This was a presentation worth waiting for. One of the most critical and difficult challenges of climate change is urban life. While cities are centers of economic growth, they pose particular problems for resource sharing. Urban areas account for about 75% of GDP and GreenHouse Gas emissions. It should come as no surprise that cities attract people - 50% of the global population, as I learned today. Some 40 million move annually to urban areas. This puts a great deal of stress on resources such as housing and jobs, but also on public utilities. This mass congregation of people leads to water problems in the form of access to water - clean drinking water and adequate sanitation (think toilets). And it is the poor and the vulnerable who suffer the most. In Paris, for example, there are 150,000 homes with no direct water access and 250,000 with no indoor toilet. The numbers may seem low when a city has a population of more than 2 million. But if you include all the residents of each home, the average number of people living within these homes (say, at least 4) without access to an indoor toilet easily rises to over 1 million. That's half the population of Paris.
"On 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights. The Resolution calls upon States and international organisations to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all."
Henri Smets, a lawyer and member of the Academy of Water, proposed a number of principles to support the right to water including: everyone has the right to water and sanitation supported by collective financing; everyone has the right to good quality and adequate quantity of water; everyone has the right to sanitation, especially toilets, which protects people from contact with the "hazards of wastes as well as the treatment and proper disposal of sewage or wastewater;" free water points must be available for the homeless and transients; and, in order to make water an affordable utility, increase (or institute) taxes on bottled water and establish a solidarity fund to the tune of 50 million euros per year. In order to fight inequalities, there must be collective action and effective participation of all parties. He concluded that cutting off water is violation of human rights. I agree. Water is a basic necessity of life; humans are, like the planet, primarily made up of water. You hold people hostage by using it as a bargaining chip.
Dave Coleman is Director of Cooler Projects and developer of The Carbon Literacy Project. The idea is very simple: all citizens need to be carbon literate. Why? While most carbon is stored in rocks, in this form it plays a minor role. However, "the rest of the carbon is stored as CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the atmosphere (2%), as biomass in land plants and soils (5%), as fossil fuels in a variety of geologic reservoirs (8%) and as a collection of ions in the ocean (85%). These are the "active" reservoirs of carbon." Oceans and plants are increasingly unable to absorb all the carbon that the burning of fossil fuels releases into the air. Every bit we can do to reduce the amount of carbon that reaches the air the better it is for all of us.
Carbon Literacy is defined as: "An awareness of the Carbon Dioxide costs and impacts of everyday activities, and the ability and motivation to reduce emissions, on an individual, community and organisational basis." The project originated in Manchester, UK, and targets the community as a whole: all the people who live, work, and study there. Each module is factual, customized for each target group, and meets people where they are so that the training is meaningful and relevant. The project is based on peer-to-peer delivery and focuses on something more important than technical and scientific knowledge of carbon dioxide; namely a change in attitude and lifestyle, known in the climate change world as 'adaptation.' Participants learn skills to lower their own carbon footprint, engaging in action as an individual but also as part of a group (citizen, student, employee/employer). In the end, it generates genuine community resiliance by and for the community members themselves.
I spoke with Dave after the presentations and said this is a project that needs to come to Iowa City. It is a project that I think provides the Iowa United Nations Association a worthy follow-up to the Climate Forums help around the state this past year.