Climate scientist Chris Rapley’s reaction to US President Trump’s announcement to leave the Paris Accord reflects the quickly evolving sentiment among many observers. Quoted in the Evening Standard, Rapley said: “At first sight it looks damaging, but actually I’ve been reflecting on it overnight. I think he’s done a huge, huge favour. We could not have got more publicity. And the framing of that publicity is not that climate change is not real. The framing… is that climate change is real.”
Christiana Figueres, who as Executive Director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change led the development of the Paris Agreement hammered out at COP21 in Paris in late 2015, put it even more succinctly on Twitter: “Thank you Trump. You have provoked an unparalleled wave of support for Paris and determined resolve on climate action. Deeply grateful.”
But not everyone has been as philosophically upbeat at Figueres or as proactive as French President Macron, who has invited climate researchers, entrepreneurs and enthusiasts to move to France. Some have expressed anger and sadness, with one observer suggesting that venting rage is appropriate and perhaps therapeutic.
President Trump’s contempt for climate science and international agreements has been well documented. As a candidate he promised to “cancel” the Paris Agreement since, in his view, it was a hoax that was costing the US manufacturing and coal mining jobs. His rhetoric and actions have been in line with (and likely shaped by) those of the David and Charles Koch, who have ideological and financial vested interests in unconstrained fossil fuel development. (Their company, Koch Industries, the second largest private firm in the US,is worth around $100 billion USD.)
Looking for a silver lining to the dark cloud of the United States-- historically the world’s largest emitter of heat trapping gases like carbon dioxide-- abandoning its commitment and responsibility to addressing climate change may be understandable. The growing response to Trump’s “my way or the highway” attitude, both inside the US and around the world, may indeed help motivate us all become more serious about moving rapidly and methodically toward the aspirational goals set with the Paris Accord.
What precisely could this combination of resources, methods and human development be?
It is important that US states like California--which has the sixth largest economy in the world and just signed a climate agreement with China--and cities like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania--which aims to be 100% reliant on renewables by 2035-- say they will step up for help fill the leadership void that the US is abdicating.
While these efforts are vital, they are not enough. The challenge of cutting in half our greenhouse gas emissions every decade from now until 2050, as a recent paper in the journal Science has called for to achieve the goals set in Paris, is massive, and so too must be the response.
Project Drawdown (which I serve as an education advisor on) has “done the math” on around 100 possible solutions and found that with current technology, robust deployment to reduce waste, educate girls and transform agriculture and forestry--and with no carbon tax--we can get close to reaching the goal by 2050.
However, the math tells us that we won’t reach the goal of peaking emissions and starting to drawdown greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere by midcentury--which RCP2.6 and SSP1 call for--unless we go further and optimize every current “no regrets” technology and strategy now available and continue to look for new ones.
Drawdown is an important if underappreciated effort; for the first time we have a baseline of different options that are based on peer reviewed science and were analyzed using relatively conservative assumptions on how these efforts related to food, energy, social dynamics, transportation, buildings, and land use add up. The educational potential of these studies and data behind them is unlimited. Overlapping with many if not all of the Sustainable Development Goals, rich with mathematics in a real-world context, Drawdown solutions are inherently interdisciplinary, spanning every grade level and virtually every corner of science, social studies and creative inquiry.
The question now is: how can we use this information to transform society--as individuals, as communities, as nations, as a global population--in order to meet the daunting challenges we face.
As individuals, we are embedded in communities of many different shapes and sizes. Between one person and the ten billion people expected by 2050 there are ten orders of magnitude. We are nested within larger scales and can influence--and are influenced by--these scales in varying, myriad ways.
Many of the solutions examined by Drawdown, such as household recycling, insulation and rooftop solar, are appropriate for individual, household and neighborhood scales. Others, like district heating and walkable cities, are appropriate at the larger community and district levels. Still others, such as managing super greenhouse gases used in refrigeration or protecting forests and peatlands, may require national or international cooperation, but with local and individual follow-through and vigilance. Using a “powers of 10” approach may help us frame where the barriers, interventions and “sweet spots” are for achieving the results we need to turn the tide and reach a point of drawdown.
In a recent interview about the background and possible impact of President Trump’s retreat from the Paris Accord, former New York Times climate reporter Andrew Revkin reflected on a conversation he had with climate expert Walter Monk, now 99 years old, who he met at an in-depth meeting on sustainable humanity at the Vatican in 2014. Revkin, referring to the climate and environmental challenges we face, asked Dr. Monk: “What’s going to get us through this?”. Anticipating a technical answer like fusion or geoengineering, he was surprised when Monk said: “It will take a miracle of love and unselfishness.”
Perhaps the world is better off, as has been suggested, without the US in the Paris Agreement. Regardless, the Green Road is not one that can be reached through engineering and economics, through international agreements or individual actions alone. It will take more than that. As D.H. Lawrence once wrote about water:
Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one,
but there is also a third thing, that makes it water
and nobody knows what it is.
Perhaps Dr. Monk has a clue about what it is.
As the chapter on sustainable development in the Measurability of Good State and Governance II Report emphasized, one of the responsibilities of the state is to protect its citizens from risks, including climate change, and prepare communities by promoting sustainable practices. Research Fellow Mark McCaffrey presented an overview of Project Drawdown, which has examined 100 strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sequestering carbon in ways that could, in theory, lead to being able to draw-down atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Many of these strategies can be deployed at the household level, such as household recycling and minimizing food waste, while others relating to renewable energy, such as wind and solar, and land use practices, such as forestry and restoration agriculture, require larger numbers of people to be involved.
McCaffrey also presented a "Powers of 10" framework recently presented at the European Geoscience Union in Vienna that highlights the fact that between the individual and the entire global population, which is estimated to be around 10 billion people by the year 2050, there are ten orders of magnitude, with the mid-point being around 100,000 people, which may prove to be a "sweet spot" for demonstrating and deploying sustainable practices. This cohort of ±100,000 people is roughly the size of many of the districts in larger cities such as Budapest. McCaffrey recommends Climate & Energy Learning Hubs, modelled on the Hungarian company Aqua Profit's Intelligent Water Aid Technology, be deployed at this level, serving as centres for inspiration and education for the community, places in their neighbourhoods or parks where they can learn about climate solutions as well as related programmes such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
See presented papers below:
While officially World Water Day occurs every twenty-second day of March, for the nearly 10% of the world’s population who lack a safe water supply close to home, who spend countless hours acquiring water, and/or who have to cope the health impacts of using contaminated water, every day is a day that revolves around water.
For those of us who take clean water and sanitation largely for granted, World Water Day, first initiated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993, is an important reminder of how important this precious substance, which makes up most of the human body and covers most of the Earth’s surface, really is.
This year’s theme is wastewater, the effluent from municipal and industrial processes that was for many years was discharged, raw and unfiltered, directly into waterways, impacting the health of people and environments downstream and into the ocean.
Fecal sludge from pit latrines being dumped into a river in Nairobi, Kenya.
Scientific evidence of the negative impacts, along with the environmental ethic that “we all live downstream”, and--most importantly--effective policies, legislation, and funding for wastewater treatment, has helped reduce the problem in some parts of the world. But treatment-- the primary filtering out the grease and sediments, the secondary use of biological processes to help decontaminate the waste, and tertiary systems to further minimize impacts, require infrastructure investment that are often lacking.
As the organizers of World Water Day 2017 emphasize: Globally, the vast majority of all the wastewater from our homes, cities, industry and agriculture flows back to nature without being treated or reused – polluting the environment, and losing valuable nutrients and other recoverable materials.
The solution to this pollution: reduce it and reuse it. In homes, greywater from washing and cooking can be used on gardens, and in cities, treated wastewater can be used for green spaces. Minimizing wastewater to begin with, and finding appropriate, effective methods for reuse are among the challenges being highlighted this World Water Day.
World Water Day events are taking place in many places around the world, and will help raise awareness of related Sustainable Development Goals, especially #6, which has the goal: Ensure access to water and sanitation for all. The related UNICEF WASH initiative, which stands for "Water, Sanitation and Hygiene", is also linked to World Water Day.
This year’s report emphasizes the importance of the social foundations of happiness. This can be seen by comparing the life experiences between the top and bottom ten countries in this year’s happiness rankings. There is a four-point happiness gap between the two groups of countries, of which three-quarters is explained by the six variables, half due to differences in having someone to count on, generosity, a sense of freedom, and freedom from corruption. The other half of the explained difference is attributed to GDP per capita and healthy life expectancy, both of which, as the report explains, also depend importantly on the social context.
Read more about World Happiness Report!
A wastewater treatment facility in Germany with primary and secondary treatment systems.
Humans have, by the 21st century, become a geologic-scale force of nature, compromising Earth’s natural support systems. Business as usual is no longer an option. Urgent and radical changes are needed to avoid that the overwhelming megatrends of our era – overpopulation, urbanisation, climate change, water shortages or the depletion of other non-renewable resources – jeopardise the prosperity of present and future generations. The concept of sustainable development, expressed through the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), has emerged in response to these multiple challenges aiming to reconcile economic, social and environmental considerations in a balanced way.
Sustainable development has therefore become a core task of modern government. In recognition of the importance of the issue, the National University of Public Service has established a Centre for Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS) whose mission is to introduce sustainability considerations into the entire spectrum of the University’s educational, research and community activities as well as to contribute to the environmentally friendly operation of the University itself.
The ambitions of the Centre for Sustainable Development Studies, however, go beyond traditional educational and training objectives. As a bridge among the major stakeholders of government – the public administration, municipalities, the economy, academia, and civil society – it aims to become a prominent change agent in Hungary’s transition to long-term sustainability.
The Centre, established in July 2015, plays a significant role in the interdisciplinary research of sustainability. The Development Plan of the University has long acknowledged the emerging need for a think tank connected with the conventional fields of sustainability and its applications in public decision-making and administration. This applies particularly to the preparation of legislative proposals and the planning of governmental decisions where taking into account the results and requirements of sustainability is a fundamental imperative. The Centre thus acts in a dual capacity both as a support group for decision-makers as well as a scientific hub. The Centre also aims to introduce new subjects into the various curricula of the University, offering robust scientific results, best practice methods and hands-on assistance for their application.
Since its foundation the Centre has been active in expanding its academic and professional relations worldwide with a view to becoming a think tank of recognized international standing. Driven by the fundamental mission of bridging the gap between science on the one hand and public policy and administration on the other, the Centre aims to translate state-of-the-art scientific findings on sustainability into the language and culture of public administration and political decision-making. To that end, the Centre is cooperating with a diverse range of stakeholder institutions and scientists from all relevant natural, social and human sciences in and outside Hungary.
The first conference organized by the Centre in October 2015 was focusing on the water-related issues like the security of supply, water quality and waste treatment in the Danube basin. The second conference, held in November 2015, focused on food waste and food security in the light of the potential impact of climate change.
In view of the fundamental role of water in human life, the economy and international politics, a dedicated research subgroup was created within the Centre under the name of International Water Governance Centre (IWGC). The focus IWGC is the comparative study of international water law and policy.
One of the last year’s flagship projects of the University was the completion of the Government performance review entitled “Good Governance Report”. This report contained a sustainability chapter that was prepared by the Centre's experts. This project was just the first stage of establishing and using a new set of indicators to evaluate the effectiveness of governance.
The Centre can fulfil its mission only in close partnership with renown international research hubs and networks active the field of the sustainability. In that context the Centre participated in several programmes of the EU's main climate innovation initiative, the Climate KIC. The University hosted the Pioneers within the Pioneers into Practice programme and took part in the Transition Hub pilots. The Centre also organized workshops for decision-makers on the transition into low carbon society with two lead lecturers of Climate KIC. Moreover, the Centre intends to generate new projects by way participating in national and international tenders. E.g. this year the Centre has already been invited as a partner into a LIFE+ proposal of Green Campus project. In this process Centre will cooperate with the Dublin Institute of Technology (consortium leader) and some other European universities as participating partners.
Besides projects, research and education of sustainability it is also crucial to foster the change of the attitude of our colleagues, the infrastructure and operation of the University itself. In that regard the mission of the Centre is to set an example on how to play a key role in accelerating the wider change locally and/or globally. To that end the Centre organized, in 2015, the first stakeholder meeting for the members of the University. The meeting attracted an outstanding attendance from the management, the scientific and the student community of the University.
Finally, the Centre also intends to reach out to administrative, professional and local organisations. To open new avenues for future joint activities the Centre has signed cooperation framework agreement with several public and private bodies, such as the National Food Chain Safety Authority or the Association of Climate Friendly Municipalities.