Archive for April, 2013

UN Adaptation Report

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

I’m sure you realize that I usually deal with pollution control and the so-called ‘mitigation’ side of climate change issues…. so I was a bit surprised (and also pleased) when the UN asked me to conduct an evaluation of a project dealing primarily with ‘adaptation’ concerns. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work on global warming, addressed this dichotomy in his recent book The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change:

For my own part, I used to argue many years ago that resources and effort put into adaptation would divert attention from the all-out push that is necessary to mitigate global warming and quickly build the political will to sharply reduce emissions of global warming pollution. I was wrong – not wrong that deniers would propose adaptation as an alternative to mitigation, but wrong in not immediately grasping the moral imperative of pursuing both policies simultaneously, in spite of the difficulty that poses.

He went on to note that consequences are already occurring and are particularly devastating to low income developing countries. The UN project I evaluated addressed how three countries – Grenada, Guatemala and Bolivia – might integrate such adaptation concerns into their national planning programs. (And sorry, but since it’s an internal evaluation report, I wasn’t able to post it here.)

One interesting focus of the report, however, is the distinction between sustainability and a newer environmental buzzword: resilience. In a New York Times opinion piece (and also in the print version of Wired magazine), the futurist Andrew Zolli noted that many of the buildings in southern Manhattan rebuilt after 9/11 received LEED certification, & were viewed as being low-emission and eco-efficient — and hence sustainable. But Hurricane Sandy arrived and basements were flooded — and since that was where the energy equipment was located, the lights went out. Buildings in southern Manhattan were never designed to be resilient!

In a previous posting, I noted that Mr. Zolli and I were speakers at a CLSA session at the ‘Rainbow Room’ in Rockefeller Center in New York City (in early 2007). He now has a new book out about this topic — Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back (along with co-author Ann Marie Healy) — and of course I cited it in the UN evaluation. I enjoyed the book, and his early chapters about ecosystem and financial system resiliency are particularly interesting.

Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, head of the Munasinghe Institute for Development (MIND) in Sri Lanka, played an especially important role in this three-country project. Back in 1994, I directed a four-month, US AID-funded training course on ‘Energy Planning & Policy’ at U. Penn for 28 energy executives from fifteen developing countries. I invited numerous experts from the UN, World Bank, academia & the private sector — including Prof. Munasinghe — to give lectures, and when the participants in that program completed their evaluations, he scored as the very best of all! In this UN project, he laid out a methodological approach called the Action Impact Matrix which considers not only impacts on the environment, but also the effect of the environment on the specific strategies being pursued (i.e., the very key to resilience). Perhaps not surprisingly, the participants in this project had very much the same view about his contributions.