What is "Scienza+20"?

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After 20 years there will be a re-edition of the World Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development) in Rio de Janeiro from June 20 to June 22. Sustainability, environment and green economy will be discussed...and above all a new treaty will be discussed (The Future we want) of which a first draft is already circulating (download the document). Will it leave a mark, as it did twenty years ago, with regards to climatic change and biodiversity? Or will it be a tired repetition of the issues that have to date been – where possible – metabolized by society and the economy? It is difficult to reply: certainly with respect to the early nineties we are having to face an economic and financial emergency which have overshadowed some of the environmental concerns which had grown last century beginning with the elaborations on planet limitations stemming from the Roma Club conferences in the seventies (see article).

With hindsight, even then the alarm regarding the depletion of resources and the consumption of ecosystems arose from an economic crises. For the first time in history, instead of confiding in growth, a minority of the scientific culture tried to give answers. They established that we could not possibly have infinite quantitative development due to depleting resources and population growth and that a new development model had to be invented, which in 1987 the President for the World environment and Development Commission Gro Harlem Brundtland defined as “sustainable”. When the colorful Earth Summit was held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro it was already clear that this concept meant, as was stated by the economist Herman Daly – the possibility of “growth within the ecosystem's capacity”.

Where did sustainability go wrong?

In these past twenty years reflecting upon resources and above all the risks related to climatic change, from environmental contamination to biodiversity erosion, has become a common concern: there is no infrastructure or regulating plan that is not subjected to environmental impact assessment (EIA) or strategic environmental assessment (SEA); from the Kyoto protocol onwards countries have had to set goals for reducing CO2 emissions and other climate altering gases; companies too are increasingly aware of the green economy seen as a competitive factor.  

All this has happened, fine. However, as the Italian Environment Minister, Corrado Clini, noted in a preparatory meeting for the new Rio+20 appointment, the green economy is still a marginal factor, dominated by the gray (or black) economy of the exploitation of fossil fuels, land use and deforestation. All these phenomena are driven by a relentless cycle of consumption (see article). Of course, we cannot say that the the large international agencies (such as the IMF, the WTO and World Bank) have taken on sustainable development as their guiding star. It is for this reason that at the Rio+20 the objective will be to get the countries that sign the new treaty to create the right conditions in order to consolidate a sustainable and productive economic system. To do this we must confide greatly on voluntary agreements between companies and on a “green” reform of the institutional network (the large United Nations agencies).

Scrolling down the zero draft of the "Future We Want" treaty which will be signed on June 25 in Rio we note a hint of self-criticism. What hasn't worked in these two decades of promoting sustainability? Amongst the factors that contributed to this was the “failed marriage” between the world of technological and scientific research and the world of sustainability. Both worlds say they want to facilitate the progress and welfare of the planet; however there is seldom an agreement as to how to meet these objectives: the GMO and nuclear energy issues, and the dispute on climatic change as well, are clear examples. Every issue that regards the environment brings with it a certain degree of uncertainty and controversy that are in some way irreducible. It is important however that – even in the presence of these uncertainties and inevitable contradictions – the debate on these issues can be based on scientific method and transparency. Only by creating a widespread scientific citizenship can, in our opinion, a chance be given to the successful conversion towards sustainability of our economic-productive system.

A new project: Scienza+20

For this reason Scienzainrete has decided to inaugurate the Scienza+20 channel with the objective of getting the world of research closer to the issues of Rio+20, and at the same time to listen to opinions, analysis and suggestions regarding a new environment “scientifically-based” awareness. Just as Aurelio Peccei and his Roma Club did in the seventies. We can no longer afford to have environmentalism without science, and conversely, science that is deaf if not scornful, to the challenges of environmental sustainability.

In the “Scienza+20” channel the editorial staff of Scienzainrete, along with the students who are doing a master in communication of science and sustainability Macsis  (Bicocca, Milano University) and a Master in communication of the Sissa (Trieste), will give way to a discussion where researchers and scientific communities (who are the habitual readers of Scienzainrete) can have their say on the rapport between science and sustainability.

In particular, “Scienza+20” will have:

  • A weekly newsletter (news, interviews, analysis, videos) “going to Rio+20”.
  • A press release with comments, which after Rio will be enriched by media analysis on sustainability issues.
  • A section dedicated to explaining (with emphasis on data graphics) the main concepts discussed at Rio (sustainability and green economy; climatic change and biodiversity; energy and supply; environment imprints and Millennium goals).

The objective is to send to those drafting the (Future We Want) treaty, that will be signed in June Rio, a summary of these comments so that the document can adequately take into account the role science can play in the match regarding new sustainability strategies.

Science at the service of new and credible environmental policies that are efficient and realistic: obtaining this sort of result is no mean feat, but fortunately we are not alone, as can be seen by the numerous scientific and science communication projects (see this one) which are already active throughout the world. Scienza+20 also wants to bring the Italian science contribution to the new environmental sustainability in the XXI century.

 

"Rio+20 and beyond: the calendar of events on climatic changes" - by Laura Caciagli

The Rio+20 conference, Earth Day and the World Environment Day, the FAO meetings and the UNFCCC and IPCC regional conference, the G8 and G20 summit, the COP11: are just some of the appointments of a busy calendar of events on climatic changes. FAO's XXVIII European regional conference (ERC) will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan. The member states will have the opportunity to discuss and examine short or long term measures for promoting food security, policy actions and other welfare measures. FAO, in collaboration with the World Bank and other partners, is also organizing the (2nd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change). The conference will take place from the 7 to the 11 May in Hanoi, Vietnam. The vulnerability towards disasters in industrialized countries is increasing with adverse effects on the economy. The risk of catastrophes has become, in particular, a real emergency in urban areas. For this reason, the UNISDR (United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction) is planning on organizing a meeting in Venice, on the theme: “Building cities resilience to disaster: protecting cultural heritage and adapting to climate change”. Venice was chosen for the meeting because it is an example of good administration and it is considered a model city for its efforts in protecting its historic-artistic heritage against the effects of climatic change. The climatic changes conference in Bonn, organized by UNFCCC, will take place from the 14 to the 25 May, while the 2012 conference on adapting to climatic changes will take place in Tucson (USA), from the 29 to the 31 May. The conference, which is organized by the University of Arizona and by the UNEP research program on vulnerability, impact and adapting to climatic changes, PROVIA, (Programme of Research on Climate Change Vulnerability, Impacts, and Adaptation), will focus on adapting to fluctuations and changes in the climate and it will bring together scientists, policy makers and professionals from industrialized and developing countries in order to discuss and understand the challenges and opportunities that adaptation offers. The heads of state from around the world will meet in the presidential residence at Camp David in Maryland (instead of the city of Chicago as was previously scheduled) for the G8 summit hosted by President Barack Obama. Mexico on the other hand will chair the G20 for 2012 and will host the next summit, on the 18 and 19 June in Los Cabos. The Mexican Presidency has already identified 5 priorities for the upcoming summit: 1) ecenomic stability and structural reforms for growth and employment; 2) strengthening the financial system to promote economic growth; 3) making international finance more efficient; 4) promote food security; 5) promote sustainable development, green growth and the fight against climatic changes. Other important appointments are the SBSTTA16 (the sixteenth meeting of Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice), from 30 April to 5 May in Montreal, and the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties Convention on Biological Diversity (COP11), from the 8 to the 19 October in Hyderabad, India. Both these meetings will be focusing on aspects and problems regarding global biodiversity.

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Europe health saved by welfare

Peace Love Doctor, Bansky. Credit: Thomas Hawk / Flickr. Licenza: CC BY-NC 2.0.

Mortality trends in Europe have been decreasing in recent years, differently from what happened in the United States with the rise in the so-called “deaths of despair” among low educated middle-aged white Americans. Most of all, such trends in Europe show no interruptions due to the economic crisis. This is the conclusion of a study published on PNAS by LIFEPATH, a project funded by the European Commission, which investigates the biological pathways underlying social differences in healthy ageing.