Thursday, July 28, 2011

The climate is changing - how to adapt in our region?

For years, the discussion about responding to climate change was strongly focused on mitigation, that is, how to decrease the greenhouse gas emissions and thus slow down the warming of the climate.

However, for some time it has been acknowledged that no matter what we do, we cannot stop climate change anymore. There will be changes in climate no matter what region we’re talking about, and we need to adapt to the quickly changing circumstances. The fact that the changes are also hard to predict doesn’t make the job easier. And while reaching the international climate agreement seems to be further and further away, the global greenhouse gas emissions will keep on increasing and the need for developing new options to adapt to climate change is even more pressing.

On different regions, the impacts of climate change will vary greatly. In the Baltic Sea Region, the most imminent impacts include changes in precipitation, flood patterns and rising sea level that all can affect the built environment as well as water availability and quality. What makes Baltic Sea Region vulnerable to the impacts of climate change is that most of the cities and population are concentrated on the coastal areas. BaltCICA project is working to find new, local and regional options to adapt to these changes. Work is being done to draft climate scenarios and assessing the possible adaptation options in cooperation with stakeholders.

In May, I attended a conference titled Coping with Climate Change. It was organised by the projects BaltCICA and MARE. There was a lot of discussion about adaptation from a practical and technical point of view. However, in my opinion the most interesting point was made by Professor Karen O'Brien, who stressed the need for changing our views about adaptation. Instead of seeing the challenge of adaptation as a merely technical problem, a “to do list”, values, beliefs and worldviews should also be considered in order to improve the so-called adaptive capacity, the ability to adapt to changing conditions.

The conference was part of a series organised by the BaltCICA project. The third and final conference will take place at the beginning of 2012, in Helsinki. The conference focuses on applied climate change adaptation, and cities and regions present their solutions and approaches for these challenges. The discussion continues!

Photo: Kirsi-Marja Lonkila. The conference host city Bergen, also known for it plentiful annual rainfall.

Kirsi-Marja Lonkila

Friday, July 22, 2011

Awareness raising portals

During resent years a lot of focus has been put on increasing the environmental awareness of several target groups. Most of the attempts have been campaigns, projects or short term tests, that have not had a long lifespan. The truth is that increasing knowledge and changing people´s habits needs constant effort. It is not a one time poster show without strategic analyses of the results.

UBC Commission on Environment has been assisting in several awareness raising processes. Together with partners we have managed to find several win-win solutions for cities. One of the most successful initiatives has been the work done together with the city of St Petersburg. Building up an Environmental portal of St Petersburg has enabled the city to address several target groups in one go. It has created a meeting point that gathers thousands of visitors daily. It is one of the model examples of one source that can be broadened over time.

1 prize awarded to Olga Ostapenko
One of the strategic means to develop the environmental portal of St Petersburg was to organize a comic competition to raise the awareness of youth in Russia and Finland on the state of the Baltic Sea. More than 200 participants took part in the competition. The comics showcase well the different approaches that the current youth has on the Baltic Sea and actions that can be done to save it. There is a lot to do, to ensure that littering is not the only thing that one could do!

Now there is an "Our Baltic Sea" - Computer game programming competition for Finnish and Russian students. Games are one interesting field of awareness raising activities that could be developed even further in the future. Not just for youth, but also for adults. The number of environmental games in Russian is still limited - have a look of what exist and if you know more, let us know them too.

Stella Aaltonen

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Time of confrontation is over - municipality therapy for Improved Urban-Rural interactions

In recent years there has been a common understanding that living in densely populated urban areas is more sustainable than living in sparsely populated rural areas. This argument has been mainly rationalized through lower emissions of district heating compared to electric heating, smaller living space, opportunity to centralize common services and decreased need of private transportation. Recently some researchers have been trying to explode this arguing that actually living in rural areas is more ecological than living in urban areas mainly because of material well-being in urban areas is higher and thus urbanites are consuming more recourses for example for shopping, dining and leisure trips to abroad.

Some reasons for these opposite arguments can be explained by different methods of assessment and framework that debaters are working within. This has lead to the conformation when opponents are more likely to speak over each other than actually to each others. The need for finding the most sustainable ways to arrange our society is immediate and recognized, but this debate is certainly not helping to do so. More likely it will aggravate the conflict between urban and rural areas and the missing interaction between this two can be itself a high risk for sustainable development. Ecological living is possible in both detached hoses and blocks as well as in urban and rural areas.
Improved interaction between urban and rural areas requires cross-border and cross–sectoral cooperation between different stakeholders and decision makers across the functional city-region. However, in reality the cooperation is too often ending at the municipality borders. Reasons for that are varied; municipalities in same region are seeing each others more as competitors than cooperation partners. So called social capacity is missing which means lack of trust and understanding among different actors in the city-region. Social capacity in city-regional co-operation can only be born when stakeholders have opportunities to meet each other both officially and unofficially. This is challenging and cannot happen without appropriate platforms for this interaction. Unfortunately too often municipal organizations are too inflexible for building these platforms alone.

NEW BRIDGES project “Strengthening of Quality of Life through improved management of Urban-Rural interaction” has been creating new kind of platforms for cross-border cooperation in eight city-regions across BSR. It has involved different stakeholders bringing them together in order to find quality of life related priority challenges seen within urban-rural context in their city-regions. From these priority challenges they have planned innovative Pilot Actions for improving the interaction between urban and rural areas. One of the greatest successes of the project has been its ability to offer new kind of neutral platform to strengthen these interactions. One of the stakeholders felicitously called it as a municipality therapy.

NEW BRIDGES project invites all interested practitioners, stakeholders and decision makers to its final conference called Managing Urban-Rural Interactions for Quality of Life in Hamburg between 30th of November and 1st of December. The conference is open for everyone interested in regional planning and cooperation. The registration will start in the end of August. For more information please visit the final conference web site.
Lauri Hooli
Photos: Lower Silesia

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

You don’t have to hold it in, if your wastewater treatment plant works well

Wastewater treatment is something that most of us take for granted. Taking a shower, cooking, going to the toilet, these are very natural activities for us and the fact that we are producing wastewater daily 100 - 150 l is not easy to realize. Wastewater is just a side product of our everyday lives. We flush our products and they disappear somewhere. Only when this automatic flush is not working we realize how important role good sanitation has in our lives.

Whether we think about it or not, wastewater affects to our environment and how well your product is treated might have an effect on your local beach or fishing area. In the end treated and untreated waste waters will reach the Baltic Sea. Waste waters are one of the biggest point source polluters of the sea. Pollution prevention is difficult. Of course we should use phosphate free detergents and we should not put toxic substances to the drainage. But when you have to go, you have to go. The important question is how well the local wastewater treatment plant works.

In our cities municipal wastewater treatment plants have a key role how much you pollute the surface waters nearby. Wastewater treatment plants are maybe not the first place you want to visit, but if you want to know exactly how you affect to the state of the Baltic Sea or the lake nearby, I recommend taking a little field trip. Many allow visitors and if your plant and municipality do not organize these visits make sure you and your friends ask for one. If you really are concerned about the future of the Baltic Sea you should ask what kind of treatment requirements your city or town treatment plant has and if those requirements are fulfilled. If you want to put those numbers into to perspective, you should compare those treatment requirements and results to the HELCOM recommendations for purified wastewater. To reach the recommendations means healthier sea in the future.

So next time you are thinking what to do, what new places to visit and see, make a phone call to your municipality and ask for a tour at your local wastewater treatment plant. And worry not, it does not smell that bad there…. if the treatment really works.

Hannamaria Yliruusi

PS. Another suggestion: Next time you think about donating money for fresh water, stop and think. It is not necessarily clean water that is needed but good sanitation. However it is not of course as fashionable to donate a dry toilet as a water pump.

Writer is the coordinator of the PURE project which focuses on reduction of phosphorous from selected wastewater treatment plants in the Baltic Sea Region.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Mapping complexity

All of us working in organisations, city administrations, companies...practically everyone knows this:
Having a very complex situation or issue to deal with, many different actors involved, that all have different goals and attitudes and that are , on the top, formally and informally linked with each other in different ways.


How to deal with that?
One way is to try to think hard and keep everyone in mind and think back and forth tryinig not to forget someone or something. Then there is the way to write it down; who is involeved and what is the situation actually about.
That´s already a good start, then what we have black on white is not as easily forgotten.
But what if the situation is really messy and complex?

There are many tools and methods out there how to structure and analyse and getting a grip on this situation. One of those I´d like to introduce here as I had the chance of getting to know it just recently and will certainly going to use it in teh future:

NET-MAP is a mapping tool, that helps to understand and visualize, discuss and improve complex situations with many actors, goals and links involved. It is in fact based on facilitated discussions and interviews, possible with individuals and bigger groups.

NET-MAPping makes complex situations visible; with paper and pens and different colours and with small wooden "stones", the "influence towers".

In practice:
First you determine your starting question/situation and then
  •  which actors are involved
  •  what kind of formal and informal links exist
  •  how are the actors linked in between
  •  what are their goals

With the "influence towers" you can visualize the influence an actor has on the situation; the highter the tower, the higher the influence. You can also visualize if that is positive or negative influence.

This aspect makes NET-MAP special: the clear visualisation of who influences whom, where and why can be very eye-opening and brings more clarity in difficult situations.
Picture: Paolo Brunelli, NET-MAP Summer School, 20.-21.06.2011 Vicenca

Visualizing links, levels of influence and goals of the actors allows the user to be more strategic about how they act in these complex situations. It helps to answer questions like:
  •  Should I strengthen the link to a certain influential actor with the same goal?
  •  Do I need to be aware of other influential actors who have contradictory goals?

More information about NET-MAP, it´s development and people working with it can be found from the NET-MAP blog

Esther Kreutz

Friday, July 01, 2011

For the Baltic Sea by dreaming?

Decision makers and funding organisations often argue scarce financial resources as the reason for not placing more monetary support in saving the Baltic Sea. The same reason seems to appear in any difficultly solved issue, which is fairly understandable as priorities have been set and some get more than others, right? Is it still time for us to shrug our shoulders and stop dreaming of a, perhaps, more mindful prioritising of finances? Some call the young adults of today “the world saving generation”. We did grow up together with Walt Disney, surrounded by his animations and messages. “If you can dream it, you can do it. Always remember that this whole thing was started with a dream and a mouse”.

The Baltic Sea Portal communicates about the Baltic Sea event held during the Kotka Maritime Festival the 28.7.2011. Experts from different fields are gathered to the event, to create visions about a better future for the Baltic Sea given the assumption that everything was possible. Visitors can collect information and understanding of the current situation of our sea, or embark to the maritime research vessel Aranda. In the slightly unconventional discussion, Baltic Sea researchers, experts in maritime traffic and oil destruction activities, as well as representatives from Helsinki, Kotka and St. Petersburg waterworks will be asked the question What would You do for the Baltic Sea if everything was possible?

The HELCOM Secretary General will be speaking out with a common voice for the coastal states. In addition there will be enterprises, foundations and civic organizations working for the Baltic Sea giving their viewpoints. A local fisherman will send his regards directly from the sea and the Baltic Sea Ambassadors will transmit thoughts and ideas of Finnish and Russian pupils. The public can discuss issues concerning the Baltic Sea and send its regards to the decision makers by ballots. Consider that monetary funding is no concern; the audience will certainly have brilliant ideas as well. Due to limited space, registration for the seminar should be done within 21.7.2011 on Kotka Maritime Research Centre website.

As every citizen is obliged to vote, everybody should be obliged to dream. Dreaming would be exercised in everyday life for a common cause; the theme would be up to every individual. Events like the Kotka Maritime Festival, would be organized, where rich ideas and motivation would be nourished and inspiration spread for dreaming and acting.

What would I do for the Baltic Sea if everything was possible? A Baltic Sea discussion with program 28.7. kello 13.00 – 16.30 Kotka Maritime Festival

More information about the Baltic Sea Portal on their website.
You can find the Baltic Sea portal in Finnish on Facebook.

Finland's Environmental Administration (in Finnish)
Original Blog post at CHAMP -project web site (in Finnish)

Picture source: City of Turku/ Olli Sulin

Anna Stenberg