Like many buzzwords, sustainable development can mean a variety of things depending on who is using it and how. A quick Google search (as well as asking experts) would reveal the same: the definitions might not differ that much, but the implications vary vastly, ultimately implying that there really is no one way towards sustainable development. Among the varying opinions that exist out there, some suggest that the developed bloc (such as the U.S. or the European Union) should take charge in the matter. However, there seems to be a growing trend nowadays that looks at Asia to take a more leading role in paving the way for a sustainable future. This subject was at the forefront during one of the panel discussions at the UNEP SWITCH-Asia Conference on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) in November 2012. The question then is what makes Asia so special when it comes to hoping for a more sustainable future?
Often times we find ourselves using words simply in (or rather out of) context: the green economy, resource efficiency, hybrid environmentally friendly cars and free range poultry. At the 2012 European Resources Forum, I got a chance to catch up with Mr. Schmid-Bleek, the founding president of the Factor 10 Institute – a group of academics who study global resource productivity and sustainability. We discussed the issue of resource use in today’s world. Unfortunately for us, he stated that “We live in a civilization that forces us to destroy nature to further our own ends.” This creates a market which values “efficiency” of resources rather than the actual intensity of resources used. (more…)
Having just reached a population of 8 million this summer, Switzerland seems minuscule compared to China and its roughly 1.35 billion residents. Nor can Switzerland’s economic and political power be compared to the upcoming superpower that is China. However, with Swiss founders and co-organizers, Switzerland was featured quite prominently at the World Resources Forum 2012 in Beijing. But why should China and other countries around the world be interested in Switzerland when it comes to resources? And how can Switzerland benefit from these Sino-Swiss relations?
Dr. James Bradfield Moody was the last, but far from the least, speaker at the panel session of the opening day of the 2012 World Resources Forum, which included Rocky Mountain Institute Chairman and Chief Scientist Amory Lovins and Yale Professor Thomas Graedel. Many important topics were addressed, from resources efficiency and recycling to societal values. However, being the youngest speaker of the day, Dr. Bradfield Moody, not only connected brilliantly with the audience but he managed to make the boldest prediction about the future. Dr. Bradfield Moody is presently on a sabbatical from his position as Executive Director, Development at the one of the world’s largest and most diverse global research organisations, The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). He is also Australian National Commissioner for UNESCO and on the Advisory Council of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The title of this session was “Green Growth: No Nature, No Water, No Growth.” When one contemplates the topic of green growth as it relates to both human innovation and ‘nature’, a compassionate thinker might also imagine what a rabbit or dolphin might say about its plight if it could speak about the associated ‘nature’ descriptor of this session theme. While this session unfortunately did not incorporate a dolphin or bunny agenda, there were fortunately strong messages conveyed which described the need for transparency, restraint, and partnership. The theme of this year’s session was ‘solutions.’ This theme pushes people to discuss how to accomplish agreed-upon goals instead of continuing to identify the same problems repeatedly. Several speakers peppered talk of the upcoming Rio+20 conference into their discussion on the challenges of solving future water-related problems from intensifying demand.
As Lindsey discussed in her earlier post, there are a number of online calculators which you can use to calculate your water footprint. A water footprint is the amount of water needed to produce the goods and services you use, and it is important to be aware of this number because it helps us reduce our water use. But, what is the water footprint of an entire conference about water? This was one of the questions I was able to ask Marseille’s Deputy Mayor, Martine Vassal, when I sat down with her to discuss her role in planning the forum as a board member of the International Forum Committe. We also discussed the ideas that went in to making sure the week’s events would leave as small a footprint as possible. It is difficult to accurately calculate the water footprint for an event the scale of the Forum, which is estimated to draw 25,000 participants.
If we continue to use water at the today’s rate, 2/3 of the global population will live in water stressed areas by 2025. The regional, national, and international implications of this could be devastating because water is a trans-boundary resource; upstream activities affect downstream populations and watersheds span counties, regions and country lines. Increasing water scarcity from climate change, population and consumption growth causes competition for water among users such as industry, communities and governments. This competition and conflict can already be seen in certain areas around the world. How can we begin to solve this issue of water scarcity? On Monday, I attended the introductory session for Promoting Water Efficiency: Pressure and Footprints sponsored by the United Nations Environment Programme. Representatives from Water Footprint Network, Stockholm International Water Institute, PepsiCo, and World Resources Institute were on hand to discuss water efficiency and management practices. Here are some highlights from the introductory session.
The panel Using Our Water Resources Smartly; Getting Water Resource Management Right, opened this week’s nine-panel discussion about Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). The panels will explore IWRM — what works and what doesn’t. IWRM is a principle that takes a look at the whole picture of freshwater use by acknowledging a river basin as an integrated system instead of a number of separate water sources. It involves a holistic planning process to balance the multiple uses of a basin, coordinating drinking water needs with industrial water needs, to name only a few. Currently, I am a resident in the Delaware River Basin which is located in the Eastern United States. It supplies water to 15 million people, including residents of New York City and Philadelphia. Carol Collier, the Executive Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission and the first panelist to present, talked about and the importance of having regulations that cross political and political boundaries.
At the World Resources Forum, it’s no surprise that the construction industry and housing were active, as buildings are responsible for more than 40 % of global energy use and one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, there is a huge potential to save energy and materials through changing the building methods. Passive houses can save up to 95% energy in heating compared to standard buildings (exact savings depend on the local building code and climatic region). We can also refurbish old buildings and decrease energy needed for heating by 90%. Very promising numbers.
Prof. Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker is one of the gurus of resource efficiency present at the WRF 2011. I had the privilege to interview him. I asked about him how did we arrive to the present resource squandering and how should the political and economical frame change to establish a sustainable resources use? How did the perception of resources changed during the last 40 years? Are politicians ready to change something?
Finally I have enough time to sit down and give you the insights from Prof. Masafumi Maeda’s speech, as promised in my last post on him. He mentioned at the start of his presentation facts and numbers. An interesting plot presented by him showed a strong correlation between life expectancy and GDP per capita until a GDP per capita of approximately 8000 USD / person. Life expectancy reaches about 72 years at this point. Further growth of GDP per capita is contributing only very little to superior life expectancy.
As the final plenary session of the conference ends, some key issues emerged for us to contemplate on and incorporate in our everyday lives. Power of the individual : Across academics and politicians, the general consensus is the need for not only systemic change but also transformative change. As Marilyn Mehlman says, there is a great need to face our fear of being one small entity in the society and doubt our potential as change agents. But we should think of ourselves as having the dexterity of a spoonful of yogurt has in transforming a bucket of milk to yogurt. It is time for us to bridge our differences and work as one planet.