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Archive for May, 2009

smog
In one of the first major studies on the impact of climate change on people, Kofi Annan, former U.N. Secretary-General and his Global Humanitarian Forum, have issued a report arguing that climate change is already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affecting 300 million people. Heatwaves, floods, storms and forest fires will be responsible for as many as half a million deaths a year by 2030.

According to Global Humanitarian Forum, “economic losses due to climate change already today amount to over $125 billion per year. This is more than the individual GDP of 73% of the world’s countries, and is greater than the total amount of aid that currently flows from industrialised countries to developing nations each year. By 2030, the economic losses due to climate change will have almost trebled to $340 billion annually.” 

The report also argues that “a majority of the world’s population does not have the capacity to cope with the impact of climate change without suffering a potentially irreversible loss of well being and risk of loss of life. The populations most gravely at risk are over half a billion people in some of the poorest areas that are also highly prone to climate change – in particular, the semi-arid dry land belt countries from the Sahara to the Middle East and Central Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, South and South East Asia, and small island developing states (SIDS).” Four billion are now at risk, and half a million are at extreme risk.

In an example of these trends, The Guardian wrote about China’s new eco-refugees. “The government says more than 150 million people will have to be moved. Water shortages exacerbated by over-irrigation and climate change are the main cause.”

Read the full report

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greencapitol
During a briefing of the High Performance Building Congressional Caucus Coalition, Dan Beard, Chief Administrative Officer, U.S. House of Representatives, outlined progress on the Green the Capitol campaign, which has been underway for more than two years. The campaign has two goals: carbon-neutrality for the U.S. House, and reducing energy consumption by 50 percent over 10 years. 

Beard explained the U.S. House buildings, which have over 6 million square feet of office space and house some 7,000 Capitol Hill workers, previously had a carbon footprint of approximately 91,000 metric tons of CO2. Through the purchase of wind power, transition to natural gas, and the purchase of carbon off-sets, the U.S. House achieved its goal of becoming carbon-neutral. Beard said moving to wind power took over a year to accomplish, and involved negotiations with D.C. energy provider PepCo. Purchasing carbon off-sets also set off a debate within the House. “I was attacked from the left for being ‘impure,’ and from the right for ‘wasting money.’” Carbon off-sets are a minefield, Beard argued, because there is still no accrediting body, and the House required USD 89,000 of carbon off-sets (purchased on the Chicago Climate Exchange) to cover the remaining 24,000 tons of CO2 that couldn’t be mitigated by wind power. Beard recommends against carbon neutrality as an “end-goal,” and believes it should only be part of a greater sustainability plan.

A second goal — to reduce energy consumption by 50 percent over 10 years, is now being addressed through a diverse set of measures. “Innovative demonstration projects,” and employee-proposed measures have helped bring down energy use. The U.S. House has replaced out-dated light bulbs with high-efficiency compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which cost over USD 100,000, but “start earning money back after five months.” To further cut down energy use and waste, the House now uses: 100 percent recycled paper, smart power strips, waste compost machines, compostable water bottles, zip cars, and a free bike sharing program. The floor-to-ceiling drapes in Representatives’ offices are also a problem: they prevent natural heating and cooling and block out light, and are being replaced by venetian blinds. “Light increases productivity and reduces illnesses and absenses.” Additionally, the House’s servers, which run over 600 web sites, and carry 1.1 million e-emails per day, are being replaced by more energy-efficient versions. 

Over the long-term, to replace the HVAC, lighting and water systems in Representatives’ offices, the House has engaged in a private-public partnership with a private firm. Under this scenario, the firm will first put up the USD 40 million required for the re-installation of more efficient systems, and then reap the profits and make back their initial investment over time. There are also plans to re-light the U.S. Capitol using more energy efficient “compact metal halide” lights; similar systems are in place in other major monuments.

Beard expressed an interest in adding green roofs to House buildings, and mentioned that planning was underway for a few House and Senate buildings. David Yocca, ASLA, LEED AP, Conservation Design Forum, noted that a few years ago he was involved in Chicago City Hall’s green roof demonstration project. Now, there are some 2.5 million sq. feet of green roofs across Chicago. The U.S. Capitol can lead by example, and a House green roof system may have a similar impact in D.C. and nationwide.

Yocca also explained how the U.S. Capitol should take an “ecological management” approach to the U.S. House’s stormwater and land, which could also yield significant cost-savings, attenuate rainwater, cool the area, and promote the Capitol’s urban ecology. The Sustainable Sites Initiative was highlighted as a key blueprint for achieving these goals. However, Yocca noted, many of the proposals outlined in Sustainable Sites are “still illegal” in many districts. Codes, regulations, and ordinances are actually preventing sustainable landscape architecture because they haven’t been thoroughly re-thought in terms of sustainable best practices. Procurement procedures that require a “low bid,”  instead of allowing for higher up-front capital costs that yield greater cost savings down the road, may also be limiting the growth of sustainable projects.

Learn more at the U.S. House of Representatives’ Green the Capitol site.

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cas2
Verlyn Klinkenborg, a noted non-fiction writer and member of The New York Times editorial board, wrote about green roofs for National Geographic. The typical roofscape for an urban building, says Klinkenborg, is “a little like hell—a lifeless place of bituminous surfaces, violent temperature contrasts, bitter winds, and an antipathy to water.”

Klinkenborg says green roofs aren’t new, but the driving impetus for creating them in cities is rooted in contemporary issues. “Living roofs aren’t new. They were common among sod houses on the American prairie, and roofs of turf can still be found on log houses and sheds in northern Europe. But in recent decades, architects, builders, and city planners all across the planet have begun turning to green roofs not for their beauty—almost an afterthought—but for their practicality, their ability to mitigate the environmental extremes common on conventional roofs.”

Green roofs may reflect changing views about the city’s relationship to nature. “Another factor driving the spread of green roofs is our changing idea of the city. It’s no longer wise or practical or, for that matter, ethical, to think of the city as the antithesis of nature. Finding ways to naturalize cities—even as nature itself becomes more urbanized—will make them more livable, and not only for humans.” 

An important next step is to ensure green roofs’ environmental benefits match their social and economic benefits – they need to be accessible and also cost-efficient. “The goal for some researchers now is to find ways to build living roofs that are ecologically and socially sound in every respect: low in environmental costs and available to as many people as possible. What matters isn’t only whether living roofs work. It’s how to make them work in the most sustainable way, using the least energy while creating the greatest benefit for the human and nonhuman habitat.”

Klinkenborg also discusses the Vancouver Convention Center green roof, which, at 6 acres, is one of the world’s largest, and the tax and regulatory incentives many governments have used to spur development of green roofs.

Read the article and see more images

Image credit: California Academy of Sciences, ASLA 2009 Professional Honor Award

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playground
The American Academy of Pediatrics has released a policy statement strongly supporting the need to encourage outdoor play and mobility among children. “The Built Environment: Designing Communities to Promote Physical Activity in Children” documents the trends in community development that have contributed to the sharp decline in physical activity among children and adolescents, thus contributing to the corresponding jump in the rate of obesity among young people.

“An estimated 32 percent of American children are overweight,” the AAP notes in its abstract. “Policies that promote more active lifestyles among children and adolescents will enable them to achieve the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.”

Nancy Somerville, executive vice president and CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects, adds, “Landscape architects join the AAP in urging our governments at every level to institute laws, policies, and practices that promote active living through environmental design. In particular, Complete Streets legislation, currently being adopted across the country and making its way through Congress, is critical to providing opportunities that incorporate walking and biking into daily activities. Recognition of the relationship between community design and public health by such an esteemed medical organization confirms the need for comprehensive public policy to create a more healthy and sustainable world.”

Specifically, AAP recommends that governments:

“Pass and promote laws and regulations to create new or expand existing efforts to promote active living. Federal programs can incentivize states to incorporate these principles into planning and zoning standards. State and local governments should examine planning and zoning efforts to ensure that children’s ability to walk, play, and get to school safely are a top priority.

“Create and maintain playgrounds, parks, and green spaces within communities as well as the means to access them safely. Prioritize resources to low-income neighborhoods to ensure that all children and adolescents have access to safe and desirable opportunities for play and active lifestyles. Funding should also be prioritized to support specific evidence-based goals, such as building sidewalks in new and existing neighborhoods to create safe corridors to schools and neighborhood parks.

“Promote legislation and fund programs that allow communities to create programs and environmental improvements to neighborhoods that can support children’s active commuting to school. Consider children’s ability for active transportation to school in the process of determining the location of a school.

“Fund research on the impact of the built environment at neighborhood and community levels on the promotion of overall health and active lifestyles for children and families.

“Serve as a model for communities. Whenever possible, new government buildings should be sited within walking distance of public transportation, walking trails, and residential areas to promote active living.”

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toronto
During a National Building Museum symposium on the state of planning in the U.S., Professor David Godschalk, Professor, City and Regional Planning, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, discussed the need to initiate “positive development” strategies in cities in the near future. Godschalk argued that the U.S. must initiate a “visionary positive development strategy” through which cities contribute energy back to the grid. Instead of sustainably consuming energy, cities must become net producers of energy.

Godschalk said in order to move “from mitigation to production” new concepts will be needed. “We need new ++ development standards,” to quantify how much new clean air, energy, and biodiversity is generated by productive green buildings, and urban farms. Cities would need to provide 125 percent of its citizens’ energy needs and capture 125 percent of CO2 emissions. Mandatory water recycling, designated growth plans, the re-integration of planning, social and environmental sciences, and city “greenprints” will help ensure positive development.

In the same vein, the Climate Climate Initiative along with USGBC announced the launch of the “Climate Positive Development Program.” According to CCI, “the program will support the development of large-scale urban projects that demonstrate cities can grow in ways that are ‘climate positive.’ Climate positive real estate developments will strive to reduce the amount of on-site CO2 emissions to below zero. Sixteen founding projects on six continents, supported by local governments and property developers, will demonstrate Climate Positive strategies, setting a compelling environmental and economic example for cities to follow.” The City of Toronto’s Lower Dons Waterfront project was selected as one of the founding projects.

Read more about the first set of 16 projects

Image credit: Waterfront Toronto

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highspeedrail
The Penn Institute for Urban Research at the University of Pennsylvania held an event at the National Building Museum. In a full day of planning-related events, which included a half-day symposium on the hundred years of U.S. planning (1909-2009), planners, architects and key policymakers discussed the range of factors that will determine the future competitiveness and sustainability of U.S. cities.

Derek Douglas, Special Assistant to the President on Urban Affairs: Douglas, former director of the Economic Mobility project at the Center for American Progress, outlined the Obama administration’s approach to cities, arguing that cities are central to building regions, not the other way around. The new “metro reality sees cities as the solution” for how to build competitive regions. Douglas noted that 75 percent of U.S. citizens will live in cities by 2050, and cities must be strengthened to be “anchors for regions,” arguing that the national economy is only an agglomeration of regional economies.

On the issue of economic competitiveness, Douglas said cities need to focus on talent, innovation, and connectivity (as well as social equity). The top 100 cities account for the vast majority of talent and innovation, including more than 75 percent of knowledge economy jobs, patents, research and development (R&D) expenditures. Douglas talked about the regional innovation cluster program, which would help strengthen innovation centers through grants and incentives. In terms of connectivity, he cited the new high-speed rail investment, the infrastructure bank, and further broadband Internet access upgrades.

With regards to the future sustainability of U.S. cities, Douglas contends that 75 percent of C02 emissions come from cities, and needs to be reduced dramatically. Building green cities will require focusing on both “green economy” aspects, and “consumption.” The Green Recovery Act includes USD 20 billion of funds for creating sustainable economic development. Also, there is USD 5 billion for the weatherization of low-income families’ homes. Douglas focused on the need for retrofitting inefficient buildings, and how this will be a key source of green jobs. On the consumption side, he also wants to reduce demand for cars by reducing miles traveled and improving the walkability of communities.

Douglas highlighted the interdependent nature of urban problems, and the need to understand this in the policymaking process. He said the Obama administration is focused on breaking down the silos between competing bureaucracies, and will set up a urban affairs taskforce, which will function like an “urban affairs cabinet.” “Smart urban policy must integrate stakeholders” and incentivize this integration. Douglas noted a partnership between the US Department of Transportation and HUD on livable, walkable communities, and cited this as an example of cross-department policy coordination and action.

Harriet Tregoning, Director, Office of Planning, Washington, D.C.: Tregoning mentioned that 46 percent of commuters in D.C. bike, walk or take mass transit to get to work; only New York City had a better rate. Tregoning said planning officials are using the D.C. sales tax as a transportation indicator. The D.C. sales tax revenue was up 4.4 percent last year, which means more people are coming in to D.C. to shop, and shopping locations are more easily accessible to transit.

Tregoning pushed for D.C. residents to get rid of their cars. Doing so can save D.C. residents up to USD 8,500 per year. Tregoning said D.C. shed 4,000 cars last year.

Marian Khoury, Director, Town Planning, Duany Plater & Zyberk: Khoury wondered how the U.S. can “unsprawl” itself. Where do we infill? Where do we put local suburban centers? Which areas are preserved?  How are distributed suburban centers connected? Khoury argued for a “multi-modal system,” and denser mixed-use environments. Khoury argued for retroffiting suburbia by re-doing areas for malls, parking lots to create walkable communities. Khoury said the small things are big things: communities need sidewalks and shade trees. Also, agriculture should be integrated into urban areas.

Andrew Altman, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Development, City of Philadelphia: Philadelphia has a huge wealth gap. According to Altman, there is enormous poverty, but also great universities and hospitals, and a dynamic downtown. There is a green sustainability plan, which targets row houses for weatherization. Altman said the city is graduating the first class of “retrofitters,” which mostly come from lower-income parts of the city. (The program was funded in part with Federal funds). Retrofitting the city is seen as a key strategy for creating and sustaining green jobs.

Altman also talked about “energy efficient block grants,” which enable the city to partner with real estate developers to retrofit buildings in Philly’s downtown. The goal is to get 30 percent of the city energy-efficient, going block by block.

Robert Yaro, President, Regional Plan Assocation, and Professor, University of Pennsylvania: Yaro said the U.S. was built on “cheap energy and cheap land,” and, in effect, created a “throw-away landscape.” The urban or suburban landscape was designed to “torn down in 20 years.” However, with 130 million new U.S. citizens expected in 40 years, the U.S. faces a challenge of how to grow without “paving the rest of the country.” The civic sector needs to be involved, and there needs to be a new focus on density and networks linked by transportation systems. The Northeast corridor is an example of a U.S. mega-region, and there are ten others emerging in other parts of the U.S.

Yaro thought that even with the new investments in high-speed rail, the U.S. is far behind other developed nations, including the E.U. and Japan, as well as some developing countries, such as Morocco, China and India, which are aggressively investing in high-speed rail.

Paul Farmer, President, American Planning Association: Farmer said the U.S. economy is built on carbon. He cited comments from Steven Chu, U.S. Energy Secretary, in which he said carbon functions like “100 servants.” The U.S. needs to “give up some of its servants in order to be sustainable.” The challenge will be asking developing countries with “fewer servants” to give up theirs before they get to U.S. levels. The U.S. needs an economy based on walkability — economic activity needs to be local, and accessible. Human settlements should use the landscape, and build on nature. “Planning needs to change.”

Farmer also argued that the U.S. can gain competitive advantage by addressing complex issues of race and ethnicity through planning. Farmer argued that planners in the E.U. still haven’t gotten this right, and, by doing so, the U.S. can yield a competitive advantage. Furthermore, the U.S. needs to prepare for transformative change, and create “big plans.”

All panelists cited the openness of the new Federal government to innovation in urban planning as a major benefit to their own regions. All argued that interconnectivity was crucial, as well as sustainable transit-oriented development. Many mentioned the need to retrofit suburbia and making communities more livable and walkable. A few also mentioned that local urban farms can help create local food security. “Good planning equals good governance,” but also, “planning needs to be engaging.”

Learn more at the Penn Institute for Urban Research

Image credit:  U.S. Department of Transportation

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greendex
According to a new survey conducted by National Geographic and Globescan, consumers in India, Brazil, and China scored the highest (and those in the U.S. the lowest) for green behavior. The survey polled 17,000 adults in 17 countries, and included a mix of developed and developing countries.

National Geographic writes on the survey design: “This quantitative consumer study of 17,000 consumers in a total of 17 countries (14 in 2008) asked about such behavior as energy use and conservation, transportation choices, food sources, the relative use of green products versus traditional products, attitudes towards the environment and sustainability, and knowledge of environmental issues. A group of international experts helped us determine the behaviors that were most critical to investigate.”

Overall results

On the top ten “greenest” consumers: “the top-scoring consumers of 2009 are in the developing economies of India, Brazil and China. Argentina and South Korea, both new additions to the survey, are virtually tied for fourth, followed by Mexicans, Hungarians and Russians. Ranks ninth through thirteenth, the latter a three-way tie, are all occupied by Europeans, as well as Australians in twelfth. Japanese, U.S. and Canadian consumers again score lowest.” 

National Geographic and Globescan conclude that some consumers act consciously out of enviromental concerns, whereas others seek to cut costs, which has the effect of providing an enviromental benefit. “The results suggest that both cost considerations and environmental concerns may have motivated consumers to adopt more environmentally sustainable behavior over the past year. For example, consumers in 11 of the 14 countries surveyed in 2008 and 2009 are more likely this year to report that they keep their heating and cooling settings in their households lower to save energy. The practice of washing laundry in cold water rather than hot to save energy has also become more widespread in nine countries surveyed in both years. Preference for buying second-hand rather than new household items has become more widespread, as has as the preference for repairing broken items to extend their useful lives.”

However, in many countries, the percentage consciously engaging in green behavior seems be growing. “Environmental concern is reflected in consumer behavior. For example, the percentage of consumers who say they buy certain products specifically because they are better for the environment than other products, an action unlikely to consistently result in savings to the consumer, increased in five countries in 2009, and decreased in only one.”

Pollution and climate change are major concerns across the developing and developed worlds. Consumers in developing countries facing chocking air pollution rates had higher rates of concern about this, given that they must deal with it daily. “Air pollution, climate change/global warming and water pollution rank fourth through sixth on a list of 12 global concerns, just behind the economy, fuel costs and poverty. Roughly two-thirds of consumers say they are concerned about each of these environmental issues. Six in 10 consumers across the 17 surveyed countries agree that people need to consume less in order to improve the environment for future generations (only 12 percent disagree), showing that consumers recognize the connection between their actions and the environment.”

Housing

“Consumers across many countries are now more likely to engage in energy-saving activities, such as adjusting thermostat settings (up in 11 countries), minimizing their use of fresh water (up in nine countries), and washing laundry in cold water to save energy (up in nine countries). This is due to both cost and environmental considerations. For example, when the three in ten consumers who say they reduced their consumption of energy for heating or cooling their homes over the past year are asked why they did so, eight in ten say that cost was one of the top two reasons. Four in ten say that their environmental concerns were behind the change in behavior.”

Transportation

“Transportation-related behavior is generally more environmentally friendly in developing countries where consumers tend more than others to walk, cycle or use public transportation, or choose to live close to their most common destination. Russians, Chinese and South Koreans are most likely to use public transportation regularly, while Australians, Canadians and especially Americans are the least likely to say that they do.”

Food

“Consumers in seven surveyed countries, the United States, Australia, Great Britain, France, Japan, Mexico and Russia, decreased their consumption of bottled water—suggesting that awareness of the environmental issues associated with bottled water consumption issues has increased. Swedes, at just 6 percent, are the least likely to drink bottled water every day. Germans remain the most likely to drink bottled water — 68 percent do so daily.”

Goods

“Avoidance of environmentally unfriendly products, a choice that is not necessarily motivated by cost savings, is up among consumers in six countries. Indians, Brazilians and Mexicans show the biggest year-on-year increase in this area. These consumers, along with Chinese, also are the most likely to say they buy environmentally friendly products. Americans, Hungarians, British, Spanish and Japanese are least likely to do so. However, the percentage of consumers who say they choose environmentally friendly products over others has increased in five countries and has decreased in just one (Russia).”

Interestingly, no consumers from any major African country were included the survey. Consumers in larger countries like Nigeria, Egypt, or South Africa could have added diversity to the findings. Additionally, for the 1,000 citizens surveyed in each country, the survey designers polled approximately thirty percent high-income, thirty percent middle-income, and thirty percent low-income respondents. In most countries, the high-income citizens would be far less than the thirty percent of the total population. Counting them as thirty percent in each country’s responses could have the effect of skewing results towards higher-income consumers’ behavior.

Read the highlights report and the full (290 plus page) report. Also, check out the Greendex Calculator, which is comprised of the questions used in the survey, to calculate how green you are as a consumer.

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streetscape
The Bloomberg Administration issued a new street design manual today in an effort to make over the city’s “utilitarian 1970′s-style streetscape.” According to The New York Times, New York City’s Department of Transportation will now review development plans to see whether they align with the 232-page manual’s guidelines. In comments to The New York Times, Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner said: “Lots of things have changed in 40 years, but this part of our infrastructure hasn’t. If we’re going to be a world-class city, we need guidelines that lay out the operating instructions of how we get there.”

The New York Times writes: “Imagine narrow European-style roadways shared by pedestrians, cyclists and cars, all traveling at low speeds. Sidewalks made of recycled rubber in different colors under sleek energy-efficient lamps. Mini-islands jutting into the street, topped by trees and landscaping, designed to further slow traffic and add a dash of green.”

Read the article and see pre- and post-guidelines photos of streetscapes. Go to the New York City Department of Transportation to read the new street design manual. Also, check out “Greenlight for Midtown,” a new project to remove cars, and reduce traffic congestion along key spots on Broadway in Midtown.

Additionally, The San Francisco Chronicle wrote about “Pavement to Parks,” a program in San Francisco which turns streetscape into temporary mini-plazas. The idea is to “take space away from cars and give it to people.” The first park is at the historic corner of 17th street, Castro, and Market streets. The 7,800-square-foot plaza at 17th and Castro streets features 24 donated chairs on a streetcar platform. Three other test sites are planned.

Image credit: New York City Department of Transportation

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gsd
Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design, announced that Charles Waldheim will become Professor of Landscape Architecture and Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. “I very much look forward to working with Charles and the Landscape faculty in defining the future direction of the department, and in confronting the current challenges and opportunities facing those who teach and practice in the field of Landscape Architecture,” said Dean Mostafavi during his announcement.

According to Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Waldheim’s research focuses on landscape architecture in relation to contemporary urbanism. He coined the term “landscape urbanism” to describe emerging landscape design practices in the context of North American urbanism. He has written extensively on the topic and edited The Landscape Urbanism Reader (Princeton Architectural Press, 2006).

He is currently writing the first book-length history of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, entitled Chicago O’Hare: A Natural and Cultural History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press). His writing has also appeared in Landscape Journal, Topos, Log, Praxis, 306090, Canadian Architect, Dimensions, and Landscape Architecture Magazine.

Currently, Waldheim is Associate Professor and Director of the Landscape Architecture program at the University of Toronto. He has lectured on landscape and contemporary urbanism across North America, Europe, and Australasia.

Go to Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Landscape Architecture Department to learn more.

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cccd
The Commission on Climate Change and Development presented its findings in Washington, D.C. late last week. Chaired by Sweden’s international development minister, Gunilla Carlsson, the commission includes experts such as Mohamed El-Ashry, formerly head of the Global Environment Facility (GEF); Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and re-forestation activist; and Jonathan Lash, President of the World Resources Institute (WRI). The commission was formed to help “achieve sustainable development worldwide”, while assisting developing countries adapt to climate change and prepare for disasters. Sweden will take over the EU presidency in July and lead the EU delegation at the UNFCCC meeting later this year in Copenhagen. The Commission also presented its report to the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

Gunilla Carlsson, Minister of International Development, Government of Sweden: Carlsson re-iterated that adaptation is “context-sensitive,” and depends on a countries’ adaptive capacity (people, skill sets), and measures (coastal sea walls, vaccines, etc).  “There are no simple guidelines,” because each solution needs to be “place-based.” Carlsson also sees adaptation as a “political issue” and argued that more financing will be required at an international level. Furthermore, she argued that development needs to be “climate-proofed” so that poor countries don’t fall farther behind while addressing climate change.

Kemal Dervis, former head of UNDP, and now Vice President, Brookings Institution: Dervis said finance ministers are all focused on the global economic crisis, so getting the green agenda on their radar will be difficult. However, he said smart adaptation doesn’t have to cost a lot: Bangladesh implemented a low-cost early warning system that prevented deaths from the recent cyclones. Dervis sees this an example of how a “society can become resilient,” and, while there may be few resources, there can be “tremendous benefits.”

Dervis also argued that countries have no “extreme solutions” left — borders can’t be closed against C02 emissions. On the positive side, he thought there could be a “technology revolution.”  

Mohamed El-Ashry, former head of GEF, and Senior Fellow, U.N. University: El-Ashry said global negotiations in preparation for Copenhagen are stuck on finance and the extent to which developing countries will make deep cuts in their C02 emissions (and create opportunities for adaptation). El-Ashry said there was a need to close the “trust gap,” between developing and developed countries. Developed countries have so far promised USD 18 billion for adaptation, but only delivered USD 1 billion. Even if a new agreement is reached in Copenhagen, a stop-gap measure will be needed as Copenhagen won’t take effect until 2013. 

El-Ashry also said that international organizations are ill-equipped to deal with these issues, and a local grants program distributing amounts up to USD 50 thousand would be more effective.

Saroj Kumar Jha, GEF: Jha, a manager at GEF, took a different tact, and said climate has always changed and local people have always adapted. Jha cited the case of a local Indian farmer he met a few years ago who had four different types of rice seeds, and would select one based on weather conditions. Jha said adaptation really has to happen at the local and national levels. However, Jha worried that: “Climate change has become so dynamic that our capacity to cope may fail.” Also, he wondered how information on the best ways to adapt can quickly get out to those millions of villages throughout developing countries.

Jha said there is inequality in terms of the effects of climate change: “”It shouldn’t be mitigation for the rich, and adaptation for the poor.” Jha also argued that countries should use and strengthen indigenous technologies and natural early warming systems. He cited how some local populations were alerted to the Tsunami that struck Asia a few years ago because of the odd behavior of ants, and other wildlife.

Jonathan Lash, WRI, made the case for extra adaptation funds from the U.S. Lash argued that the current Waxman-Markey bill making its way to a vote in Congress will provide only USD 1-2 billion per year in assistance to developing countries through funds from the auction of allowances. Lash urged U.S. organizations to lobby Congress for extra funds. Some USD 80 billion per year is estimated to be needed to help least developed countries adapt.

Read the full report

Also, check out a New York Times Dot Earth post on disaster “hot spots,” and a recent report “2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction,” on preparing against disasters precipitated by ecological damages.

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