Back On The Agenda: Acting Locally and Thinking Globally to Achieve Clean Air

The majority of us now live in cities.

While urban living provides benefits with regard to mobility, accessibility and community, it has come with a cost to the air we breathe. An estimated 92% of the world’s population now living in areas where air quality exceeds World Health Organization limits causing as many as 3 million deaths a year.

In particular, many developing world cities are grappling with the combined pressures of urbanization, motorization and industrialization and climate-related weather events which are overwhelming the natural resilience of urban ecosystems.

Given these multiple challenges what action can cities take to achieve clean air, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, implement the New Urban Agenda and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals?

Recognizing the Problem

Air pollution is a silent killer.

It is the deadliest form of pollution and the fourth leading risk factor for premature deaths worldwide with both indoor and outdoor air pollution responsible for an estimated 6.5 million deaths (11.6% of all global deaths). Nearly 90% of air-pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with nearly 2 out of 3 occurring in WHO’s South-East Asia and Western Pacific regions.

It is often the poor and socially marginalized that suffer disproportionately from the effects of deteriorating air quality with around 300 million Children currently exposed to toxic air that exceeds internationally limits by at least six times.

300 million Children are currently exposed to toxic air.

It is easy to read such figures with a detached concern. However, if just one of these faceless air-pollution-related deaths was our mother, brother, sister, daughter or son we would soon feel the devastating emotional and personal impact caused by air pollution.

If that was not enough, air pollution also comes with an economic price tag. The World Bank estimate air pollution related deaths cost the global economy about US$225 billion in lost labour income in 2013. The OECD predict that global air pollution-related healthcare costs will increase from USD 21 billion in 2015 to USD 176 billion 2005 in 2060. By 2060, the annual number of lost working days, which affect labour productivity, are projected to reach 3.7 billion (currently around 1.2 billion) at the global level.

While reductions may be achieved for certain pollutants others are becoming more difficult to address due to the absence of a well-developed infrastructure, integrated planning and financial resources to restore environmental quality. Therefore ambitious action is required to achieve reductions in the human and economic cost of air pollution.

 Cities For All

In recognition of an increasingly urban world and the need to achieve sustainable development in practice two UN global agendas have been adopted which sets out a pathway to a more sustainable future for all.

The 2016 UN-Habitat’s New Urban Agenda acknowledges the challenges of an increasingly urban world and sets out a road map for building cities that can serve as engines of prosperity and centres of cultural and social well-being while protecting the environment. It aims to:

  • Provide basic services for all citizens
  •  Ensure that all citizens have access to equal opportunities and face no discrimination
  •  Promote measures that support cleaner cities
  • Strengthen resilience in cities to reduce the risk and the impact of disasters
  • Take action to address climate change by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions
  • Fully respect the rights of refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons regardless of their migration status
  • Improve connectivity and support innovative and green initiatives
  • Promote safe, accessible and green public spaces.

The 2015 New Urban Agenda is seen as an extension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that outlined 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) needed to make the transition towards a low carbon society.

The New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals provide the road map to a Sustainable Future

Although air pollution is included in both the New Urban Agenda and the SDGs, it is not necessarily prominent. Yet many of the local actions taken to improve urban air quality can have multiple social, environmental and economic co-benefits.

Acting Locally, Thinking Globally

Although the exact origin of the phrase, Acting Locally, Thinking Globally, is disputed, it is often associated with the environmental movement which used it to urge individuals to consider the health of the entire planet and to take action in their own communities and cities.

Like many slogans it had its prominence only to go out of fashion. Yet, given the air pollution and climate change challenges we face it is more relevant now than ever.

The notion of Act Locally, Think Globally is more relevant than ever given the challenge of poor air quality and climate change

Major sources of air pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions (e.g. nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter and lead) include inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants, and industrial activities.

The majority of these activities are undertaken at the city level which are responsible for around 70 per cent of global greenhouse gases. Equally, we have seen climate-related weather events such as storms; floods and heatwaves impact on the urban populations and disrupt services.

While carbon dioxide has warming influences on the climate in the long-term; short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, a primary component of particulate matter, methane and ozone have warming influences in the near-term.

Taking action on these pollutants have the potential to improve air quality and reduce the effects of climate change. Local measures such as reducing car use, improving public transport, increasing energy efficiency and adopting low emission technologies can result in health, environmental and social co-benefits.

 Role of the Citizen

It is easy to seen urban dwellers simply as casualties of poor air quality but they are also contributors to the problem. Therefore the attitudes and behaivour of citizens are important to instilling change and ensuring local policy-makers take the necessary action.

Citizens have a role to play in monitoring air quality.

Public participation in all matters related to the urban environment is becoming an important issue. The talents and support from different sectors of society is needed if we are to improve the air the breathe, tackle climate change and ensure a sustainable development. Goal 16 of the SDGs acknowledges this by calling for responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making at all levels.

Citizens have a role to play in monitoring environmental change as well as being agents of change in their community. There are many examples of citizen-led air quality monitoring schemes such as the UK Friends of the Earth which are encouraging citizens to take action to monitor air quality where they live.

The World Health Organization and Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Breathe Life campaign aims to mobilize cities and individuals around the world to protect human health and environment from the effects of air pollution

However, raising awareness does not always translate into sustained behaviour change and a improvement in air quality. We are complex beings fraught with contradictions. While we like the idea of a clean and green environment that is fine as long as it does not inconvenience us by requiring a change in the way we live.

Selling the Sizzle

If cities are to achieve better air quality then we require setting out a vision that inspires citizen action. To some extent this is a marketing job which requires selling the sizzle of a clean and green city.

US Marketeer, Elmer Wheeler, coined the term “Don’t Sell The Steak – Sell The Sizzle” to inspire people to buy a product. Selling the steak is boring but selling the smell, taste and associated lifestyle inspires consumers and catches the imagination.

We need to set out a vision for citizen action on air pollution.

The same principles are relevant for achieving cleaner cities. If we talk simply about action to reduce emissions such as banning cars or creating low emission zones these are the ‘Steak’ and are far less appealing than the sizzle of a safe, clean and accessible city for all.

Both the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 SDG Agenda set out that vision, it is now down the cities to harness citizen power to make this vision a reality. A guiding principle must be act locally, think globally as this will lead us closer to  greener inclusive cities where we all can breathe clean air.

 

How Can Asian Cities Better Manage Air Quality?

 

City authorities in Asia are on the front-line in the fight against air pollution and climate change. But what additional action can Asian city authorities take to better manage air quality?

Many Asian cities are grappling with the challenge of poor air quality with their efforts being hampered by limited financial, human resources and technical capacity. As a consequence, city authorities are not always able to determine the extent of their air pollution problems or take the most appropriate measures.

This is a significant issue for outdoor air pollution is one of the top five risks to human health in developing countries in Asia. In 2012 air pollution was responsible for more than 2.6 million premature deaths in the Western Pacific and South East Asian regions. The issue of urban air quality will become an increasing problem as the urban population expands. Currently, 16 of the world’s 29 megacities (urban agglomerations of more than 10 million people) are located in Asia. By 2030 it is estimated 23 out of 41 megacities globally will be in Asia.

A Systematic Approach

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A systematic and integrated air quality management (AQM) approach is necessary to protect human health and wellbeing as well as flora and fauna, ecosystems and material assets. A number of cities in Asia have adopted pollution control measures that have resulted in a continuous improvement in air quality. For example, seventy-four major Chinese cities have seen the annual average concentrations of particulate matter, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide decrease since 2014. However, studies have shown that some Asian cities are failing to respond quickly enough to the changing urban landscape and evolving air pollution problem. This is partly due to the scope and effectiveness of the measures taken and the absence of a comprehensive AQM system.

Taking Stock

The Clean Air Scored Card is one tool that is currently being piloted by Clean Air Asia to assist city authorities to take stock of their AQM approach and identify priority areas for action. The Score Card assesses four components: air quality measurement capacity; data assessment and availability; emissions inventory; and AQM management enabling capacity. It provides a quick snapshot on the overall status of AQM in a city ranging from underdeveloped, developing, emerging, maturing and fully developed.

On the Road to Cleaner Air

Once a city authority has identified a particular area for improvement it can then take appropriate action. The Guidance Framework for Better Air Quality in Asian Cities outlines a voluntary road map to improve urban air quality. Organized around six key areas of concern (Ambient air quality standards and monitoring, Emissions inventories and modelling, Health and other impacts, Air quality communication, Clean air action plans and Governance), the Guidance Framework aims to equip cities with the knowledge and direction needed to effectively reduce air pollution by mapping out the steps to be taken by national and local-level policy-makers.

A number of AQM training programmes such as the Clean Air for Smaller Cities programme are available in Asia. Together with on-line educational resources, such initiatives enable Asian local and government officials to further develop their capacity to address priority areas identified in the Scorecard Assessment and implement the steps outlined in the Guidance Framework road map.

Partnerships for Clean Air

As well as training programmes, much can be gained and learned through collaboration and sharing between cities and countries. Twinning promotes inter-city and region-wide sharing of information and experiences towards generating insights that will hopefully encourage implementation of the good practices of cities and countries. The Asian Development Bank’s Technical Assistance on “Mainstreaming Air Quality in Urban Development through South-South Twinning” aims to address challenges of AQM in Asian cities by promoting long term-planning and identifying strategies for South-South twinning to facilitate sharing and learning of good urban AQM practices in Asia.

While the best practice approaches to managing air quality may not always achieve the similar level of success when applied in a different context, they do give an insight into tackling a particular issue. This is especially the case when core elements are adapted for local circumstances.

Motivating Change

In order to motivate and reward cities to take action, a City Certification Programme is being developed to support progressive and sustainable advances in air quality. The Cities Clean Air Partnership’s city certification programme will enable cities to communicate the achievements that they have made towards better air quality management goals through a “seal of approval” (or eco-label). The programme offers international recognition for cities taking significant steps to improve the air quality. It is anticipated that there will be three levels of certification (Bronze, Silver and Gold).

The bronze level, targeted at the capacity building, will in 2016 be piloted in five cities before being opened to wider participation: Baguio, Iloilo and Santa Rosa in the Philippines, Malang in Indonesia, and Kathmandu in Nepal. Following this level, cities will be assessed based on the level of effort they make relative to their resources.

Maximising Air and Climate Co-Benefits

Cities are responsible for around 70 per cent of global GHGs: While carbon dioxide has warming influences on the climate in the long-term; short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon, a primary component of particulate matter, methane and ozone have warming influences on the climate in the near-term.

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Taking a co-benefits approach addresses air and climate pollutants and helps identify and implement win-win strategies that help meet the economic and social development needs of developing countries. Technologies and strategies targeting short-lived climate pollutants are able to reduce both near-term warming as well as air pollution levels. In Asia, the reduction of black emissions from diesel vehicles and biomass cook stoves, and reducing methane emissions from coal mining, oil and gas production and municipal waste are estimated to bring about significant air and climate benefits.

Measures to reduce emissions from transportation such as avoiding traffic congestion or public campaigns encouraging non-motorized transport (e.g. cycling and walking) can also provide additional wellbeing benefits such as increased physical activity.

No Excuses

Achieving better air quality in Asian cities requires local solutions that exploit the multiple benefits associated with quick actions to improve air quality while mitigating both short-lived climate pollutants and long-lived greenhouse gases. There are a number of initiatives, guidance and tools available to assist Asian cities authorities in this task. All that is required is the political will and organizational interest to adopt a comprehensive and integrated approach to managing air quality and achieving air and climate benefits.

The Rising Economic Cost of Air Pollution

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Photo credit: kartal8167

There is no doubt that air pollution is a serious environmental risk affecting the health, well-being and life chances of hundreds of millions of men, women and children every day. But what is the economic cost of our inaction to address deteriorating air quality?

Air pollution (indoor and outdoor) was responsible for 5.5 million premature deaths globally in 2013. More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed the World Health Organization (WHO) limits. It is often the poor and socially marginalized who tend to suffer disproportionately from the effects of deteriorating air quality due to living near sources of pollution

Air pollution also has an impact on crop yields, biodiversity and ecosystems. These all have economic consequences which affect economic growth and societal welfare, which will worsen if no action is taken to address poor air quality.

The OECD has estimated the economic cost of outdoor air pollution. In the absence of stringent measures air pollutants are expected to lead to higher concentrations of particulate matter (PM2.5) and ground level ozone (O3); further exacerbating the air pollution situation in those regions that already exceed WHO air quality guidelines.

According to the OECD, outdoor air pollution will impact labour productivity, health expenditures and agricultural crop yields amounting to 1% of global GDP by 2060.

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In particular, the number of premature deaths are expected to increase from approximately 3 million (2010) to 6-9 million annually by 2060. It is densely populated regions with high concentrations of PM2.5 and O3 such as China and India, which will be most affected.

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The annual global welfare costs associated with the premature deaths from outdoor air pollution are projected to increases from USD 300 billion (2015) to USD 2.2. trillion by 2060.

Conventional wisdom expects air pollution to increase as countries undergo economic development, but this is not the case for all countries and pollutants.

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Since the 1990s, sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions in Asia have declined, mostly due to a emission reductions in China.

China has decreased its emissions of SO2 from 23.8 million tons in 1995 to 20 million tons in 2000 due to a general reform of industry and power generation including a substantial decline in industrial high-sulphur coal use and an improvement in energy efficiency and economic growth.

However, the reduction of particular pollutants (e.g. NOx, PM and O3) has been slow in some countries due to an increase in the number of vehicles which offset the emission reductions achieved by improved vehicle technology.

Nevertheless, many countries have recognized air pollution as a key environment problem that needs to be addressed. Those cities which have been able to introduce emission control early in their development path (e.g. Hong Kong, Tokyo and Singapore) have avoided the extremely high levels of urban pollution that are often associated with other cities that have introduced emission control measures later.

The earlier integrated air quality managements systems are introduced, the lower the maximum pollution levels and lower the impact on human health and environment.

The evidence is clear, we need to act to protect human health, exploit climate co-benefits and ensure everyone can breathe clean air.

 

Can Car Labelling Lead to Better Air Quality and Lower Carbon Emissions?

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Environmental labelling of products and services has been used as a way to ‘nudge’ consumers to make greener choices but can car labelling lead to lower vehicles emissions and better air quality?

Car labelling was introduced in 1992 to inform European consumers about the fuel consumption and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of new passenger cars enabling them to contribute to achieving a 40% reduction in economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

Reducing transport emissions has health and climate protection benefits. The 250 million passenger cars in use in the European Union (EU) account for 14% of the final energy use and 12% of the fuel-related CO2 emissions. Therefore increasing the fuel efficiency of cars can reduce urban air pollutants, CO2 emissions and fuel costs.

Energy labelling has been successful in encouraging consumers to purchase energy efficient domestic appliances (e.g., refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers and washing machines) with 90% of appliances sold in the EU now labelled as class A.

Although causality is difficult to establish, estimates suggest that the EU energy label has contributed to CO2 emission reductions of some 14 Mt annually over the period 1996 and 2004. However, an estimated 10% of energy savings are lost due to poor enforcement and a lack of cooperation and application across EU Member States.

When it comes to buying a new car, consumers consider factors such as price, fuel consumption, comfort, size, reliability, safety, engine power as well as brand and image. Although environmental attributes listed in a car label, information about fuel consumption and environmental impacts appear to be less important than other factors (e.g., price or hauling capacity) in the choice of a car model Moreover, information on fuel consumption can be perceived by consumers in an ambiguous manner.

A review of the current status of car labelling in the EU found that EU Member States rely either directly or indirectly on the distance-specific CO2 emissions [g/km] determined in the laboratory test procedures. However, laboratory testing has come under criticism for being unrepresentative of real-world driving and therefore underestimates the actual on-road CO2 emissions of cars.

The gap between the distance-specific CO2 emissions measured in the laboratory and on the road has been widening in the past decade and reached 31-49% in 2014. This observation suggests that the data underlying car labelling in the EU systematically underestimate both fuel costs and environmental impacts.

For example, an average European gasoline car is labelled with 129 g CO2/km and a fuel consumption of 5.6 l/100 km. However, on the road this vehicle may actually emit 169-193 g CO2/km and consume 7.3-8.3 l/100 km of fuel (assuming a gap of 31-49% between the certified and actual on-road fuel consumption) resulting in increased yearly fuel cost and CO2 emissions.

Such discrepancies risk consumers losing trust in the claims of the car label, which, in turn, could undermine the current and future efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from passenger cars.

In addition, the different methodologies used by EU member states to translate CO2 emission values into label classes has resulted in differences in the labelling for efficient medium size to luxury cars.

Not only that, the current European car labelling schemes unable to differentiate vehicles that emit between zero and 95-100 g CO2/km. This shortcoming will become of increasing importance as hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars are being promoted as a solution to poor urban air quality.

Finally, although consumer awareness of the European car label is steadily growing, it still remains low with comprehension affecting both familiarity and trust in the label.

More than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed World Health Organization (WHO) limits with vehicle emissions being a key contributor to poor air quality. To move towards a more sustainable transport system we need to promote walking, cycling and public transport as well as clean and efficient fuels and vehicles.

The car will always have a role in society and therefore if consumers want to buy a car then they should go for the greener and cleaner vehicle. Car labelling could be influential in purchasing decisions but it has to be accurate and reflect emissions and fuel consumption under real-world conditions.

Despite these limitations, car labelling should be part of an overall strategy to reduce transport-related CO2 emissions and increase  societal well-being.

A Road Map For Better Air Quality in Asian Cities

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Air pollution is now considered the world’s largest environmental health risk.

A study of regional sources of outdoor particulate matter (PM2.5) in 51 countries found that globally 25% of urban outdoor particulate pollution is from traffic, 15% from industrial activities, 20% by domestic fuel burning, 22% from unspecified sources of human origin, and 18% from natural dust and salt.

In Asia, poor air quality is among the top five risks to human health in developing countries of the continent with more than 2.6 million premature deaths attributed to poor air quality pollution reported in the Western Pacific and South East Asian regions.

In an effort to address poor air quality, Clean Air Asia has launched a Guidance Framework for Better Air Quality in Asian Cities that provides a viable solution to the growing air pollution problems facing countries and cities throughout the region.

The Guidance Framework for Better Air Quality in Asian Cities helps policy-makers to improve air quality management. It also demonstrates the co-benefits of addressing air and climate pollutants and highlights win-win strategies which can contribute to meeting the economic and social needs of developing countries.

A voluntary road map to improve urban air quality, the Guidance Framework is organized around key areas of concern. It aims to equip countries and cities with the knowledge and direction needed to effectively reduce air pollution, mapping out the steps and actions to be taken by national and local-level policy-makers  to improve air quality across six guidance areas:

Guidance Area 1: Ambient air quality standards and monitoring
Guidance Area 1 outlines the need to establish/strengthen ambient air quality standards and sustainable national and local air quality monitoring systems to understand the status of air quality and air quality targets for public health and environment protection.

Guidance Area 2: Emissions inventories and modelling
Guidance Area 2 outlines the need to develop an accurate and reliable emissions inventory and apply dispersion modelling and source apportionment techniques to have a better understanding of air pollution sources and their characterization. This information can guide the development of clean air action plans and related environmental and developmental plans and policies.

Guidance Area 3: Health and other impacts
Guidance Area 3 outlines the need to improved understanding of impacts of air pollution informs clean air action plans development and helps engage stakeholders in this issue. Multi-stakeholder approaches contribute to effective co-management of air pollution as well as greenhouse gas emissions, leading to significant co-benefits with regards to public health.

Guidance Area 4: Air quality communication
Guidance Area 4 outlines the need for an effective communication strategy to inform, educate and strengthen stakeholder participation in all aspects of air quality management.

Guidance Area 5: Clean air action plans
Guidance Area 5 outlines the need to develop clean air action plans that include and/or legally strengthen air quality management in relevant policies and legislation, with the ultimate goal of improving air quality in regions and cities.

Guidance Area 6: Governance
Guidance Area 6 outlines the need for effective governance that aims to facilitate policy development and enforcement. Effective governance also educates and strengthens stakeholder participation in all aspects of air quality management to prevent and reduce  air pollution impacts.

The Guidance Framework also allows cities to be classified according to their air quality management capabilities (i.e. underdeveloped, developing, emerging, maturing, or fully developed). These development stages allow cities to assess their status and encourage them to attain the fully developed stage.

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While the Guidance Framework outlines voluntary actions  to achieve better air quality, its implementation will be dependent on overcoming common challenges faced in tackling air pollution in Asia. These range from a lack of government commitment and stakeholder participation, weaknesses in policies, standards and regulations, through to deficiencies in data on emissions, air quality and impacts on human health and the environment. The relatively low priority for air quality management means that funding is also often a problem.

Hopefully, the increased awareness of  air pollution issues together with the support provided by Clean Air Asia to implement the Guidance Framework as part of the Integrated Programme for Better Air Quality in Asia, will enable countries and cities to move along the road to better air quality.

The Carbon Cost of Christmas

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Christmas time is accompanied by seasonal increases in our level of consumption. But what is the environmental impact of Christmas?

From eating and drinking to giving and receiving, it is the time of the year when we do things to excess. Unfortunately, it also means we are likely to have a greater impact on the environment.

A number of studies have attempted to calculate the carbon footprint of Christmas.

So, let’s start with the Christmas tree. When it comes to the use of an artificial versus a natural Christmas tree, one study found that when compared on an annual basis, the artificial tree (6 yrs life span) has three times more impact on climate change and resource depletion than the natural tree. The natural tree contributes significantly less carbon dioxide emission (39%) than the artificial tree.

As for Christmas dinner, it has been estimated that a British style Christmas dinner is equivalent to 20kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) emission – 60 per cent related to life cycle of turkey. Total equivalent emissions for UK Christmas dinners is 51,000 tonnes – or 148 million miles travelled in a car. Cranberry sauce is the worst offender for transport-related carbon emissions.

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Even Santa Claus is not excluded from scrutiny. With  another study suggesting that Santa’s 133 million mile trip around the world is responsible for emitting about 70 million tons of CO2!

However, if we look at the total consumption and spending on food, travel, lighting and gifts over three days of festivities (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day). Then this could result in as much as 650 kg of CO2 emissions per person – equivalent to the weight of 1,000 Christmas puddings!

Such studies will vary in their assumptions, data sets and methodologies and may not necessarily be comparable. However, we don’t need any study to tell us what we already know –  that our consumption peaks at this time of the year.

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But we can still have a good Christmas and be kind to the planet?

With a bit of thought we can limit the impact we have on the environment this Christmas and still have a great time. There are a number of actions we can all take which can reduce our CO2 emissions.

Food
• Support your local economy and try buying from local organic suppliers.

• Compost your vegetable peelings after you’ve finished cooking to make sure that this extra organic waste doesn’t head straight to landfill.
• Plan your meal carefully to reduce the amount of uneaten food thrown away – check who likes Brussels sprouts!
Travel
• Plan your Christmas travel to reduce the distance travelled and try and use environmentally friendly modes of transport or car share.
Lighting
• Less is more when it come Christmas lighting! Opt for a small tasteful lighting display and turn the fairy lights off before bed and save both money and carbon.

Shopping

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• When it comes to Christmas presents buy quality not quantity. Well-made goods last longer and will not have to be replaced in the New Year.
• A good Christmas gift doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive.
Think about giving alternative gifts such as a charity or environmentally friendly gift, an experience or giving your time.
• Give your unwanted gifts to charity or to local hospitals or hospices.

In this time of seasonal goodwill, we should all spare a thought for the planet!

A Merry Christmas to you all, everyone!

Effective Environmental Policy in the Age of Man

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The rate and scale of human-induced global environmental change is so significant that it now constitutes a new geological epoch in the Earth’s history called the Anthropocene.

The acceleration of human pressure on the Earth’s system has caused critical global, regional and local thresholds to be exceeded. This could have irreversible effects on the life-support function of the planet with adverse implications for human health and wellbeing. More than ever, there is a need to have appropriate and effective environmental policies to make the transition to a low carbon and sustainable society.

New social movements, political parties, greater media coverage of environmental disasters, and a growing body of scientific evidence on the effects of environmental pollution have all led to an increased imperative to take action.

However, the human cost of environmental change must not be underestimated. For example, population growth and an increased trend towards urbanisation have all had social and environmental consequences. The loss of arable land has increased concerns about food security, and has contributed to higher levels of environmental pollution.

Poor sanitation in developing countries, especially in slum areas on the peripheries of cities is clearly associated with an increase in preventable diseases such as cholera. Additionally, conflicts and social unrest associated with dwindling resources are evident, and are likely to increase if current trends continue.

In addition, the impact of climate change is potentially so profound and could result in population displacement, widespread threats to those living in low lying areas, risks to food security, increased diseases are all predicted impacts of climate change. While the immediate burden of these effects is more likely to fall on developing countries, there are major implications also for developed nations.

In order to effectively address environmental problems through policy, a number of issues needed to be considered:

  • balancing social, economic and environmental objectives
  • „addressing uncertainty, risk and the negative impacts of policies
  • „the scale of the problem and the solution.

Traditionally, environmental policy has had to compete with social and economic objectives. While sustainable development has provided the paradigm to demonstrate that all three are equally important, this has not always been translated into practice.

Attempts have been made, however, to include the environmental costs of human activity into policy evaluation tools by giving a monetary value to the costs and benefits of environmental regulation.

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At the international level, policy debates have attempted to balance economic and development concerns. One of the strategies of international climate policy is the investment in projects that will encourage greener development trajectories in developing countries.

However, national level policy making is influenced by national political system, national elites, existing policy frameworks or legacies, and any national level environmental concerns. Local level policy is affected by many similar issues, but is often subject to local circumstances.

Meeting future environmental challenges will require more flexible and adaptive global and national governance frameworks. Doing so will also potentially require a redefinition of wealth and prosperity, taking into account the impact of consuming limited and non-renewable resources.

Potential barriers to meeting these challenges  include a lack of political will to make difficult changes with short-term costs, and a lack of public acceptance that such changes are necessary.

In developed countries, popular aspirations, habits and lifestyles which rely on high levels of consumption may not be amenable to the action that is needed to address environmental challenges, suggesting the requirement for change in some aspects of society and social norms.

A further challenge is the requirement to consider the economic development needs of the world’s poorest countries alongside the need for environmental protection.

In the ‘Age of Man’ increasing natural resource scarcity, rising global temperatures, biodiversity loss, environmental pollution and food and energy insecurity means that appropriate and effective environmental policy is vital if we are to remain within planetary boundaries, and ensure the future survival of humankind.

To read more see A Short Guide To Environmental Policy by Caz Snell and Gary Haq (April 2014).