Best practices for social change and environmental action

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

A week for water…a model for global conferences

In Best practice, Conferences, Environment, Growth and Development, Policy, Sustainability, Water on August 22, 2011 at 1:10 pm

World Water Week (WWW) is underway in Stockholm.

On the world affairs calendar, there are few events with the rare combination of gravitas, content, and social charm offered by this annual happening in Sweden’s beautiful capitol city.

Full disclosure: A few years ago, I was part of SIWI, the organizer of WWW, and I can tell you that much of the organization spends a good part of the year making sure that the week is filled with high caliber programming, meaningful discussion, and continual opportunities for networking that are as enjoyable as they are rewarding.  SIWI has been staging this amazing event for many years now, and their experience shows in the attention to detail and finely tuned cultural nuances.

In the spirit of imitation as the best form of flattery, it’s not surprising that the organizers of certain other conferences have taken some cues from World Water Week.  Indeed, there are facets of the event that really are models of excellence.  Here are three that come to mind as the week kicks off:

A diverse global audienceThe movers and shakers of the water and international development sectors have made World Water Week a priority on their annual calendars. This is not incidental; SIWI has carefully cultivated the event as the time and place to meet, talk, and get things moving. Attendees come from government ministries in developing countries, global NGOs, research institutes, advocacy organizations, corporations, national funding agencies, and the full gamut of United Nations leadership.It’s a blue-chip crowd.

State-of-the-art media resources.  When I first came on board at SIWI, I was impressed by the diligence given to the needs of journalists covering water issues.  From satellite feeds to personalized scheduling of interviews with prominent participants, SIWI literally works overtime to make sure that the media can cover things effectively (often way overtime, as my former colleagues can attest.)  The piece-de-resistance is the World Water Week press kit, which actually serves as a year-round reference for the field.  Moreover, each year, the kit just gets better and more sophisticated: Check it out.

A great agenda.  This is a conference that sheds light and understanding on every important facet of a very complicated field. That’s not unusual; a lot of events strive to cover everything in their respective domains. What distinguishes World Water Week is the panache with which this all happens. For example, while most conferences feature recognition of some sort…World Water Week features three professionally judged award programs with international standing: The Stockholm Water Prize, The Stockholm Industry Water Award, and – my sentimental favorite – The Stockholm Junior Water Prize.  The ceremony for the Stockholm Water Prize is really something to behold; a black-tie affair in the renowned Stadhuset – just like the Nobel prize ceremony – with the award bestowed by its patron,  H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.  Très elegant!

There’s more to World Water Week, of course. I’ll cover different facets over the coming weeks.

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For economic growth…add water

In Economic, Government, Growth and Development, Policy, Public investment, Resources, Sustainability, Water on May 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm

We’ve been hearing a lot about water recently, and for good reason.  It is perhaps the most critical factor in climate change as well as adaptation strategies.  As my former colleagues at SIWI often emphasize,  a changing climate manifests its most important environmental effects through water. They come in floods, droughts, storms and the consequences for human health and quality of life.  Increasingly, the impacts are genuinely dramatic, as illustrated by this week’s dire situation along the Mississippi River.

The urgent climate story has recently overshadowed the strategic facets of the global water crisis, none more important than water’s fundamental role in stable, thriving economies. It’s not easy to understand – especially for anyone not directly involved in IWRM (Integrated Water Resource Management), strategic planning, or public finance.

This is where the folks at Global Water Partnership (GWP) have stepped up with a policy brief on the matter.  Full disclosure: I know the people at GWP because they share offices with SIWI in central Stockholm. They do good work.

With this clear, readable policy brief –  Investing in Water for Sustainable Growth – GWP has provided an excellent primer on the topic.

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Wild in the city

In Habitat, Land Conservation, Public investment, Sustainability, Water on May 10, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Urban green space is an old idea that’s come full circle with a new twist.

The world has long appreciated the need for natural landscapes in its most populated places.  Consider the vision of Olmstead when he designed Central Park for New Yorkers, the sense of scale that informed the planners of Luxemborg Gardens in Paris, or the Swedish balance of humanity and nature that is evident in every grove and pasture of the vast Djurgården in Stockholm.

However, something went awry as populations migrated from the planet’s rural areas to create the new megalopolises of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

The practical need for housing and infrastructure overwhelmed urban planners in the developing nations.  At the same time, economic forces and demographic shifts caused many cities in the more prosperous nations to let their parks and public places fall into blight. All the while, the human need for green space in the cities has grown more urgent than ever.

UN-HABITAT has done the world a great service by calling attention to this problem in its recent proclamation: Sustainable urban development: the right and access to the city reflected in quality urban public spaces.

The places it describes may not be truly “wild” in the literal sense, but they can offer urbanites the essence of wilderness.  As such, they are a basic requirement for quality of life and a fundamental element of vibrant city culture.

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Public opinion gets erratic on climate change

In Climate, Communication, Policy, Politics, Public Opinion on April 14, 2011 at 10:30 pm

There’s good news and bad news for anyone trying to convince the public that we need meaningful action on climate change.

The good news: a new poll conducted by my former colleagues at MassINC shows that a significant majority of people in my home state of Massachusetts consider global warming a serious problem. Then, of course, there’s the bad news: the same poll shows that many of those people aren’t much alarmed by it.  Spin that any way you like  – and we can be sure that the pundits will do so –  but it just goes to show how contradictory public opinion can be.

MassINC parses out the details in a report issued today: The 80 Percent Challenge: A Survey of Climate Change Opinion and Action in Massachusetts.

The report underscores the poll’s findings with the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008, which mandates an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions statewide by the year 2050. Widely regarded as “aggressive yet attainable,” the law puts the Bay State at the leading edge of US global warming policy.

Not surprisingly, the poll reveals differences between demographic groups when it comes to climate change.  Democrats, minority groups, young people, and the less affluent show far greater awareness and concern than Republicans, older people, and the wealthy.  The gap is especially wide when it comes to the question of human-caused global warming. Yet, respondents across the spectrum believe that working to address global warming will either help the state economy or have no effect on it; only a handful think that adaptation and carbon reduction initiatives will have negative economic impacts.

“In order to meet the goals of the new law, there will need to be a far greater sense of concern on the part of Massachusetts residents,” says Ben Forman, research director at MassINC. “What is needed in Massachusetts is a real culture of climate protection that fosters action cross all sectors of our Commonwealth.”

Indeed.

In that regard, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts seems, once again, to be a bellwether for the entire US.

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WEAP for freshwater

In Climate, Energy, Environment, Government, Growth and Development, Health, Mapping, Sustainability, Tools, Water, Weather on April 11, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Anyone who works in the fields of natural resources, environmental sustainability, or climate adaptation is likely to be familiar with the acronym IWRM — meaning Integrated Water Resource Management.   If that acronym actually describes their work, they are probably getting to know a newer one: WEAP the name of a software tool  for Water Evaluation And Planning.  This tool is especially useful for NGOs, agencies, and planners in the developing world where IWRM has become a cornerstone for healthy economic growth and community well being.

The creator of WEAP – the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) – recently introduced version 3.0 of the software, which was developed by its US center based at Tufts University near Boston.  The great virtue of the software is that it encompasses much of the current practice and know-how of IWRM practitioners around the globe.

SEI describes WEAP as “a laboratory for examining alternative water development and management strategies.”   As such, it is a functional and versatile addition to the toolbox of models, databases, spreadsheets and even other software systems currently in use worldwide.

The software now has three operational modes:

  • A water balance database for maintaining water demand and supply information.
  • A scenario generation tool for simulating water demand, supply, runoff, streamflows, storage, pollution generation, treatment and discharge and instream water quality.
  • A policy analysis tool that evaluates water development and management options, and takes account of multiple and competing uses of water systems.

SEI has a licensing arrangement by which organizations in developing countries can obtain and use the software at no cost, supported by a progressive fee structure for individuals, institutions, and companies in higher-income nations. That certainly seems fair to this writer.

The WEAP site includes excellent tutorials and educational materials.  A trial version is also available.  To access all of this, you do need to sign up for the site’s WEAP Forum, but that shouldn’t be an issue for any professional involved in the conservation and management of the planet’s vital freshwater resources.

Water wisdom

In Best practice, Climate, Environment, Sustainability, Water, Weather on March 22, 2011 at 7:13 pm

Today is World Water Day, the annual international celebration of the Earth’s most precious life element and the key to virtually all measures of human well-being and prosperity.  As the UN wraps up its main events in Cape Town, South Africa,  it’s worth noting that this is a traditional occasion for recognizing achievements in the field – particularly those that help humanity better manage its precious H2O resources.

Perhaps the most significant (and venerable) honor is The Stockholm Water Prize, announced earlier today in Sweden.  A newer program is theUN “Water for Life” Best Practices Awards, handed out this morning in Zaragoza, Spain.

Stephen Carpenter / Credit: Jeff Miller

American environmentalist Stephen R. Carpenter, a Professor of Zoology and Limnology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA,  will receive the 2011 Stockholm Water Prize for his research on managing lake ecosystems.

The Stockholm Water Prize is a global award founded in 1991 and presented annually by my former colleagues at the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) to an individual, organisation or institution for outstanding water-related activities.  H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, who is the patron of the Prize, will formally present Professor Carpenter with the 2011 Stockholm Water Prize at a Royal Award Ceremony in Stockholm City Hall on August 25 during the 2011 World Water Week in Stockholm.

The UN 2011 ‘Water for Life’ Best Practices Awards’ have gone to:

Even though much of North America still takes its freshwater for granted, it’s clear that the rest of the world knows better.  There’s only so much to go around for daily life, agriculture, energy, industry, recreation, and especially the delicate ecological balance we hold with other species on our planet. Whether you believe in “anthropogenic” climate change or not, it’s clear that the planetary climate is changing…and that the effects manifest most dramatically through water.

These awards highlight working solutions to an ever complex matrix of problems…and they raise awareness for an urgent global challenge.

World Water Day 2011

In Advocacy, Communication, Sustainability, Water on March 18, 2011 at 8:46 pm

World Water Day 2011 is coming up on March 22.

Organized by UN Water and held annually on March 22, World Water Day draws international attention to  the importance of freshwater and – most importantly –  the sustainable management of freshwater resources.  Each year, the day highlights a specific critical aspect of the planet’s water challenges. When I was with SIWI in Stockholm, it was Shared Resources and then Water Quality.

This year it’s the monumental issue of Water for Cities.

UN Water has gained an impressive body of advocacy and educational expertise over the years, much of it relevant  to broader environmental issues…not just water and sanitation.  I am especially impressed with this year’s Advocacy Guide and Action Handbook, not to mention the entire resource page for urban water issues.

If your work involves water in any way – environmental, cultural, societal or geopolitical – you owe it to yourself and your cause to take advantage  of what’s available online there.  And if you just want to see a world-class example of  outstanding advocacy, check out all the work that UN Water has done with the online medium.