Growing demand for sustainable palm oil and looming EPA carbon guidelines for existing power plants are two of the sustainability trends promising to shape 2014, according to the World Resources Institute.
The organization today outlined its 2014 “stories to watch,” which also include China’s attempts to address its pollution, and the UN climate summit in September.
Kuok Khoon Hong, CEO of major palm oil supplier Wilmar, says demand for traceable, deforestation-free palm oil is growing rapidly. He says meeting that demand is a core part of the company’s growth strategy. (Last month Unilever and Wilmar signed a “no deforestation” deal that commits the agribusiness to producing more sustainable products. The month before, Unilever pledged that all of the palm oil the company buys globally will be traceable to known sources by the end of 2014.)
Another potential trend is forest restoration. Although the equivalent of 50 soccer fields’ worth of forest are lost every minute, there is an opportunity to restore 2 billion hectares, WRI says. South Korea and Niger have both shown how lands can be restored to create forests, and be used for agroforestry. If the world could restore 150 million hectares by 2020, it would realize $84 billion in benefits and capture 47 gigatons of CO2e, WRI says.
In another story to watch, the EPA is expected to issue its carbon standards for existing power plants by June 1. Key questions remain over how ambitious the targets will be, and how the midterm elections will affect the regulatory outcome.
And in another trend, cities continue to boom, driving economic growth but also fueling pollution. This year eyes will turn to World Cup hosts Brazil, where 85 percent of the population lives in urban areas, to see what signals it sends about the future of cities.
Takeaway: Key sustainability stories to watch in 2014 include urban growth, forest restoration, sustainable palm oil, Chinese air pollution, US carbon standards, the UN climate summit and the growth of global voter rolls.
Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.
Chart credit: WRI