years. Cities bring challenges such as greenhouse gas emissions and congestion. The question arises: can we have economic growth and tackle sustainability at the same time? Where people live will determine the future of the planet, and the solution lies in greener, more sustainable metropolitans. Cities can take the lead with improved urban design and alternative mass transit.

2 | Restoration: A 2 Billion Hectare Opportunity

Fifty soccer fields of forest land are lost every minute. Despite the ongoing devastation, opportunities exist for landscape restoration. The 2012 “Bonn Challenge” established a commitment to restore 150 million hectares of degraded land. This summer world leaders will meet again in Bonn, Germany to expand these efforts.

3 | Sustainable Palm Oil: A New Era?

Half of all grocery store products contain palm oil. Palm oil is procured from the Borneo lowland rainforest. With an over 400 percent increase in use over the last 20 years, rainforests are being turned into palm oil plantations and destroyed. Major companies including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and Nestle have pledged to switch to sustainable palm oil this year. The Global Forest Watch, launching in February, is a near-real-time forest monitoring system that will use satellite technology, open data, and human networks around the world to help fight deforestation.

4 | China: Clearing The Air

In 2013 Beijing experienced 189 days of high pollution. This air quality challenge is driving unrest throughout the country and the Chinese government is taking action with funding budgeted for anti-pollution measures, a ban on new coal plants, high fines for air pollution,  and more renewables.

5 | U.S. Power: Setting A New Standard

In June 2014 the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will issue new climate change policy guidelines. EPA rules will address power plant retirement and greenhouse gas emission reduction. The United States’ Kemper Project will help determine whether carbon dioxide capture and storage will play a significant role in future energy portfolios.

6 | UN Summit: Momentum On Climate

This year may signal renewed momentum on climate change response. Extreme weather coupled with natural disasters reinforce the need for planning ahead. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports to be published in the spring will address the costs and benefits of mitigation measures in different sectors including energy, transport, buildings, industry, agriculture, forestry, and waste management, past and future impacts of climate change, and strategies for adaptation and resilience. Also coming in 2014 are new tools for understanding climate change risks and ways to quantify the economic benefits of climate action. Upcoming international action-oriented summits between countries, companies, and NGOs may result in partnership initiatives on key issues.  Growing evidence could spur public pressure and head of state decision-making.

7 | A Billion Voters: Which Direction Will They Choose

Important elections will take place this year in Brazil, India, and Indonesia. The residents of these nations represent 25 percent of the world’s population. These and other upcoming elections matter — last year President Obama announced a new National Climate Plan for the U.S. after his reelection. Elections taking place around the world in 2014 will have important implications for people and sustainability.