WRF 2011 has started and I am currently listening to the opening session. The goal of the conference has become clear: Delivering the immediately needed impact on resources management. The reason for this: change towards a more efficient use of resources and towards a closed circles economy is going to be a lot more difficult once shortness of resources has reached an even more alarming level than today.
Some key facts of the opening speaches:
Commissioner Janez Potocnik mentioned the necessity of dematerializing Europe which is not the same thing as deindustrializing. According to him, shift towards efficient and sustainable resource management can only be achieved by using our industrial intelligence, engineering skills and intelligent policies. In contrast to the past: using them not only for material growth but for sustainable resources management.
Speaker Alice Kaudia talked about the possibility of eradicating poverty by resource efficiency. A more sustainable use of resources (e.g. water in Kenya) would lead to a system with less collapses such as draughts and their consequences. The current world economical system is permitting little choice to its actors: In case of doubt, often the unsustainable exploitation of resources is preferred to a decline of profit. Well known examples for that are deep sea fishing or the use of rare metals. Key to resource efficiency in Africa would be access to efficiency enabling technologies. Unfortunately those are often beyond the national budgets of poor countries because they are “locked up in patents”, as Alice Kaudia is referring to it. The clash of interests Alice Kaudia is mentioning here is of course a very difficult one: On one hand useful technologies can’t develop their full potential due to high prices. On the other and there is a justified interest of technology companies to make profit by selling their products. After all huge R & D investments are the necessary precondition to bring hightech products to the market. So who is going to pay for those costs if not the buyers of the product? Developing sustainable and lucrative business cases for technology companies is consequently a major challenge.
One solution for poorer countries would be to invest a lot more in education and the development of technologies that are affordable in the respective countries.
Bruno Oberle, Director of the Swiss Federal Office for the Enviroment, was mentioning the role of Swiss economy as well as the importance of changing policies.
He stated the necessity of changing tax systems away from income and capital taxes to resource based taxes. He also referred to the importance of develping better macroeconomical means of measure. A very wise point. The current cornerstone of macroeconomics, the GDP, is in fact only taking into account the quantitative criteria of growth. Use of resources is not taken into account. Therefore sqandering of resources is difficult to measure and impossible to punish. A helpful platform for finding a successor to the fossil GDP could be the Eye on Earth project developed by the Jacqueline M. McGlade from the EAA.
So far, all the speakers agree on the necessity of acting on a global level. A good opportunity to tackle the global challenge many speakers agree on is going to be the Rio + 20 conference. It “could” be the ideal opportunity to boost an international green economy. Talking for all young people it must be the turning point. The word could is not enough for us.