Planet Under Pressure Conference; insights from day 2 and day 3

Greenloop is attending the Planet Under Pressuer Conference, held in Londen, from 25th till the 29th of March 2012.

This international conference gathering scientists, policy makers and the private & public sectors around the theme of the multifaceted aspects of climate change impacts on our societies is an important milestone for the preparation of the upcoming Rio+20 conference to be held next June in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

 

We propose to give you a personal insight on this conference by reporting the key messages that are being delivered. Caroline Zaoui reports.

For a quick glance on the conference programme, click here

 

 

Day 2: Options and opportunities

 

 

Well, looking back at this 2nd day, the proposed title could now be developed as “So many options and yet so many missed opportunities”.

While all the main panellists are persistently calling for a paradigm shift to save the Planet and emphasize on the need to building up a common vision as well as a strategy to reach collectively defined objectives, “science and business as usual” was the main mindset during the parallel sessions I attended, and worse than that, the focus on the global sustainability challenge we are facing was forgotten. Two examples to illustrate this comment:

  • Session on (microbial) life in extreme environments, or how to miss a great opportunity to launch biomimetic research

Although inspiration from eco-systems services was acknowledged by Dr. Rothschild, and despite her passionate interest for organisms that are able to thrive and survive in extreme environments, she failed to address the potential innovation inspirations these organisms could provide us with, such as for example “how to survive to water scarcity?”. Instead, she illustrated that this field of research is a game-changing discipline, as these organisms represent a genetic tool box to be used in synthetic biology to re-program life and improve it. In an attempt of reliance, she made the statement that “we are extremophiles too!”, as our cells permanently have to cope with the oxidative damage we generate as we breathe. Okay, but should we infer from that that humans are therefore equipped and adapted to the rapid environmental change we are witnessing?

 

  • World café: how science and business can create a more sustainable world together

Unfortunately, this timely discussion theme did not generate any comments and stereotypes that we don't already know and ended up as being a very polarised discussion. In fact, it was not so surprising to obtain such a disappointing result, since the introducing comments were solely focused on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the main question asked to launch table discussions was “what are the RESPECTIVE roles of science & business in the sustainability agenda?”.

Results: no common vision was given to the audience, therefore everybody stayed stuck in the current mindset, couldn't find any way out of it and remained defensive with respect to their own goals and aspirations (being able to continue research “vs.” run a profitable business).

A missed opportunity: next time such an initiative is set, let's rather ask “what are the COMMON roles of science and businesses to drive a transition towards human societies that are compatible with the biosphere?”

 

 

 

Day 3 : Challenges to progress: the role of equality and equity in governance for global sustainability

 

Societal equality and global sustainability

Richard Wilkinson, Professor, Universities of Nottingham, College London and York, UK

 

This outstanding eye-opening session challenged our current paradigm based on economic growth and presented compelling evidence against the belief that growth is the answer to increased well being. Richard Wilkinson went even further as to demonstrate that taking actions against CO2 emissions does not imply a reduced quality of life at all but rather, living in a better world.

Gatherings and interpretation of data related to national GDPs, indicators of population well being and CO2 emissions lead to the following statements:

  • Economic growth do not make any difference when it comes to inequality issues: rich countries that display high inequalities within their population are doing worse on many well being indicators and their quality of well being is as bad as in low economic growth countries with high inequalities

  • Getting more and more of everything makes no difference if inequalities are important

  • People in more unequal countries trust each other less

  • In countries where there is more equality, people have more sense of public good as well as spiritedness

  • Great inequalities increase consumerism, which is a threat to fighting climate change. Indeed, as long as it is believed that consumerism is linked to a good quality of life, one will tend to assume that taking actions to reducing CO2 emissions implies giving up on a good quality of life

  • More equal countries are more generous foreign aid donors and recycle more waste

  • People use bicycles more often in more equal countries

  • Business leaders in more equal countries give a higher priority to complying with international environmental agreements

 

Again, this talk reinforces Lord Anthony Giddens' call that “we can't go on like this”, and it seems that the paradigm shift that is urgently needed implies that we reconsider our obsession on economic growth as a mandatory prerequisite of a better, more sustainable future.