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.
The Sixth World Water Forum has largely been an exercise in polite agreement. As a fly on the wall of any auditorium on the grounds of Parc Chanot, you would see a new combination of grey-faced experts shuffle in every two hours to expound upon the virtues of “good governance” or the importance of a stable regulatory environment to encourage financing. Bespectacled grey faces would nod in agreement. Serge Lepeltier favors coordination (credit: http://www.pdu-agglobourges.fr/)
With the departure of most firebrand activists to the Alternative Water Forum across town — set up to protest the supposed corporatization of water on display at WWF6 — avoidance of conflict has been the unwritten rule of engagement here. This hyper-aversion to conflict is confusing and dampening the effectiveness of the dialogue. Senior Water Economist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and WWF6 panelist, David Zetland has diagnosed the conference with “multiple priority disorder.” Dr. Zetland suggests that a passive, non-confrontational deadlock is created by organizers’ and participants’ aversion to conflict and their subsequent declaration of “co-equal goals”. “…And that’s just as retarded as having co-equal winners in the Super Bowl. Here they have a dozen goals, so they have way more than just two winners.” Prioritization of goals is necessary, however, given limited resources and time.
There was one issue that arose repeatedly in many of the different sessions I attended and with many of the different professionals I interviewed. This issue is that water governance is often segmented to small working groups that may or may not communicate with all stakeholders and groups, so the big-picture is often lost. There are many examples in which this issue arose. How water is defined:
Different water laws arise because of the ways in which water is defined. In the American Clean Water Act, for example, different regulations for water pollution are imposed depending on the type of water: whether it is discharged from a point-source (like factories), from non-point sources (like run-off from farms), whether it is river water, sea water, etc. States and muncipalities also have different rules and views on water. For example, different rules arise depending on if the water is defined as surface water, rain water, ground water, aquifer water, and so on. Different rates are also charged based on the ‘type’ of water – storm-water run-off, wastewater, etc. Water governance segmentation:
According to the panelists in the “High Level Panel: Global Water Governance,” the United Nations has an agency, UN-Water, that promotes cooperation among the UN agencies responsible for global and regional water initiatives.
This is a post for young people. During three full days, the future of resources has been discussed at the World Resource Forum. The average age of the active participants of the conference is rather high. This means: these people debating on the future of our society are not the ones who will see their previsions take place or not! The ones who will experience the reality, are the young inhabitants of this Earth.
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.
Finally. Someone dared to question the approach of the World Resources Forum, and it was one of the speakers. Marilyn Mehlmann, General Secretary of Global Action Plan International (GAP), said some assertive words that many of us wanted to hear, especially the young ones (coincidence?). I found her speech sincere, which probably made it unpleasant for many of the people present. If you didn’t attend the conference, you might be asking yourself why ‘unpleasant’?
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?
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.
Change should always start at some point. Probaby the smaller the change is, the easier it is to make it. But what happens when a big organisation, not to say a corporate dinosaur, is trying to redefine its strategy towards a more sustainable way of doing business? Kraft Foods realised 20 years ago what many companies are just starting to realise: that Corporate Sustainability and Responsability really matter. It is not only about pressure from NGOs and governments, but also about competitive advantage and therefore, about profits.
Champagne glasses, cats, frogs, pigs and horses : One of the most visually enticing keynote addresses in the Forum creatively links natural resource consumption and conservation, policy directives, economics, dematerialization and sustainable living with images of the animal world. Creating powerful imagery, Professor Ashok Khosla persuaded his audience of the pressing need to change our entrenched value systems, our perceptions and prejudices of our present surroundings. Through the sessions of the WRF 2011, I have heard politicians, academics, students and the youth spreading ideas on economic growth with resource management but Khosla for a change, shows through example what he has been able to achieve. His office building is one such example. Built out of ash, recycled waste and recycled construction material, it fosters the message of green building, as it consumes 40% less energy and at 50% less construction costs.
As citizen of Switzerland, an industrialized country, I wonder what my country can contribute to the problem of resource scarcity. We have a strong responsibility towards the other inhabitants of this Earth, since Switzerland’s footprint is more than four times larger than its biocapacity. We need to initiate a drastic change in our way of consumption. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? But what do I do for this?
Everybody who knows current European environmental policy could not be surprised by Janez Potočnik’s speech. The Sloveninan economist and European Commissioner for the Environment opened the WRF 2011 conference emphasizing the need for better resource-efficient economy. Potočnik started with a situation summary, as traditional with his speeches:
“The world’s population is increasing by around 200 000 people a day… By 2050 demand for food, feed and fibre is forecast to increase by 70% and yet 60% of our ecosystems underpinning these resources are already degraded… In the EU today we use some 16 tonnes of materials per person each year, of which 6 tonnes become waste…”