Wednesday, November 28, 2012

COP18 - Nations to make the next attempt in Doha

During the next two weeks (26 Nov. - 7 Dec.), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have invited all 193 member countries to the sunny city of Doha in Qatar, which is the country in the world with the highest usage of fossil fuel per capita. The 18th session of the Conference of Parties (COP18) will be focusing on tackling the climate challenge and discuss international rules for engagement among the member states in the process of renewing the Kyoto Protocol.

Recently, a series of reports from esteemed organisations including the World Bank, shows that the already harsh prediction of a 2 degree rise in temperature in 2100 with business as usual is far to positive. Instead they claim that an increase of 4 degrees is more likely to be the truth. These research results are followed by the superstorm Sandy, deadly flooding in the UK, the tsunami in Japan and the smallest icecap we have ever recorded. So there are clearly evidences that our climate change and the problems it entails are not just a political agenda. It is an inter-national, inter-political and inter-sectoral problem that is addressed in Doha for the next 2 weeks.

A simplified introduction

At the core of the negotiation is the questions of who is to blame for our current situation and the rather negative foresights for our climate and finally who are to pay for it? On the one hand, developing countries stand on their right of developing their countries without letting the climate be an unpleasant obstacle on the way to prosperity. On the other hand, the developed countries cannot accept the fact that developing countries will be the obstacle in breaking the negative impacts humans have had on the global climate since the birth of the industrial revolution. The short video produced by The Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Norway below captures the negotiations and the gridlock situation very well.

However, the discussion above should already be considered outdated because it is grounded in one archaic equation:
Increasing the level of emission is proportional with prosperity and the development of nations.
Evidences for this equation are many and can be found in both developed and developing countries and follow a traditional model of the industrialisation. However, that is also where the validity of this equation ends.

Instead of looking at our industrial past, it is important to focus on our current time and trends in job creation and innovative business solutions and the ideas and decisions that make the wheels go round in 2012. It is here interesting to see that many of the useful solutions towards a greener trajectory, that undermine the above equation, originates from the city level.

What is the role of a city network at a high level meeting among world leaders?

UBC might not represent a direct negotiating part in the climate negotiations, but we represent one of the best proof of evidence needed in order to convince big nations such as, the US and China about a greener trajectory. The Baltic Sea Region provide a vast variety of good examples of green growth and the opportunities in developed cities and emerging economies and countries with different economic, cultural and social background. 

In order to renew the Kyoto Protocol, whose first commitment period runs out on 31 December this year, the Baltic Sea Region represent a positive story in terms combining growth with a green trajectory. The efforts on the international level are highly appreciated and the city level is a point of departure to search for practical solutions where climate policies are utilized into tangible projects, which benefits both the local urban dwellers as well as the global climate change.

It is evident that many cities have been forced to divert into a more sustainable planning trajectory at another pace than national policies. However, it will be a major supporting push in the right direction for cities if COP18 succeed in updating the Kyoto Protocol. From the Commission on Environment, we have high hopes for COP and support the activities to join forces on all administrative levels, from local to global, in order to mitigate the climate change.

Text by: Jeppe Mikel Jensen, UBC Environmental Commission
Video: The Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Norway

Friday, November 23, 2012

Towards better living environments and healthier citizens

The societies of today are highly car dependent and dominated. The growing traffic flows begin to be a severe problem in many cities having negative impact on the environment, causing problems of pollution and noise and taking space away from other functions in the city such as leisure and recreation.

Ambitious targets to reduce CO2 emissions have been set at European level and also at the local level. This requires a shift from car traffic towards lighter and less polluting modes of transport. Recently, policy efforts made by many European cities have been increasingly targeted to reduce the amount of cars rolling on our streets. However, still a lot have to be done in order to support the more sustainable and healthier modes of transport such as biking and walking. 

We often tend to forget that the cities encouraging walking and biking and aiming to reduce the number of cars, besides more attractive and pleasant living environments, they get healthier citizens. The more people move using their muscle power, the healthier they are. The domination of cars in today’s society has decreased the daily movement made by bicycle or foot. Already small children are used to that their parents take them everywhere by car. There is a huge potential in many cities to reduce especially the amount of short trips made by car within the city area.

The improved health of citizens can also bring large saving in the social and healthcare sector. It has been calculated that each kilometre biked causes a saving of 0,16 euro, compared to a car that causes instead a loss of 0,10 e per kilometre for the society. According to WHO, every new cyclist produces a saving of 0,70 e per kilometre. It has been calculated in France that every cycling commuter decreases the costs for healthcare sector by 1200 euro per year. Source.

How can we then encourage people to choose a bike instead of car?

City planning is a way of creating such living environments that encourage people to take care of their daily tasks such as going to shops, work, schools and services by foot or by bike. An attractive living environment with well-functioning bike and walkway network, makes it easier for people to leave their car home. 

Sustainable Urban Mobility planning is a one way of creating attractive living environments and quality public spaces.  A Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP) is a strategic plan designed to satisfy the mobility needs of people and businesses in cities and their surroundings for a better quality of life. It builds on existing planning practices and takes due consideration of integration, participation, and evaluation principles.

The basic characteristics of SUMP are: a participatory approach; sustainability to foster economic development, social equity and environmental quality; the integration of policy sectors; clear, measurable objectives and clear evaluation plans and value for money. In other words, SUMP introduces a new people-focused planning approach.

It’s time to start planning the cities for people not cars!

Kirsi-Marja Lonkila and Maija Rusanen from UBC EnvCom gave a presentation on the concept and benefits of Sustainable Urban Mobility plan in a conference Wellbeing municipality focusing on the daily mobility of people. The seminar was organised by KKI-programme in Helsinki on the 15th of November.

Text by: Maija Rusanen

Thursday, November 08, 2012

New opportunities for the Central Baltic maritime cluster

The Baltic Sea is one of the busiest seas in the world, and it has a huge impact on the Central Baltic Sea economy and society. Tightened competition and new legal requirements challenge the competitiveness of the Central Baltic marine cluster, which has always been sensitive to economic ups and downs. When simultaneously markets like Russia or Asia are eager to create a business-friendly environment, there is a strong need for new openings in the Central Baltic Sea Region.

There is no doubt that the competitiveness of the Central Baltic Region marine cluster, containing Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Sweden, has to be improved. However, when doing this, the state of our common Baltic Sea should not be compromised. Marine traffic is an environmentally friendly means of transport, but as the volumes increase, it could also mean increased effects on health and environment. These include e.g. the increased risk of accidents and oil spills, as well as growing greenhouse gas emissions. Solutions need to be sought from smart and environmentally sustainable growth.

Led by UBC Commission on Environment and part-funded by the Central Baltic INTERREG IV A Programme, the SmartComp project supports smart, environmentally sustainable growth and cooperation of the Central Baltic Region marine cluster. This will be done through triple helix cooperation, meaning that maritime cluster businesses, the public sector and universities are encouraged to cooperate across borders in Finland, Estonia and Latvia.

The project research team will provide new information about the current state and future scenarios of the Central Baltic Region maritime cluster. The research reports recognize the problematic areas and introduce best practices and smart business models, in order to help adopting new solutions in the Central Baltic. The results will also be the basis for the triple helix activities in the project, including consulting days for business representatives and policy recommendations.

 The first project research report, analysing the current state of the Central Baltic maritime cluster is expected to come out in December. Find out more on the project website at!


Text: Kirsi-Marja Lonkila

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Saving the Baltic Sea together

On 16th of October 2012, in the Hanseatic capital of Gdansk, Poland – the Project on Urban Reduction of Eutrophication (PURE) has held its Final Conference “Practical experiences on advanced municipal sewage treatment”. During the two-day event around 150 representatives of wastewater treatment plants, municipality and environmental authorities, as well as international and non-governmental organizations has gathered to share the results of the project, and consider how its valuable lessons could be used in other cities across the Baltic Sea catchment area.

PURE project has succeeded in motivating the cities for voluntary actions, aimed at improving the fragile state of the Baltic Sea environment. Something concrete was achieved too: three PURE partner water companies have implemented investments in their treatment plants to enhance phosphorus removal. Once completed, the measures will result in reduction of the annual phosphorus load into the Baltic Sea by 300-500 tonnes (which equals 1/2 of the total annual phosphorus load from Finland to the Gulf of Finland and the Archipelago Sea!)

Moreover, the project has identified solutions for improving the sludge handling within wastewater treatment and a book on good sludge management practices, first of its kind in the Baltic Sea Region, soon available electronically. Further, a new online tool “PURE BenchMark” has been developed, to improve sharing and visualizing information on municipal wastewater treatment and loads to the Baltic Sea.

Picture: water utilities are the real superheroes of the Baltic Sea

Author: Olena Zinchuk