HAPPY WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY!

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….. make your every action count and remember that everyday is World Environment Day!

Infrastructure vs Appropriate/ Effective/ Sustainable Infrastrucutre ?

The Three Gorges Dam in China

“There can be no prosperity without infrastructure, but infrastructure projects don’t necessarily benefit the poor. Past energy, water and transport strategies have neglected the poorest population groups, and taken a heavy toll on affected people and the environment. Will the new infrastructure strategies of the World Bank and the Group of 20 address the needs of the poor, or will they entrench the power of privileged groups?” (IRN, 2012)

Infrastructure is perceived as being a key driver behind economic growth, development and job creation. It is argued that the development of infrastructure projects, particularly large infrastructure projects and dams, will act as a catalyst to:

  • Open up areas that are not currently developed to development
  • Enable service provision to those who lack basic services
  • Create jobs
  • Facilitate economic development.

With this in mind many governments, development finance institutions and business development agencies are backing the Group of 20, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) new strategies for infrastructure development. “In November 2011, the Group of 20, the World Bank proposed to focus public support on strategic regional infrastructure projects such as large dams and transport corridors, and to make them attractive for private investment through public guarantees and other incentives (International Rivers Network, 2012). The group argue that centralized infrastructure projects which include private participation in public sector projects will lower the costs of services and service provision particularly in rural areas.  In so doing the public sector will be able to meet its infrastructure and service provision mandates with private sector seen to be assisting in this basic service delivery while also ensuring that the private sector is able to ensure economic development and growth. In other words a win-win solution to the world’s (sustainable) development problems that makes both the public and private sector look good.

It is however interesting to note that despite many such “win-win” public private large-scale and mega infrastructure projects being implemented we are still quite far from either sustainable service delivery or sustainable development. This is primarily because in most instances it is the private sector that benefits to the detriment of the public sector and local communities that are associated and usually impacted by such large infrastructure projects.

The development landscape is littered with failed and costly infrastructure projects that have promised but not always delivered services, growth and (sustainable) development. This is reiterated by the MDG and other development targets which are consistently not being met despite funding being directed specifically at meeting the targets. Especially considering the fact that “Economic infrastructure – essentially, transport, energy, information and communications technology, water, sanitation and irrigation – is specifically identified in the MDGs”(UN Habitat 2011).

Some interesting points related to development projects not realizing the proposed development impact;

  • The World Bank Group (2011) has also stated that its bias towards “infrastructure investments that promote growth, with expected ‘trickle-down effects have yielded very little “trickle down”.
  • Evidence available indicates that the poor are often the last to benefit from increased access (from road infrastructure). In most countries, the rural poor tend to be overlooked because private operators are reluctant to serve low-income clients given that these markets are not financially viable on a freestanding basis. (World Bank Group, 2009)
  • Despite the issues surrounding the Bujagali Dam the Ugandan government began building the Bujagali dam on the River Nile in 2007. The project had previously been delayed for over ten years for many reasons, including exorbitant project costs and its predicted economic and environmental impacts. Impacts associated with the dam included the destruction of the Bujagali Falls on the Nile, livelihoods impacts to about 6,800 people. In addition the dam will affect the performance of other dams on the river Nile, and increase Uganda’s carbon footprint. (FOEI, 2009). The project is financed by the World Bank the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB) and it has been suggested that both the banks and the Ugandan government have overlooked and even ignored their own safeguard policies. (IRN, 2002).
  • Dams have made an important and significant contribution to human development, and the benefits derived from them have been considerable. In too many cases, an unacceptable and often unnecessary price has been paid to secure those benefits, especially in social and environmental terms, by people displaced, by communities downstream, by taxpayers and by the natural environment.” (World Commission on Dams, 2000)
  • The President of the Pakistan Network for Rivers, Dams and People (PNRDP), said in a statement that “it had been proved that the project executing agencies lacked capacity to deliver in terms of time and cost and had failed in resettling hundreds of thousands of people displaced due to these projects”.

 So why the continued focus/ bias on large infrastructure projects? especially as there is more and more evidence that smaller contextualized infrastructure solutions are more sustainable, cost-effective and appropriate. It should also be noted that the need for infrastructure, development and service provision that is sustainable, cost-effective and appropriate is made even more pressing by the climate change, environmental degradation and economic crises that we are currently experiencing.

The above graphic clearly highlights and contrasts the development impact of a large infrastructure solution for energy provision against a cheaper smaller infrastructure solution for energy provision. It is evident that smaller context specific infrastructure provision is not only cheaper but more appropriate and less environmentally damaging.

References and further reading etc:

Three Gorges Dam

Three Gorges Dam Disaster

Friends of the Earth International

International Rivers Network

News of Africa Article

Pakistan Network for Rivers, Dams and People

World Bank Group, Directions in Hydropower, 2009

World Bank Group, Transformation Through Infrastructure: World Bank Group Infrastructure Strategy Update, FY12-15, November 2011.

International Rivers, Infrastructure for Whom? A Critique of the Infrastructure Strategies of the Group of 20 and the World Bank, May 2012.

http://wbln0018.worldbank.org/IPN/ipnweb.nsf/(webnews)/0D7F7939F52C824985256BDB00687310 .

Millenium Development Goals: Time for a Rethink?

In September 2000 United Nations member countries agreed on eight goals aimed at encouraging development by improving social and economic conditions in the world’s poorest countries. These goals were adopted in the United Nations Millennium Declaration and are known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In addition to the above aims, the MDGs’ intend to provide a framework for the entire international community to work towards a common goal focused on human development, poverty reduction and increased opportunity to access and benefit from global economy. The goals are as follows:

  • Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
  • Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education
  • Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
  • Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality
  • Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health
  • Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
  • Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
  • Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development with developing countries, develop and implement strategies for decent and productive work for youth

As the target date (2015) for achieving the targets set for the MDG’s looms there is much debate on the success of the MDGs, whether they should be reviewed, re-defined or completely replaced.

According to a CESR article the first decade of progress against the MDGs revealed “the inadequacy of the international community’s efforts to meet commitments made a decade ago to fight poverty and other forms of deprivation such as hunger, disease and gender inequality.” In addition the 2011 UN report on the progress against the MDGs also revealed that between 2000-2010 progress against the MDGs’ had been inequitable and has in most instances bypassed the poorest, most vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors of the population who are meant to be the key beneficiaries of the MDGs’.

Thus it is evident that the MDGs despite being well-intentioned and aimed at facilitating human development have not necessarily hit their mark. There are various reasons and debates in relation to the success or failure of the MDGs. However, in my opinion the key issues requiring revision, re-thinking or attention are as follows;

1. The fact that the MDG targets are set for the world as a whole. An impact of looking at the MDGs as global targets is the fact that the development needs of specific countries and regions may be over looked. This is highlighted by the following UNDP statement;

“While the share of poor people is declining, the absolute number of the poor in South Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa is increasing.” (http://www.undp.ro/mdg/basic_facts) 

In other words: There is a significant need for locally defined MDG targets and not broad “world” based targets.

2. The MDGs’ are focused primarily on achieving targets as opposed to the process required to achieve the required development impact. This may be seen as limiting the scope of and reducing the impact of the development efforts. In other words: the “how” is just as important as the “what should be!”  Consequently, issues such as local needs and capacity should have been more effectively considered and integrated into the goal setting process.

3. The focus on numerical targets. Such targets are difficult to measure within the context of many of the less developed countries, which lack reliable data and the institutional and government capacity to collect and measure such data. Numerical targets do not always guarantee effectiveness or development impact.

“The problem of incomplete data has been recognized in Africa where most people are said to die or be born “without leaving a trace in any legal record or official statistics. In rural Africa, there are few hospitals, home births are common and assistance from a midwife or another health official rare.” (Katie Nguyen, Reuters Alert Net)

4. Aid does not necessarily result in development. The MDGs’ in many instances had the effect of focusing international aid flows specifically towards the attainment of MDGs’. This was based on the presumption that the MDGs’ are the optimal way of ensuring development and poverty alleviation. However, in certain instances this had the effect of misdirecting aid away from the real development issues within specific and local country contexts.

This sentiment is highlighted by Archbishop N Ndungane, as follows;

delivery on aid commitments have recorded a steady increase from 2004 through 2009. While it is a positive trend, it has created a tendency to focus more on aid in terms of the resources needed for the realisation of the MDGs than on the other sources. The recent global crises have come as a rude shock to remind us that this was a distortion and huge mistake”

The sentiment is also reiterated by the site; Globalissues, as follows;

“aid has often come with a price of its own for the developing nations:

  • Aid is often wasted on conditions that the recipient must use overpriced goods and services from donor countries
  • Most aid does not actually go to the poorest who would need it the most
  • Aid amounts are dwarfed by rich country protectionism that denies market 
access for poor country products, while rich nations use aid as a lever to 
open poor country markets to their products
  • Large projects or massive grand strategies often fail to help the vulnerable 
as money can often be embezzled away. 
It is time for these countries in need of development to call for justice and for the countries that once promised to help the world to actually fulfill their promises.” (http://www.globalissues.org)

These issues highlight the need to rethink the manner in which “development” and aid should be considered when the MDGs’ goals are assessed for impact and a post- MDGs’ framework or path is forged.

A continued focus on financial aid and development that does not effectively, equitably and sustainably consider local and regional contexts, capacities, needs and sensitivities will not only be a waste of resources both financial and natural, but also a waste of time. We need to prevent any further misdirected efforts especially within the context of increasing resource degradation, climate change and environmental vulnerability.

References, Articles, sites etc

Some Thoughts on Green Buildings & Sustainable Development

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Something to think about and some ideas that you could use next time you play simcity or make very important decisions about how the planets resources are used!

 

 As a society we are dependent on our built environment and our natural environment. It is evident that the built environment has significant impacts on our natural environment and the health of our society. It therefore makes perfect sense to ensure that our built environment does not negatively affect the sustainability of our society and nature. The built environment is a significant contributor to Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and influences the manner in which we as a society utilize our resources. There is also proof that green buildings promote the health and productivity of the buildings’ inhabitants and uses.Consequently we need to ensure that our built environment reduces and minimized GHG emissions and also facilitates the sustainable use of our resources.

“… green buildings typically cost up to 5 percent more than standard buildings during construction, but can reduce waste output by 70 percent, water usage by 40 percent and energy usage by 30 to 50 percent.” (www.worldgbc.org)

Thus it makes perfect sense for all new buildings to be green. However, the concept of green building and the green building sector have been around for quite a while and don’t seem to have made much of an impact on the built environment landscape. 

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How many of the buildings that you use/ see every day may be categorized as green buildings that are contributing to the sustainability of the planet and society?

 “Green buildings represent 2 percent of the commercial buildings and 0.3 percent of new homes in the US.” (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=green-buildings-may-be-cheapest-way-to-slow-global-warming)

 The concept of green buildings and the greening of the construction and building is a dynamic and evolving debate that covers (and brings together) a plethora of stakeholders, professions and topics. This in my opinion is the reason that the green building sector hasn’t moved beyond building certification, passing of (some) legislation and the development of a few green buildings that may or may not be facilitating the establishment of a sustainable society. It is evident that green building could in fact contribute to sustainable development; however, there are a few barriers that need to be overcome before the green building sector is able make a more sustainable development impact. The key issue in this regard relates to the skills and stakeholders involved.

In order for the green buildings sector to be able to make a more effective development impact and contribute successfully towards sustainable development the following should be considered;

  • Fast tracking of the creation of an enabling environment. This includes policy frameworks, legislation and regulation through increased public sector involvement. This would create a demand for green buildings and greening technologies as well as create incentives and tax benefits.
  • Broadening of the skills set in the construction sector and the use of multidisciplinary teamsthat do not only include the standard construction industry type of skills.
    • The members of these teams need to be able to effectively work and communicate across professions.  
    • Team work, coordination and leadership skills are core skills in green building (www.uncsd2012.org)
    • Increased awareness and capacity building initiatives that include non- construction sector stakeholders. This would;
      • Ensure that people understand why it is important to build green buildings
      • Show the public that there is another way of building
      • Highlight the cost and health benefits of green buildings.
      • Increase the demand for green buildings.
      • The need to move away from an energy efficiency focus in green buildings towards a more sustainable development focus. There needs to be a more integrated approach that goes beyond energy, emissions, heating, cooling and solar panels etc Waste, transport costs, water and biodiversity should be integrated into the planning and build process.
      • A move away from green buildings being seen as primarily large scale developments to a broader focus which includes green buildings within the residential sector. This would also have the effect of making green buildings accessible to a larger portion of the population.
      • A move away from a tick box approach to green buildings towards an increased focus on the actual performance of the building.
      • Green buildings need to be contextualized within a broader development and planning framework. Of particular importance is the need to focus less on individual green buildings and increase the focus on green developments which incorporate and integrate green buildings and green design.
        • A green building that is inaccessible would negate the benefits of being green if it is associated with high travel costs and travel related GHG emissions.
        • A green building that provides bicycle parking yet is located in area that is not conducive to bicycle use is a waste of bicycle parking space.   
        • Green buildings need to be integrated into the service provision and infrastructure needs of the surrounding environment. A green building that doesn’t contribute to the sustainability of the area that it is situated in is not really that sustainable or green.
        • Green buildings could be used to provide services to the surrounding area. Examples are
          • A building that generates excess electricity (solar, wind, biogas etc) that is then feed into the grid.
          • A building that harvests rain water that can be used to water parks or gardens in proximity.
          • Rooftop gardens that provide green spaces or act as green lungs in dense urban areas.  
          • Rooftop gardens that provide food to surrounding areas
          • etc

References and additional reading FYI:

www.gbcsa.org.za

www.worldgbc.org

www.uncsf2012.org

Earth Hour 2012, Low Hanging Fruit & Really Making a Difference?

Tonight is Earth Hour 2012!Earth Hour aims to increase awareness of the  (negative) impact of electricity on the environment and urge consumers to act together to reduce electricity consumption and thereby contribute to saving the earth.

….. or in the words of the actual Earth Hour organizers:

“Hundreds of millions of people, businesses and governments around the world unite each year to support the largest environmental event in history – Earth Hour. ” (www.earthhour.org)

More than 5,200 cities and towns in 135 countries worldwide switched off their lights for Earth Hour 2011 alone, sending a powerful message for action on climate change. It also ushered in a new era with members going Beyond the Hour to commit to lasting action for the planet. Without a doubt, it’s shown how great things can be achieved when people come together for a common cause. (www.earthhour.org)

….an alternative view of Earth Hour is:

“Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. ………. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.” (www.wattsupwiththat.com)

I agree that we need to unite and act and make changes in our resource use and consumption patterns to ensure that we use our resources in a more efficient, equitable and sustainable manner. I also believe that we need to raise awareness and increase the urgency of our actions and end the low- hanging fruit, talk, conference, committee type of actions that are clearly not making much of a difference. We need initiatives that actually make a difference and move away from mere awareness building, and hour-long initiatives.

For me the issue is more that earth hour is close to being seen as a yearly green wash, feel good, drop in the ocean event that doesn’t actually make much difference if we all go back to our normal consumption patterns after the hour of action.

I do understand that the aim is to increase awareness and change electricity use patterns, but how many of us observe the hour, give ourselves a good (green) pat on the back and then carry on with our normal way of life without making worthwhile changes in how we use electricity?

We all need to change our resource use patterns, but is one hour per year really going to help us?

I am not saying don’t support Earth Hour, though I am saying I don’t think a few green washed actions will make much difference! We need to focus our energies on actions and initiatives that actually work and are sustainable!

References and reading :

Earth Hour Website

Action for Climate Justice: Earth Hour and Green wash 

WUWT 

Article on WWF-UK on Green wash and Earth Hour 

Role of Sustainable Transport in the Creation of Sustainable Cities

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Cities, especially African cities are facing increasing challenges in terms of resource scarcity, climate change, rural urban-migration, environmental degradation and disaster mitigation. Urbanisation and the growth of cities is increasingly placing pressure on land, energy and resources resulting in increased environmental threats and vulnerabilities and it is estimated that two thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030. 

The transport system of a city is an effective reflection of the quality of life, the range and location of activities and the range and availability of goods and services within a city. Thus it is evident that transportation and transport systems are integral to the effective and equitable functioning of a city. The significance of the role of transportation within a city is further reiterated by the following:

  • Approximately 20-30 percent of a city’s land-use budget is used for transportation infrastructure and to facilitate transportation (Mathew and Rao, 2006).
  • According to the South African Ministry of Science and Technology (2011) the transport sector accounts for 30% of the country’s GHG emissions and is therefore considered a major GHG contributor.
  • Transportation has the ability to integrate as well as isolate cities and societies.
  • Globally automotive CO2 emissions are increasing steadily (IEE, 2009).
  • Globally transport is the second highest CO2 emitting sector with emissions being estimated to reach 18 billion tones by 2050 (IEE, 2009).

Transportation plays a key and critical role in the functioning of cities and is therefore able to play a fundamental and strategic role in the future of our cities. In particular, city’s transportation systems are able to play a significant role in reducing GHG emissions and facilitating resource use that is efficient, equitable and sustainable. Key factors impacting the manner in which a city utilizes resources are land use densities, primary activities and energy and transportation efficiencies. These issues are directly linked to the manner in which the city has developed, is planned and how the city will be planned and developed in the future.

In order to facilitate more sustainable transportation and ultimately sustainable cities the key sustainable transport characteristics that  should be incorporated into city planning are as follows:

  • Cities should be planned to be inclusive, to facilitate accessibility and be equitable.
  • Cities should be planned with pedestrian and cyclist accessibility and movement as the priority.
  • Cycling and other non-green house gas emitting modes of transport should be prioritized above motorized and other green house gas emitting modes of transport.
  • Pavements and cycling lanes should be planned for and integrated into all new development applications.
  • Pedestrian and cycling facilities should be linked to public transport networks.
  • Public transport should be prioritized over individual car based transportation. In this regard linkages to stations and bus routes must be planned, integrated and effectively implemented with the aim of promoting public transport use above individual car based transportation.
  • Transport systems should be tailored to the size, form and key functions of the city with the aim of providing a balanced transport system.

REFERENCES:

Department of Transport 2005(a): National household travel survey (NHTS), 2003 technical report. Department of Transport

Department of Transport 2005(b): National household travel survey (NHTS), 2003 key results of the national household travel survey. Department of Transport

Mathew T and K Rao 2006: Role of Transportation in Society. IEE 2009: Green House Gas Emissions and the Transport Sector, Panorama www.ifp.com

Jargon: Getting In The Way Of Sustainable Development

I often find myself sitting in a meeting or workshop being bombarded by words and concepts such as sustainable development, sustainability green, green economy, green infrastructure, low-carbon, low-carbon economy and other fashionable jargon.
The meaning of sustainable development and the concept of sustainability had always been pretty clear to me. However recently as the focus on sustainable development, environmental degradation and climate change has increased sustainable development and sustainability morphed into “naughty words” and everyone started fixating on climate change, low-carbon and “green” instead. There are various reasons for this one of which is probably due to overuse and green wash and misdirected energies within the sector. As a result green economy, green jobs, green infrastructure, low-carbon economy … etc … became the ‘words/ concepts’ du jour. Unfortunately, each of these words and concepts translate differently depending on the context within which they are being used.
This lack of agreement on the meaning of the terms is likely one of the reasons that we seem to be unable to resolve any of the genuine sustainable development (environmental and social and economic) issues that we face or achieve the sustainability goals that we are working towards. This may also be one of the reasons that there is so much green wash and so many well intended (green, low-carbon, climate resilient etc) projects which result in impacts that are not necessarily sustainable.
In the diagram below I try to explain (broadly) the inter-relationship between the concepts of sustainable development, low-carbon economy and the green economy.


Sustainable Development covers the social, economic and environmental issues and aims to ensure that social, environmental and economic needs etc are met in the most efficient and effective manner while retaining the integrity of ecological and social systems.
Issues of “green” outside of a sustainable context have a narrower focus on environmental issues. The green economy focuses on environmental issues only so far as there are potential economic benefits to its direct stakeholders. In many instances this has resulted in negative social impacts due to the lack of an integrated approach towards genuine sustainability, and the co-opting of sustainability as an economic fundamental, as more important than anything else. Anything that is economically sustainable is hardly ever socially or ecologically sustainable in today’s world.

In the same way that a low-carbon economy is aimed at reducing carbon emissions to mitigate climate change effects, it has a narrower focus on carbon emission reduction and the facilitation of economic growth. This does not necessarily mean that such an economy is necessarily green, sustainable or beneficial to society.The focus on carbon ignores all the other emissions from a fossil-led economy, or its vast (mostly negative) social impacts. Beginning from health impacts and stretching to fewer jobs that suit production, but little else.

This lack of clear and accepted definition, understanding and the interchangeability of terms and concepts among actors and stakeholders in the sustainable development sector is a key contributor to the poor progress being made in the implementation of the sustainable development agenda. The lack of a clear definition and understanding has resulted in a duplication of efforts, misdirected energies and people talking past each other. What we need are focused definitions and the implementation of actions that facilitate development that is beneficial to the environment, society and the economy. What we do not need is more workshops, discussions and meeting on what needs to be done ……..etc

In the words of Gro Harlem Brundtland;

“Fundamentally, sustainable development is a notion of discipline. It means humanity must ensure that meeting present needs does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

Aid, Development & The Development Set !

This is an old poem I found which I think is very pertinent and also very sad.

I work in the Development Finance and Environmental sector (10+ years) and am often very disheartened and sad when I think about all the green wash and the fact that good development projects and proposals often get overlooked for projects that don’t necessarily make sense (or only make financial sense) when you look at all the issues and consider sustainability etc.

Don’t get me wrong there are lots of good organisations out there that do good work but in my opinion there is also a lot of hot air/ big development talk etc that is not actually helping anyone except for the people who fly around the world telling people what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.

The poem made me think… we haven’t really come very far or achieved much development impact or sustainability since the 1970s (when the poem was written) ….other than the development set living much cooler lives and travelling around holding more and more very important talk-show sessions? The poem also made me think of COP 17 and what the real cost of COP17 was. (Click on links for previous blog posts on COP17).

The Development Set by Ross Coggins

Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet I’m off to join the Development Set;

My bags are packed, and I’ve had all my shots I have traveller’s checks and pills for the trots!

The Development Set is bright and noble

Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;

Although we move with the better classes

Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations

We damn multi-national corporations;

injustice seems easy to protest In such seething hotbeds of social rest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks

And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.

Whether Asian floods or African drought,

We face each issue with open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution

Raises difficulties for every solution –

Thus guaranteeing continued good eating

By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set Stretches the English alphabet;

We use swell words like “epigenetic” “Micro”, “macro”, and “logarithmetic”

It pleasures us to be esoteric – It’s so intellectually atmospheric!

And although establishments may be unmoved,

Our vocabularies are much improved.

When the talk gets deep and you’re feeling numb,

You can keep your shame to a minimum:

To show that you, too, are intelligent

Smugly ask, “Is it really development?”

Or say,

“That’s fine in practice, but don’t you see: It doesn’t work out in theory!”

A few may find this incomprehensible,

But most will admire you as deep and sensible.

Development set homes are extremely chic,

Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.

Eye-level photographs subtly assure

That your host is at home with the great and the poor.

Enough of these verses – on with the mission!

Our task is as broad as the human condition!

Just pray god the biblical promise is true:

The poor ye shall always have with you.

From “Adult Education and Development” September 1976