Knowledge Corner

Sustainable Development
Climate Change
Energy Efficiency
Renewable Energy Sources
Environmental Assesment
Air Quality Management
Sustainable Mobility
Waste Management

Sustainable Development

There are many definitions of sustainable development, including this landmark one which first appeared in 1987:

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

— from the World Commission on Environment and Development’s (the Brundtland Commission) report Our Common Future (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

But what does this mean? What are the needs of the present? Take a minute and jot down five to ten needs that you have in your own life.

Have you listed any needs that conflict with one another? For example, if you listed clean air to breathe, but also listed a car for transportation, your needs might conflict. Which would you choose, and how would you make your decision? If within ourselves, we have conflicting needs, how much is that multiplied when we look at a whole community, city, country, world? For example, what happens when a company’s need for cheap labor conflicts with workers’ needs for livable wages? Or when individual families’ needs for firewood conflict with the need to prevent erosion and conserve topsoil? Or when one country’s need for electricity results in acid rain that damages another country’s lakes and rivers?

How do we decide whose needs are met? Poor or rich people? Citizens or immigrants? People living in cities or in the countryside? People in one country or another?You or your neighbor? The environment or the corporation? This generation or the next generation? When there has to be a trade off, whose needs should go first?

The long and the short of it

People concerned about sustainable development suggest that meeting the needs of the future depends on how well we balance social, economic, and environmental objectives–or needs–when making decisions today. Some of these needs are itemized around the puzzle diagram.

What social, economic, or environmental needs would you add to the puzzle?

Many of these objectives may seem to conflict with each other in the short term. For example, industrial growth might conflict with preserving natural resources. Yet, in the long term, responsible use of natural resources now will help ensure that there are resources available for sustained industrial growth far into the future.

Studying the puzzle raises a number of difficult questions. For example, can the long term economic objective of sustained agricultural growth be met if the ecological objective of preserving biodiversity is not? What happens to the environment in the long term if a large number of people cannot afford to meet their basic household needs today? If you did not have access to safe water, and therefore needed wood to boil drinking water so that you and your children would not get sick, would you worry about causing deforestation? Or, if you had to drive a long distance to get to work each day, would you be willing to move or get a new job to avoid polluting the air with your car exhaust? If we don’t balance our social, economic, and environmental objectives in the short term, how can we expect to sustain our development in the long term?

What sustainable development dilemmas do you and your family face in your everyday lives?

Source:www.worldbank.org

Climate Change

Climate change is a long-term shift in weather conditions identified by changes in temperature, precipitation, winds, and other indicators. Climate change can involve both changes in average conditions and changes in variability, including, for example, extreme events.

The earth’s climate is naturally variable on all time scales. However, its long-term state and average temperature are regulated by the balance between incoming and outgoing energy, which determines the Earth’s energy balance.

Natural Causes

The Earth’s climate can be affected by natural factors that are external to the climate system, such as changes in volcanic activity, solar output, and the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Of these, the two factors relevant on timescales of contemporary climate change are changes in volcanic activity and changes in solar radiation. In terms of the Earth’s energy balance, these factors primarily influence the amount of incoming energy. Volcanic eruptions are episodic and have relatively short-term effects on climate. Changes in solar irradiance have contributed to climate trends over the past century but since the Industrial Revolution, the effect of additions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere has been about ten times that of changes in the Sun’s output.

Human Causes

Climate change can also be caused by human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and the conversion of land for forestry and agriculture. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, these human influences on the climate system have increased substantially. In addition to other environmental impacts, these activities change the land surface and emit various substances to the atmosphere. These in turn can influence both the amount of incoming energy and the amount of outgoing energy and can have both warming and cooling effects on the climate. The dominant product of fossil fuel combustion is carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. The overall effect of human activities since the Industrial Revolution has been a warming effect, driven primarily by emissions of carbon dioxide and enhanced by emissions of other greenhouse gases.

The build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has led to an enhancement of the natural greenhouse effect. It is this human-induced enhancement of the greenhouse effect that is of concern because ongoing emissions of greenhouse gases have the potential to warm the planet to levels that have never been experienced in the history of human civilization. Such climate change could have far-reaching and/or unpredictable environmental, social, and economic consequences.

Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency is the goal to reduce the amount of energy required to provide products and services. For example, insulating a home allows a building to use less heating and cooling energy to achieve and maintain a comfortable temperature. Installing fluorescent lights or natural skylights reduces the amount of energy required to attain the same level of illumination compared with using traditional incandescent light bulbs. Compact fluorescent lights use one-third the energy of incandescent lights and may last 6 to 10 times longer. Improvements in energy efficiency are most often achieved by adopting a more efficient technology or production process.

There are various motivations to improve energy efficiency. Reducing energy use reduces energy costs and may result in a financial cost saving to consumers if the energy savings offset any additional costs of implementing an energy efficient technology. Reducing energy use is also seen as a solution to the problem of reducing emissions. According to the International Energy Agency, improved energy efficiency in buildings, industrial processes and transportation could reduce the world’s energy needs in 2050 by one third, and help control global emissions of greenhouse gases.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are said to be the twin pillars of sustainable energy policy and are high priorities in the sustainable energy hierarchy. In many countries energy efficiency is also seen to have a national security benefit because it can be used to reduce the level of energy imports from foreign countries and may slow down the rate at which domestic energy resources are depleted.

 

Renewable Energy Sources

SECONDARY ENERGY

Renewable energy is energy that comes from resources which are continually replenished such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat. About 16% of global final energy consumption comes from renewable resources, with 10% of all energy from traditional biomass, mainly used for heating, and 3.4% from hydroelectricity. New renewables (small hydro, modern biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels) accounted for another 3% and are growing very rapidly. The share of renewables in electricity generation is around 19%, with 16% of electricity coming from hydroelectricity and 3% from new renewables.

Wind power is growing at the rate of 30% annually, with a worldwide installed capacity of 282,482 megawatts (MW) at the end of 2012, and is widely used in Europe, Asia, and the United States. At the end of 2012 the photovoltaic (PV) capacity worldwide was 100,000 MW, and PV power stations are popular in Germany and Italy. Solar thermal power stations operate in the USA and Spain, and the largest of these is the 354 MW SEGS power plant in the Mojave Desert. The world’s largest geothermal power installation is The Geysers in California, with a rated capacity of 750 MW. Brazil has one of the largest renewable energy programs in the world, involving production of ethanol fuel from sugar cane, and ethanol now provides 18% of the country’s automotive fuel. Ethanol fuel is also widely available in the USA.

While many renewable energy projects are large-scale, renewable technologies are also suited to rural and remote areas, where energy is often crucial in human development. As of 2011, small solar PV systems provide electricity to a few million households, and micro-hydro configured into mini-grids serves many more. Over 44 million households use biogas made in household-scale digesters for lighting and/or cooking, and more than 166 million households rely on a new generation of more-efficient biomass cookstoves. United Nations’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that renewable energy has the ability to lift the poorest nations to new levels of prosperity

Climate change and global warming concerns, coupled with high oil prices, peak oil, and increasing government support, are driving increasing renewable energy legislation, incentives and commercialization. New government spending, regulation and policies helped the industry weather the global financial crisis better than many other sectors. According to a 2011 projection by the International Energy Agency, solar power generators may produce most of the world’s electricity within 50 years, dramatically reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that harm the environment.

Environmental Assesment

An environmental impact assessment (EIA) is an assessment of the possible positive or negative impacts that a proposed project may have on the environment, consisting of the environmental, social and economic aspects.

The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that decision makers consider the ensuing environmental impacts when deciding whether or not to proceed with a project. The International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) defines an environmental impact assessment as “the process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and mitigating the biophysical, social, and other relevant effects of development proposals prior to major decisions being taken and commitments made.” EIAs are unique in that they do not require adherence to a predetermined environmental outcome, but rather they require decision ­makers to account for environmental values in their decisions and to justify those decisions in light of detailed environmental studies and public comments on the potential environmental impacts of the proposal.

EIAs began to be used in the 1960s as part of a rational decision making process. It involved a technical evaluation that would lead to objective decision making. In 1969, EIA was made legislation in the US in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It has since evolved as it has been used increasingly in many countries around the world. As per Jay et al.(2006), EIA as it is practiced today, is being used as a decision aiding tool rather than decision making tool. There is growing dissent on the use of EIA as its influence on development decisions is limited and there is a view it is falling short of its full potential.There is a need for stronger foundation of EIA practice through training for practitioners, guidance on EIA practice and continuing research.

EIAs have often been criticized for having too narrow spatial and temporal scope. At present no procedure has been specified for determining a system boundary for the assessment. The system boundary refers to ‘the spatial and temporal boundary of the proposal’s effects’. This boundary is determined by the applicant and the lead assessor, but in practice, almost all EIAs address the direct, on-site effects alone.

However, as well as direct effects, developments cause a multitude of indirect effects through consumption of goods and services, production of building materials and machinery, additional land use for activities of various manufacturing and industrial services, mining of resources etc. The indirect effects of developments are often an order of magnitude higher than the direct effects assessed by EIA. Large proposals such as airports or ship yards cause wide ranging national as well as international environmental effects, which should be taken into consideration during the decision-making process.

Air Quality Management

Air Quality Management

Sustainable Mobility

In the transportation sector the term mobility is hot, in particular in combination with the term sustainable. But what does sustainable mobility or sustainable transport actually mean?

According to a Wiki-article there is no formal definition of sustainable transport. An attempt is made by stating that ‘Sustainable transportation is about meeting or helping meet the mobility needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs’. By the way, that article does get you somewhere – it is quite exhaustive.

In Google (and other search engines) one can search definitions of terms by using the search tool ”define”. Type define:mobility and you get a number of definitions, one of which is delightfully short and to the point: the quality of moving freely. Another definition is nice as well: Ease of moving about. It is all about getting from A to B as fast as possible and in a convenient way.

The Dutch Ministry of Transport maintains a site called ‘from A to B’. It shows current roadworks in the Netherlands based on which a traveler can decide how to plan his journey and get from door to door the easiest.

On a European level one of course has to consult the site of the Directorate-General for Transport, which opens with the slogan ‘Keep Europe Moving’. Not surprisingly, the site contains a huge amount of information. You could get lost, but if you decide in advance which information you are looking for it appears to be well-organized. One of the many interesting information items is the annual publicationEnergy and Transport in Figures.

There are many modes of transport, but we appear not always to make use of the simple ones: by foot or bicycle. The UK-based sustainable transport charity Sustrans states that ‘essentially for transport to be sustainable it must exist within the means of the planet to both create the resources needed to create and fuel all modes of transport, and absorb the waste from their creation and use’. Simply said: the Sustrans people want us to take a walk or a bike or make more use of public transportation.
A Sustran Director (Peter Lipman) explains all about sustainable transport in a seven part, very casual and relaxed, video lecture that was held in Bristol, November 25, 2007. Lipman is the Director Liveable Neighbourhoods & Low Carbon Travel at Sustrans.

Sustainable transport is of course also an issue outside Europe. The US-based Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) focuses on the promotion of environmentally sustainable and socially equitable transportation worldwide. The European section of the ITDP is based in Germany and supports sustainable transportation policies in developing and transition countries.

An important future development might be the introduction of intelligent systems of transportation. Again, a Wiki article on that subject is a good start. Practically every country in Europe appears to have an organization concerned with ITS (Intelligent Transportation System) that offers information on national ITS-activities. They all are members of the Network of National ITS Associations.

Source:www.europeanenergyreview.eu

Waste Management

Waste management is the collection, transport, processing or disposal, managing and monitoring of waste materials. The term usually relates to materials produced by human activity, and the process is generally undertaken to reduce their effect on health, the environment or aesthetics. Waste management is a distinct practice from resource recovery which focuses on delaying the rate of consumption of natural resources. All wastes materials, whether they are solid, liquid, gaseous or radioactive fall within the remit of waste management.

Waste management practices can differ for developed and developing nations, for urban and rural areas, and for residential and industrial producers. Management of non-hazardous waste residential and institutional waste in metropolitan areas is usually the responsibility of local government authorities, while management for non-hazardous commercial and industrial waste is usually the responsibility of the generator subject to local, national or international controls.