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The UNEP Asia SCP Legacy: “Now It is Time to Take Action”

Despite beginning the UNEP Switch-Asia Sustainable Consumption and Production conference with big picture, governance- and thematic-related discussions, the focus slowly narrowed in on the development and implementation of SCP strategies during day two. It is no surprise that panelists have all been in support of “implementing” SCP strategies, but what exactly are these policies? United on Improvements But What About Solutions? One of the more interactive discussions occurred when discussing how green financing and government policy making could help encourage more sustainable production practices. While important areas requiring improvement were recognized, the agreement on implementable solutions showed far less consensus amongst the participants.

Changing Metrics – Is Replacing Our Economic Indicators Enough?

As our societies develop and evolve, the question of measuring progress through different metrics has gained a more prominent place. Simple measures, such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), do not perhaps capture all the complexities of development that we want them to and this is where purpose-built replacements such as Gross National Happiness (GNH) come into play. The Student Reporter team at the World Resources Forum 2012 in Beijing, China was reminded of this problem when interviewing the 2007 Nobel peace prize winner Dr. Mohan Munasinghe. Although there were a myriad of topics such as sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and greening the economy, the question of the importance of alternative metrics is one that stuck. During his many talks at the conference, Dr. Munasinghe explored and encouraged the usage of alternative economic indicators in lieu of the ubiquitous GDP; indicators that could capture many other elements of economic, cultural, and societal value.

Reinventing the Asian Tiger

The first day of the UNEP Switch-Asia Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) conference kicked off with all the requisite excitement and enthusiasm that all first days of conferences come packaged with, as the 130 government officials, business leaders, and civil society pioneers congregated at the conference hall of the Plaza Athénée Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. (more…)

Roll On, Nile, Roll On!

The Nile is the world’s longest river. It is shared between Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (See map below). Except for South Sudan, all of the above countries are members of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) – a cooperative partnership formed in 1999. Six upstream members of the NBI signed a “Cooperative Framework Agreement” that includes Articles addressing issues such as water allocation. One can imagine that such a framework is needed to assist water management efforts between so many nations.

Common action to improve Common Agricultural Policy

Dominika Czyz is an alumni reporter and reports from the 6th European Organic Congress: Organic and high nature value farming shaping future food systems, 17-18 April, 2012, Copenhagen.

I believe in “the power of words”. If I were to choose a key word to describe the 6th European Organic Congress in Copenhagen, I would choose a circle. Not because of the circle being a symbol for perfection though. I have never managed to draw a perfect circle and believe nothing is perfect. Nevertheless, the struggle for perfection already creates a chance for improvement.

The Grand Dame of Water: Maude Barlow is Controversial and Charming

By all accounts, Maude Barlow is one of the preeminent international firebrands championing the rights to water for both humanity and nature.  She sat down with me on March 16 at the Alternative World Water Forum in Marseilles to enjoy some Mariachi and to talk some frank talk about water rights and why the market-based, private-sector argument is wrong-headed. (Audio of the interview available for listening at the bottom of this post.)

Barlow has been called the ‘Ralph Nader of Canada’ and the ‘Al Gore of Water,’ but neither of these titles really seem to do her growing international stature and her undeniable charisma  much justice.  Barlow is a figure in her own right and a dynamo that might leave these American counterparts in the dust at just about any forum of Congressional hearing.  The title of this article proposes an alternative moniker – the Grand Dame of Water. Barlow, one of the driving forces behind the recent UN declaration on the human right to water, turned down the opportunity to debate World Water Council President, Loic Fauchon.  She says that it’s an “old debate and they know where I stand.”  By going to the World Water Forum, she believes she would have legitimized what she denounces as little more than a “trade show” backed by the World Bank.  While Barlow felt the WWF-6 to was hollow and empty, the cross-town Alternative Forum had an undeniably vibrant energy. Barlow, a Canadian, opposes the Keystone-XL Pipeline, which if built, could run from her home country through the Ogallala Aquifer in the United States.  She is even more opposed to the alternate route, which would “punch a hole through Rockies” and bring bitumen from the tar sands to Canada’s western coast for export to Asia.  “There is no pipeline that you can build that isn’t going to leak at some point…the beginning part of the XL Pipeline has already leaked in Michigan,” she said. Barlow believes that pipelines are like arteries to tar sands development, which both feed the development process and require more extraction for infrastructure finance.  She believes that the best solution is to “cut the arteries…and starve the beast.”
She is completely opposed to the idea of market mechanisms playing a role in the development and management of water resources.  “It’s a dangerous development and I think the move to put a price tag on nature is insane,” she says.

A Standard to Verify and Certify Water Stewardship: Interview with Alexis Morgan

A company or a water service provider may claim to be good stewards of water resources, but how can we know that they are doing what they claim? There is no international standard to verify those claims, although The Alliance for Water Stewardship is working on an international standard (the International Water Stewardship Standard),  as discussed in my earlier post. Alexis Morgan, who leads the Alliance for Water Stewardship’s Water Roundtable on behalf of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has brought together various stakeholders in the formation of the standard.  He explains in this interview how businesses can no longer focus only on what happens in water use on a specific site.  Their view must extend beyond the site’s borders and include the watershed and whole supply chain.  He hopes that this standard will influence supply chains and investments, verify claims by companies and water service providers, and mitigate risks in both within and outside the borders of facilities.  Watch the full interview below.  


Would you rather listen? The audio is available as well:

Green Growth is Inspiring but Not Watertight

Each conference comes with its own set of catchphrases and the World Water Forum is no exception. A popular one that’s been buzzing around is “the new industrial revolution” or as it’s colloquially known, “green growth”. Coined in 2008, the definition of green growth differs depending on who’s using it. In general, green growth refers to the idea of furthering economic growth within the limits of the natural ecosystem without detracting from the possibility for future development. But even after having over 22 hours devoted to green growth development, with stakeholders present from across the spectrum, it is the silence on certain issues that could sink this new possible engine of economic growth.

Businesses and Water Stewardship: The Formation of an International Standard

Businesses must be actively involved in the management of water resources.  Businesses depend on quality and reliable supplies of water for direct and indirect uses including drinking, agricultural production, energy production, transportation, cleaning, resource extraction, processing, and so on. Many businesses use a significant amount of water in comparison to other users, so it is vital that they properly manage water resources in order to ensure the future supply.  However, there currently is no standard framework for planning, classifying, and documenting the water stewardship efforts by businesses. It is in the interest of businesses to invest in sustainable water use because water scarcity affects the ability to produce and transport goods, which affects investments and business risk. The Alliance for Water Stewardship, formed in 2008 by a variety of organizations including World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy, is in the process of creating an International Water Stewardship Standard.  This proposed standard was presented at the session titled “Corporate Water Stewardship: Moving Toward Verifiable Sustainable Water Management” at the World Water Forum 6.  This standard focuses on the industrial site, watershed, and supply chain.  It will certify specific industrial sites on their water stewardship at three levels – Certified, Gold Certified, and Platinum Certified.  The session was led by Alexis Morgan, the Global Water Roundtable Coordinator on behalf of WWF, and the panel including Karen Golmer from Sealed Air, Romit Sen from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry(FICCI), Geoff Townsend from Nalco, and Jason Morrison from UN CEO Water Mandate.  

Current Business Practices

Although the relationship between water and the success of businesses may not initially be obvious, many businesses acknowledge the relevance of sustainable water supply.  Romit Sen of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry shared the results of a survey that found 60% of businesses reported being impacted by water availability today and 78% of businesses reported expecting to be impacted by water availability in the future.

“Science Speak” to “Policy Speak:” Bridging the Gap to Solve Water-Related Issues

It is valuable to be multi-lingual, not just in formal languages but in the “languages” of different categories of people.  In the field of water, which by nature requires the collaboration of scientists (whose language is Science Speak), policy-makers (whose language is Policy Speak), the public, and other stakeholders, it is necessary to translate information between different audiences.  Dr. Alex T. Bielak, who has a wide range of educational and professional experiences beginning in science and evolving into policy, spoke of the importance of this communication at his session, “From Salmon Biologist to the United Nations: A Journey in Science-Policy Bridging”  on Tuesday, March 13 at the World Water Forum 6.  

The Language Gap between Scientists and Others

Scientists, decision-makers, and the public use different languages and terminology.  Scientists are most familiar with scientific writing, which has a specific format that includes an introduction, materials and methods section, results, and conclusions.  However, this format is often not valuable to decision-makers who prefer direct facts that in support of one policy or another.  The public also has its preferred ways of receiving scientific information that uses more simple language and covers the basic ‘who’ and ‘what’ of the topic. In order to move toward more effective water policies, it is vital for scientists to communicate their research to decision-makers directly so decisions are based on sound scientific evidence.   It is also valuable for scientists to communicate their research to the public who also influence decision-makers less directly.  By ‘translating’ knowledge into a form that is appropriate and engaging for non-scientific audiences, positive change can be achieved.

About game theory, free riders and climate change

Have you ever heard about Game Theory, the Prisoner’s dilemma, or the Nash Equilibrium? Probably many of us, and –hopefully- the majority of the policy-makers around the world, studied this subject once. For me, the principle taught by this great subject is basically that if players of the game (namely policy-makers, CEOs, etc.) act in the interests of the group, they are better-off than if they acted in their interests alone (Nash equilibrium). But what happens if not all of those players act in the interests of the group? Then the ones who did, will presumably be worse-off than if they would’ve acted in their own interests.