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The Dutch role model of change

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How true leadership in regards of climate change may give outstanding impact to the Asian world

The Netherlands and Indonesia share a special relationship as they were connected for centuries in times of colonialism, separated after the horrible years of Indonesian struggle for independence and later then they have found together again into a respectful and close relation based on strong pillars of common history and development, intense economic and political ties, and so many deep interpersonal relationships among the two countries.

For me living in Bandung, the former Paris van Jawa, a modern Indonesian metropole where the government of West Java is located, it is always surprising to see the respect Indonesian people have towards European countries and the Netherlands in specific. It is maybe part of the open and friendly culture among its citizens in general but maybe also part of a quite realistic view that such huge country can be developed only with ongoing support and expertise from outside.

In regards of industry this support interestingly comes more and more from the North East Asia, from Korea, Japan and from China, while western countries are loosing ground. USA is successfully managing its moral and economic outsider position under its current administration, and Europe is in view of its unity weak, it still gives a diversified picture of small nations on their own who all act via isolated representations in Indonesia.

In the eyes of Indonesia, however, Europe is strong in three areas: democracy, technology and the environment. While the first may be a source for many fascinating articles and books, I would like to focus on the other ones – and here especially on the different meaning and understanding of the environment in the context of a highly industrialized economic conglomerate and a developing nation – to support a changing leadership perspective and vision of one European role model which may guide both continents hopefully soon in future.

We speak about the fact that the Netherlands – based on a broad political consensus – are on the way to implement the toughest climate law in the world.

WOOW, this is great, isn’t it! But … is this really needed?

This may be the main question in a controversial global (not only European!) discussion and an ambivalent public opinion process where everybody, and here I mean really everybody seems to have an expert position with strong believes fed by certain sources of doubtful information. I rarely experienced so many bull shit info told to me even by good friends than in this field of changing climate and its impact on humans, our living conditions and life itself.

Lets make clear at this point that there is no doubt about science, all findings which indicate that we are growing to fast, that we are consuming the resources of the planet too fast and that we are polluting and destroying our own basis of existence with a speed and degree of complexity which makes it difficult to interfere.

The Paris Agreement 2015 was a miracle in a mostly confused and disoriented world, a light moment of mankind when under the guidance of the United Nations a milestone agreement regulating global greenhouse gas emissions with impact on Climate Change was negotiated, ratified and adopted by consensus of 196 state parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Le Bourget, near Paris, France, in December 2015.

Even the US declared its intention to withdraw in meantime in June 2017, the fact that such an agreement was declared and committed by so many countries proves that there is something ongoing, huge and beyond our imagination.

We are losing control over the planet, a disturbing and frightening reality which does not affect all in the same way at the same time. Those who created the miserable situation, mostly the industrial nations of the west built their wealth on the foundation of a global disaster which is coming closer. “Wealthier people produce more carbon pollution – even the green ones” was a great article straight to the point by David Roberts in December 2017. So its not about left or right, its about the rich and the poor and in a wider sense about fairness of distribution. This fairness is very unfair when it comes to the consequences of climate change which mostly hits the poor ones around the world. Even in Asia and here in Indonesia in specific a new middle to high income population is forming which – unaware of the unlucky spiral of economy and consumption – transfers and copies same patterns of inequality into the nation. While those who become wealthy are flexible and can move and enter a better life, those who live a the limit to poverty have to bear the consequences.

“We are doomed” is the logic consequence of scientists and thinkers like Mayer Hillman or David Wallace-Wells.All not that worse will be the answers of those who benefit from sucking the resources and living in a quite safe harbor. Maybe there will be a better wine in Belgium [beside a soccer semifinalist title…

People in my home in central Europe really don’t care that much about global warming, yes there are more heavy thunderstorms visible, but we can insure and our real problems indeed are refugees who want to enter our country. That this is increasingly a consequence of Climate change people are unaware or not really interested in. National politics serve theme, but also catalyzes the problems as they promote their industries only and by doing so they ignore climate change as a crucial political issue created by themselves. Climate change induced migration is – sorry to say – a more or less a welcome argument of fear to be voted again.

No wonder that implementation of national climate actions plans to mitigate global warming lack behind and will end up in a story of delays and excuses soon. Even warming of 2C will be ‘substantially’ more harmful than 1.5C as per a draft UN report  national action plans will be by far too slow.

Its’ a matter of psychology that people and politicians don’t care enough at the moment. As Kate Stein points out in a recent interview with researcher Galen Treuer from University of Connecticut “It’s Human Nature Not To Think About Rising Seas”.

As long as we don’t have a personal threat people have other issues that are very important: affordable housing or Transportation for example. Those are the things that seem to motivate more than the consequences of an impact which may come.

In such situation of excuse and delayed industry serving implementation of measures it is outstanding noticeable to look at the ambitious role model of Netherlands. Maybe people in the Netherlands are feeling the increasing sea levels more than others, or whatever, they are guiding the show, and even the country is not participating in recent soccer world championship, they show an outstanding championship behavior we all can learn from. The Oranjes guide necessary developments and ways into a better future. Whether their positioning and action will be enough I don’t know.

Just a side remark: 18 years ago I learned about the importance of a role model when I argued (for first time in history) an Austrian company towards an European winner enterprise for sustainable technologies. A great success but what I received in between is, that this may be not enough! We need to understand the relevance of local frameworks in Europe when we look to Asia. While discussing the relevance of emissions of 20 or 50 cars with running motors from the chimney of a factory in clean Europe we got stuck in daily traffic jams of big cities like Jakarta with million of cars standing around and emitting CO2 in useless non operation mode every day. As we have the same heaven we share the consequences of effort same as of standstill.

The role model of the Netherlands inspires and gives hope but finally its the leadership learning of all of us (in Europe and Asia) which will make the difference. Do we recognize the urgency for our society to act and maintain the life foundations of next generations?

Even national developments are somewhat disillusioning at the moment I strongly believe into such a role model like offered from the Netherlands. It is guiding leaders in Europe and in Asia to spearhead a more sustainable development, ton take action on our future. True leaders foresee it, they address issues early and they work out plans to counteract. On this stage wise countries like Indonesia also have to enforce positive leadership and international cooperation. The West-East relationship between Netherlands, the European Union and Indonesia may become a recognized shiny example on this important way forward.

Long-serving CEO of one of the largest viscose facilities of the southern hemisphere, visionary green-economy practitioner and entrepreneurial guru. Independent strategy advisor for business and institutions with 20+ year of excellence in industrial enterprise build up and transformation of emission intensive industry towards sustainability leadership in Europe and Asia.

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Green Planet

Increasing Frequency of Cyclones and Flooding Portends Worse Problems

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Sixteen years ago on August 29th, hurricane Katrina struck the Louisiana coast causing widespread damage that was estimated at $125 billion.  This year, by a remarkable coincidence, hurricane Ida hit on the same date, again August 29th.  The weather service  holds the end of August though the beginning of September as the period with the highest likelihood of tropical cyclones hitting the Louisiana coast.  In light of this, perhaps the coincidence is not quite as uncanny.

While not as large as Katrina, hurricane Ida was more powerful with winds in excess of 150 miles per hour.  That is in line with climate scientists who now believe extreme weather events will tend to increase in both severity and frequency unless something is done about global warming.

Another example has been the heat wave last June in the Pacific Northwest in which hundreds of people died.  Canada set an all-time-high temperature record of 49.6 degrees Celsius in the village of Lytton.  The chance of all this happening without human-induced global warming is about 1 in a 1000.  However, the warming makes the event 150 times more likely. 

Following Ida was hurricane Larry.  Also powerful, it formed in the Atlantic but luckily for the Atlantic coast chose a path straight north.  These recurring extreme weather events have caught the attention of scientists.  Thus Myhre from the Center for Climate Research in Norway and his coauthors find a strong increase in frequency and confirm previously established intensity.  They collected data for Europe over a three-decade period (1951-1980) and repeated the process for 1984-2013.  This historical data also allowed them to develop climate models for the future, and, as one might imagine, the future is not rosy.

Expanding their horizon, the authors note that historical and future changes in Europe follow a similar pattern.  This does not hold when including the US, Japan and Australia which are likely to experience bigger changes.  Given intensity and frequency going hand in hand and also that the study considered natural variability alone, we can only dread the inclusion of human forcing through climate drivers like greenhouse gases.

For coastal residents, sea level rise adds to the hazard.  Worse, it is now a problem for people several miles inland.  In South Florida, drainage canals are used to return water to the ocean after storm and flooding events; the difficulty now lies in rising sea levels that hinder the efficiency of the drainage canals. 

Residents as far away as 20 miles inland have noticed water coming up their driveway, a new and frightening portend of the future.  The South Florida Water Management District oversees the canals.  It raises and lowers the gates controlling flow to the ocean or vice versa.  Thus they can open the gates to release flood water from storms to the ocean. 

The problem now is that the ocean level in the Atlantic during some storms is higher than the water level inland so they cannot open the gates — that would simply bring in more water.   

All of these happenings are clearly not a happy future prospect … unless we take global warming seriously and act soon. 

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Green Planet

Human activity the common link between disasters around the world

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Disasters such as cyclones, floods, and droughts are more connected than we might think, and human activity is the common thread, a UN report released on Wednesday reveals.

The study from the UN University, the academic and research arm of the UN, looks at 10 different disasters that occurred in 2020 and 2021, and finds that, even though they occurred in very different locations and do not initially appear to have much in common, they are, in fact, interconnected.

A consequence of human influence

The study builds on the ground-breaking Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment released on 9 August, and based on improved data on historic heating, which showed that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years. António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General described the IPCC assessment as a “code red for humanity”.

Over the 2020-2021 period covered by the UN University, several record-breaking disasters took place, including the COVID-19 pandemic, a cold wave which crippled the US state of Texas, wildfires which destroyed almost 5 million acres of Amazon rainforest, and 9 heavy storms in Viet Nam – in the span of only 7 weeks.

Arctic-Texas link

Whilst these disasters occurred thousands of miles apart, the study shows how they are related to one another, and can have consequences for people living in distant places.

An example of this is the recent heatwave in the Arctic and cold wave in Texas. In 2020, the Arctic experienced unusually high air temperatures, and the second-lowest amount of sea ice cover on record.

This warm air destabilized the polar vortex, a spinning mass of cold air above the North Pole, allowing colder air to move southward into North America, contributing to the sub-zero temperatures in Texas, during which the power grid froze up, and 210 people died.

COVID and the Cyclone

Another example of the connections between disasters included in the study and the pandemic, is Cyclone Amphan, which struck the border region of India and Bangladesh.

In an area where almost 50 per cent of the population is living under the poverty line, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns left many people without any way to make a living, including migrant workers who were forced to return to their home areas and were housed in cyclone shelters while under quarantine.

When the region was hit by Cyclone Amphan, many people, concerned over social distancing, hygiene and privacy, avoided the shelters and decided to weather the storm in unsecure locations. In the aftermath, there was a spike in COVID-19 cases, compounding the 100 fatalities directly caused by Amphan, which also caused damage in excess of 13 billion USD and displaced 4.9 million people.

Root causes

The new report identifies three root causes that affected most of the events in the analysis: human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, insufficient disaster risk management, and undervaluing environmental costs and benefits in decision-making.

The first of these, human induced greenhouse gas emissions, is identified as one of the reasons why Texas experienced freezing temperatures, but these emissions also contribute to the formation of super cyclones such as Cyclone Amphan, on the other side of the world.

Insufficient disaster risk management, notes the study, was one of the reasons why Texas experienced such high losses of life and excessive infrastructure damage during the cold snap, and also contributed to the high losses caused by the Central Viet Nam floods.

The report also shows how the record rate of deforestation in the Amazon is linked to the high global demand for meat: this demand has led to an increase in the need for soy, which is used as animal feed for poultry. As a result, tracts of forest are being cut down.

“What we can learn from this report is that disasters we see happening around the world are much more interconnected than we may realize, and they are also connected to individual behaviour”, says one of the report’s authors, UNU scientist Jack O’Connor. “Our actions have consequences, for all of us,”

Solutions also linked

However, Mr. O’Connor is adamant that, just as the problems are interlinked, so are the solutions.

The report shows that cutting harmful greenhouse gas emissions can positively affect the outcome of many different types of disasters, prevent a further increase in the frequency and severity of hazards, and protect biodiversity and ecosystems.

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Green Planet

Blue sky thinking: 5 things to know about air pollution

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Around 90 per cent of people go through their daily lives breathing harmful polluted air, which has been described by the United Nations as the most important health issue of our time. To mark the first International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, on 7 September, UN News explains how bad it is and what is being done to tackle it.

1) Air pollution kills millions and harms the environment

It may have dropped from the top of news headlines in recent months, but air pollution remains a lethal danger to many: it precipitates conditions including heart disease, lung disease, lung cancer and strokes, and is estimated to cause one in nine of all premature deaths, around seven million every year.

Air pollution is also harming also harms our natural environment. It decreases the oxygen supply in our oceans, makes it harder for plants to grow, and contributes to climate change.

Yet, despite the damage it causes, there are worrying signs that air pollution is not seen as a priority in many countries: in the first ever assessment of air quality laws, released on 2 September by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), it was revealed that around 43 per cent of countries lack a legal definition for air pollution, and almost a third of them have yet to adopt legally mandated outdoor air quality standards.

2) The main causes

 Five types of human activity are responsible for most air pollution: agriculture, transport, industry, waste and households.

Agricultural processes and livestock produce methane, an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, and a cause of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Methane is also a by-product of waste burning, which emits other polluting toxins, which end up entering the food chain. Meanwhile industries release large amounts of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, particulate matter and chemicals.

Transport continues to be responsible for the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, despite the global phase out of dangerous leaded fuel at the end of August. This milestone was lauded by senior UN officials, including the Secretary-General, who said that it would prevent around one million premature deaths each year. However, vehicles continue to spew fine particulate matter, ozone, black carbon and nitrogen dioxide into the atmosphere; it’s estimated that treating health conditions caused by air pollution costs approximately $1 trillion per year globally.

Whilst it may not come as a great shock to learn that these activities are harmful to health and the environment, some people may be surprised to hear that households are responsible for around 4.3 million deaths each year. This is because many households burn open fires and use inefficient stoves inside homes, belching out toxic particulate matter, carbon monoxide, lead and mercury.

3) This is an urgent issue

 The reason that the UN is ringing alarm bells about this issue now, is that the evidence of the effects of air pollution on humans is mounting. In recent years exposure to air pollution has been found to contribute to an increased risk of diabetes, dementia, impaired cognitive development and lower intelligence levels.

On top of this, we have known for years that it is linked to cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

Concern about this type of pollution dovetails with increased global action to tackle the climate crisis: this is an environmental issue as well as a health issue, and actions to clean up the skies would go a long way to reducing global warming. Other harmful environmental effects include depleted soil and waterways, endangered freshwater sources and lower crop yields.

4) Improving air quality is a responsibility of government and private sector

On International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, the UN is calling on governments to do more to cut air pollution and improve air quality.

Specific actions they could take include implementing integrated air quality and climate change policies; phasing out petrol and diesel cars; and committing to reduce emissions from the waste sector.

Businesses can also make a difference, by pledging to reduce and eventually eliminate waste; switching to low-emission or electric vehicles for their transport fleets; and find ways to cut emissions of air pollutants from their facilities and supply chains.

5)…and it is our responsibility, as well

At an individual level, as the harmful cost of household activities shows, a lot can be achieved if we change our behaviour.

Simple actions can include using public transportation, cycling or walking; reducing household waste and composting; eating less meat by switching to a plant-based diet; and conserving energy.

The Website for the International Day contains more ideas of actions that we can take, and how we can encourage our communities and cities to make changes that would contribute to cleaner skies: these include organizing tree-planting activities, raising awareness with events and exhibitions, and committing to expanding green open spaces.

How clean is your air?

You may well be wondering exactly how clean or dirty the air around you is right now. If so, take a look at a UNEP website which shows how exposed we are to air pollution, wherever we live.

The site indicates that more than five billion people, or around 70 per cent of the global population, are breathing air that is above the pollution limits recommended by the World Health Organization.

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