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Loss and Damage - Adverse Impact of Climate Change

By the middle of this century, if past trends continue, the global population will exceed nine billion. Up to 96% of this growth will occur in developing countries, with about half in just six countries: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan. This month, we interviewed Dr. Heinz Schandl, the lead author of the Resource Efficiency: Economics and Outlook for Asia and the Pacific (REEO)(*1) report, and asked for his views on sustainability and resource efficiency.
Heinz Schandl
Senior Science Leader
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) division for Ecosystem Sciences

Adjunct Associate Professor
The Australian National University (ANU) Crawford School of Economics and Government

His previous affiliation was the Institute of Social Ecology in Vienna. He completed his PhD in Sociology at the University of Vienna, Austria in 2001. His research provides policy relevant information for sustainable natural resource use, sustainable consumption and production and the Green Economy.

Related Link:
- CSIRO

March 2012

The Clock is Ticking
for Natural Resources

Heinz Schandl
Senior Science Leader
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) division for Ecosystem Sciences

Adjunct Associate Professor
The Australian National University (ANU) Crawford School of Economics and Government

Economy and Environmental Situation in Asia and the Pacific Region

---The REEO report makes a case for a new "industrial revolution" for Asia and the Pacific that would provide food, housing, mobility, energy and water at about 20% of the per capita resource use and emissions found in current industrial systems by 2050. What does this mean?

Schandl:
The situation in the Asia-Pacific region is very different from any other part of the world. We see Asia and the Pacific as currently being the “engine” of economic development globally. The Asia-Pacific region has become the single largest user of natural resources, and in coming decades the region will be the most important driver of global resource use and related environmental impacts, including resource scarcity, pollution and climate change.

The main issue for the region will be to secure resources in a timely manner and at affordable prices in order to further develop and bring more people out of poverty as well as raise the standard of living. But actually achieving this has to be accommodated within the world’s ecological limits, keeping in mind the expected population of nine billion people by 2050.

For many Asian developing countries, when you read their national development plans, unfortunately, environmental issues are usually disconnected from the economic process. What we need to bring into the debate is information that links environmental issues with economic ones to support integrated environmental and economic policy.

Change of the Society

--The issues you talk about, economics and the environment, are on more of an institutional level, I think. What can we do at an individual level?

Schandl:
A. Both the bad and good news is that this is not about people and their individual choices. The problems we are facing are not about people and individuals in the first place anymore. If you think of modernisation and industrialisation we face a situation whereby responsibility is taken away from people and is taken to higher levels of social organisation. In our modern societies, our interaction with the environment is no longer controlled by one person or by a family. In the past, when we lived in agricultural conditions, then a single farmer was responsible, or the farming family was responsible for the interaction with the environment. Today, we are talking about industrial metabolism, which tells us that, actually, the interaction between society and nature has been lifted to a new level well above the individual.

If we accept this fact and think about interventions for sustainability we need to focus on the systems level. Intervening at the systems level to change certain conditions will make it easier for individuals to do things differently.

There is, however, a contradiction in what we experience. While we are no longer in control of our environment as individuals, our everyday life experience is actually that we are becoming more and more self-reliant and individualistic. Families and households become smaller. There is no secure career in one job any more. Increasingly it seems to depend on us, not on the company we work for, whether we are successful or not. We are required as individuals to make our own fortune.

Knowledge Transfer

--The way you put it, it sounds like a contradictory situation that we are in! The report says that we only have 20 or 30 years to make the changes required to achieve sustainability. Is it even possible?

Schandl:
Our report shows that a lot can be done with resource efficiency and technological innovation.

At the same time, governments can play an important role in providing the frameworks under which businesses and communities, and finally individuals, can make different decisions and therefore contribute to resource efficiency.

Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia
Also we are talking about the need of knowledge transfer. It is much better to export resource efficient technologies as compared to exporting coal and iron ore, because there is much more value in more efficient systems. While efficiency is important it is by no means sufficient to achieve sustainability. The change that is required to align prosperity with environmental sustainability is fundamental and will involve what we call systems innovation, which is moving to very different systems of provision.

So embarking on "resource efficiency" and "systems innovation" now is the best recipe to enable prosperity and a good standard of living and comfort for people in the future. There would no longer be a contradiction between development and resources.

They are becoming a single issue.

Be Innovative Locally and Globally

--So you are saying that technology development and systems innovation are a must?

Schandl:
We need to do things in new ways. However, we also have to make use of knowledge that is already available. For example, in India, there is an NGO called Development Alternatives. In their work they interact with local communities and look at the trade skills and resources that are available locally and utilise them to do things differently. It is actually about combining the skills and knowledge base available in countries, with new ideas to solve problems that currently lead to high natural resource use.

We have to think about appropriate technologies and strategies that work for different countries making use of the skills and the knowledge base that are locally available to do those things.

It is not just about somebody in the US inventing a gadget, say an iPhone, then it being distributed to the whole world. For one thing, not many people can afford it and it is also doubtful if this is what is needed most.

Ecological Budget and Tax Reform

--How can we find champions of sustainability? How can we identify the businesses that are going to provide solutions that will save resources, and produce fewer emissions? How can they be supported by consumers aiming for a new lifestyle?

Schandl:
The 1950’s were the start of a new economic model based on mass production and mass consumption. However, under the new model of mass production and mass consumption, resources were not looked after very well.

Now, if we look at countries such as China and India and many countries in Southeast Asia, we see a large emerging middle and upper class, which has reached or will very soon reach the number of middle-class consumers in the United States, or in the OECD. While it satisfies legitimate aspirations it will also further undermine sustainability.

What could be done? I believe an ecological budget and tax reform combined with paying productivity gains in leisure time would change the current incentives. If we shift the tax burden from labour to natural resources, then certain resource intensive economic activities will be much more expensive, meaning they will happen much less than they do now. That is the hope.

At the same time, we are working too many hours at much too low efficiency. It is also overworked and well paid people that lead the most resource intensive lifestyles. If we think of ecological budget and tax reform and a strategy to reduce working hours as two combined strategies, then we may actually be able to reset economic conditions or incentives in the overall economy to favour products, goods and services, and also lifestyles, which are more environmentally responsible, use less resources and produce fewer emissions.

Upcoming Rio+20

--What do you expect at the upcoming Rio+20 in June, 2012?

Schandl:
The hope for Rio+20 would be that countries start to agree on essential things, start to see the common problems on this planet, and somehow provide us with a high level statements or vision that may guide and help countries to improve their own policy settings.

The message will have to be “Countries agree, these are the issues, and we need to ….” Overstating the division between countries would be extremely unhelpful.

It becomes easier to design and implement national policy when we have such overarching statements and narratives. It becomes easier to make the argument in front of our own electorates and then our own public in our own countries. That means countries will gradually improve their own policy settings. Then they will increasingly embark on very fundamental policies like ecological budget and tax reform, and strategies to reduce working hours, to actually turn around the economic situation in countries. We need a very positive and commonly supported message from Rio+20.


--Thank you very much.


*1:The "REEO" project was initiated and funded by UNEP, and the report – the first of its kind for the Asia-Pacific region – was launched towards the end of 2011. The REEO is the result of a unique collaboration between four leading regional institutes. Lead by the CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation), Australia, partners included the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in India, and the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) in Japan.

About "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability"

Until 2010, IGES released "Top News on the Environment in Asia" on a yearly basis. For over 12 years since its establishment of IGES in 1998, "Top News" collected and organised information about environmental issues and policy trends in the region.

In January 2011, IGES launched the new web-based series "Monthly Asian Focus: Observations on Sustainability" in which leading environmental experts deliver their take on latest trends of sustainable Asia.

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