Confronting scarcity by managing water, energy and land: the new European Report on Development

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I have skimmed a few of the curtain raisers for next week’s Earth Summit in Rio, and sure enough, they fall into the familiar pattern of ‘If I ruled (or at least ‘managed’) the world’ documents: a summary of the research evidence, a call to arms (in this case save planet and species, preferably both), and a shopping list of policy recommendations.

In such reports, all solutions seem to be win-win. Beyond vague appeals for political will, there is almost no discussion of politics (there’s an election going on in the US – do you think that might be germane?), power (who gets to decide what, and what are their motivations) or the chain of events (shocks, elections, scandals, cumulative pressure from citizens, peer pressure from governments) that might possibly lead to something being agreed. Reports typically employ the passive tense – ‘innovation/cash/leadership is needed’, neatly avoiding having to identify just who has to do it, and why they might decide to do so.

Exhibit A: ‘Confronting Scarcity: Managing water, energy and land for inclusive and sustainable growth’ is the latest European Report on Development. I’ve been a bit rude about the ERDs in the past, but within the limits of the genre (see previous para – the exec sum has 84 uses of ‘manage’ or ‘management’, but only 8 of ‘politics’, ‘political’ or ‘empowerment’), this one’s actually quite good, in that it joins up issues and thinks in terms of whole systems. I think the ‘DSER framework’ (see below) may also stick. Highlights:

“This Report focuses on water, energy [actually, only renewable energy] and land (see graphic). It examines the constraints on each, the interrelationships between them and then considers how they can be managed together to promote growth in developing countries that is both socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.


All actors must consider the full range of options in managing pressures on water, energy and land. So far the focus has been on partial solutions: Businesses emphasise the opportunities in increasing supply and raising resource efficiency; the green economy concept at Rio+20 highlights enhancing the resource base, resource efficiency, and sustainable consumption and production; NGOs highlight fair resource shares for the poor; others emphasise resilience against climate shocks. This ERD argues that the scale and urgency of the problems require transformative action in a combination of four pillars (DSER):

•  influencing demand patterns to reflect scarcity values (e.g. sustainable consumption and production by cutting waste and changing lifestyles)
•  improving the quantity and quality of supply (e.g. partnerships on renewable energy, soils, water storage through appropriate finance, regulation and knowledge sharing)
• increasing efficiency (e.g. technology transfer, national innovation systems)
•  increasing resilience against shocks and benefits for the poorest (e.g. benefit-sharing, social protection, Corporate Social Responsibility, inclusive land policy)

Action is particularly required in five areas:

1. Radically reduce the environmental footprint of consumption (especially, but not only, in developed countries such as the EU) to promote inclusive growth without increasing resource use.
2.  Promote innovation to increase agricultural productivity to feed more than 9bn people sustainably by 2050 and scale up renewable energy technologies that help to deliver sustainable energy for all by 2030.
3. Establish or reform institutions for an integrated approach towards managing resources.
4. Push for inclusive land policy to ensure access to land and water for the poorest and most vulnerable.
5.  Price natural resources and services comprehensively and appropriately (e.g. using instruments such as payments for ecosystem services, PES), whilst safeguarding the welfare of the poorest.

And a couple of other choice quotes:renewables 2

“The new context for the management of natural resources poses severe risks for both inclusiveness and sustainability. The world has already trespassed three of the nine planetary boundaries within which it can operate safely: biodiversity loss, nitrogen and phosphorus loading and climate change. Ocean acidification and freshwater boundaries are expected to be next in the coming 50 years. The risk that tipping points are being reached, or will soon be reached, will jeopardise the future wellbeing of the poorest, who will be the hardest hit by environmental degradation. Applying the technology that lay behind the Green Revolution of the 1960s will not sustainably produce food for 9.3 billion people by 2050. The Earth’s natural resource base does not allow developing and emerging economies to reach consumption patterns that developed countries have followed and continue to follow (e.g. a reliance on meat consumption), hence distributional issues will have to be addressed, especially since technological progress has not been sufficient to decouple consumption of natural resources from economic growth.”

“Countries and groups that possess relevant assets will have new opportunities, but these come with social and environmental risks. Less well-endowed countries, regions and groups face different types of risks and opportunities (e.g. parts of northern China, India, Middle East and Southern Africa have little water, while countries such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar and Sudan have large tracts of land).”

There are good case studies on biofuels, managing the WEL Nexus in Kenya (see video) and the Brazilian ag boom.

Has anyone read any other particularly good curtain raisers, preferably with at least some discussion of power and politics? (and no, you’re not allowed to suggest your own…..)

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