Climate change motto: when Governments are cooling down it is time for Cities for heating up.

Recent failures with international negotiations on Climate Change, especially the outcome of COP15, reinforce the lack of enthusiasm for sustainability among policymakers around the world. However increasing extreme weather incidents clearly show that we cannot afford to wait after international policy agreement to take action.

When international agreements are sterile how to turn a matter of scientific urgency into action?

Critics tend to agree on the potential role of local authorities/Cities to tackle Climate Change. In fact local authorities/Cities are a part of the problem and part of the solution. On one hand, urban areas host more than 50% of the world population and contribute to 2/3 of the CO2 emissions. On the other hand, policy makers have a strong imperative to act because urban areas are particularly vulnerable to Climate Change. For example, largest cities are mostly located on coastal and within river delta, which are areas highly vulnerable to extreme weather events. Local authorities are a key player because they are at the right policy level to understand local vulnerabilities and societal desirability. Climate Change is a thorny issue as it has complex and uncertain effects and so it is difficult to know in advance the best action plan to adopt. That is why social value and urban cultural value are paramount to make progress towards risk management as they give thresholds and indicators to steer policies. In this regards, local authorities are at the right policy level to understand these local vulnerabilities and societal desirability. In case of a flood incident, the City can directly interact with different services (emergency services, water utilities etc) and actors (dwellers, companies, NGOS etc) to make them work together. In fact, direct interactions are just the kind of thing that Cities are potentially good at capturing. In contrast, National Government inherently opt for strategic emergency planning leading to a rather long decision making process. In fact, studies (UKCIP, ICLEI) show evidence where Climate Change Action Plans tend to be more effective with local authorities because the focus is not only on environmental boundaries but also are at the right level to apprehend societal desirability.

As shown above, acting towards Climate Change requires reacting to cope with emergencies. However, the paper argues that planning in advance is as much as essential and local governments are the relevant agent for action in this matter. A strong argument to make cities leaders towards a low carbon future is that while being a hotspot of innovation they are also the primarily decision maker for planning. In other words they are places where solutions are developed and therefore comparatively quicker to put these on tracks. A strong case is made with sustainable transportation urban planning to deal with Climate Change issues. The rent-a-bike projects become increasingly famous and started with a low-tech scheme in a French town La Rochelle in 1974. Copenhagen launched a big automated project in 1995, but the most successful case is the Velib in Paris with 20,000 bikes available. The beauty with a Bike hire scheme is that it contributes to raise awareness and change motorist behaviour even in the most reluctant Cities. For example, Mexico City suffers from air pollution and is known for its bad drivers’ behaviour. Nonetheless, the City has launched a pay-as you-go bike scheme called “Ecobici” which is effectively working. Local Authorities are therefore delivering results towards Climate Change issues since they significantly contribute to adapt their air quality management while at the same time cutting down on CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, at the time no specific orders or incentives are allocated to local authorities who often acts on a voluntarily basis.

In the light of what has been highlighted in this paper, a pressing question needs to be raised. In a scenario where Local Governments are given more power to act, is then the Climate Change policy making problem solved? The paper points out that international negotiation about Climate Change has something more fundamental involved with. Despite a common disappointment it is important to understand that any local action without an international common sense is an illusion. Cities initiatives are enormously effective but not sufficient to be internationally sustainable and accordingly ensuring a fair share for future generation.

Emergence of Business Biodiversity models: the case of forest certification

In the context of economic downturn and pressing environmental issues, the emerging Biodiversity Business sector seems to offer outstanding opportunities. However, while Biodiversity Business presents an enormous capacity to drive change, suspicions have hampered its development. On one hand, as is the case for all sectors, risks to adopt new business models are important and in the case of Biodiversity Business models, even greater. In fact, biodiversity is mainly viewed by business as a risk or liability, rather than a potential profit centre. On the other hand, not exploring what this market can deliver is no longer an option. Besides, at a fundamental level, all economies and all businesses depend, directly or indirectly  on biodiversity and its component resources.

In this regard, this article seeks to provide a successful Biodiversity Business case study based on the certification scheme in the forest sector.

Experts agree that one major hurdle facing all biodiversity businesses is developing practical indicators for measuring negative impacts and positive contributions to biodiversity. That is the reason why certification schemes have emerged in recent years to become an innovative and significant element for measurement. Particularly, schemes in the forest are  of interest as they are among the most advanced of the sustainability labelling initiatives.

In 1993 one the most famous institutions in this sector, Forest Stewardship Council, was founded by the WWF and other environmental NGOs, timber traders, indigenous peoples’ groups, etc. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an independent, non-governmental, not for profit organization established to “promote environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, and economically viable management of the world’s forests.  “Environmentally appropriate” meant practices that ensured the maintenance of “the forest’s biodiversity, productivity, and ecological processes.” “Socially beneficial” meant that local people and society as a whole would commit to long-term management of forests.  “Economically viable” meant that profits would be generated without jeopardizing the forest resources, the ecosystem, or affected communities. Nowadays, the FSC is an international association of members and s represented in more than  countries in the world.

Nonetheless, from the beginning the FSC has been challenged by a number of critics,  particularly regarding the key role of the WWF in its creation, and the potential of environmental and social interests to understate economic interests.

As a matter of fact, several interest groups or industries responded by forming new schemes. In 1999 European forest owners joined together the Pan European Forest Certification (PEFC) to facilitate the mutual recognition of national schemes and provide them with a mutual ecolabel. In 2003, the PEFC went global and has firmly established itself as a competitor of the FSC. To date, with about 30 endorsed national certification systems and more than 220 million hectares of certified forests, the PEFC is the world’s largest forest certification system. Not surprisingly, competition between PEFC and FSC is fierce as their survival both depends upon two concomitant elements; firstly gaining acceptance from market players, in particular larger wood- and paper-product buyers and finance; on the other side of the spectrum attracting funding from charitable foundations, government donors and business contributions. As a result, pressures have been directed to assessing the differences across these schemes, but hitherto the distinctions are still elusive.

 The review above turns to the broader implications of certification. The act of competition suggests de facto the existence of an expected profit or prize, and accordingly, a certain performance in the sector. As a matter of fact, the certification scheme in the forest sector is a successful Biodiversity Business case study. Therefore, the core problem is not necessarily related to the biodiversity business sector performance but mostly to perceptions attached to it. 

Besides, while the schemes generate profit, this is not a panacea. The resources expended to certify operations and to support the various schemes’ managerial structures are resources that could be used for other ends. In this regard, the forest certification is an opportunity for many companies, but to be effective they have to manage forest resources in ways that optimise a range of benefits. Eg: ecotourism and other ‘green’ products and services.

The private sector has the power to stimulate biodiversity conservation. Nonetheless, to enable more widespread adoption of sustainable forestry, there is a need to address other policy issues, such as use rights and the decentralisation of forest management.  To do so, indicators and measurement tools to assess business biodiversity performance are required but are still in the early stages of development. In the future, in regard to major environmental threats faced worldwide these initiatives need to be fostered.

Biomass: miracle or monstrosity?

Evidence of the limited short lifetime expectancy for fossil fuel exploitation makes biomass projects attractive again but faced many socio-ecological and cultural challenges. How should biomass production and the related market activities be organized to minimize environmental harmful impacts and maximize social welfare as well as taking into account cultural aspects?

Limited economic goods stress the demands which will increased prices. Simple economic adage surely, yet million of people suffer from this rule. Caused by fossil fuel scarcity in tandem with high prices, the world is facing fossil fuel crises. Some positivist attitudes used to claim that a prevalence of new technologies would counterbalance this insufficiency. Yet others alarmed that these technologies are not affordable for more than 50% of countries and would be as much energy demanding. A greater diversification of the energy supply is one of the solutions, therefore putting forward biomass projects seem to be the most “reasonable” economic choice since biomass is any plant material, vegetation, or agricultural waste used as a fuel or energy source.

The paper intends to demonstrate the positive outcome generated with biomass projects but also argues that negative impacts are compelling reasons for this issue to be taken more seriously especially in the context of Africa. In this regards, key environmental and economic traditional thinking will be reviewed briefly as a comprehensive approach to resource management.

Biomass is the oldest and the most used source of energy in Africa and a major economic sector with strong opportunities for development. This energy source is mostly providing by wood including charcoal, mainly used for heating/cooking which is particularly prevalent in Africa as being the largest consumers of biomass with more than 75% of energy consumption compared with 3% in the OCDE. The current demand of energy could be satisfied by this mean, but ironically Africa has been heavily dependent on imported oil/ energies sources for its energy needs. As a result, in recent years projects started to take measures to decrease the country’s dependence on oil by developing indigenous energy resources.

However, too little attention has been paid in the past to the negative effects imply with biomass energy. As mentioned above, wood is the most common biomass energy source but also involves environmentally detrimental practices. Trees and derived charcoal used or sold for fuel has become a profitable commodity resulting in an ever extending tree logging. The removal of trees without sufficient reforestation has resulted in damage to habitat, biodiversity loss and alarming rate of deforestation. Important of note is that deforestation is now the most pressing environmental issues in Africa since for example the Sub-Saharan Africa is home to the world’s second largest rain forest, in West Africa and one of the world’s most important carbon sinks. Problems are expected to worsen with the likely effects of Climate Change which constitute an imperative threat to environmental security in the near term. According to the United Nation, millennium-project, environmental security is the relative safety from environmental dangers caused by natural or human processes due to ignorance, accident, mismanagement or design and originating within or across national borders.

Apart from a strictly environmental perspective, negative effects are also found in terms of health and safety. The smoke generated in the use of fuel wood for cooking is a carcinogen and causes respiratory problem. According to the World Health Organisation, solid fuels on open fires or stoves without chimneys leads to indoor air pollution and exposure is particularly high among women and children, who spend the most time near the domestic hearth. Every year, indoor air pollution is responsible for the death of 1.6 million people which represents one death every 20 seconds.

In this regard, calculation of  a “reasonable” economic choice should systematically integrate environmental and gender consideration.

In order to restore to the economy its ecological and social foundations, the paper suggests escaping from the economic mainstream and pays attention to other school of thought. In the case of biomass projects Environmental Economics thinking are limited because conventionally Environmental Economics is dedicated to the analysis of externalities which are the side-effects or consequences of industrial or commercial activities. Since socio-ecological considerations are extremely important the paper brings about Ecological Economics principles. Simply put, instead of analysing the economy as a subsystem of the ecosystem, Ecological Economics intends to comprehend the interdependence and coevolution of human economies and natural ecosystems over time and space. History of Ecological Economics least to the 1960’s in the work of Kenneth Boulding and Herman Daly (Boulding 1966, Daly 1968) and the first formal efforts to bring ecologists and economists together occurred in the 1980’s when Ann-Mari Jansson organized a symposium in Sweden “Integrating Ecology and Economics”. One of the key European conceptual founders is Rene Passet (1979), who works towards a reconciliation of economic logic with the logic of the life sciences in its reference book: “L’Economique et le Vivant”.

However none of these disciplines clearly integrate cultural aspects, yet embedded in any economic activity. The following example will demonstrate that when putting it into practice the lack of cultural considerations presents a real challenge. Humanitarian organizations are promoting solar oven to help slow deforestation and desertification, caused by using wood as fuel for cooking. A solar oven or solar cooker is a device which uses sunlight as its energy source and accordingly do not use fuel and do not cost anything. These devices have also been used in the Darfur refugee camps to reduce the Darfuri women’s need to leave the relative safety of the camp to gather firewood, which exposed them to a high risk of being kidnapped or murdered. However, for other countries solar oven did not work that well because cultural and gender barriers have been stronger than these benefits. Reason that have caused other solar cooking projects to fail is that most people in the developing world work while the sun is out and eat their main meal of the day after sundown. Food cooked in most solar cooking devices must be consumed immediately or it will become cold. Another reason solar cooking has not been widely accepted is that most solar cookers require more time to cook than cooking over a wood fire and women in developing countries are reluctant to start cooking many hours earlier. Study found also that for some, switching to non-flame-based heat have effects on the taste of food. Even if new sun oven devices seem to overcome the cultural obstacles, the fact remains that the cultural aspect of any project is a key factor of durability.

To the question of how should biomass production and the related market activities be organized to minimize environmental harmful impacts and maximize social welfare and taking into account cultural aspects. Biomass is a lucrative market, a vital output for local communities and essentially it replies to basics needs. In this sense it is a necessarily devil. Experiences show that biomass energy can be sustainable when embedded in socio-ecologic management. In this regard, the paper brings about prior Environmental Economy thinking as basic and comprehensive approach but also demonstrate its limitations regarding cultural considerations. The future dilemma is that given that biomass energy is of paramount importance to Africa numerous activities have to take into account sustainable practices maximizing the economic, environmental and social benefit with cultural considerations. In this regards research projects should be aimed to assess systematically key variables of durability.

Climate Change policy contains the seed of its own doom, critics say.

Conventionally policy solutions to the global problem of Climate Change have been dominated by the concept of mitigation, unfortunately this approach contains the seeds of its own doom, critics say.

A mitigation approach is an intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases (IPCC. 2001b), whereas the adaptation strategy; the second approach to tackle Climate Change; is a process to cope with and take advantage of the consequences of Climate Change. Simply put, adaptation acts in anticipation to future impacts and mitigation proceeds rather in reaction. De facto, the adaptation and mitigation approaches are together an inherent component of a decarbonized economy  but what makes this balance a fair balance? The purpose of this brief will intend to give an added insight.

Is it relevant to solve environmental problems with the same means that we used to create them?

Whilst there are two Climate Change strategies, efforts have been made to reduce emissions because the problem has been socially constructed as a pollution problem. The impact of this strategy is still significant as the concept of mitigation has framed our current Climate Change policy. Any discussions in respect to Climate Change began in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) well known the Earth Summit where a key environmental treaty was agreed. The treaty is called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and it is considered as a watershed in the fight against Climate Change and a major driver of the Climate Change policy across the world. In this post UNFCCC period any talk about adaptation was perceived as a stance against mitigation activities and, in a broader sense, anti-environmentalist. For example, the Former US Vice President Al Gore speaking in 1992, argued that adaptation represented “a kind of laziness, an arrogant faith in our ability to react in time to save our skins.” This common belief has been mirrored by the UNFCC as it mostly set down a framework for GreenHouse Gases (GHG). The detail of the legally binding reduction target appeared with the Kyoto protocol in 1997. Again, the protocol negotiations resulted in a number of novel mitigation mechanisms such as the international Emission Trading (IET).

Whilst the mitigation strategy has been the subject of fierce debates it must be remembered that our policy only reflects the belief system of our society. Our western society is framed by the philosophy of Descartes, where the world can be described and controlled in a mechanical manner. Nowadays, the utilitarian proponents argue that our technologies and innovation would be effective enough to address Climate Change risks. In this regard, the economist Robert Solow, who won the Nobel Prize in 1987, provides a fundamental economic theory. His article in “Intergenerational Equity and Exhaustible Resources” in 1974, demonstrates that the value of the elasticity of substitution of capital for resources is a crucial element and will permit continual growth. In other words, the future substitution of technology, for instance, hydrogen instead of oil, will ensure economic growth in the long run. However due to today’s demands for energy can this statement be valid? Will the future technologies arrive in time? In contrast, the research of Georgescu and Roegen marked a turning point when they demonstrated that this economic logic is invalid. To do so, they showed evidence where creation of innovations and technologies would not be fast enough and therefore insufficient to permit continual growth per capita. This means that the substitution of technology would not be in time to face global challenges including economic, social and environmental issues. That is currently the case in regards to new green innovations and low carbon technologies. The most alarming is that the effectiveness of a mitigation strategy in tackling Climate Change is mainly based on the substitution of technology.

The faith in technical progress and reliance on mitigation strategy starts to collapse. After ten years of an unachieved Kyoto Protocol, a decreasing confidence in mitigation appeared but it is only recently that the adaptation approach has seen a renewal in policy and debate. Nowadays, adaptation has come to be internationally regarded as a crucial response to Climate Change (IPCC, 2001a), and become a key component of the Government’s strategic approach to tackling Climate Change as set out in the UK Climate Change Programme (UKCIP. 2005). Given the potential to spend billions on adaptation efforts research to define what is an adaptation policy is worth pursuing in detail. Besides, there are increasing calls for research to define an optimal adaptation policy (Aakre and Rübbelke, 2008; OECD, 2008; Shorten, 2008; Adger et al., 2007; European Commission, 2007; Bouwer and Aerts, 2006; Kane and Shogren, 2000; Smith et al., 1999). New perspectives on the role of adaptation New perspectives on the role of adaptation are beginning to emerge for two reasons. Decisively, the Stern Review provides an articulate economic argument in favour of adaptation. The review is the first economic report that brings about a common consent regarding the Economics of Climate Change. Along the same lines, emerged a series of the international programmes to support adaptation. The 2001 Marrakech Accord to the Kyoto Protocol, the National Adaptation Programme of Action, the Kyoto Protocol Adaptation Fund, the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Strategic Priority on Adaptation, and the Special Climate Change Fund. And finally in 2002, many developing nations signed the Delhi Declaration calling for greater attention to adaptation in Climate Change policy negotiations. However, the adaptation instruments are biased due to a constant focus on mitigation. In fact, the role of technological change for a sustainable development is inherent in the environmental policy as well as in energy and climate policy. Policy-makers need to understand the limitations of mitigation for reducing vulnerability.

 So how extensive is the problem? The increase of extreme weather such as the 2007 summer flood and the 2006 drought in Europe, have shown how climate events can have dramatic consequences on our lives. Crucially in the UK, the central conclusion of the Stern Review is that the benefits of forceful and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting (DECC. 2009). The Review predicts that the “do nothing” scenario would cost 20% of GDP each year against 1% of GDP per year to take action

As mentioned previously the adaptation and mitigation approaches are two faces of the same coin, nonetheless the question is to know how effective  is the adaptation strategy in tackling Climate Change. The emergency of Climate Change makes it clear that the enhancement of our capacity to adapt is paramount. There were previously no legal requirements on the Government to report or monitor the risks of Climate Change. Nevertheless, recent shift in the UK Climate Change policy and international pressures have resulted in a renewed focus on adaptation strategy. The UK policy: blueprint? The UK is a relevant example to understand how the adaptation process should be conducted. On one hand, the UK is considered in Europe to be a leader in reducing Greenhouse Gases (GHG) (Professor Kevin Anderson, EEA. 2009). On the other hand, if the UK aims to maintain its leadership position, it must reinforce its Climate Change policy. In this regard the adaptation strategy offers the opportunity for the UK to be the first country to provide a blueprint. It is now a matter of months until what is considered as a renewal of the Kyoto protocol: the Copenhagen Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This conference could be the most critical environmental policy gathering in decades (Copenhagen Climate Council. 2009). As a result, the UK passed the Climate Change Act in 2008. It is considered to be the world’s first long term legally binding framework to tackle the dangers of Climate Change (DEFRA. 2008). Nevertheless, whilst the Act requires parties affected to report on adaptation, there are currently no standards concerning the method of reporting (DECC. 2009. p. 55). This lack of guidance can either lead to more flexibility or confusion. The controversy is over which adaptation approaches will best meet the Climate Change Act. On one hand, as a matter of coherence, a common methodology will be needed for adaptation. On the other hand, adaptation strategies will inevitably be diverse because regional or local vulnerabilities present disparate risks resulting from Climate Change. From a wider perspective, Climate Change Act (CCA) 2008 is considered to be the world’s first long term legally binding framework to tackle the dangers of Climate Change DEFRA. 2008). The Act gives responsibility for adaptation to DEFRA regulations and to the requirements of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (“DECC”) for mitigation. The Act could become a reference for other policies/legislations that need progress in this matter. For instance, the last policy in force in France is the “Plan Climat 2004” where questions about adaptation are absent. To sum up, the UK is a pioneer because the CCA gives powers to the Government to carry out risk assessments and make plans to address those risks. Previously, criticisms made towards Climate Change policies were related to the set of ambitious targets and the lack of actions (Turney. 2008). To avoid this happening again, the UK government have passed key provisions. This paper briefly analyses the current tools and institutional approaches used in the UK jurisdictions. Since its beginning, the UKCIP has played a key role in assisting in the development and implementation of adaptation in public and private sectors (Lorenzoni et al., 2007). The UKCIP provides a seven-step process to assist policy makers in the prioritisation of risks and actions. Recognising that the world is not a zero risk environment is surely the main contribution of this process. Its reliance on risk principles helps stakeholders to identify thresholds for unacceptable losses or new opportunities. However, whilst the thresholds are useful reference points for adaptation planners, the process does not allow for a comparison of risks. In addition, the study identifies limited funds and expertise as the main obstacles faced by policy makers. The full success of policies will be influenced by a number of factors, including atmospheric feedback mechanisms, enhancement of the communities’ capacity and technological developments. Still those factors depend upon financial and technical local capacities, which are not similar across the UK. In a sense the adaptation appears relatively unfair. Finally, despite being relatively advanced in the development of its institutional capacity, legislation, and tools for adaptation planning, the UK has not yet adopted a formal risk prioritization process at the national level.

To conclude, the door to take societies to a low carbon future has opened but the emergency of Climate Change requires a faster response. The 21st century will be marked by a third generation of human rights including the right to a healthy environment, international equity, and sustainability (Vasek. 1979). In this sense, this brief confirms that we cannot solve the problem with the same means that we used to create them. Whilst mitigation is necessary it is definitely not fair and effective enough to tackle Climate Change. As a matter of fact, the magnitude and pace of Climate Change requires complex instruments. However those instruments inherently reflect the deep beliefs of our system and so to face Climate Change we need a mixed approach synchronizing mitigation and adaptation.

Mandigout Estelle.