While the financial world took a lot of hits in 2011, it was also a year of many positive developments and commitments from both the public and private sectors to enact social change for the betterment of human livelihoods and the natural environment. 2011 gave us a plethora of reasons for both optimism and pessimism for the coming year. Here are five developing stories that to keep your eye on in 2012.
1. CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION
While the vast majority of climate-related capital flows have poured into climate change mitigation strategies such as renewable energy and energy efficiency, none of these initiatives are working quickly enough. Last month, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued a grave warning: The world is on target for irreversible climate change in five years. “Without a bold change of policy direction, the world will lock itself into an insecure, inefficient and high-carbon energy system,” the agency said in a statement.
Earlier this month, the Global Carbon Project released a sobering statistic: Global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel rose 5.9 percent in 2010, the largest amount on record.
Writing in The Guardian earlier this month, sustainability adviser Tony Juniper sees a shift from sustainability to “resiliency.”
2. WOMEN AND GIRLS
According to a 2011 report by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, investing in rural adolescent girls is key to solving the world’s food crisis and driving economic growth in developing nations. 2011 saw a record high of female CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. “We are entering the Participation Age, where every individual, regardless of gender or other characteristics, is poised to be a contributing and valued member of the global marketplace,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Last month, conservation biologist Murray Rudd of the University of York published a study that found that the world’s leading conservation researchers believe that a major ecosystem collapse will happen in the coming years. This is extraordinarily troubling news, as biodiversity provides a wealth of services for the environment and humankind, such as climate regulation, crop pollination, pest control and ingredients for a host of life-saving pharmaceuticals. Read more about how biodiversity investments are critical to the global green economy.
4. SUSTAINABLE CITIES
By 2050, there will be 9.3 billion humans on the planet, seventy percent of whom will be living in cities. With 2.3 billion more people having to share a finite amount of natural resources than do today, it is imperative that sustainable investments are directed towards urban solutions. “Cities are critical to the planet’s transition to a green economy that will increase opportunities, reduce poverty, and foster a more sustainable future,” said the Sustainable Cities Working Group of the Rio+20 Earth Summit.
5. DIRECT PUBLIC ACTION
Even after Occupy Wall Street protesters left the parts, the public is and will remain more attuned as to what’s going on, from Washington to Wall Street, from the Berlaymont to the LSX. The calls for transparency and accountability will only get louder. Look for an increase in the usage of these terms by banks and other financial institutions in the new year.