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Archive for the ‘multidisciplinary’ Category

For your consideration:

The recently started Biodiversity Offsets Blog aims to provide an interdisciplinary platform for the information and exchange on Biodiversity Offsets and the Mitigation Hierarchy.

The goal is to mainstream and facilitate the discussion on Biodiversity Offsets. The focus lies on biodiversity offsets as such (not market based instruments or other more general topics). The formerly widespread information shall be brought together to make it easily accessible for a maximum of people and thereby to unite the societal debate with academic findings and practical insights. This includes joining different perspectives (biodiversity offsets are not restricted to the interest of business).
The Biodiversity Offsets Blog combines general information (including an updated list of experts, literature, websites etc.) with frequent blog posts on new articles, scientific papers, political news, offset examples on the ground and so on.
As the platform shall bring people and their expertise together, all those who are interested are encouraged to share their knowledge, views, questions or concerns and help to build a broad information base. Find out more on www.biodiversityoffsets.net.

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Sir,

As the streets of Turkish cities host horrific scenes of police brutality against unarmed civilians, in the wake of peaceful protests against destruction of one of the last green areas in central Istanbul, the Turkish Parliament is preparing to rush through a vote on a policy that will allow much more widespread destruction of nature.

The Habitats and Biodiversity Bill is based on the European Union Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, but with two vital differences.

In EU member states the criterion of ‘over-riding public interest’ for allowing developments in conservation areas is applied through long-established systems of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), stakeholder engagement and public consultation.  But the definition of ‘overriding public interest’ is vague in the Turkish bill, there is no system of consultation in the country, and EIAs, if they are carried out at all, are often conducted long after a development project starts.

Secondly, for protected land, the EU also requires that there be ‘No Alternatives’ for siting the development.  The draft bill in the Turkish Parliament, by contrast, will simply abolish the National Parks law. The draft bill has been opposed to by 113 NGOs, and the European Commission itself described the draft bill as “worrying” (Turkey Progress Report, 9 November 2010), but the criticisms have been ignored.

This highly controversial legislation is being rushed through the Turkish Parliament, under cover of civil unrest, and represents a catastrophe for nature conservation in Turkey.  As natural and social scientists leading European research in biodiversity conservation and the human benefits derived from natural systems, we support our Turkish academic and NGO colleagues in deploring this myopic legislation and calling on the Turkish government to redraft this legislation taking account of their legitimate concerns.

Signed: coordinators and researchers at the following European Commission funded biodiversity related research projects.

Ms Ece Ozdemiroglu, Managing Director, economics for the environment consultancy,http://www.eftec.co.uk, United Kingdom

Dr Robert Tinch, Brussels Representative, eftec and OPERAs project, Belgium

Prof Dr Wouter de Groot, BIOMOT project, the Netherlands

Dr Rob Bugter, BESAFE Project, the Netherlands

Prof Dr Josef Settele, SCALES, Germany

Dr Sybille van den Hove, SPRIAL project, Spain

Dr Rupert Read, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom

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I recently attended the ZSL symposium on “Economics as if life mattered: Can we shape economic policy to save species”.  It was an enjoyable event that raised some interesting points of discussion. Robert Alexander’s talk on the Pros and Cons of Trade Bans was a particular highlight. An economic approach to wildlife conservation and bans that argued for tackling the root causes of biodiversity loss.

A general theme of the day was criticism of mainstream economics/economists. Although I would not bracket myself as a ‘mainstream’ economist, the criticisms focused on some egregious examples of economic thinking while ignoring the benefits that market economies have brought the world. A coherent alternative to market economies was not discussed.

Yes, the current market  system we have has resulted in huge environmental and distributional problems and some assumptions of economic theory are highly improbable. But an economic system based on markets is likely to be in place for the foreseeable future even if there is a bigger role for the state (See this Anatole Kaletsky interview for some thoughts and recommended reading). As environmental/ecological economists we try to shift this system in such a way that recognises the importance of the environment.

Valuation came in for some stick on the day, some of the concerns were understandable. There are moral and methodological concerns that arise out of environmental valuation. But to quote Ice T “Don’t hate the playa, hate the game”. Policy makers all value the environment in some shape or form, and to echo political quote mentioned in the conference “if you are not at the table you are on the menu”. Valuation helps bring the environment to the table and gives it a voice amongst development threats.

I took away from the conference that environmental economists need to communicate more clearly, but also with a mind to allay the scepticism and fear surrounding economics.

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Limu and Betsy attended the Rio+20 Business Summit organised by the Aldersgate Group which took place last night. Thoughts from both are below:

Limu:

A fantastic Aldersgate Group event was held on Wednesday evening, featuring a ‘dragons den’ of business ideas for Rio+20. The panel included Secretary of State for the Environment Caroline Spelman, who gave creditably informed responses on the ideas proposed by nine business representatives.

Global food security ‘won’ the vote on the best idea, but the most interesting fact of the evening came from hosts PWC. Giving an insight into their ‘pulse survey’ of global CEOs pre-Rio, they said 70% were ready to substantially increase their sustainability commitments if decisions in Rio led the way. The business world is getting ready to act on sustainability, politicians in Rio need to be able to trust them.

Betsy:

The Rio+20 Business Summit was an interesting setup whereby the representatives of 9 companies had 100 seconds each to sell to the audience and a panel of experts (a Dragon’s Den including Caroline Spelman, our Secretary of State for the Environment) their ‘business pitches’ for how businesses will be involved in obtaining goals that will come out of Rio+20 (the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development taking place June 20-22 in Rio de Janeiro, marking the 20th anniversary of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development). At the end of the night the audience had to vote and prioritise each of the pitches.

Rio+20 has two main themes: 1) a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication; and 2) the institutional framework for sustainable development. The business pitches we heard last night were for ideas that businesses hoped would make their way into the institutional framework for sustainable development.

To anybody interested in the environment these ideas weren’t new, but it was interesting to see which businesses were focusing on which ideas. The ones put forward were:

1) Natural Capital – Value and maintain the Earth’s natural capital with a commitment to no net loss, holistic policy frameworks and national action plans (B&Q, Matthew Sexton)

2) Sustainable Development Goals – Governments must work with business to secure a commitment to Sustainable Development Goals (Unilever, Karen Hamilton)

3) Circular Economy – Programmes on sustainable consumption and production should provide new leadership on circular economy (Siemens, Ian Bowman)

4) Sustainability Reporting – An international convention to require companies, on a ‘comply or explain’ basis, to integrate sustainability issues in their Annual Report and Accounts (Aviva Investors, Steve Waygood)

5) Information Technology – We need to harness the power of ICT to turn data produced across various systems like buildings, transportation, energy grids, water and air quality, ocean health, corp yields, human health implications of pollution – into actionable solutions and results (Microsoft, Josh Henretig)

6) Transport Strategy – A clear strategy for access to sustainable energy solutions which recognises that transport is essential for linking societies and markets, within and between developed and developing countries (Virgin Atlantic, Sian Foster)

7) Food Security – Governments must place the challenge of feeding over 9 billion people on a sustainable, healthy and affordable diet, top of the agenda (ASDA, Paul Kelly)

8) Energy Efficiency – Governments need a longer-term financial view when investing in green technologies and to lead by example – committing to making public sector assets energy efficient. (Philips, Jayson Otke)

9) Water Security – Governments should commit to working in partnership with the private sector and others to respect, protect and fulfil the right to water and sanitation by 2020 in a way that is compatible with climate and food security goals (PepsiCo, Andrew Slight)

As you can see, many of these 9 pitches are in fact interconnected. For example, including natural capital into national and business accounts will help achieve sustainable development goals. Sustainable development goals can also be helped along by the three enabling pitches (4-6). Food and Water security must go hand-in-hand. So it was quite difficult at the end of the evening, to separate these out when it came to the audience voting (by ranking the pitches for which should be the highest priority).

We did anyway and the results were interesting – I unfortunately wasn’t able to get them all but I’m sure we will see some of the results from Aldersgate soon. I did catch the highest and second highest ranking pitches though – and they were Food Security and Natural Capital respectively. It is refreshing to see Natural Capital being given such a high ranking in priorities, particularly once we saw the breakdown. More of the audience from business had voted for Food Security while more of the audience from NGOs had voted for Natural Capital!

Of course it is a bit unnatural to be comparing these ideas against each other when many go hand in hand, and they address entirely different ways of how we could be working towards sustainable development. But I still have those days where I have to explain the practicalities of environmental economics to environmentalists who vehemently disagree with the idea (and yes I encountered a couple in networking after!) and we even had that sadly misinformed article from George Monbiot, so it is good to see that the NGOs understand us and are on our side. Natural Capital got a large chunk of the business vote too – just not as much as Food Security did. And again, these two ideas are hardly comparable – they can both be implemented and inform each other. But at the end of the day it is heartening to know that environmental economics is going more mainstream and an increasing amount of people from all spectrums of life are engaged with how environmental economic concepts can help them pave the way to sustainable development.

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Watching the 10 o’clock news is now a slightly more enlightened experience. They managed to make the connection between droughts and floods. A good explanation of how we are in the ‘wettest drought ever’ was beyond them though. After some reassurances from Government that they are trying to avoid soggy armagedon, the report moved on to puzzlement with our water cycle.

It featured a vox pop from a motorist held up in a flood: “I just struggle to understand why we still have a hosepipe ban” she chimed. Well if your car is sitting in it, it isn’t coming down your tap is it, let alone in a drinkable condition. How difficult is that to work out? For any given rainfall, the bigger the flood (i.e. the more water running off the surface) the lower the storage (water permeating through soil into the ground).

Obviously, there has been a lot of rain, but the important clue was in the reports, which noted the speed of the floods. The quicker the water enters rivers, the less chance it has to be intercepted, either by natural processes, or by water companies. Some attention on those natural processes would be nice next. How about a science correspondent’s report from arable land in the midlands, where all non-crop vegetation has been removed to allow water to reach Northamptonshire towns as quickly as possible.

Obviously, a link to climate change and fuel prices is just fantasy.

—-

For more information on droughts and why there can be flooding during a drought, see this Environment Agency page.

For the interested, the weekly and monthly water situation reports from the Environment Agency can be accessed by clicking here.

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I attended a meeting researching ecosystem market opportunities yesterday. The research will inform the government’s ecosystem markets taskforce. It was an interesting gathering of people from across the environment sector, and there were lots of entrepreneurial ideas. However, these are largely extensions of existing environment sector activity. Much niche good practice is ready to be scaled up, if barriers like perverse subsidies were removed.

Links outside the environment sector were less conspicuous. Despite the strong evidence that access to the environment is the best treatment for many causes of ill-health (from heart-disease to avoiding diabetes to dementia) no one from the health sector was present. Apparently some patients are being prescribed gym memberships to stimulate physical activity, but are ‘green gyms’ being given the same level of attention?

Maybe the ‘indoor gyms’ sector is a bit better connected to the Dept of Health? It feels like more than an environment department research project is needed here. To shake the health sector out of its budget-pressured symptom-treating silo, some political leadership is called for. The greenest Government ever? How about a health-environment summit at no 10?

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I recently attended the TEEB 2012 conference in Leipzig titled:  Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature: Challenges for Science and Implementation.  A huge variety of presentations were given, too many to begin to catalogue here but the standouts included:

  • An IUCN analysis on whether MPAs can improve the livelihoods of local communities.  The impacts were far from clear and hadn’t received much attention, but I took away from the presentation that distributional impacts are key.
  • Earth Economics’ encouraging story of providing environmental economics and ecosystem services concepts and analysis to local communities who were threatened with a copper mine. The community used the analysis to overturn the decision to mine.  A rewarding presentation if not commenting on displacement effects or the immovable force that is copper demand.
  • Stephen Polasky’s talk demonstrating the trade-offs between environmental protection and growth.  It was nice to see production possibility frontiers (a graph that represents the trade-offs between two commodities for a fixed level of resources), that I haven’t seen since my degree days being  used in an applied setting.

Without being in four different sessions at the same time for the duration of the conference it was difficult to draw out key themes. But luckily members from Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research UFZ were in each and every session and were able to report back at the end of the conference.  My key findings…of UFZ’s key findings were:

  • Application is key. The TEEB ‘community’ believes in the TEEB process as a part of a solution to the natural environment crises currently faced, with this belief comes an urgency to see it begin to take hold in policy. For this reason TEEB and the research surrounding it must ask clear policy relevant questions.
  • Inter-disciplinary work and a common language is required. Not everyone is yet on-board with the TEEB process, or the concepts behind it. TEEB must get allies in all disciplines, for this reason the language adopted must be clear and unambiguous.
  • Mainstreaming was an apt subtitle for the conference and the next challenge for TEEB and environmental economics.

It was an encouraging conference, meeting people from around the world using TEEB concepts in different environmental settings, but there was a sense of preaching to the converted. TEEB ideas need to spread further in order to achieve the desired environmental outcomes.

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