Political leadership in a new era

IPCC. Drought. Storms. CO2 levels of 400 ppm. In 2014, climate change and sustainability moved from being distinct environmental concerns to becoming systematic welfare issues.

Agricultural production was effected by both droughts and floods in many areas around the world. We have also seen war and conflictemerge in the wake of climate change and the pressure on resources that it brings. With increased population growth in urban areas, the costs and risks resulting from our damage to the environment have grown exponentially.

Countering these changes will require new ways of thinking about energy resources (and efficiency), water, transport and the relationship between cities and national governments. We are entering a new era and the implications for the political system could be profound.

The questions facing governments across the political spectrum –especially those about to take office, such as the EU and Sweden –are huge. How much demand will there be for the political decision-making process in environmental policy requirements? How should policymakers act at a global, EU, national and local level?

As well as the inevitable negotiations between parties, politicians need to re-address the very way that power is organized. Limiting responsibility along sectoral and geographical lines must stop. Many politicians are talking about sustainable development, but if action is to be meaningful it must be characterized by a holistic approach to resource efficiency. More stakeholders need to become involved in a social model that integrates economic, ecological and social perspectives. Policies should dare to lead while remaining open to suggestions from the outside world.

United Nations Global Compact, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and Global Reporting InitiativeCarbon Disclosure Project Multistakeholder Forum and Fair Trade are all examples of how these principles can be applied to create new models of governance. The so-called “Post-2015 Development Agenda” sees climate change as an area in which governments can redefine their decision-making structures. Several have already introduced innovative climate policy frameworks, including UK, Mexico and certain states in Germany.

But despite these positive examples, it is clear that most national governments have failed to agree on how to counter the growing threat of climate change.The cost of taking action requires bold leadership when there are fewer resources available for a more aggressive focus on job creation and welfare.

A government in power in 2014 must initiate a widespread process of changeif it is to develop a comprehensive climate strategy. This includes reviewing the role of national governments and cities alike; how they interact with one anotherand new stakeholders. Institutions with members from across a spectrum of interests will meed to formif we are to secure ongoing commitments within cities, businesses and organizations. This applies at both a national and local level—remember, it is cities and not countries that hold the key to the sustainability of tomorrow’s societies.

The agenda of a new era should based on volunteerism, “smart”legislation and realigning the way that institutions work together on active global, national and local climate policies. Such an approach could have a huge impact on new initiatives designed within fields such as fiscal policy (investment / pension funds), investment in university and college education,the renewal of business and labor market policies for the green sector, and renewed aid and trade.

Whether these changes will come about in time remains unclear, but one element of this story appears inevitable —urban growth. It often increases at more than double the rate of the nation-state writes Arif Naqvi in the Financial Times:

This change means that almost half of the economic growth expected over the next ten years will take place in 400 cities in the world’s emerging markets globally. It will create an urban consumer class of 4 billion people by 2025, up from 1 billion from as late as 1990.”

Our traditional way of looking at the world as a collection of national economies can not continue. Policy decisions at the national level must be based on a different worldview – one that sees our world as a network of cities with climate change and sustainable community development at their heart. It is time to start Governing for Sustainability



Circular economies: a new industrial model, not “business as usual”

The move from linear business models to circular ones is an exciting development. More and more companies are rejecting the “business as usual” model by maximizing the value extracted from resources and reusing them to generate new products as well as by improving efficiency which enable cost savings in raw materials, labour, energy, water, waste and emissions.

Articles on the circular economy are being more widely discussed in business groups. As a result, new policies are being integrated into company strategies and promoted as benchmarking tools.

I was recently invited to an industrial plant operated by the carpet tile manufactures, Interface, in Scherpenzeel, The Netherlands, where I joined in discussion with industry leaders, government employees and stakeholders from financial markets and other organizations. At the top of the agenda was the question of whether Europe’s industries can transform into “circular” businesses. Could the US-owned Interface be used as a prototype for a new industrial model in manufacturing sector in Europe?

In my interview with Rob Boogaard, Acting CEO & President EMEA, he explained how important it has been to provide economic, social and environmental goals within the company. As a listed company standing up for long-term sustainable development Boogaard says that Interface “has many eyes” on it. “[But] using the Natural Step system conditions, we have gradually increased our ambitions.”

As of January 2014, Interface has been operating on 100 percent renewable energy (both electricity and gas) and using 100 % re-circulated water in its manufacturing processes in Scherpenzeel. It has also managed to send zero waste to landfill. These are impressive achievements for the facility and a significant step towards “Mission Zero”, the company’s pledge to eliminate any negative impact on the environment by 2020 and, in doing so, become a restorative enterprise.

This mission is the result of the vision and strong leadership of Interface’s late founder Ray Anderson. The principle was established in 1996 and, by 2013, the company’s European manufacturing plants located in Sherpenzeel, the Netherlands and in Craigavon, Ireland  had reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent and their water consumption by 87 percent. In this context, the political objective of a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across Europe by 2030 does not seem particularly ambitious. It sounds more like a new, achievable definition of “business as usual”.

To aim beyond the status quo, company managers must raise their expectations and take on more ambitious goals. In Scherpenzeel I also spoke with CEO of Lavery Pennell, Greg Lavery, who has undertaken the challenge of developing a new industrial model for Europe. In a new report he presented at the meeting, Lavery demonstrated how European industry can increase its profits by 9 percent and create 170,000 new jobs through energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy. All of this can be achieved while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 1,200 metric tons (or 14.6 per cent of Europe’s total).

With experience from my own values-based consultancy Respect, which uses the principles of both the Natural Step system conditions and circular economies, I have seen how important it is to use companies like Interface as an example of best practice. The organization’s process of change provides a business model that can apply in all market-driven companies, whether listed or not. Circular models can become standard practice and, in doing so, use efficiency in the name of both profits and environmental sustainability.



Climate strategy is a welfare issue

Europe is facing a shift political agendas. This transition will place greater focus on welfare, in both the short- and long-term, and in both policy and action. The organizations and individuals involved in social dialogue feel that the political leadership is far too indecisive and slow-moving to create new models in this time of change.
We as citizens, voters or consumers will not sit quietly and wait for political action. Welfare societies are under threat and the gap between rich and poor has widened dramatically in the wake of the financial crisis. “Business as usual” is no longer enough.
The new year should mark an era of political maturity, where smarter decisions are made (and rules set) in both politics and finance. The interplay between climate change, energy efficiency and renewable energy is one example of an area where it should be possible to act more forcefully. All of our welfare depends on it.
By necessity, our dependence on fossil fuels will be phased out, step-by-step. New sustainable social goals can emerge, even with the pressures created by declining supplies of coal, oil and gas. The cost of the dirty energy sources is rising, while that of renewable energy will inevitably drop. A UBS analysis in 2013 argued that by 2017, 30 percent of gas, coal and oil production will be shut down – not necessarily to combat climate change or air pollution, or even to reduce imports, but because renewable energy will start forcing fossil fuels out of energy market. Take the price of nuclear energy for instance, where the UK government has guaranteed a 35-year price of £92.50 per megawatt hour (Mwh). This is more than the double the amount of today’s market price for energy. Another “business as usual” deal between politics and the energy market.
The economic incentives for renewable energy are becoming more apparent. European industry can increase profits by 9 percent and create 170,000 jobs through a greater focus on energy efficiency, materials efficiency and renewable energy according to a new report entitled The New Industrial Model. At the same time, this process will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1,200 MtCo2e tonnes (or 14.6 percent of Europe’s total).
Some companies are already realizing the benefits.
The US-based carpet manufacturer Interface has set itself a target of reducing its energy use through improved operational efficiency, aiming to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2020. It purchases clean electricity from the grid and invests it in carbon-neutral, on-site power generation. Currently, 91 percent of the electricity the company uses is from renewable sources, as opposed to 30 percent globally. Interface also uses the option of carbon offsetting so customers can ensure their purchases are more sustainable.
Recycling is another sector that is growing. This is not only crucial to protect the eco-systems ravaged by our hunt for raw materials because, as with energy efficiency, recycling has huge economic and job-creation potential. A recent EU study estimated that 400,000 new jobs could be created through the recycling industry, saving €72 billion at the same time.
The EU needs to combine climate issues, energy efficiency and renewable energy into a coherent policy for sustainable growth, rather than separating them and moving away from holistic policy. The UK government, which is acting against this type of integrated target-setting would do well to read the Westminster Sustainable Business Forum’s report on building efficiency which proposes realistic efficiency targets and incentives, while arguing that UK businesses can achieve “a cost saving opportunity of up to £1.6 billion through investment in energy efficiency”.
The EU knows this only too well. According to its own long-term trend analysis, a policy based on “business as usual” will meet neither its target of a decarbonated EU by 2050 nor the climate change target of less than 2 degrees Celsius.
Nordic countries can show the way. With 25 million people and a combined GDP of about $1 trillion, they can have a direct impact and inspire followers in Europe and around the world. A report from the business-oriented Think Tank, Global Utmaning (Global Challenges), shows that carbon-neutrality is a possibility. It proposes a way to viably reduce energy-related CO2 emissions by 85 percent and cover the remaining 15 percent offset with international carbon credits.
As early as 2012, Sweden achieved the EU target for 2020 of using renewables for 10 percent of its transport sector and 49 percent of the total energy mix. Energy use from fossil fuels decreased and now bioenergy is more of a major resource than oil. Sweden’s total electricity consumption has decreased by about 1 TWh per year since 2001, with industrial energy use on the decline since 1970.
But of course there are challenges. Nuclear power energy loses has increased to 110 TWh in 2010 (as well as the additional cost, of course).
The transport sector, and especially Sweden’s vehicle fleet, also remains a problem. But change is happening in these areas too, thanks in part to some promising collaboration with forward-thinking Asian partners.
More can be done. The goal for 2020 should be further reductions in energy use, greater efficiency and setting new renewables targets for 2030. We are ready to realize the goal of a fossil-free transport sector when political decisions are in place, says Vice President of the Swedish Bioenergy Association, Lena Bruce.
There are also a number of areas in which Sweden and the Nordic countries can provide models of collaboration with other countries, within and outside Europe. Take the example of district heating and cooling, where the Nordic experiences can be used as a resource to stimulate improvements in similar, but less efficient, systems in central and eastern Europe. Sustainable urban development is a beneficial Nordic brand but it can also be a powerful force among other world cities.
The Nordic forestry and bioenergy industries already have leading global positions which can also mean a lot for the future development of society, especially when it comes to transport. The growth of these sectors can contribute with new fuels and the processing of raw cellulose for new industrial development.
Swedish multinationals such as Fortum, Eriksson, H&M, Skf, Abb and Ikea have successfully demonstrated attempts to be part of a global transition towards growing sustainability and renewable energy. Take Fortum’s and Abb:s sustainable urban developmentSkf’s ball bearings for wind powerIkea’s investment in solar energy and green technologyH&M’s supply chain reform and Ericsson’s work with Stockholm Royal Seaport and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. And there is now more space for small, green companies to produce solutions for huge growth markets in the US, China and Africa.
Now is time for politics to act decisively. Leadership must be braver and politicians must take a step towards Sustainable Development.
If they do, there might be more chance of attracting interest from voters ahead of both the European elections and upcoming Swedish election later this year.

Welfare at stake?

Dear friends,
The new year marks new challenges and opportunities. In 2014 we will see two tests of two major political systems – the Swedish general election and the EU’s parliamentary election. Are politicians ready to face the challenges of the welfare state, climate change and other global issues?
Let me propose one of the means by which politicians, businesses and their stakeholders can be brought to the table – pension funds. Our pension funds need a new roadmap. If they are restructured responsibly, Sweden can create a new model that encourages more serious discussion about what we do with future investments.
How much CO2 is emitted by companies that Swedish citizens are inadvertent shareholders in by virtue of such public investments? Pension funds are some of the biggest actors in the country’s financial sector, so why aren’t they supporting the development of clean energy, especially in fields like bioenergy where Sweden is a global leader?
Now is the time for Swedish politicians to lead from the front.
Read my full article on how pension funds can overhaul the direction of energy markets – http://bit.ly/19rPQhp
For my Swedish network I also recommend the debate featured in the Daily Newspaper Dagens Industri - http://bit.ly/1gcEkbs – written by CEO of EON Sweden Jonas Abrahamsson, Professor at Karolinska Institutet’s Center for Social Sustainability Stefan Einhorn, TCO President Eva Nordmark, President of Global Utmaning Kristina Persson, Publicist Mats Svegfors, Archbishop of the Swedish Church Anders Wejryd, and President of the Club of Rome Anders Wijkman.
More links that could be interesting for you
English: The GuardianReuters The Atlantic cities
Swedish: Swedish RadioSydsvenskan
Best wishes for 2014!
Follow me on Twitter – @KajEmbren -  https://twitter.com/KajEmbren – to receive updates on issues related to sustainable development and the challenges facing the welfare state.

Prevent, recycle and reuse

As urban consumers our use of resources leaves a huge footprint on the planet. In Europe alone, 8 billion plastic bags find their way through to waste disposal systems, creating unnecessary environmental problems.

The OECD expects that its member countries will generate 45 percent more waste than it did in 1995. A new EU directive in 2013places greater demands on European nations to cope with the increasing amount of garbage and the systems needed to take process it.

Studies show that a more effective system and smarter regulations can save financial resources and create new jobs. The research suggests savings in the region of € 72 billion and the creation of 400,000 new jobs in recycling industries.

But of course there is plenty of ways that both consumers and producers can take greater responsibility today. As consumers we can make more conscious choices at the store or when shopping online. Similarly, producers can make it easier for us, by offering appealing, well-designed products that are recyclable and resource-efficient.

There are also a number of pioneering technological advances in this field. A few weeks ago, I spoke with Jonas Törnblom of Envac, a company that develops systems for waste disposal and separation in residential areas.

He told me about the company’s new optical sorting technology now being launched in several Swedish cities including Stockholm and Eskilstuna, as well as the Norwegian capital, Oslo. Using camera technology, this fully automated system is able to separate waste on the basis of the color bag that it is contained in.

This new tool can contribute to more efficient garbage disposal in many sustainable urban development projects. Let’s hope that the EU directive instigates more examples of innovation in waste collection and management.

Kaj Embrén


Sweden may have moved first to break fossil fuel dependency, but it’s no thanks to the pension funds

The planet’s atmosphere is constantly being flooded with more greenhouse gases. The more that we unleash, the more we warm the planet. Put simply: now is the time to let our fossil fuel reserves rest in peace.

If we are to create a sustainable future, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that at least two-thirds of the coal, oil and gas reserves that the market believes to be economically recoverable must remain in the ground. We must instead use our resources to invest in cleaner sources of energy.

But while may feel somewhat removed from the direction of the energy markets, there are pension funds making decisions on our behalf using society’s collective assets. How much CO2 is emitted by companies that Swedish citizens are inadvertent shareholders in by virtue of these investments? Pension funds are some of the biggest actors in the country’s financial sector, so why aren’t they supporting the development of clean energy, especially in areas where Sweden is a global leader, like bioenergy?

Here’s an idea of both the scale of the problem and pension funds’ potential to change the market.

Let us first assume that our planet’s resource “budget” until 2050 is based on the agreed target of limiting the global temperature rise to 2 degrees. There are 200 companies listed on global stock market that hold 745 gigatonnes of CO2 in fossil fuel reserves, which is 180 gigatonnes more than the world’s remaining carbon budget combined, according to an analysis by the Carbon Tracker Initiative. Of these companies, there are 133 that enjoy investment from Swedish pension funds (to the tune of 32 billion SEK) and collectively hold 643 gigatonnes of CO2  - this figure itself more than 14  percent higher than the world’s remaining carbon budget, according to findings presented by environmental group WWF Sweden at a conference in November.

At the event, I interviewed the President of Carbon Tracker, Jeremy Legget, who warned that we risk a global fossil fuel bubble.  “Companies and stock exchanges are currently being allowed to account coal, oil and gas reserves as assets at zero risk of standing by climate policymaking,” he told me. “As a result, such is the enormity of carbon-fuel-based value on stock exchanges that the risk of systematic financial failure builds with every new reserves of fossil fuel discovered.”

This bubble could be burst by pension funds. WWF argues that if all of such funds were to withdraw their stakes in six coal companies – Secerstal, Anglo American, BHP Billiton, Peabody, Alliance, and Xstrata – the emissions savings would equate to two times those produced by all of Sweden.

So, will pension funds in Sweden continue with an investment policy that fails to take into account the dependency on fossil fuels? Action from politicians in the pension system has the power to further strengthen the leading position that bioenergy and other non- fossil fuels have in Sweden at present.

That pension plan money finances climate change is a global theme. The US-based mass-movement 350.org calls for “divest from fossil fuels” and provokes a badly needed discussion by tweeds like this, read and spread by millions: “If you invest in fossil fuel corporations, you have a share in Typhoon Hayan: Count your profits in lives lost”.

Politics is becoming increasingly aware of the role of large investors financing climate change, so the European Union’s Climate-KIC recently promoted an initiative, where five asset owners were selected to receive a climate impact assessment for free. Maximilian Horster of South Pole Carbon, the organization running the assessment, was overwhelmed: “The interest among asset owners was enormous. We received a large amount of applications from all over Europe and it was very tough to select just five of them”.

Among the winners was also the Church of Sweden that has divested from fossil fuels already five years ago – without giving up on generating financial returns: «We hope to get our case even stronger so that we can present it better to others in the investment industry» says Gunella Hahn who runs the Responsible Investment unit and wants the Church to serve as a role model for other investors.

It is not surprising that organisations with strong ethical grounds such as churches and foundations are taking climate change and investments seriously: The pension plan of the Church of Finland has also screened its investments for climate impact in order to line up mission with investments: «This climate impact assessment of our investments will give us a new tool to continue our work» says Ira van der Pals, the Chief Investment Officer of the pension fund.

While such a climate impact assessment might be an obvious task for a church, it should also be the duty of a pension plan: For any organization with a societal mandate, it should be logic that the investments should not contradict the mission. The money managed for future retirees should be invested in a way that preserves a world that is worth retiring into. Knowing about climate impact of investments is only the first step and yet, very few large investors have taken that. The second step is then about taking action, climate-optimizing investments and divesting.

Ahead of the Swedish election in 2014, voters should look carefully at where each party stands on matters like these. Will any of them take heed of WWF’s pleas and completely phase out pension funds’ holdings in the production of oil, gas and coal?

Kaj Embren




33 Mayors network listed – will they act for a climate deal?

National governments have proven that they do not have what is required to meet the global challenges of climate change and the unsustainable use of our planet’s resources. The shortcomings of the COP meeting since Copenhagen acts as testament to this. With the burden of recession and austerity, short-sighted national governments have thus far shown themselves unable to handle sustainable development issues.

Within the arena of sustainable development, the boundaries of responsibility are undergoing a monumental shift. This allows new actors to take pole position in the creation of new opportunities. Old infrastructures are being replaced by new ones that are better designed to cope with the challenges facing cities and regions.

We should stop directing our attentions and frustrations towards impotent governments. Instead we must focus on more localized models that simmer from below but come to influence and inspire national actors to greater action.

Better levels of engagement and the development of local and international networks have prompted a wider range of actors to become involved in sustainability, from both within and outside the market.

Over the past five years we have seen several strong international networks emerge from municipalities and regions. To get a wider understanding of this phenomenon I undertook some research that shows just how many locally-focussed organizations use their involvement in these networks to bring about sustainable solutions that can have a real impact.

Mayors ! Get involved and give your local voice in front of and at the COP19 meeting in Warsaw! When will we see Mayors and regions act at the COP meetings?

The 33 networks that can act are:

1. United Cities and Local Governments - http://www.cities-localgovernments.org/

2. United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLGA) - http://www.uclga.org/pages/homepage/?#1

3. Federación Latinoamericana de Ciudades, Municipios y Asociaciones (FLACMA) / Latin American Federation of Cities, Municipalities and Associations of Local Governments - http://www.portalambientallatinoamericano.com/

4. UCGL Euro-Asian Regional Section – http://www.euroasia-uclg.ru/index.php?lang=en

5. UCGL- Asia-Pacific - http://www.uclg-aspac.org/

6. Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR) - http://www.ccre.org/en/

7. UCLG-Middle East and West Asia (MEWA)  - http://www.uclg-mewa.org/

8. METROPOLIS Network (World Association of Major Metropolises) - http://www.metropolis.org/

9. Union of the Baltic Cities  - http://www.ubcwheel.eu/

10. International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives – ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability) - http://www.iclei.org/index.php?id=801

11. C40 (Large Cities Climate Leadership Group) - http://live.c40cities.org/

12. Clinton Foundation’s Climate Initiative – http://www.clintonfoundation.org/main/our-work/by-initiative/clinton-climate-initiative/programs/c40-cci-cities.html

13. World Mayor Council on Climate Change - http://citiesclimateregistry.org/

14. Sustainable Cities Network  - http://www.sustainablecities.net/

15. United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) - http://www.unhabitat.org/content.asp?typeid=19&catid=540&cid=5025

16. United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) - http://www.unisdr.org/campaign/resilientcities/

17. World Bank - http://blogs.worldbank.org/sustainablecities/about-us

18. Cities Alliance - http://www.citiesalliance.org/

19. World e-Governments Organisation of Cities and Local Governments (WeGO) - http://www.we-gov.org/history

20. Mercociudades - http://www.mercociudades.org/

21. Unión Iberoamericana de Municipalistas (Iberoamerican Union of Municipality Authorities – UIM) - http://www.uimunicipalistas.org/#/sobrelauim.txt

22. Federación de Municipios del Istmo Centroamericano (FEMICA) – Federation of Central American Municipalities - http://www.femica.org/

23. Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA) - http://www.cdia.asia/

24. CAI-Asia – The Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities  and CITYNET (The Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements) - http://www.cleanairnet.org/caiasia

25. Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Covenant of Mayors http://cor.europa.eu/en/activities/Pages/priorities.aspx






26. MEDCITIES - http://www.medcities.org/

27. Association of Cities and Regions for Recycling and Sustainable Resource management (ACR+) - http://www.acrplus.org/

28.Brazil – Frente Nacional de Prefeitos (National Front of Mayors – FNP) - http://www.fnp.org.br/home.jsf

29.India – City Managers Association of India (CMA) - http://www.umcasia.org/site/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=45&Itemid=68

30. China – China Association of Mayors (CAM) - http://www.citieschina.org/en/

31. South Korea – Governors Association of Korea - http://www.gaok.or.kr/eng/e01_intro/intro010.jsp

32. Canada – Federation of Canadian Municipalities - http://www.fcm.ca/

33. Sweden – Klimat Kommunerna – http://www.klimatkommunerna.se/

Ask the question – mobilise network, organisations and give your voice below or at LinkedIn  Rio+

Kaj Embrén


Making cities more resilient

Over the coming days and weeks I hope to see a more proactive agenda emerge from stakeholders across the public, private and voluntary sectors. With the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) launched its 36-page policy report in Stockholm the 27th of September, there will be many new messages and lessons to absorb.

But while my blog usually centers around strategies and governance within political and business sectors, today I want to focus on the human adaptation to climate change.

What impact will global warming have on our daily lives over the next 20 or 30 years, as severe weather becomes more frequent and we face the possibility of a world where flooding can be expected during any given season?

This is not just a worst case scenario. Even if we take immediate steps to reduce our emissions and strengthen our efforts to counter climate change, things may still decline before they can get better.

In some places, evidence of such shifts are already well underway. Take the east coast of the US for instance, where people have seen extreme weather become increasingly normal. Experts expect 13 to 20 tropical storms this year, with up to 11 becoming hurricanes and as many as six reaching major storm status. While some research suggests that higher temperatures could bring about atmospheric changes that push the storms out to sea and away from land, scientists have warned local governments against lowering their guard. The bill for storm defences will, of course, be picked up by the taxpayer.

Could this type of real-life impact on people’s lives act as a driving force for change? Will citizens realize that fighting climate change can help control the environmental, physical and financial damage at they may personally experience in the next few decades?

Hurricane Sandy prompted the US Congress to approve more than $60 million in storm aid. But this should also have been a time to review the climate risks that lay behind the extreme weather by setting new targets for reducing carbon emissions. America is only one example.

In the coming years, coastal cities all around the globe will find themselves similar circumstances. More than 600 cities worldwide face increasing dangers from natural disasters, exposing 800 million people to flooding, earthquakes and major storms, according to a new study  by insurers Swiss Re that encourages local governments to minimize damage by banning new construction in vulnerable areas.

Today, some of the world’s leading risk experts will meet in Stockholm to discuss how the new data from the IPCC should be integrated into decision-making. The panel will discuss analytical financial tools, as well as the security policy experiences implications of dealing with shared global risks. One of the speaker was Paul Dickinson, Executive Chairman of The Carbon Disclosure Project in London. Their latest report showing that S&P 500 companies leading on Climate Change action have dubbled in number. What is needed are radical changes within the business sector. But we should also look beyond the upper strata of decision-making – what does it all mean on an individual, human level?

I remember my wife’s friend, Judite dos Santos, an artist, talking about Hurricane Sandy when she came to visit us in Stockholm. She now lives in one of the buildings that was hit by Sandy last year - the Westbeth Building in Manhattan’s West Village. The historic complex of 13 buildings was formerly the site of Bell Laboratories (1868-1966) and played host to the first talking movie, the first condenser microphone, the first TV broadcast, and the first binary computer. The complex has become a centre for arts and affordable residence for artists, with studios and galleries that host and attract many visitors. Westbeth houses a large community of artists in lower Manhattan. Its loft flats provide accommodation and working spaces. The basements were used for storage, service areas, housed all machinery and operational systems for the building, as well as many artists studios, until hurricane Sandy arrived in 2012.

“It is still actually very difficult for me to feel ready to talk about Hurricane Sandy and how it affected me directly,” she admits. “I have been resisting it because my life was turned upside-down. A year has almost passed and a lot of what I am dealing with now, including moving to a new apartment, resulted from what happened on October 30, 2012.

“I know I am one of the lucky ones, considering the thousands of people whose lives were truly destroyed by the storm,” she says. “Many lost their homes permanently, others lost family members and suffered total devastation, and many are still, even at this time, without a proper place to live. The tragedies are countless and horrific, and these major disasters seem to happen so often now.”

But Judite’s compassion for others’ suffering cannot detract from the hardship that Sandy brought her. Her story is a difficult one.

“As the storm approached i prepared myself. I stocked up on water, emergency food, batteries, flash lights, a portable radio and so on,” she recalls. “The Hudson River is just across the street from where I work and live. On the day of the storm, as I heard updates throughout the day, I went out regularly to check on the rising water up to about two hours before the storm hit. By the time the river water was already at the level of the walkway along the riverside park and the wind was starting to blow stronger than usual.

“I went back to my apartment across the street. The windows were shaking loudly. At 7:30pm the lights went off and the house phone stopped working. The storm was coming from the south, it must have hit power plants on its way north and I realized that communication and electricity had both been affected, even before the surge had reached us.”

But because everything in Judite’s building ran on electricity, as soon as it was cut off, nothing else functioned. They had no water, elevators or heat. The emergency lights in the corridors would only last for the first night, after which flash lights were the only means to move out of the apartments and through the stairwells. But the impact on life in the neighborhood was more far-reaching, she explains.

“Since all the machines and systems that kept our building working were located in the basement, nothing was functioning and we were told that things might not be resolved for some time. The salt water penetrated everything and would quickly corrode the wires but nothing could be known until specialists could evaluate the situation. We had just recently installed five new ‘green’ water boilers to replace the original plumbing system, which was old and inefficient. The whole process, including applying for a grant, had taken about a year to complete and the new boilers were still in the “phasing in” stage when Sandy destroyed everything.

“As well as a number of work studios occupied by artists, all the machinery and services for the building were located downstairs as well. Management kept equipment and tools in the basement and all were lost. There were not even generators or pumps to begin clearing the water out and the most urgent equipment had to be rented out, meaning that it was days before the first small generators and pumps arrived. Because the entire downtown area of Manhattan was under water, all suppliers from towns not affected by the storm no longer had equipment available.

“It was very chaotic in the beginning and everybody was very stressed and exhausted, since those on higher floors had to climb many floors up and down numerous times a day,” she explains. “The building has almost 400 apartments, many with entire families or very elderly residents. Without elevators some people were bound to their apartments and depended on neighbors to bring them water, food and other essentials. The logistics of organizing groups to manage the various localized emergencies became a huge task.”

Judite’s story will be a familiar one to other residents in New York at the time. The whole of the downtown, from 34th Street down, was without any transportation or electricity and services were phased in and restored slowly. Supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants and other stores remained closed and deserted, especially below 14th street, 5 blocks above the Westbeth. The area became a ghost town, she remembers.

“Even during the day there was a darkness and a sense of abandonment. It was even more eerie than after 9/11 because people began to leave the area and the streets were completely empty. Everybody who was able to find an alternative place to stay, just left, but many in my building had nowhere else to go.

“In a sense, the worst of the storm begun to evolve after Sandy had passed and our building, neighborhood and the entire downtown area were paralyzed. We had no television and very little information available in our area, in the first couple of days. My apartment was extremely cold and the plants began to freeze. There were awful fumes coming through the ventilation into the corridors. Oil spilled into the basement as the impact of the water had demolished some internal walls and broke through the receiving oil pipes. The fumes begun to penetrate the apartment and, as all stored emergency items were running out, I had to move out of the apartment.”

After my talk with Judite, I discovered that the damage to Westbeth’s infrastructure totalled more than $5.5 million. And that was just one complex. The city had been devastated and to defend New York from future disaster, the Mayor outlined a $19.5bn (£12.5bn) plan to protect the city from storms.

I went back to read the report from Swiss Re, which is filled with similarly startling figures. Flooding around Bangkok, Thailand, in 2011 broke the record for the most expensive freshwater flood in history, causing $47 billion in economic losses. While natural catastrophes caused average economic losses of $60–100 billion annually, a single large-scale disaster in the heart of a big metropolitan city will surpass this figure significantly.

We all live in “developing countries” that have benefited from fossil fuels and are now paying the price for that dependency. Conditions and perspectives are different and we will all feel the impact of environmental mismanagement. But we have to face these problems together and find a way out.

Climate adaptation is an urgent priority for both national and city authorities. While many measures are available to make cities more resilient to the impact of climate change, mayors need together with public and private investors to act. We must take measures to protect against natural disasters and the underlying causes of natural disasters.

Kaj Embrén


In front of the IPCC climate meeting in Stockholm

Posted by Kaj Embrén on 26/08/13

The coming months promise a proactive agenda from sustainability stakeholders across the public, private and voluntary sectors as we build up to the meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – IPCC – http://www.ipcc.ch – in Stockholm in September.

My own writing will reflect this and will be mainly related to strategies and governance within the political and business arenas. This was the thinking behind my most recent blog – Irrational people, behaviours and decisions –http://bit.ly/1d9hXmh – which was based on the philosophy behind the decision-making process. I hope you enjoy it!

I will also build upon some of the ideas to have emerged over the last yearfrom the sectors we work. A particular highlight in this respect was Almedalen Week in July, the biggest political event for Swedish businesses, NGOs and other stakeholder organisations. The series of talks were impressive and provided us with plenty of food for thought. With over 2000 seminars throughout the week it is difficult to summerize all of the discussions but an impressive number of them centered on sustainable development, green technology, climate change solutions, migration and the Nordic welfare system over the next two decades.

This latter topic is of concern to many of us. While welfare models should always be reviewed as circumstances change, we have fallen short in employing a notion that we have no direct equivalent for in Nordic languages – ‘accountability’. The words we have for this concept do not have the same powerful meaning behind ‘accountability’ and without this type of force the Nordic model is at risk.

Take the growing ideology of privatisation in the Swedish school system for example. The recent bankruptcy of the private school gymnasium company John Bauer (JB) left the taxpayer with a debt of 1 billion SEK (650 million USD). Yet, earlier in the year the JB shareholders took home 350 million SEK (23 million USD) in profits as 1000 young students have no gymnasium or upper secondary school to attend.

This lack of accountability was never a value or vision of our welfare state. But, since the 1970s the Nordic public sector lost track of its own model.

Public, private and co-operative, state owned enterprises all have their own mission and values. They have different purposes, even when they co-exist and collaborate. But they all must be accountable to their owners, citizens or consumers. Politicians too, need to be more responsible for their policies and actions. Only with better understanding and improved practises based on trust may we find a way to renew the welfare state model built on people’s engagement, trust, diversity and entrepreneurship.

Kaj Embren

Follow trends within Sustainability at @KajEmbren on Twitter

Irrational people, behaviors and decisions

I often find myself thinking about our ability to make decisions. Perhaps this is because the fundamental ethics that lie behind our choices can apply to both the large and small issues that we deal with each day – at work, with our families or when we go shopping.

Psychologists and philosophers like Kant and Hume have voiced some interesting ideas on decision-making and human irrationality. It seems that we are often short-term thinkers, poor at analyzing facts and experience over longer periods of time. These problems are exacerbated and made increasingly complex in the context of globalization. With a larger web of irrational individuals and states interacting with one another, we have found ourselves in an environmentally unsustainable situation.

But as both citizens and consumers we are responsible for our actions, whether at the dinner table, at work, in politics, or shopping at the supermarket. It is important to develop some set of normative ethics within our society if we are to create a world which can be beneficial to us all in the long term. In order for this to happen we need governments, NGOs, businesses and individuals to act as ethical ‘agents’ that can help us to better understand the impact of our actions and to encourage better choices.

One positive sign is the strengthening of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in business. As it becomes easier for consumers to see the consequences of their choices, companies have begun to realize that short-term profit maximization is not the best way to protect their brands. More businesses are beginning to express their strategies as a balance between economic, social and ecological values, with 95 per cent of the world’s 250 largest companies now producing sustainability reports and 80 per cent following the guidelines set out by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Collaboration between companies within networks like The Natural StepUN Global Compact or Transparency International can further encourage more responsible business practices.

But while it is certainly useful to see how our money is used when we purchase products and services, it is even more fundamental that we understand why these decisions are important. Scientists are of course knowledge-builders who can help us make the right choices, especially with regard to one of our planet’s biggest dilemmas – the threat of climate change. But these issues can be complicated and despite increased awareness, individuals still lack enough real knowledge to make globally-minded decisions. As the UN prepares to bring together the world’s top climate change experts in Stockholm next month, it is vital that we develop ethical agents that can help translate the knowledge of the scientific community into something accessible and applicable. We need an educational model that helps us to make more rational choices.

A good example of this process can be found in the book The Human Quest by the Swedish scientist Johan Rockström and photographer Mathias Klum. One of the key issues that the book addresses is the planet’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide. It is clearly an important question and although there remains some degree of academic uncertainty, research suggests that the planet is facing a temperature rise of between two and eight degrees. Rockström then goes on to discuss the importance of understanding the long-term dynamics of the earth’s natural oscillation between cold and warm periods. He is concerned that this latter fact is used as a smokescreen by skeptics who argue that increased carbon dioxide emissions do not contribute to global warming. The book rationally outlines the implausibility of these claims, which completely ignore the fact that for the first time in the planet’s multi-billion-year history, humans now spewing out huge amounts of CO2.

Rockström asks disturbing but necessary questions about our planet’s boundaries – issues that most of us have developed a natural concern for through news and the media. But most importantly, the book presents credible insight in an educational way that can facilitate decision-making and affect future behavior on an individual level.

There must be a greater focus on such attempts to forge links between the complex science of climate change and the simpler understanding that motivates our everyday choices. This is the only way to create a clear roadmap to a sustainable future.

One of the key areas of education should address how we interpret the carbon output that we are each responsible for. Unlike the more commonly used figure of production-based emissions, consumption-based calculations take into account the the CO2 involved in imports and exports for the goods we consume. The difference between the two can be surprising and give us food for thought about the impact of our purchases.

An excellent report from the Swedish Trade Union (TCO) highlights this perfectly. It shows that in 2010 the average Chinese person emitted six tonnes of production-based carbon dioxide, a little higher than the Swedish figure of five tonnes. But the average Swede’s consumption-based emissions were nearly double that of their Chinese equivalent, due to a greater dependence on imported goods. Incidentally, this figure was almost 100 times higher than the average Ethiopian.

A sustainable society requires both sustainable production and sustainable consumption patterns. The latter is the responsibility of the individual. This is why ethical agents can make such a difference by providing a link between social ethics and global dilemmas. This process is already in motion and can be seen by the growth of products that are certified as carbon neutralFairtrade or otherwise certified as sustainable.

There are many different organisations and individuals that can assist our decisions but ultimately, governments are best placed to act as ethical agents. They have the power to redefine our public morality and their failure to act means that people’s choices are too heavily influenced by powerful lobbyists and climate skeptics. National politicians, especially those in the US, are still too passive. We must demand that the political sector inspires, educates and engages members of society to take individual action against climate change, which remains the greatest challenge of our time.

Kaj Embrén