Professor Jem Bendell

notes from a strategist and educator on social and organisational change

Posts Tagged ‘Sustainable Development’

Towards Rio 2012

Posted by jembendell on January 30, 2011

In May 2012 Rio De Janeiro hosts a major UN conference, that marks the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit. In 1992 the Rio Earth Summit was the largest ever held, and helped spread around the globe the idea of ‘sustainable development’ as a common goal integrating environmental protection and poverty reduction. It also saw the UN and its member states calling on business and civil society to join in meeting the challenge, thereby encouraging more corporate responsibility and integrated approaches from nongovernmental organisations. Having discovered “sustainable development” in 1988 on the back of the Brundtland report, and just about to start a Geography degree at Cambridge Uni, I followed the Rio Earth Summit and was hopeful that it marked the beginning of a major change. I responded to the call, by working on and developing partnerships between businesses and NGOs in the following years. By 1995 I was helping develop market demand for wood certified under the Forest Stewardship Council system, and by 1996 developed an organisational concept for the Marine Stewardship Council, for WWF. In 1997 I then co-wrote a book about these novel ways of implementing the call from Rio.

Since then the field of innovation on responsible enteprise and finance for sustainable developed has grown and grown, and with that my workload, as an activist, analyst, and advisor. The FSC and MSC are now both massive organisations influencing the sustainability of forests and fisheries worldwide.

However, twenty years on, the statistics on environment and development are not particularly encouraging; consider the rising rates of deforestation, carbon emission, malnutrition and forced migration. Why? Partly because the focus on sustainable development was sidelined by a primary focus on trade liberalisation in the 1990s, on geopolitics and security in the 2000s, and because of an over-riding focus on increasing economic growth rates throughout. One reason for the lack of focus in 1992 on economic root causes of social and environmental problems was the exuberance and hopes after the end of the Cold War: discussing flaws of capitalism was seen as unhelpful and not hopeful. One reason for the focus on what non state actors can do, and thus not government, was the dominant influence of Western nations, who were embracing a laissez faire approach to state governance at that time.

Twenty years later the lack of major global progress towards sustainable development, towards true integration of environmental and developmental priorities, should make us question this lack of attention to economic systems and government roles.

In the last twenty years we have seen non state actors experiment in many new ways to advance the sustainable development agenda, with partnerships and voluntary standards emerging to promote responsible enterprise and finance. Its been exciting and exhausting. However, despite our enthusiasm, these experiments have also reached some limits of what they can achieve in promoting wider change. Leaders in business and civil society are therefore calling for government to become involved to help mainstream the innovations in sustainable development governance. If Rio 1992 was about governments calling non state actors to act, Rio 2012 may be about non state actors calling on governments to act in support of their innovations.

It is a call that may be heard, because today there are non Western nations with more recent experience of strong government leadership that have greater influence in the intergovernmental arena. In addition, twenty years on we should be able to show more maturity in exploring how systemic flaws in a our economic systems could be changed to reduce pressures for poor social or environmental outcomes.

A debate is beginning to be had in both business and civil society circles about the type of economic system we need for a more fair and sustainable world. Although often rudimentary, and often misunderstanding what capitalism is, these debates show there is growing willingness to tackle issues at the depth and scale that matches their signficance to our planet and our humanity. If it was practical not to discuss capitalism in 1992, given the shortcomings of our progress towards global sustainable development since then, it would not be practical to avoid discussing it today. Consequently we will see an agenda for innovating collaborative economic governance for sustainable development emerge over the coming years. Rio 2012 could be a useful moment in helping to globalise that conversation. However, if it becomes a huge draw on our time and attention without getting to the root causes of our enduring social and environmental problems, it could be worse than useless.

For those of us who have worked hard heeding the original call of Rio, we would do well now to organise to influence people’s awareness of what we have learned through success and failure over the twenty years.

With that in mind, I have begun reflecting on those lessons, and on how they could be communicated and learned in ways that could influence the agendas of organisations that can implement change. Because, we must not lose sight of how such summits are not in themselves implementing mechanisms.. connections have to be made from the insights and hopes of such summits to the real institutions of national and international governance.

Therefore, here are some initial ideas on what we could do:

– clarify the lessons from the last 20 years and the accuracy of the narrative I have just described above

– communicate these insights and narrative to global civil society through networks such as the stakeholder forum for the Rio 2012 summit, and get buy in

-communicate these insights and narrative to business networks active on sustainable development, such as the WBCSD, which was born by the last Earth Summit, and the World Economic Forum, which subsequently saw the light and embraced the goal.. and get their buy in

– begin deliberations and research and a devise a plan of technical assistance for a collaborative economic goverance agenda that would seek to mainstream the last 20 years of innovations in sustainable development practice and sustainable development governance

-communicate these insights, narrative and the technical advice about how to implement a collaborative economic governance agenda to mainstream sustainable development innovations, to the various parts of the UN system that are involved in Rio 2012

– engage the Brazilian government, NGO and business communities on this agenda, as given Brazil’s emergence they will play a far greater role in shaping the agenda, messaging and outcomes of the summit than in 1992

– create powerful communications products, such as TV documentaries, popular books, and celebrity campaigns and concerts that sing from this hymn sheet, rather than a dumbed down and expedient narrative, as we have seen at past summits

– remind everyone that the impact of this summit will be in the way it influences other institutions such as WTO, IMF, WB, UNCTAD, UNDP, ECOSOC and so on, and that unless the connections are made to these agents of economic governance, the summit will be a global mirage of hope in a desert of statis and despair

If you agree, and can actually do something about them, please get in touch. Given my existing commitments to other work, my only plans for engaging in this process are some work Im doing for UNCTAD. However, I will find time to discuss other ideas if you have plans to act.

Posted in Corporations, Sustainable Development, United Nations | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Sceptic anti-septic – cleaning up climate doubt

Posted by jembendell on December 12, 2008

I met a chatty cabby the other day, and found myself getting annoyed as he explained how he thinks climate change is a hoax. I see from a recent Monbiot article that there is a mini heatwave of scepticism due to the recent temperature data showing 2008 was a cool year.

I’d always thought that people who don’t believe in climate change are just ignoring the overwhelming evidence because its uncomfortable for them, and reminded them that in 1987 the UN General Assembly adopted a report which said that climate change is happening and we are causing it and its a problem, so that the real issue is why we live in a world where we have to wait for 20 years until a movie moves the public debate forward.

I decided to check up on the latest sceptics arguments and the counter arguments, as Id got the cabby’s email and was going to write to him. In doing the search, I realised that climate change proponents are partly at fault for the ongoing scepticism, for continuing to present a graph of temperature and CO2 correlation as if proving human induced climate change, rather saying it shows there are positive feedbacks on Co2 levels when temperatures increase (which when you prove with other data that CO2 increases temperatures, this positive feedback becomes more worrying).

So, now to the substantive section of the email I wrote to my driver….

“I found the following are the main arguments used against climate change:

1) “the Earth ain’t warming”
– evidence for this is last 10 years when global ambient temps have been steady while co2 has increased 4% in this time
or
2) “if it is its because of natural processes not us”
– evidence for this are the graphs mapping CO2 and temp rise over 1000s of years that show temperature rise happens before the CO2.
or
3) “if it is because of us then its more because of them, not me/us, and it doesn’t matter anyway.”
– evidence for this is that somewhere else is industrialising so fast so it doesn’t matter what we do (the West speaking of the Rest), or somewhere else has already benefited and we should catch up (the Rest speaking of the West), or that the cost of action is too expensive (as people look at costs of switching away from carbon intensive economies).

The evidence I have read to counter act these claims are the following. It seems most of these issues are dealt with in the IPCC reports (perhaps all, I haven’t time to go through all sources at http://www.ipcc.ch).

2) To: “the Earth ain’t warming”, with the evidence for this is last 10 years when global ambient temperatures have been steady while co2 has increased 4% in this time

Response:
– the Earth has warmed in the decades previously as carbon has increased.
– the melting of the poles has increased in the last 10 years significantly in ways that are affecting ocean currents, and sea temperatures, leading to a decline in the heat transportation effect of currents like the gulf stream, which has lost about 30% of its power. Thus, there has been cooling in certain places, such as Europe, while there is still warming in other areas, creating an overall appearance of temperature stability in the last 10 years.
– Modelling predicted volatility in temperatures as a result of more energy in the atmosphere. i.e. more energy retained in the atmosphere due to being trapped by greenhouse gases (most of those with carbon in them, like methane, co2, CFCs etc), does not necessarily mean more immediate heat, as melting ice absorbs energy. Yet this does mean more volatility, and we are seeing greater intensities of droughts, floods and storms, as predicted by more energy in the atmosphere overall. Once the ice cover is reduced, then the energy will produce greater heat rise.
– Atmospheric particulate pollution is causing a shielding affect, reducing sunlight hitting the ground, leading to slightly lower temperatures than if this effect were not occurring. naturally this happens when volcanoes erupt. However, its happening because of our dirty forms of industrialisation and transport, worldwide. This process has been called Global Dimming. The problems with particulate pollution are huge, and so efforts are under way to reduce them, and thus the dimming effect will be reduced.

2) To: “if it is its because of natural processes not us”, with evidence for this being the graphs mapping CO2 and temp rise over 1000s of years that show temp rise happens before the CO2.

Response:
– the geological record shows what happened before humans affected atmospheric chemistry. Before we did that, climate change occurred probably due to changes in solar radiation and events like meteorite strikes. Changes generally occurred over thousands or 10s of thousands of years. Thus when the temperature rose, this would dry out peat bogs, cause droughts and thus more fires, and all this would increase the CO2 in the atmosphere. It is true, therefore, that these graphs do not prove that CO2 and other greenhouse gases drive temperature changes in the past. Their use in presentations to argue for climate change is therefore unwise. However, the proof that CO2 and other greenhouse gases capture heat in our atmosphere is beyond doubt, as its basic science that can be conducted in any school laboratory – the molecules in these gases trap more infra red. No greenhouse effect, no life on earth, as it would be too cold. Therefore it is the most basic logic that tells us more greenhouse gases equals more energy trapped in the atmosphere. Some scientists were even predicting this, on the basis of this simple logic, about 100 years ago.
– what the graphs show us is that there is a major feedback loop, for when temperatures rise, for whatever reason, this makes the ecosystem release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, consequently maintaining and possible escalating the heating effect. This is what worries many climate scientists.
– a rise in greenhouse gases damages the oceans through acidification. so even if it doesn’t impact on climate (which is does), we should be concerned about what more acidic oceans will mean for marine life, and the social and economic implications

3) To “if it is because of us then its more because of them, not me/us, and it doesn’t matter anyway,” with evidence for this being that somewhere else is industrialising so fast so it doesn’t matter what we do (the West speaking of the Rest), or somewhere else has already benefited and we should catch up (the Rest speaking of the West), or that the cost of action is too expensive (as people look at costs of switching away from carbon intensive economies).

Response:
– If the West doesn’t act then it will be more difficult to persuade the rest of the world.
– If the rest of the world just blames the West then they will miss out on more energy efficient forms of economic development
– if we don’t act now the costs will be far greater in future (cf the Stern and Garnaut reports)
– if we don’t act now then we will have to face peak oil in any case, and so we need to transition from a hydrocarbon society in any case.”

I’m a bit hurried this weekend as leaving the country on Monday, so haven’t popped in all the references, but wikipedia is a good layman’s jumping off point for more evidence on these issues.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming

Cheers, Jem”

There is one lesson I learned from checking back with the science… that the image that might make the best communication tool may not actually be the right one to use. The hockey graph, showing CO2 and temperature levels over hundreds of years does not on its own effectively predict a temperature rise because of C02. More concerning, it shows a likely CO2 rise due to our heating of the planet. Other evidence shows that human released greenhouse gases are creating that initial temperature rise, and an increased level of energy in the atmosphere, resulting in increased weather volatility. Many climate change proponents use that graph without nuancing what it means, because that would get to complicated: which means they shouldn’t use it.

Monbiot article:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/dec/09/climate-change-science-environment

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Sceptic anti-septic – cleaning up climate doubt

Posted by jembendell on December 12, 2008

I met a chatty cabby the other day, and found myself getting annoyed as he explained how he thinks climate change is a hoax. I see from a recent Monbiot article that there is a mini heatwave of scepticism due to the recent temperature data showing 2008 was a cool year.

I’d always thought that people who don’t believe in climate change are just ignoring the overwhelming evidence because its uncomfortable for them, and reminded them that in 1987 the UN General Assembly adopted a report which said that climate change is happening and we are causing it and its a problem, so that the real issue is why we live in a world where we have to wait for 20 years until a movie moves the public debate forward.

I decided to check up on the latest sceptics arguments and the counter arguments, as Id got the cabby’s email and was going to write to him. In doing the search, I realised that climate change proponents are partly at fault for the ongoing scepticism, for continuing to present a graph of temperature and CO2 correlation as if proving human induced climate change, rather saying it shows there are positive feedbacks on Co2 levels when temperatures increase (which when you prove with other data that CO2 increases temperatures, this positive feedback becomes more worrying).

So, now to the substantive section of the email I wrote to my driver….

“I found the following are the main arguments used against climate change:

1) “the Earth ain’t warming”
– evidence for this is last 10 years when global ambient temps have been steady while co2 has increased 4% in this time
or
2) “if it is its because of natural processes not us”
– evidence for this are the graphs mapping CO2 and temp rise over 1000s of years that show temperature rise happens before the CO2.
or
3) “if it is because of us then its more because of them, not me/us, and it doesn’t matter anyway.”
– evidence for this is that somewhere else is industrialising so fast so it doesn’t matter what we do (the West speaking of the Rest), or somewhere else has already benefited and we should catch up (the Rest speaking of the West), or that the cost of action is too expensive (as people look at costs of switching away from carbon intensive economies).

The evidence I have read to counter act these claims are the following. It seems most of these issues are dealt with in the IPCC reports (perhaps all, I haven’t time to go through all sources at http://www.ipcc.ch).

2) To: “the Earth ain’t warming”, with the evidence for this is last 10 years when global ambient temperatures have been steady while co2 has increased 4% in this time

Response:
– the Earth has warmed in the decades previously as carbon has increased.
– the melting of the poles has increased in the last 10 years significantly in ways that are affecting ocean currents, and sea temperatures, leading to a decline in the heat transportation effect of currents like the gulf stream, which has lost about 30% of its power. Thus, there has been cooling in certain places, such as Europe, while there is still warming in other areas, creating an overall appearance of temperature stability in the last 10 years.
– Modelling predicted volatility in temperatures as a result of more energy in the atmosphere. i.e. more energy retained in the atmosphere due to being trapped by greenhouse gases (most of those with carbon in them, like methane, co2, CFCs etc), does not necessarily mean more immediate heat, as melting ice absorbs energy. Yet this does mean more volatility, and we are seeing greater intensities of droughts, floods and storms, as predicted by more energy in the atmosphere overall. Once the ice cover is reduced, then the energy will produce greater heat rise.
– Atmospheric particulate pollution is causing a shielding affect, reducing sunlight hitting the ground, leading to slightly lower temperatures than if this effect were not occurring. naturally this happens when volcanoes erupt. However, its happening because of our dirty forms of industrialisation and transport, worldwide. This process has been called Global Dimming. The problems with particulate pollution are huge, and so efforts are under way to reduce them, and thus the dimming effect will be reduced.

2) To: “if it is its because of natural processes not us”, with evidence for this being the graphs mapping CO2 and temp rise over 1000s of years that show temp rise happens before the CO2.

Response:
– the geological record shows what happened before humans affected atmospheric chemistry. Before we did that, climate change occurred probably due to changes in solar radiation and events like meteorite strikes. Changes generally occurred over thousands or 10s of thousands of years. Thus when the temperature rose, this would dry out peat bogs, cause droughts and thus more fires, and all this would increase the CO2 in the atmosphere. It is true, therefore, that these graphs do not prove that CO2 and other greenhouse gases drive temperature changes in the past. Their use in presentations to argue for climate change is therefore unwise. However, the proof that CO2 and other greenhouse gases capture heat in our atmosphere is beyond doubt, as its basic science that can be conducted in any school laboratory – the molecules in these gases trap more infra red. No greenhouse effect, no life on earth, as it would be too cold. Therefore it is the most basic logic that tells us more greenhouse gases equals more energy trapped in the atmosphere. Some scientists were even predicting this, on the basis of this simple logic, about 100 years ago.
– what the graphs show us is that there is a major feedback loop, for when temperatures rise, for whatever reason, this makes the ecosystem release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, consequently maintaining and possible escalating the heating effect. This is what worries many climate scientists.
– a rise in greenhouse gases damages the oceans through acidification. so even if it doesn’t impact on climate (which is does), we should be concerned about what more acidic oceans will mean for marine life, and the social and economic implications

3) To “if it is because of us then its more because of them, not me/us, and it doesn’t matter anyway,” with evidence for this being that somewhere else is industrialising so fast so it doesn’t matter what we do (the West speaking of the Rest), or somewhere else has already benefited and we should catch up (the Rest speaking of the West), or that the cost of action is too expensive (as people look at costs of switching away from carbon intensive economies).

Response:
– If the West doesn’t act then it will be more difficult to persuade the rest of the world.
– If the rest of the world just blames the West then they will miss out on more energy efficient forms of economic development
– if we don’t act now the costs will be far greater in future (cf the Stern and Garnaut reports)
– if we don’t act now then we will have to face peak oil in any case, and so we need to transition from a hydrocarbon society in any case.”

I’m a bit hurried this weekend as leaving the country on Monday, so haven’t popped in all the references, but wikipedia is a good layman’s jumping off point for more evidence on these issues.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming

Cheers, Jem”

There is one lesson I learned from checking back with the science… that the image that might make the best communication tool may not actually be the right one to use. The hockey graph, showing CO2 and temperature levels over hundreds of years does not on its own effectively predict a temperature rise because of C02. More concerning, it shows a likely CO2 rise due to our heating of the planet. Other evidence shows that human released greenhouse gases are creating that initial temperature rise, and an increased level of energy in the atmosphere, resulting in increased weather volatility. Many climate change proponents use that graph without nuancing what it means, because that would get to complicated: which means they shouldn’t use it.

Monbiot article:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/dec/09/climate-change-science-environment

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »