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Renewable energy was used exclusively by the first humans and is likely to be the predominant source for future humans. Between these times the use of extracted resources such as coal, oil, and natural gas has created an explosion of population and affluence, but also of pollution and dependency. This article explores the advent of energy sources in a broad social context including economics, finance, and policy. The means of producing renewable energy are described in an accessible way, highlighting the broad range of considerations in their development, deployment, and ability to scale to address the entirety of human enterprises.

Article

The emergence of environment as a security imperative is something that could have been avoided. Early indications showed that if governments did not pay attention to critical environmental issues, these would move up the security agenda. As far back as the Club of Rome 1972 report, Limits to Growth, variables highlighted for policy makers included world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion, all of which impact how we live on this planet. The term environmental security didn’t come into general use until the 2000s. It had its first substantive framing in 1977, with the Lester Brown Worldwatch Paper 14, “Redefining Security.” Brown argued that the traditional view of national security was based on the “assumption that the principal threat to security comes from other nations.” He went on to argue that future security “may now arise less from the relationship of nation to nation and more from the relationship between man to nature.” Of the major documents to come out of the Earth Summit in 1992, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development is probably the first time governments have tried to frame environmental security. Principle 2 says: “States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national.” In 1994, the UN Development Program defined Human Security into distinct categories, including: • Economic security (assured and adequate basic incomes). • Food security (physical and affordable access to food). • Health security. • Environmental security (access to safe water, clean air and non-degraded land). By the time of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in 2002, water had begun to be identified as a security issue, first at the Rio+5 conference, and as a food security issue at the 1996 FAO Summit. In 2003, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan set up a High-Level Panel on “Threats, Challenges, and Change,” to help the UN prevent and remove threats to peace. It started to lay down new concepts on collective security, identifying six clusters for member states to consider. These included economic and social threats, such as poverty, infectious disease, and environmental degradation. By 2007, health was being recognized as a part of the environmental security discourse, with World Health Day celebrating “International Health Security (IHS).” In particular, it looked at emerging diseases, economic stability, international crises, humanitarian emergencies, and chemical, radioactive, and biological terror threats. Environmental and climate changes have a growing impact on health. The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified climate security as a key challenge for the 21st century. This was followed up in 2009 by the UCL-Lancet Commission on Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change—linking health and climate change. In the run-up to Rio+20 and the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, the issue of the climate-food-water-energy nexus, or rather, inter-linkages, between these issues was highlighted. The dialogue on environmental security has moved from a fringe discussion to being central to our political discourse—this is because of the lack of implementation of previous international agreements.

Article

The law applicable to transboundary waters is a corpus juris that dates back to the 19th century. It originally focused on regulating the uses of transboundary watercourses for navigation and commercial transport. It was crafted primarily on the European and North American continents, and it has gradually become universally applicable, thereby taking a new shape. The regulation of transboundary waters was rooted in a strict dynamic of coexistence between sovereign entities: each acted as it saw fit with respect to “its” portion of the watercourse, which was treated at the same time as the image of the territory to which it is attached. The need for regulation only arose when uses affected the riparian states’ exercise of their “sovereign rights.” Since the 1990s, the law has tried to break away from this “classical” logic to make room for more community-based and even “ecosystem” notions based on aspects of joint management, and sometimes even pool of shared resources. A number of treaties have been negotiated and adopted by states bordering transboundary watercourses in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. They reflect, and sometimes even develop, some of the principles and rules enacted in broader forums, such as the United Nations (UN) or its Economic Commission for Europe, or the European Union. These efforts show the steps taken in the field of transboundary waters management, but they also reveal some of its limits, as they do not always comprehend all facets of water management and protection.

Article

2019 marked the 20th anniversary of the removal of the Edwards Dam in Augusta, Maine (USA). Edwards Dam was the first federally licensed hydropower dam to be denied relicensing, and the dam was removed for the purpose of restoring the 10 anadromous fish species that use the Kennebec River. Since that time, numerous other small dams have been removed in the United States. The relicensing process considers benefit-cost analysis, yet remains fundamentally flawed in the consideration of the benefits of dam removals and fish passage. Successful dam removals rely (mostly) on local efforts and outside analysis.

Article

Lora Fleming, Michael Depledge, Niall McDonough, Mathew White, Sabine Pahl, Melanie Austen, Anders Goksoyr, Helena Solo-Gabriele, and John Stegeman

The interdisciplinary study of oceans and human health is an area of increasing global importance. There is a growing body of evidence that the health of the oceans and that of humans are inextricably linked and that how we interact with and affect our oceans and seas will significantly influence our future on earth. Since the emergence of modern humans, the oceans have served as a source of culture, livelihood, expansion, trade, food, and other resources. However, the rapidly rising global population and the continuing alterations of the coastal environment are placing greater pressure on coastal seas and oceans. Negative human impacts, including pollution (chemical, microbial, material), habitat destruction (e.g., bottom trawling, dredging), and overfishing, affect not only ecosystem health, but also human health. Conversely, there is potential to promote human health and well-being through sustainable interactions with the coasts and oceans, such as the restoration and preservation of coastal and marine ecosystems. The study of oceans and human health is inherently interdisciplinary, bringing together the natural and social sciences as well as diverse stakeholder communities (including fishers, recreational users, private enterprise, and policymakers). Reviewing history and policy with regard to oceans and human health, in addition to known and potential risks and benefits, provides insights into new areas and avenues of global cooperation, with the possibility for collaboratively addressing the local and global challenges of our interactions with the oceans, both now and in the future.

Article

Jinbo Song, Lulu Jin, Chen Qian, and Yan Sun

With the upgrading of living standards and rapid urbanization around the globe, waste treatment has become a ubiquitous environmental issue. Increased waste generation and narrowed prospects for landfill and composting have brought strong growth prospects for the waste-to-energy (WtE) industry. WtE is considered an effective method for waste treatment because it can significantly reduce the land use and environmental pollutants caused by other methods and can generate energy by means of electricity or heat from the treatment of waste. However, there have been supportive and opposing opinions about WtE from the economic, environmental, and social perspectives. Whether WtE plants are the best option depends not only on associated investment and operating costs but also on the environmental and social costs (termed as external cost) as compared to other waste treatment options. Economic costs are generally estimated by market price of materials, labor, and equipment. Social costs normally refer to health effects, transportation congestion, and environmental impacts, including the emission of gas and leachate. Qualitative and quantitative methods are proposed to assist in decision making on waste disposal alternatives. The qualitative method relies on the expert experience to rank waste treatment options, such as analytic hierarchy process and multicriteria decision model, while the quantitative method, such as life cycle assessment and social cost-benefit analysis, calculates the economic cost and monetizes the abstract external cost in the light of the historical data. The two methods offer different advantages and disadvantages, and thus cater to different conditions. In developed countries, along with the rapid development of WtE and the increase in available cost data, the estimation of the economic, environmental, and social costs is achievable, which promotes the popularization of quantitative method. In China and other developing countries, quantitative analysis is limited to the estimation of economic cost and the qualitative method is still dominated in the evaluation of environmental and social impacts due to the lack of cost data.

Article

David Roland-Holst

This overview article examines the historical and technical relationship between agrifood supply chains and energy services. Because agriculture is the original environmental science, all technological change in food production has environmental implications, but these are especially serious in the context of conventional energy use. Agrifood sustainability is of paramount importance to us all, and this will require lower carbon pathways for agriculture.

Article

Daphne Gondhalekar, Hong-Ying Hu, Zhuo Chen, Shresth Tayal, Maksud Bekchanov, Johannes Sauer, Maria Vrachioli, Mohammed Al-Azzawi, Hannah Patalong, Hans-Dietrich Uhl, Martin Grambow, and Jörg E. Drewes

With economic and population growth, industrialization, urbanization, and globalization, demand for natural resources such as water, energy, and food continues to increase, particularly in cities. Overconsumption of resources has led to degradation of the environment, a process that is interacting with and is further accelerated by a dangerous alteration to the climate. Fast growing cities worldwide already face severe technical difficulties in providing adequate infrastructure and basic services in terms of water and energy. This situation is set to become increasingly difficult with climate change impacts. The latter are increasingly affecting economically developing as well as developed countries. However, cities often have limited capacities to take comprehensive climate action. Hence, practicable, scalable, and adaptable solutions that can systematically target key entry points in cities are needed. The Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus concept is one potential integrated urban planning approach offering cities a more sustainable development pathway. Within this concept, urban water reclamation with resource recovery offers a key potential: reclaimed products such as water, bioenergy, nutrients, and others are valuable resources for which markets are emerging. Reclaiming water can also reduce stress on natural resources and support the prevention of environmental pollution. Thus, it can support water, energy, and food security and the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. However, so far there are few implemented examples of urban water reclamation with resource recovery at urban scales. Examples of good practice in cities in China, India, and Europe highlight key enablers and barriers to the operationalization of water reclamation with resource recovery and implications in terms of environmental economics relevant for cities worldwide. These findings can support a systemic sociotechnical transition to a circular economy.

Article

Input-Output (I-O) models and analysis were originally conceived by the Nobel Prize winner Wassily Leontief in the 1930s as a tool that can be used by economists and economic policy makers to help in their decision process. The I-O models provide a “picture” of how the economy works, that is, what are the necessities to produce goods and services, how this production generates income, profits and taxes, and how this income is spent. In a simplified way the I-O models can be seen as the model implementation of the economy circular-flow diagrams usually shown in economics introductory courses. Associated with the theory behind I-O models and analysis, I-O tables contain the empirical information necessary to implement these models and theory. Taking, for example, the production of computer screens: • On the production side, the I-O models have information on: (a) how much is spent on the inputs, goods and services necessary to produce the screens; (b) whether these inputs have their origin in the domestic market or are imported; (c) how much was paid in tax to the government; (d) what was the total amount paid in wages and salaries; (e) what were the profits of the producing firms; (f) how many computer screens are sold on the domestic market or on the international market (exported); and (g) whether they are sold directly to the final consumer or are used as a production input, that is, incorporated into other goods, for example, a refrigerator with a computer screen; • On the demand side, the I-O models, taking into consideration the total income received by the different players in the economy, that is, households, firms, and government, have information on: (a) how the income of these players is spent on goods and services, and whether it is used for consumption or investment; (b) whether these goods and services were produced domestically or abroad (imported); and (c) how much consumer tax was paid. From the aforementioned structure of I-O models, and using economic mathematical models, it is possible to measure the direct and indirect inputs needed to produce goods and services in the economy, for example, to produce a car there is no need for agricultural goods as a direct input for production, but the fabric used in the car seats or on the car carpets could have come from cotton, which is an agricultural good, so, cotton is an indirect input used in car production. I-O models, by their capability to show a complete picture of the economic system, and tracing of the origin of direct and indirect inputs used in the production process, can be used in environmental studies by linking economic and environmental variables, on the production and consumption sides. From the production side it is possible to measure, by considering the direct and indirect inputs used, how many natural resources were used and how much pollution was generated in producing the goods and services. On the demand side it is possible to measure the environmental variables, natural resources, and pollution, embodied in the goods and services consumed in the economy. Expanding I-O models to a global scale, that is, using inter-country I-O models, it is possible to measure the environmental impacts, and contents, of the goods and services by country of origin of production and by countries of consumption.