The garbage orchestra from Paraguay

« The world sends us garbage – we send back music ». That’s the motto of Favio Chavez. He opened a music school in Cateura on the outskirts of the Paraguayan capital Asunción. There’s no money for instruments – but no shortage of refuse in the neighbourhood.

Gomez turns the garbage into violins, guitars, cellos and other musical instruments. The orchestra he started has had invitations to perform around the world. A documentary film about the project called « Landfill Harmonic » has received backing from crowd funding.

Cateura exists virtually on top of a landfill site where residents make their livings recycling and selling other people’s rubbish.

Situated along the banks of the Paraguay River, 1,500 tons of waste is dumped in the area each day.
But despite the critical levels of pollution and the threat to their health residents of Cateura manage to find the most positive of uses for the rubbish.

Inspired to do something to help the inpoverished families, Chávez began using the trash in the landfill to create instruments for the children.

« One day it occurred to me to teach music to the children of the recyclers and use my personal instruments, » explains 36 year-old Chávez, who worked as an ecological technician at the landfill.

« But it got to the point that there were too many students and not enough supply. So that’s when I decided to experiment and try to actually create a few. »

Pleas but no progress at COP19 climate talks

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The climate conference in Warsaw began under the shadow of last week’s disaster in the Philippines. But despite passionate appeals, the conference moves into its second week without any significant progress.

« There is no Planet B », « leave the coal in the hole » outdoors demonstrators shouted. A number of technicalities are to be sorted out in advance, so that the ministers – due to arrive in Warsaw on Tuesday 19 November – will be left with deals in which only political questions are still up for debate.

Time to show up the records

There are still plenty of issues to address on a technical level, too. Work is being done, but there are no concrete results to report yet. Not everyone sees it this way. Switzerland’s negotiator Franz Perrez expressed deep frustration with the progress made in the first week. « We began the conference with a strong appeal that we should not continue business as usual, and that we have to move towards concrete decisions,  » he said. « Too often we were moving back to traditional finger-pointing, and not searching for solutions.  »

Disagreement on criteria

This is the situation ahead of the global climate agreement, due at a climate conference in Paris in two years’ time, when all countries – both industrialized and non-industrialized – will be expected to put figures on the table and declare by how much they intend to reduce their carbon emissions.

Discussions about fundamental criteria are already being held in Warsaw. Delegates are trying to come to a common understanding on criteria such as which year will be used as a point of reference for emissions targets, and how the tonnage of carbon emissions will be calculated. And there are plenty of disagreements.

Delaying tactics: Brazil looks set to delay an agreement

Brazil, for instance, wants the historical responsibility of the industrialized countries to be taken into account. Their industries, so their argument goes, have been releasing carbon into the atmosphere since the end of the 18th century – much longer than industries in the developing world. But the European Union suspects that this argument is untruthful.

From the EU perspective there is no problem with discussing historical emissions, but there are a number of serious procedural and substantive concerns with this proposal, since historic emission rates would then serve as the only indicator in this equation. With that, the proposal poses a very serious risk of delaying the agreement beyond 2015, because of the time that would be needed to develop the indicator and then apply it to parties’ commitments.

Even though Brazil is right to argue that the industrialized countries should pay for their historical responsibilities, this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to delay an agreement. Brazil looks particularly reluctant in the negotiations – like a country that wants to postpone and delay talks, presumably also because of their presidential election next year.

Japan changes its mind

There were generally more steps back than forward in this preliminary first week of talks. Even though countries were supposed to present figures showing how much they intended to reduce emissions before the global agreement comes into force in 2020, environmentalists often saw a lot to be desired when it came to actual progress in that direction – prominently so in the case of Japan: Its representatives declared on Friday that it was giving up its target altogether.

Instead of reducing emissions by 25 percent until 2020 – compared to 1990 – it now wants to allow emissions to increase by three percent. With a hint of an apology, Japanese chief negotiator Hiroshi Minami declared that since the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2011, none of Japan’s 50 reactors were producing electricity.

Previous climate target estimates, he explained, were based on the assumption that 40 percent of Japan’s energy needs would be covered by nuclear power – now they had to assume that the nuclear reactors would not produce any power, meaning that fossil fuels would have to be used instead.

Japan’s announcement of reducing its own goals sends a fatal signal to India and China as those are countries that we desperately need to be part of a future climate change agreement. The EU expressed disappointment with the move, as it is more than just disappointing. But above and beyond, is Europe (and OECE countries) doing enough on climate innovation? That is, fixing ambitious targets to reduce emissions all through binding carbon budgets and implementing a clear accountability framework.

Climate change must be stopped – but in such a way that the world becomes more just, not less.

What Does ‘Sustainable Development’ Really Mean?

The model for ‘sustainable development’ as espoused in official UN documents cannot withstand a serious critique. A real sustainability requires a change of economic paradigm, not a continuation of the industrialist/capitalist/consumerist economic model that is dependent on unimpaired profits.

An Attempt to Define SustainabilityImage

There is a conflict among the different ways people understand sustainability and sustainable development. The definition of the 1987 Brundland Report of the United Nations is classic: Sustainable development is one that attends the needs of present generations without endangering the capacity of future generations to attend to their needs and aspirations. This concept is correct, but it has two important limitations: it is anthropocentric (it only considers human beings) and it says nothing about the community of life (other living beings that also need a biosphere and sustainability).

Let’s make a formulation that is as inclusive as possible: Sustainable development is every action destined to maintain the energy, information, and physical-chemical conditions that make all beings sustainable, especially the living Earth, the community of life and human life, seeking their continuity, and also to attend the needs of present and future generations in such a way that the natural capital is maintained and its capacity of regeneration, reproduction and eco-evolution is enriched.

Let’s rapidly explain the terms of this holistic vision:

To make sustainable all the conditions necessary for the creation of all beings: they exist starting with the combination of energies, of the physical-chemical and informative elements that, combined together, give origin to everything

To make sustainable all beings: this is about completely overcoming anthropocentrism. All beings emerge from the process of evolution and enjoy an intrinsic value, independent of human use.

To especially make the living Earth sustainable: the Earth is much more than a «thing» (res extensa), lacking intelligence, or a mere means of production. She does not contain life; she is alive, she self-regulates, self-regenerates and evolves. If we do not guarantee the sustainability of the living Earth, called Gaia, we take away the basis of all other forms of sustainability.

To also make the community of life sustainable: the environment does not exist as something secondary and peripheral. We do not just exist: we coexist, and are all interdependent. All living beings are carriers of the same basic genetic alphabet. We form the net of life, microorganisms included. This net creates the biomass and the biodiversity that is necessary for the subsistence of our life on this planet.

To make human life sustainable: we are a singular link of the net of life, the most complex being in our solar system and a spearhead of the process of evolution as we know it, because we are carriers of consciousness, sensibility and intelligence. We feel that we are called upon to care for and to guard Mother Earth, to guarantee the continuity of civilization and also to be vigilant of our destructive capacity.

To make the continuity of the process of evolution sustainable: all beings are conserved and supported by the Basic Energy or the Source that Creates all Beings. The universe possesses an end in itself, by the simple fact of existing, of continuing to expand and create itself.

To make tending to human needs sustainable: through the rational and caring use of the goods and services which the cosmos and the Earth offer us, and without which we would cease to exist. To make sustainable our generation and the generations that will follow ours: the Earth is sufficient for each generation so long as a relation of synergy and cooperation with the Earth is established, and goods and services are distributed equitably. The use of those goods must be guided by generational solidarity. Future generations have the right to inherit a well preserved Earth and nature.

Sustainability is measured by the capacity to conserve natural capital, that it may renew itself and, perhaps through human genius, that it may be enriched for future generations. This widened and integrating concept of sustainability must serve as criteria for evaluating whether or not we have progressed along the path of sustainability, and should serve equally as inspiration or idea-generating for making sustainability a reality in the different fields of human activity. Without it, sustainability is pure rhetoric of no consequence

Durban Conference: Questionable Expectations

As the world meets in Durban, South Africa, for what has become a yearly attempt to secure a global response to climate change, let us look back on 20 years of events that have brought negotiations to this point.

1988. The IPCC is born
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is established in response to record heat levels, droughts and studies that point to carbon dioxide as a factor in global warming. Set up by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) ant the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the panel is seen as both a political and a scientific body. Through the review and assessment of the scientific, technical and socioeconomic information, it aims to enhance global understanding of climate change and the consequences thereof.

1990. Experts warn of a pressing need to tackle global warming
In its first assessment report, the IPCC predicts a rise in global mean temperature of some 0.3 degrees Celsius per decade throughout the 21st century. The increase would be greater than the experienced over the previous 10,000 years. The panel warns that the trend towards serious global warming can only be stopped if ‘strong measures’ are put in place to tackle it.

1992. US shows first signs og going it alone
Rio de Janeiro hosts the Earth Summit which leads to 154 nations signing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The aim of the convention is to reduce emissions from industrialized countries to 1990 levels by the year 2000. While the majority of signatories call for mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, US President George W. Bush insists that any targets or timetables must be entirely voluntary and non-binding.

1995. Berlin mandate paves the way for the Kyoto Protocol
In the spring of what is the hottest year on record thus far, Berlin hosts the first UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP). Industrialized nations agree on the need for longer-term action to prevent climate change, and the session results in the Berlin Mandate. Under the terms of the declaration, which lays the groundwork for the Kyoto Protocol, legally binding obligations commit industrialized nations to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By now, economic growth in China means it is en route to become the largest greenhouse gas polluter by 2010.

1997. Kyoto Protocol is adopted but not ratified
On December 11, the Kyoto Protocol is adopted in the Japanese city of the same name. According to its core principle of «common but differentiated responsibility,» industrialized countries responsible for climate change have to do more to solve the problem than developing nations. The document agrees legally binding emissions cuts for industrialized nations and sets a target of reducing 1990 levels by 5.2 percent before the year 2012. The USA says it will not ratify the Protocol until it sees developing countries do their bit.

2001. President George W. Bush pulls the US out
Despite campaign promises to tackle the problem of America’s greenhouse gas emissions, when George W. Bush enters the White House, he pulls the US out of the Kyoto Protocol, which he describes as «fatally flawed in fundamental ways.» He justifies the move on the grounds that Kyoto fails to address two major pollutants –black soot and tropospheric ozone– and would have «a negative economic impact.» The Bush administration’s decision not to ratify the Protocol forces the delays of its implementation.

2002. Russia is put in a decisive position
In order to come into effect, Kyoto has to be ratified by nations collectively responsible for 55 percent of emissions from the industrialized world. European Union countries and Japan press ahead with ratification, but with the US no longer in the game, there is little room for anyone else to back out. Australia follows Bush’s lead, leaving Russia holding the final card.

2004. Moscow finally agrees to ratify Kyoto
After a long period of uncertainty, on November 18, Moscow ratifies the Kyoto Protocol. Although there are fears that the agreement could have a negative impact on economic growth, talk of stronger EU support for Russia’s bid to become a member of the World Trade Organization helps to tip the scales.

2005. Kyoto comes into effect but its limitations are clear
Kyoto comes into effect seven years after it was agreed. Ratified by 144 countries, the treaty aims to reduce the emissions by 5.2 percent by 2012. Major developing nations, such as India and China, are not yet required to meet targets. The European Union launches its Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), limiting levels of greenhouse gases from large industrial emitters of carbon dioxide. Under the scheme, companies are given emissions allowances to buy and sell among themselves. The plan is to cut allowances gradually to reduce emissions.

2007. Bali talks start a critical countdown
Tensions reach a boiling point at the 2007 Climate Conference in Bali. Countries’ failure to reach consensus on a successor to Kyoto proves too much for UN climate chief Yvo de Boer, who dramatically breaks down in tears. Nerves fray as China appears to walk out and the US chief negotiator is openly jeered. The world eventually agrees to pursue two tracks of negotiations: one on extending Kyoto and another on a potentially new agreement. Delegates give themselves two years to settle the question.

2009. Copenhagen descends into farce
Hopes abound that Copenhagen will conclude with a tough legally-binding agreement for the planet. Not since the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 have so many world leaders come together in one place. With Barack Obama in the White House, there is speculation of grater US commitment and many hope China and India will sign up to targets. The talks end instead in acrimonious chaos. The most to emerge are references to significant financial incentives for poor countries, and grater –if voluntary– pledges to cut emissions under the Copenhagen Accord.

2011. The death knell for Kyoto
Government representatives and climate experts meet in Durban for COP17. With the first phase of the Kyoto agreement due to expire at the end of next year, the need to decide on its future looms large. Japan, Russia and Canada have said they will only sign if all major economies, including China (now the world’s largest emitter) and the US are bound by mandatory targets. UN climate chief Christiana Figueres has already made clear that it is too late for Kyoto and that an interim solution will have to be found.

World climate talks in Cancun: a new kick in the teeth?

One year after efforts to plan a global climate treaty felt to pieces in Copenhagen, negotiators are going into this month’s United Nations summit in Cancun, Mexico, with brand new hopes – but limited expectations.

A man and a boy, displaced by floods, walk through flood waters, Pakistan (Photo: GETTY)

As almost 200 nations gathered in Cancun for the first day of climate talks on Monday 29, representatives were focused on securing smaller-scale agreements on issues fluctuating from deforestation to green technology-sharing, rather than a comprehensive pact on global warming.

Efforts to carry out a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol have slowed down in the midst of partial disagreements on binding emissions cuts – with the last big push to draw up a set of collective targets falling short at the UN summit in Copenhagen last December.

As a compromise, the Copenhagen Accord saw countries sketch out their climate protection approaches – but the last-minute document was non-binding and opposed by some developing countries.

Climate change is definitely tangible

At the opening of the talks, host and Mexican President Felipe Calderón emphasized that the effects of climate change were already being felt, with the most severe hurricanes on record in Mexico, flooding in Pakistan and the record heat wave that caused forest fires in Russia earlier this year.

« Climate change is beginning to make us pay for the fatal errors we as humanity have committed against the environment, » said president Calderón.

« It’s crucial for the international community to prove that Cancun can deliver progress, » EU Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard of Denmark, said in Brussels before departing for Mexico. « If not, I fear that some parties would lose patience in the UN process, » she warned.

Helping developing countries to handle the financial impacts of climate change remains a hot-button issue for negotiators.

International representatives see the two-week talks in Cancun as a fresh start and hope concrete steps forward will push away the crisis of confidence facing the latest round of negotiations.

Environmental lobbying

Environmental organizations are also putting more pressure on world governments to work through the deadlock.

The environmental group Greenpeace floated a hot air balloon past the nearby Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, in a symbolic gesture aimed at reminding delegates of the collapse of earlier advanced civilizations.

« For all their sophistication, the Mayans did not see their destruction coming. But we can see ours, » the group said in a press release (A message from the heart of the Mayan ruins).

Development agency Oxfam also warned of the risks of inaction at this year’s talks.

« The human impacts of climate change in 2010 send a powerful reminder why progress in Cancun is more urgent than ever, » said Tim Gore Climate Change advisor for Oxfam.

The issue of emissions cuts is also getting more targeted attention at the political level. The European Union has encouraged those countries with high greenhouse gas output to reduce emissions.

Despite political opposition in Congress, US President Barack Obama has said he will push toward his country’s promise to cut back emissions over the next decade. The United States is the world’s second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China.

But China is not enthusiastic with the panorama of binding emissions reduction targets – despite US calls that Beijing commit to cuts.

More than 70 cities sign pact in Mexico to fight against global warming

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Over a thousand local and regional representatives from 114 countries get together, from November 17 to 20, in Mexico, during the third World Congress of Cities and Governments (UCLG) that will go on Sunday 21 with the first World Summit of Mayors on climate in which will be signed the first International Register of sustainable initiatives in cities. The document will be presented to the UN Conference on climate, from November 29 to December 10 in Cancun, Mexico.

The mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, said that the “Pact of Mexico” would be signed November 21, during the first World Summit of Mayors on climate, by which cities around the world undertake to adopt figured and tangible targets on reduction of their CO2 emissions to fight against global warming. Hence, Los Angeles, Dakar, Mexico, Amsterdam, Jakarta, Sao Paulo, Paris want to commit to carry out ambitious climate policies – hoping that many other cities will join them.

The Mexico agreement will be presented at the 16th UN Conference on climate Nov. 29 in Cancun (Mexico). “This agreement is a way of pressuring governments that have not listened to the cities at the Copenhagen conference, ended in total failure”, said M. Delanoë, the mayor of Paris.

The claim of the presence of cities in climate negotiations is more than justified: more than half the world population lives in urban areas, which generate between 60% and 80% of CO2 emissions. Moreover, many cities have already committed more ambitious approaches than their countries’: “It is in the cities that the battle to curb global warming will be won. Yet we have not even been invited to Cancun”, Ebrard said.

Beyond this symbolic recognition, direct access from the cities to financial instruments to fight against climate change is at stake – future “green fund” and clean development mechanisms. At the end of the deal: billions of dollars that local officials hope to capture in a significant split – while in Copenhagen, states had decided to create an aid fund for the South without stating how money will be provided nor who will be granted to get hold of it!

It is with this objective that the Pact of Mexico wants to make local climate policies “measurable, reportable and verifiable”, according to UN criteria. Then the Pact must list them in a climate inventory of cities, called “Carbonn”, located in Bonn, Germany.

To set an example, the mayor of Mexico City has agreed a 14% reduction of greenhouse gases in the city by 2012. The “Green Plan” of the Mexican capital – launched in 2007 – plans to fall CO2 emissions by 7 million tons in 2012. This program has already helped cut greenhouse gas emissions by 4% (2,000,000 tons). Car traffic was limited, water pipes refurbished, bike paths and bus lanes built. Next step: to double the recycling of garbage, replace 45,000 polluting taxis, inaugurate a twelfth subway line and extending to 30,000 m2 area of rooftop gardens.

However, not all the signatory cities to the (not compulsory) pact will lead to similar commitments: most of them lack access to technologies to assess their reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, these cities need adequate training and technology to grow without polluting. The initiative, in short, is complicated because of the heterogeneity of urban areas in terms of size and richness. Its success will depend on transparency and decentralized cooperation between the cities of South and North.

Humanity devours the equivalent of a planet and a half

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Ecological footprint of humankind has doubled since 1966. According to the WWF environmental group report “Living Planet 2010“, released Wednesday October 13, human race now uses the equivalent of a planet and a half to meet its needs, mainly due to “overuse” of the richest countries .

The ecological footprint of humanity – in other words the land surface and the volume of water required to produce renewable resources used by the population over a year – has doubled since 1966. In addition, if nothing changes in our patterns of consumption, humankind will need “two planets per year” in 2030, warns the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

North Countries in the hot seat

WWF stresses the role of the richest countries in this development by noting down that – always on data from 2007 – OECD member countries, whose economies are among the richest in the world “accounted for 37 per cent of humanity’s Ecological Footprint.”

“If everyone in the world lived like an average resident of the United States or the United Arab Emirates, then a biocapacity equivalent to more than 4.5 Earths would be required to keep up with humanity’s consumption and CO2 emissions”,

In contrast,

“if everyone lived like the average resident of India, humanity would be using less than half the planet’s biocapacity.”

The United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Denmark, Belgium, the United States, Estonia, Canada, Australia, Kuwait and Ireland share the distinction of having “the biggest Ecological Footprint per person.” Hence, the overuse of the North is on the credit resources of the South — from which the formers take the profits. The report also highlights “an alarming rate of biodiversity loss in low-income countries.” The WWF report depicts an overall decline of biodiversity by 30% between 1970 and 2007. In the tropics, this decrease reached 60%.

The 2010 report looked at the future with this statement in mind:

“Humanity is currently consuming renewable resources at a faster rate than ecosystems can regenerate them and continuing to release more CO2 than ecosystems can absorb.”

Using a new tool called the Footprint Scenario Calculator, which was developed by the Global Footprint Network, the forecast showed that if the world proceeds with “business as usual,”

“… by 2030 humanity will need the capacity of two Earths to absorb CO2 waste and keep up with natural resource consumption.”

The World Wildlife Fund has posted an interactive graphic that shows the changes in biodiversity over the past 36 years.

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity, as declared by the United Nations.

Millennium Development Goals: Fragile states claim summit outcome off-target

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From September 20 to the 22nd, world leaders gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York to assess progress and challenges in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Adopted at the Millennium Summit in 2000, the eight goals represent a global commitment to reducing poverty and improving the lives of citizens in poor countries including through improved education and health.

What are the Millennium Development Goals?

* Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
* 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

The eight MDGs break down into 21 quantifiable targets that are measured by 60 indicators.

These goals are unique – unlike many summits and partnerships, they committed governments to specific and clear targets to be achieved by 2015. However, in the lead-up to the Summit it became clear that many of the identified targets would not be met in the next five years, despite real progress in several areas. Of particular concern is the group furthest from achieving the MDGs, fragile and post-conflict countries.

What distinguishes so-called fragile states from other low-income countries? These are the countries struggling with the legacy of conflict, and hampered by weak government legitimacy in addition to chronic poverty, particularly persistent in fragile states. According to the World Bank, 54 percent of the population in fragile countries lives in poverty, compared to an average of 22 percent for all low-income countries. A recent report by the Center on Global Development identifies the ‘MDG laggards,’ those furthest from achieving the goals. As the report notes, “Not surprisingly, the list of MDG laggards consists mainly of post-conflict countries or fragile states.” Eight of the twelve currently have UN peacekeeping operations, one of the clearest signs of fragility.

This is no surprise. Shaken by customary cyclical violence, the institutions of government and their ability to deliver services are often severely weakened or shattered. Limited infrastructure and, frequently, corruption and poor governance breed significant obstacles to the realization of the MDGs, as the basic foundations for development are missing.

In fact, the preeminence of the MDGs as a guide for aid to fragile and post-conflict countries is questionable. In the group of fragile states, not one has achieved even a single MDG. The emphasis by international aid and development institutions on achievement of the MDGs has also shifted attention – and financing – away from other, urgent needs in fragile states. This reality challenges long-held assumption about development, raising the question of whether these are the right – or the only – global goals for this set of particularly vulnerable countries.

Recognition of this incongruence has led to efforts to enhance the MDGs with specific goals for post-conflict countries. In Afghanistan, a ninth goal – security – was adopted after Afghan citizens identified insecurity as their greatest challenge, emphasizing that basic security is a prerequisite for achieving the MDGs. In 2010, the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, which brings together representatives from fragile states, donors, and international aid and development organizations, identified a set of goals for post-conflict countries “as stepping stones to achieve progress on development” that could serve as the foundation for further articulation of peacebuilding and statebuilding goals. As the Minister of Finance in Timor-Leste, Emilia Pires, recently noted at a side event to the MDG Summit on fragile states, “Aid is given based on MDG criteria, and from our experience we have found out that before we can get the MDGs, we have to do a few things first. We have to have peace and stability.”

Debates in the overture of Summit saw a split between those advocating for a particular focus on the least developed countries and those in favor of additional focus on middle-income countries that have demonstrated progress towards the MDG. Institutional support has either sought to focus on those areas that have demonstrated results, or those that are most in need. However, these distinctions fail to depict the specific needs of fragile states, identified in the Outcome Document of the Summit, which recognizes “the specific development challenges related to peacebuilding and early recovery in countries affected by conflict and the effect of these challenges on their efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.”

As leaders return from the Summit, reflecting on progress made and challenges ahead, it is critical that they stop to assess current efforts in fragile and post-conflict states. These countries are furthest from achieving the MDGs, the most in need, and those most at risk of setback to conflict or failing – presenting real security challenges both regionally and globally. Any action plan moving forward requires a specific focus on the MDG ‘laggards’ to ensure that they are not left out of any ‘big push’ for the achievement of the MDGs over the next five years.

Related posts:

· The African Governance Crisis (1/4) · A sift inventory of Africa’s development problems
· The African Governance Crisis (2/4) · The Consequences of Reforms on the African Civil Service
· The African Governance Crisis (3/4) · Rehabilitating the African Civil Service
· The African Governance Crisis (4/4) · Do Reforms Inhibit or Support African Development?


· Together for a Better Peace
· Center for Global Development
· Eurostep
· Sustainable Public Financial Management
· Guardian Development Network

The Art of Waste Management (2)

Key Benchmarks for Assessment

There are a number of concepts about waste management which vary in their usage between countries or regions. Some of the most general, widely-used concepts include:

1. Waste Hierarchy: The waste hierarchy refers to the “3 Rs” reduce, reuse and recycle, which classify waste management strategies according to their desirability in terms of waste minimization. The waste hierarchy remains the cornerstone of most waste minimization strategies. The aim of the waste hierarchy is to extract the maximum practical benefits from products and to generate the minimum amount of waste (Wikipedia 2008).

2. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR): This is a strategy designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with products throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 1999).Extended producer responsibility imposes accountability over the entire life cycle of products and packaging introduced on the market. This means that firms, which manufacture, import and/or sell products and packaging, are required to be financially or physically responsible for such products after their useful life. They must either take back spent products and manage them through reuse, recycling or in energy production, or delegate this responsibility to a third party, a so-called Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO), which is paid by the producer for spent-product management. In this way, EPR shifts responsibility for waste from government to private industry, obliging producers, importers and/or sellers to internalise waste management costs in their product prices (Hanisch 2000). A life-cycle perspective is also taken in Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) frameworks: “Producers of products should bear a significant degree of responsibility (physical and/or financial) not only for the environmental impacts of their products downstream from the treatment and disposal of their product, but also for their upstream activities inherent in the selection of materials and in the design of products” (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001). “The major impetus for EPR came from northern European countries in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as they were facing severe landfill shortages. EPR is generally applied to post-consumer wastes which place increasing physical and financial demands on municipal waste management” (Environment Protection Authority New South Wales 2003).

3. Polluter Pays Principle:  In environmental law, the polluter pays principle is the principle that the party responsible for producing pollution should also be responsible for paying for the damage done to the natural environment. With respect to waste management, this generally refers to the requirement for a waste generator to pay for appropriate disposal of the waste. Polluter pays is also known as extended polluter responsibility (EPR). This is a concept that was probably first described by the Swedish government in 1975. EPR seeks to shift the responsibility dealing with waste from governments (and thus, taxpayers and society at large) to the entities producing it. In effect, it internalises the cost of waste disposal into the cost of the product, theoretically meaning that the producers will improve the waste profile of their products, thus decreasing waste and increasing possibilities for reuse and recycling (Wikepedia 2008). Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development defines extended polluter responsibility as:
A concept where manufacturers and importers of products should bear a significant
degree of responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products throughout the product life-cycle, including upstream impacts inherent in the selection of materials for the products, impacts from manufacturers’ production process itself, and downstream impacts from the use and disposal of the products. Producers accept their responsibility when designing their products to minimise life-cycle environmental impacts, and when accepting legal, physical or socio-economic responsibility for environmental impacts that cannot be eliminated by design (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001).

4. Zero Waste: This is a philosophy that aims to guide people in the redesign of their resourceuse system with the aim of reducing waste to zero. Put simply, zero waste is an idea to extend the current ideas of recycling to form a circular system where as much waste as possible is reused, similar to the way it is in nature (Wikepedia 2008). Zero waste requires that we maximize our existing recycling and reuse efforts, while ensuring that products are designed for the environment and having the potential to be repaired, reused, or recycled (“What is Zero Waste? 2004). The zero-waste strategy is to turn the outputs from every resource-use into the input for another use, or in other words outputs become inputs. An example of this might be the cycle of a glass milk bottle. The primary input (or resource) is silica-sand, which is formed into glass and formed into a bottle. The bottle is filled with milk and distributed to the consumer. At this point normal waste methods would see the bottle disposed in a landfill or similar, but with a zerowaste method the bottle can be saddled with a deposit, at the time of sale, which is redeemed to the bearer upon return. The bottle is then washed, refilled, and re-sold. The only material waste is the wash-water, and energy loss has been minimized. Zero Waste is a goal, a process, a way of thinking that profoundly changes our approach to resources and production. Not only is Zero Waste about recycling and diversion from landfills, it also restructures production and distribution systems to prevent waste from being manufactured in the first place. In addition, the materials that are still required in these re-designed, resource-efficient systems will be recycled back into production (Roper 2006: p. 326).

· Ackerman F 1997. Why Do We Recycle?: Markets, Values, and Public Policy. Washington: Island Press.
· Alan B 2007. The Self-Sufficiency Handbook: A Complete Guide to Greener Living. New York: Skyhorse Publishing Inc.
· Castell A, Clift R, Francae C 2004. Extended Producer Responsibility Policy in the European Union: A Horse or a Camel? Journal of Industrial Ecology, 8: 4 – 7.
· Hanisch C 2000. Is Extended Producer Responsibility Effective? Environ Sci. Technol, 34: 170 -175.
· Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001. Extended Producer Responsibility: A Guidance Manual for Governments. Paris, France. From Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development fact sheet about EPR:<;
· Roper W 2006. Strategies for building material reuses and recycle. International Journal of Environmental Technology and Management, 6: 313 – 345.
· The Economist, Weekly, June 7, 2007 “The truth about recycling” <;
· The League of Women Voters 1993. The Garbage Primer. New York: Lyons & Burford, pp. 35-72.
· Tierney J 1996. Recycling Is Garbage. New York Times, Daily, June 30, 1996, P. 3.
· Tong X., Lifset R, Lindhqvist T 2004. Extended Producer Responsibility in China: Where is Best Practice? Journal of Industrial Ecology, 8: 6-9.
· Wikipedia 2008. Recycling. Website 2008 <http://>;
· Winter J 2007. A world without waste-The ‘zero waste’ movement imagines a future where everything is a renewable resource. The Boston Globe, pp. 1-3. From LexisNexis database: Website 2008 <https://>;
· Zero Waste California Fact Sheet 2004. What is Zero Waste California?  From Website 2008 <http:// gov/WhatIs.htm>

The Art of Waste Management (1)

Pigou, the economist who wanted to tax the smog

Cecil Arthur Pigou (1877-1959)

Founder of the Polluter Pays Principle, the English economist Arthur Cecil Pigou comes out of the shadows.

British Petroleum has assumed responsibility for the oil disaster occurred April 21 in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion of the floating platform releases tons of oil and threatens the entire U.S. Gulf Coast. BP noted that the Polluter Pays Principle (PPP) does not suffer further discussion. This principle is based on measures adopted since forty years to prevent the damage inflicted on nature by the producers, repair them in case of accident or punish them for violations.

This principle of polluter pays appeared as such in the work of an English liberal economist Arthur Cecil Pigou (1877-1959). As a supporter of regulation by the markets, the founder of the Economic School of Cambridge noted that, left to themselves, these markets suffer from imperfections. For example, they do not take into account the “external” costs of products, such as pollution. In The Economics of Welfare (1920), he developed the idea that an economic agent whose activities generate negative externalities makes the community to support a cost higher than it supports as a private agent. Rather than banning the activity, it was necessary to discourage putting a price on its negative effects. This was to be paid in the form of taxes that would eliminate the gap between the private cost and social cost of this activity. Pigou proposed e.g. to introduce such a tax on emissions from London smokestacks to fight against smog.

This same reasoning led him to advocate a compulsory health insurance: what one pays to stay healthy, for example, by vaccinating, has positive externalities on the environment which yet does not participate in the expenses. This positive externality therefore deserved to be distributed equitably.

By the time they were issued, these ideas have not been successful. A proposed tax could frighten the economic establishment, yet close to Pigou for his views on the flexibility of labor markets and hostility to regulation of wages. Regarding left-winger economists and thinkers, they excluded that pollution — considered a crime — could be any bargain, as if a polluter stopped being left when becoming a payer. Having also objected to John Maynard Keynes, whom he was professor, Pigou found himself in the shadow of the glory ousted by his prestigious student and friend.

The increase of environmental risks and environmental accidents in the second half of the twentieth century, however, brought his reflections on the front of the stage. Faced with threats to ban their dangerous activities, or a highly restrictive state control, farmers have gradually agreed to take responsibility in this area and consider the management of adverse consequences of their productions. In 1972, the OECD erected the polluter-pays basis for the protection of the environment. In 2003, the European Parliament did the same, following what several countries did before — Denmark and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, a derived concept, the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), stated that

“producers of products should bear a significant degree of responsibility (physical and/or financial) not only for the environmental impacts of their products downstream from the treatment and disposal of their product, but also for their upstream activities inherent in the selection of materials and in the design of products”.

These words, which seem commonplace today, took almost sixty years to be heard.

The CO2 tax introduced in countries as Sweden and Switzerland in 2008 and 2009 is the quintessential example of a “Pigouvian” tax. It is not about an income tax because the entire collection is redistributed to citizens (through medical insurance) but it is save incentive as it rises fuel prices. Without ideological opponent confessed, the carbon tax has many practical issues however: as it makes consumer to bear the responsibility for pollution, it faces strong political obstacles. Many countries prefer CO2 emission quotas instead, allowing trading on an international market for quotas established by the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 — signed and ratified by 187 states to date.

If the concept of responsibility was installed in people’s minds, and if the economic explanatory of externalities proposed by Pigou found an echo within the political left, there is yet no international system that institutionalizes the application form as to guarantee the neutrality and impartiality. The concept occupies many researchers — as many skeptics who are ready to set off the alarms at the slightest attempt.

A Pigou Club, founded in 2006 by the American Republican economist Gregory Mankiw, ensure the sustainability of pigouvisme in its various interpretations. It includes among its sixty members well-known economists like Paul Krugman, Nouriel Roubini, Ralph Nader or Jeffrey Sachs, politicians like Michael Bloomberg and Al Gore and even the actor William Baldwin. Them all support the principle of a gas tax or CO2, and any form of eco-tax to internalize the same social and environmental costs of energy. Some of them, not all, call for offsetting tax cuts on income or sales.

From where he is, Arthur Cecil Pigou watches his new friends with an ironic satisfaction. We guess, behind his mustache, the pleasure of victory.



· Cecil Arthur Pigou, The Economics of Welfare, Library of Congress (U.S.), 2009
· Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2001. Extended Producer Responsibility: A Guidance Manual for Governments. Paris, France. From Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development fact sheet about EPR:<; (Retrieved February 2010).

The Complex Game of Wrong Impressions – A First Balance on Copenhagen

>> Haga clic aquí para la versión en castellano

Beyond the political and scientific debate, economists make different analysis on a meeting that brought together more than 180 countries whose commitments regularly lacked of consistency: some advocate the growth model through expansion, other propose corrective measures more or less significant.

U.S. and Chinese positions, though contradictory, are no less obvious and essential, since it is impossible to imagine a positive outcome to the climate challenge without the support of both countries.

And what about the help of more than 7,000 million promised by the European Union that seemed initially to account for and optimistic output of the summit?

The rush of numbers is exhausting and often unnecessary. In this case, let us aim at misconceptions…

First: Macro meetings as Kyoto and Copenhagen have a realistic chance of success? Unfortunately, not (not always). In Kyoto, the aim was to limit the effects of the emission of greenhouse gases by 2012: Russia agreed to limit at 33% – in fact it simply did 0% – Spain promised to increase up to 15% – and did so by 54%. We better look after more realistic goals…

Second misconception: China is the leading global polluter. True, in gross terms, false in relative terms. Just remember that each Chinese pollutes four times less than an American. Furthermore, much of China’s pollution is the result of production for developed countries.

US is self-centred and does not make a move. Fascinating misinformation – manipulation? During this time American industry continues to invest in green energy. The Obama plan is a firm commitment to renewable energies, with volumes going from 1 to 20 in contrast to what Europeans planned – the ineffective French stimulus plan, for example. Many U.S. states have long acted individually. And since a decade, the US public opinion has evolved. What is more, American industry and business circles have changed their frame of mind. American employers face two opposing clans: on the one hand, polluters with hard entrenched positions – the powerful coal industry provides over half the energy consumed in this country, so huge interest which one cannot imagine in Europe – and on the other, a group of companies that calls repeatedly the federal government to establish clear standards and set uniform federal marks in order to harmonize practices rather than lead to a patchwork in which the industry – and in fine jobs — cannot develop properly. They also wish to clarify the price of oil in the mid term so as to know what kind of investments they will perform. The inimitable Sarah Palin issued an article in the Washington Post that gives a good idea of the hardness of the debate in the U.S. …

Europe is exemplary. Overall yes, Europe has played the game and has done more than other continents. On the other hand: no. Austria, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Spain have not achieved at all what they promised. And let us speak of Denmark, the summit’s host, which boasts of making 20% of its electricity from wind power, forgetting that 80% comes from highly polluting hydroelectrics.

Transportation segment is the main cause of GHG emissions. False. The main polluter is the production of energy itself. Even worse, agriculture, which in developed countries represents every day a smaller portion of its GDP, is one of the most important sources of CO2 emissions, even greater than the automotive: a cow produces 3.4 tonnes of  CO2 per year, while a usual car produces 1.8 Tn.

Some may point out miracle solutions to survive. i.e. renewable energy, electric car. All it takes to be convinced of the contrary is to recall that those energies and devices represent only 2.5% approx. of global electricity consumption. That consumption is projected to be 10% in 2030 but nothing is less certain. Regarding the electric car, its theoretical part is expected to be of 10% of the fleet in 2020 – the most reasonable analysis expect it to reach 3%

When the true ideas?

Just in case: Would you prefer that your car emits less CO2 or would you rather prefer to lose your job? It is not necessary to go against climate progress to choose the correct check box.

Related Posts:

Countdown to Copenhagen
Climate Change: Preparing a New Protocol (I)
Climate Change: Expectations for the New Protocol (II)
Climate Change: Upcoming meetings (III)

The Invisible Human: A World Without Us

>> Haga clic aquí para la versión en castellano.

What if an asteroid hit the Earth and humanity suddenly ceased to exist? How would the Earth survive or thrive without us?

Human bustle is like footsteps in the sand. Everything we do leaves a spot – whether it’s making a cup of tea, switching on a light button, or using a computer. All these apparently ordinary and unexciting duties require energy, which often adds heating gases to our atmosphere and increases our waste. As the human population grows, the Earth is struggling to carry our weight.

In this Earth beat, have a look on Alan Weisman’s site and book The World Without Us and imagine how natural and built environments would look if we disappeared.

People probably won’t be disappearing anytime soon, but possibly there is way we can make ourselves invisible. Take it from Colin Beavan, who calls himself the No Impact Man. He spent an entire year trying not just to lessen his environmental footprint, but erase it all together.



Future generations’ fate is at stake in Copenhagen

Negotiators will try to reach a political compromise on fighting climate change in Copenhagen

Negotiators will try to reach a political compromise on fighting climate change in Copenhagen. Countries including the United States are backing away from commitments made two years ago to fight climate change.

Only globally coordinated international law that is binding and can be enforced through sanctions when violated is capable of possibly preventing Greenland’s ice sheet from significantly melting, semi-arid regions from drying to the point where millions of people are forced to flee and extreme weather conditions from a state of irreversible damage even wealthy countries’ economic powers.

If we continue to build coal-fired power plants and increase our use of gasoline and diesel vehicles, then we will literally be burning up many people’s futures. Approximately half of the carbon dioxide generated by that exhaust will remain in the atmosphere for centuries to come, and will continue to accumulate – unless we reduce output by at least 50 percent – and will raise temperatures in the lower atmosphere, the surface of the Earth and gradually the inner-regions of the ocean to levels which homo-sapiens have never experienced.

Only after a delay of decades will the full level of warming be reached, which will only be complete after centuries. Sea levels will continue to rise for centuries even without further warming of surface temperatures.

Humanity has never had to solve a long-term problem such as this, which is why our present political infrastructure is of little use for this phenomenal task. We need global domestic policies such as those of the European Union that already exist for a small portion of the international community.


Carry out the polluter-pays principle

Burning coal is like burning people's futures

As yet, every country deals with the external effects of supplying energy in its own ways. Nearly all countries go so far as to promote global warming by reducing the prices of all or some fossil fuels for all or some portions of their populations, and they saddle succeeding generations or the general public – but not the emitters – with external effects such as health costs, air pollution or climate damage. Each year, direct or indirect subsidies account by approximation for 300 billion Euros ($450 billion) worldwide. Nearly all humans pay nothing for the emission of hazardous substances such as illness-causing diesel soot, and fainthearted European emissions trading of carbon dioxide is still far removed from an actual internalization of such external effects.

In Germany a kilowatt hour of electricity generated by a black coal-fired plant should cost 7 euro cents more with adherence to all environmental costs and 8.9 euro cents in the case of brown coal, which means that wind power, with an electricity-compensation price of 8.5 euro cents today, would already be cheaper than energy generated by brown coal. All the same, the large electricity distributors continue to speak of subsidizing renewable energy sources and most citizens parrot what they say.

Energy providers in Europe would only be acceptable choices as suppliers if their portfolios included a portion of renewable energy sources larger than the overall average. At much less than 2 percent, they lie miles beneath today’s average of 11 percent of energy coming from renewable sources.


What would a Copenhagen Protocol a success?

First of all, when it includes binding and stronger emissions reductions for all industrialized countries by 2020 of at least 25 percent measured against the output of emissions in 1990.

Second, if the integration of countries with emerging markets – which encompass about half of all humans and in several of which the per-capita emission level is rapidly approaching our own – were to succeed along with initial reduction measures through partial financial compensation of their reduction and adaptation measures through global emissions trading amongst industrialized countries.

Third, if industrialized countries give financial support for measures to adapt to the changing climate to particularly affected developing nations.

All of the above was already covered in the declaration of the 13th United Nations Climate Change Conference on Bali.

Industrialized nations should help emerging countries adapt to climate change

But now several countries are hesitating, including the United States. Its new president is being limited by the long-term effects of erroneous politics led by a public and its representatives who are so unwilling to see the facts that the average US citizen will remain the front-runner when it comes to emissions for a long time to come.

Fourth, I would like to see a commitment to a long-term objective of emission equality, recognition of the equal rights of every human to produce emissions, and therefore much stronger emissions reductions for strong emitters such as the United States and the United Arab Emirates as a precondition for global emissions trade – adherence to the polluter-pays principle. Emissions would cost money and the market would initiate a rapid alteration to the energy supply system. We would only need a five-thousandth of the potential energy of the sun, and every country would have the bulk of its energy resources (sun, wind, water) within its borders. The conflicts connected to the appropriation of oil and gas would be things of the past.

But even should this succeed, coming generations will still have to carry the burden because we did not undertake the comparatively marginal effort of emissions reduction as compared to the cost of adaptation. This is in part because we did not initially know about the issue, and then nearly all of us suppressed it, and in part we still do not want to recognize it.

Should nothing be accomplished in Copenhagen, the possibility that in the 22nd century many cities with millions of inhabitants on weakly protected coastlines will further sink rapidly increases. Even before that occurs, millions of people will have been displaced from regions of industrialized nations distressed by water.

South is the First Victim of Global Warming

Several surveys confirm that poor countries will be the first victims of climate change, even if, being low emitters of greenhouse gases, they are less responsible.

cc_report_mapA report published early September 2009 by Maplecroft –  a British cabinet expertise on global risks – shows that the most vulnerable countries to global warming are Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. Twenty-two of the 28 countries exposed to “extreme risk” are located in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the meantime, the Asian Development Bank presented in Manila the results of a conclusive report: melting of Himalayan glaciers threatens the food security and water availability of 1.6 billion inhabitants of South Asia. In New York, Rob Vos, director of the UN  Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), ruled that ” If we do not reduce significantly GHG emissions, the damage to the [economies of] poor countries as a percentage of GDP[ gross domestic product] will be up more than ten times greater than in the United States and most other developed countries ” [1] . Mr. Vos commented on the report by his department. According to the conclusions, investments should be done every year in climate change mitigation and adaptation to its effects by 1 % of world’s GDP, i.e. more than 500 billion dollars.

A few months earlier, in May 2009, the United Nations had issued a report about the international strategy on risk reduction -launched in 2000. The document operates the first synthesis of knowledge about natural disasters that have occurred between 1975 and 2008. Even if he admits the document is not exhaustive, the text nevertheless represents a unique body of knowledge.

Between 1975 and 2008, 8.866 disasters have killed 2.284.000. Regarding flooding, the risk of death increased by 13% between 1990 and 2007. The picture is not, if we dare say, equally catastrophic. The absolute number of human or economic losses increases throughout the period, but it remains proportionately stable because of demographic and global GDP growth.

But according to UN experts, the situation would deteriorate because of climate change and ecosystems degradation. The latter is a factor too often ignored. Albeit not apple to apples, ecosystems manage to cushion the impact of natural disasters. Regarding climate change, it will increase the risk of disasters. The vulnerability of populations is one of the other factors that accentuate the risks. Action by Governments (earthquake standards, etc.) becomes crucial: Japan and the Philippines suffer roughly the same number of typhoons, but they cause 17 times more deaths in the Philippines than in Japan.

Have a look on Mr. Rob Vos’ press conference here enclosed:

[1] 2009 World Economic and Social Survey: Promoting Development, Saving the Planet.

Sustainable Cities for Freedom and Environment (3)

The city and its operation

Previous articles outlined the way to configure cities in order they become sustainable or not. Sustainability depends on the city functionality itself as well – the aim of this third article.

gcahs_footer_bannerAdam Smith in his invisible hand hypothesis stated that market optimizes the distribution, enabling better allocation of resources without public intervention. It can also operate by creating unwanted situations to market players (cases of monopoly, cartels, lack of coordination, etc.) and then worsening the social scene.

For instance, the decision to travel by private car instead of using public transport can outcome the worst case scenario. In this direction, several investigations have revealed that it would take less to London bus users – as in any other city – than motorists to move from one place to another if there were less cars. Hence the idea of Mayor Livingston of an expensive access to London downtown by private car in order to provide greater flexibility to surface and underground public transport.

Urban planning is therefore absolutely essential for coexistence and progress. Consequently, European citizens from the early nineteenth century claimed to eliminate obstacles (walls down!). They claimed broaden their cities, which became progressively constrained by sea, hills, and old walls – now absolutely unnecessary, with severe communication problems, crowding and hygiene.

In this context, it was clear to Ildefonso Cerdà when designing the Eixample (urban expansion) of Barcelona that the city should be open, cosmopolitan, outside connected by well done road and rail networks… But above all, it had to be habitable for citizens. The city would grow in small islands: city blocks chamfered, with large inner garden patios, thus uniting the best of countryside life with the advantages of the city. Even then, many Barcelonans turned these courtyards into dedicated warehouses, small factories, and even buildings.

The Cerdà’s pioneering urban planning (1860) through areas, gardens and building expansions – quite different from the internal reform of Haussmann (1852) in Paris – is our daily bread. Managements of urban municipalities generally deal with this responsibility. They have to operate with long-term vision – avoiding short-termism that under-sizes capabilities and services with serious further quicken consequences. In this direction, planning must address a number of priority issues on water, air, noise, energy, waste, health, housing, and transportation.

Cleaner Water
Human intervention in water availability has quantity and quality implications as water used in cities floods back to environment, thus closing a cycle already enforced. Thus, sewage without any treatment, returning to their natural environment, creates serious pollution of rivers and aquifers. To avoid such an issue, the European Water Charter (1968) marked a series of objectives that have been largely completed in the EU-15 – while it remains outstanding work in some of the new 27 Member States of the Union.

In addition, water consumption has to be rationalized: in most large cities, a cubic meter of clean water is less expensive than a Coke at a bar, then increasing produced waste. Consequently, it is essential to charge water waste, starting with a low prices block about 60 liters a day – subsequently changing basic allowance – and then becoming gradually more expensive.

The topic is most evident in cities where sustainability is not shining for its excellence. The most valuable asset – what we breathe 24 hours a day – is consumed in very inadequate conditions. The air of London in the mid 1950s, with frequent smog waves, became suffocating. Following these situations a clean air policy arose, with the first laws, specifically British, in 1955. European Countries came after with further regulation mechanisms.

In summary, the most essential is to ensure clean air, with sensors networking and a very long series of measures that would not exceed the allowable cap, forcing the phasing out of most harmful emission sources.

Everyone agrees – starting with psychologists and psychiatrists – that noise is one of the environmental factors that affect most the quality of life. From small discomforts, more or less anecdotal, to levels of irreversible disorders in the human mind.

Definition of noise is well known:

“The sound, or set of sounds that are perceived by human beings, and that alter the acoustical medium within they normally move.”

…with the additional peculiarity that everything depends on the inevitability of impact also. Regarding the latter, a noise is obliged to be heeded, and even foreseeable at the time – as when a summer storm occurs, or when the passage of a train at a fixed time takes place, or when children voices arise from the playground in the courtyard of a school near you – and then the sound waves seem justified, and the trouble is diluted. Not at all when the roar of an uncontrolled neighbor turntable in its 50 watts comes to you, or when it deals with crying on Friday night in usually quiet streets, on these occasions everything just become the most detestable.

Among the most aggressive acoustic dealings, the continuous traffic of suburban highway (along with hundreds of miles of noise barriers) should be condemned – and what about major arteries within metropolitan area, and even in the formerly quiet streets in ancient downtowns?  In these ways, some motorists “do their best” traveling at full speed – as if they were in Silverstone. And it is certainly no less remarkable ambulances, day or night roistering circulating, carrying patients or not, whose sirens wailing penetrate your eardrums at completely unnecessary noise levels.

But most of all, among the most inconvenient and unnecessary noises, the urban cleaning must be pointed: the unpleasant scavenging machines in the vicinity of 100 dB, apart the absurd beep when they reverse or their stressful light pollution – equipments that go together with by “air gun carriers’”, top-mask and earplugs outfitted, raising dust clouds in the din with a volume of noise just about unbelievable – especially when you compare with the very human scavengers who still survive. All these issues must be fought, and there are many resources to do so, starting with the municipalities – now the main causing actors of noise.

Otherwise, cities as microcosm would become unsustainable.

Related posts:

>>Sustainable Cities for Freedom and Environment (1) – An Overview on Urban Developmental Evidences
>>Sustainable Cities for Freedom and Environment (2) – Prospects, Proposals and Local Agenda-21