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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rio+20 Must be About Local Action, Not Globally Binding Agreement

This week, thousands of delegates from governments, NGOs, business and civil society gather in Brazil at the United Nations summit to renew political and economic commitments for a sustainable planet.

The stakes are high. Rio+20 is billed as the most important summit of the 21st century. UN Secretary General Ban ki–Moon has referred to Rio+20 as “a once-in-a generation opportunity that is too important to fail”. Many expect, with bated breath, to see world leaders sign an international binding agreement to protect the planet’s life-support system and forestall a global humanitarian catastrophe. I find this expectation both ludicrous and interesting.

Ludicrous because we have no track record of solving problems that require global collective action, especially when such problems are urgent, consequences perilous and inter-generational. Examples abound in my own lifetime­ – poverty eradication, species extinction, global warming hunger and malnutrition.

Interesting because Friedrich Hagel was right when he said, “the only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history”. The diplomatic dysfunction of the UN at mega-conferences is legendary and consensus unattainable.

A weak outline of a non-binding agreement or the bare bones of a plan is probably the best we can hope for out of Rio+20. My suspicion is that there will be a chasm between developed and developing countries over who should bear the cost of sustainable development. But do not get me wrong. Failure or collapse of Rio+20 is not an option. We must demand action.

But the solutions and actions that we must demand should be local, not global. All problems are fundamentally local and therefore solutions must essentially be bottom up rather than top down. It is wishful thinking to imagine that the world can rely on a singular solution to solve complex problems on a planetary scale.

In 2009, the Copenhagen summit failed to produce a binding climate change agreement. In the Copenhagen climate change summit, large target goals on Carbon dioxide emission reductions were dropped. And the summit ended in failure. This was hardly surprising!
Research shows that local policy and action are more likely to succeed than are single, globally binding agreements. Here are two examples.

First, in the absence of globally binding agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cities across the world are acting autonomously to deal with both the causes and effects of climate change. For instance, New York City has set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emission by more than 30%.

Second, Enrique Penalosa, the Mayor of Bogota realized in 19988 that high quality urban transportation would work for all residents. Under his leadership, the city strengthened pedestrian and bicycle traffic alongside a bus-based rapid transit. Many cities across the developing world are replicating the Bogota model, showcasing the massive potential to increase mobility while reducing impact on the environment and delivering social equity.

Ideally, the local level is the right scale for managing and influencing change to embark on a sustainability pathway. Fundamentally, in a world where the focus is too often on state and international institutions, we must harness capacity for local collective action to advance sustainable futures.

The Rio+20 summit would be impressively deluded to imagine that a global agreement on a set of goals would deliver social, economic and environmental sustainability. Sustainability must be a path we seek through a dynamic process of local action, local experimentation, local learning and adaptation. Sustainability must be about understanding, acting through local collective action and devolved governance.

Our civilization has never had to deal with problems of the scale we face today in an intensely connected world. Sustainability at the local level must add up to the national and ultimately to the global level. Sustainability must form the substructure of local economies and constitute the tapestry of our interconnected collective futures.

The global effort this week at Rio+20 to bring the Earth's environment back into balance must recognize that it can be no less than the sum of cooperative local efforts. Consequently, the institutions that generate local collective action and stewardship are not merely desirable. They are essential ingredients of a broader conception of global sustainability.  

Rio+20 must hearken to the wisdom of the recently deceased Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom, who I knew personally. Ostrom demonstrated the efficacy of many different institutions working together at multiple scales – government, private sector, civil society and local user groups – and collaborating as opposed to depending on a single hegemonic governance structures.

What we do not need from Rio+20 is another innocuous list of lofty goals. What we need from Rio+20 is pragmatic framework for local action on issues such as poverty eradication, food security, water and sanitation, urbanization and resilience of communities and natural systems to climate risk, while reducing inequality within the planet’s boundaries.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Israel Must Vacate Palestinian Lands

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been meeting quietly in recent weeks in hopes of ending a three-year standstill in peace efforts. This is a good sign.

The Palestinians say they will not resume negotiations until Israel halts halts settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, occupied lands claimed by the Palestinians for a future state. The Palestinians also want Israel to accept its pre-1967 boundaries, before it captured the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as the basis of a final border.

Israel cannot imagine that it will forever occupy Arab lands and deny Palestinians the right to self determination and independence. It is strange that in this day and age any form of authority, state of non state can use force and coercion to suppress a popular and just cause.

Israel will have to yield to the popular aspirations of its 350 million Arab neighbors. It is just a matter of time.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Too many deaths too few explanations

Does anyone trust the Kenya Police to conclusively determine the cause of the chopper crash that killed Internal Security Minister, his deputy?

It is instructive that the Kenya police initially ruled that the cause of a recent explosion in a downtown Nairobi building was an electrical fault. The police later changed their position saying the cause was a home-made fertilizer-based bomb.

I have seen pictures of the scene of the chopper crash and the careless plodding by politicians and security apparatus. My fear is that there was every opportunity to destroy or conceal material evidence. Kenya's security apparatus have a terrible track record. So many deaths under suspicious circumstances remain unresolved.

Here are short list of cases that are yet to be solved: The deaths of Tom Mboya, JM Kariuki,  Pinto, Kitili Mwendwa, Gama, Robert Ouko, The chopper crash that killed: Bruce Makenzie,  Ismael Chellanga, Kipkalyia Kones,

We may never know the real cause of this tragedy.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Evil Empire of Coca-Cola?

As former Coke Executive speaks out I begin to think differently about Coca-Cola's fascination with Africa as an emerging market.

Coke's overall business model and marketing strategy is evil and may even be racist. This is especially so if you take seriously how aggressively they tend to market their products among Hispanics and African American populations in the US.

This beautiful story by N.C. Aizenman published June 7 in the Washington  Post will change how you think about Coke.

"Todd Putman stepped up to a podium Thursday ready to break with his past.

Stretched before him was a ballroom full of public health officials and community activists, gathered in Washington for a “National Soda Summit” on how to loosen the soda industry’s grip on the American appetite.

The conference marked the latest salvo in a barrage of recent attacks on makers of unhealthy food and beverages, especially sodas.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I) has announced plans to ban super-size sodas from his city’s restaurants, movie theaters, sports arenas and bodegas. Disney will no longer run junk-food ads with its children’s programming. First lady Michelle Obama’s book about the White House vegetable garden, released Tuesday, notes that the only drinks offered during family meals at home are milk and water.

The logic behind these moves has been repeated so often it is practically a mantra: The nation is in the throes of an obesity crisis and sodas account for an outsize share of the sugar pouring into American bellies.

Putman, 51, shares that view. But he is also driven by another motive: From 1997 to mid-2000, he was a top marketing executive at Coca-Cola.

“It took me 10 years to figure out that I have a large karmic debt to pay for the number of Cokes I sold across this country,” he said.

On Thursday, he came to settle it.

He wanted to give an inside account of what he contends has been a drive by Coca-Cola to replace not just its direct competitors but all beverages in the American diet — a campaign for what the company called “share of stomach.” He wanted to warn about the industry’s particular focus on young people and minorities.

But mostly he wanted to level the playing field.

“I’m not against soft drinks per se,” he began carefully. “What I am for is balance of power. And I think the power has shifted in the wrong direction. The resources, the scale, the intelligence, the strategy these companies use is intense.

“We need to take all that thinking . . . all that strategy and convert it — jujitsu it — to healthy products.”

Such a mission would have been inconceivable to the man who joined Coca-Cola back in 1997, Putman said during an interview before the speech.

A Midwesterner with boyish looks, Putman had already made a name for himself at two other corporate heavyweights: Proctor & Gamble had recruited him straight out of Purdue University and given him his first taste of the profession that has become his life’s passion. Disney brought him to Los Angeles to help brand the company’s movie-inspired merchandise.

Still, Coke was an even bigger league.

“It’s one of the great marketing machines of the world. You’ve got so many tools at your fingertips. . . . You’re dealing with Michael Jackson, the NFL, multimillion-dollar decisions,” he said. “If you’re interested in moving consumers, then you’re most happy when you move millions of consumers. . . . It’s exciting, intoxicating, even. I felt like the king of the world.”

For all the range and reach of Coke’s marketing operation, Putman said he quickly learned it was built around one goal: per capita consumption. “How can we drive more ounces into more bodies more often?”

The term of art among company executives was one Putman had never heard before: “share of stomach.”

“It was a mind-bending paradigm shift for me. We weren’t trying to get share of market. We weren’t about trying to beat Pepsi or Mountain Dew. We were about trying to beat everything.”

Putman embraced the challenge with gusto. In the interview, he recalled giving a presentation in which he showed a chart illustrating how consumption of milk had dropped over time while consumption of a sugary soda — he can no longer remember which product — had risen.

When he pointed to the place where the two lines crossed — the moment in which soda surpassed milk — Putman remembers swelling with pride.

“I did not have any reaction beyond, ‘We are winning,’ ” he said. “It’s shocking to me now. But it was not shocking to me then in any way, shape or form. . . . We were really uninformed relative to the health issues.”

Contacted for a response to Putman’s comments, a spokesman for Coca-Cola, Ben Sheidler, said share of stomach is no longer “part of our company’s strategy.”

“Todd Putman left Coca-Cola over 12 years ago after working here for only three years,” Sheidler said. “Since Putman left, our business has changed dramatically.”

As an example, he said that 41 percent of the total volume of Coca-Cola trademark products sold in North America is now low- or no-calorie — up from 1 percent in 1982 and 32 percent in 1999.

The company has also voluntarily removed full-calorie carbonated drinks from schools, and voluntarily lists calorie information on its packages, Sheidler said.

“Coca-Cola is committed to working with everyone . . .to develop solutions to obesity,” he said. “We offer a wide variety of beverages and provide information to help people make decisions that are right for their lives.”

Putman, whose positions at Coca-Cola included U.S. head of marketing for carbonated drinks, said in the interview that among his achievements was tailoring the company’s national advertising campaigns to specific groups. The approach helped Coca-Cola intensify marketing to target audiences such as African Americans and Hispanics.

“It was just a fact that Hispanics and African Americans have higher per capita consumption of sugar-based soft drinks than white Americans,” he said. “We knew that if we got more products into those environments those segments would drink more.”

Today that work is one of Putman’s greatest regrets. Statistics consistently show that the incidence of obesity is highest among minorities. The higher price and relative scarcity of many healthier alternatives to soda in low-income communities — as well as the lack of marketing to promote those that are available — effectively mean that low income minorities have fewer choices, Putman said. “The game is rigged by the power of the soft drink industry and how much money they put against all the competition in that space.”

Sheidler said that “in an effort to be respectful and culturally relevant, imagery is sometimes tailored to the people and communities we serve.” But he said that Coca-Cola’s marketing is aimed at all consumers.

In the interview, Putman said he is also unsettled by the thought that he contributed to soda drinking among young people.

It is long-standing Coca-Cola policy not to directly market any of its products to children younger than 12. The company has never advertised on weekend cartoon shows, for example, and Putman said he was never given data on consumption rates among children 11 or younger.

Still, he said, “magically, when they would turn 12, we’d suddenly attack them like a bunch of wolves.”

Company research indicated that brand loyalty starts young, and once formed it is hard to break. “I would say 90 percent of all soft drink marketing is targeted at 12- to 24-year-olds. . . . It was how we spent all of our time.”

According to Putman, he left Coca-Cola for personal reasons — his wife was eager to return to her native California — and he remained on “excellent” terms with his former colleagues.

It wasn’t until years passed, and national awareness of the obesity problem spread, that he started to feel uncomfortable about his role.

When he formed his own marketing company, Future Pull Group, he made a vow never to take clients whose products are unhealthful.

Still, broadcasting that decision felt like a more daunting step.

Putman said he finally decided to go public with his views out of dismay at what he considers the abysmal marketing being done to promote healthful foods.

At the Soda Summit, sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group, he displayed a slide with a classic example: An ad that New York City has been running showing various sizes of soda, with the cubes of sugar they contain piled next to them.

“I don’t want to be told this. I know that message and it does not connect with me,” he told the group. “Don’t tell me what to do. Lead my heart. Connect with the emotional and I am yours forever.”

Then Putman played a video illustrating the approach he advocates — a spot his firm recently created for a carrot company.

Heavy-metal music boomed through the ballroom, while onscreen a sexy redhead shot baby carrots out of a machine gun. “Baby Carrots,” a deep-voiced announcer intoned, “eat ’em like junk food.” "

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pricing Natural Assets Key to Africa’s Growth

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972 was the first to draw attention to the need to preserve natural habitats to produce a sustained improvement in human wellbeing.

In the same year, 1972, the Club of Rome published its report on The Limits to Growth, pleading for proactive, societal innovation through technological, cultural and institutional change in order to avoid an increase in the ecological footprint of humanity beyond the planet’s carrying capacity.

In my view, the most profound pronouncement of the 1972 Stockholm Conference was the principle that;  “The natural resources for the earth, including the air, water, land, flora and fauna and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, must be safeguarded for the benefit of the future generations through careful planning, as appropriate”.

This principle inspired Our Common Future, also known as the Bruntland Report of 1987 and the oft-quoted definition of sustainable development – “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The Bruntland Report laid the framework for the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in 2002 recognized that eradicating poverty, protecting and managing natural resources for economic and social development are requirements for sustainable development.

On June 21 2012, the world will converge in Brazil at the Rio + 20 Summit on Sustainable Development. The goal of the Summit is to seek renewed political commitment to sustainable development and address new and emerging challenges.

 National delegations and technical experts are already poring over and negotiating the text of the document that will be produced at end of the three-day Summit. This unwieldy document covers everything from sustainable food strategies to codes of corporate responsibility to technology transfers to a green economy and poverty eradication.

But the Rio+20 Summit could be mired in the rhetorical sprawl of innocuous and non-binding commitments. The Summit is in danger of being eclipsed by the dark financial clouds over Europe, economic stagnation in the US and the stalling of China’s economy. This is not the time to talk about new financial commitments and technology transfers to the so-called poor countries to achieve sustainable development.

In Africa we must not think of sustainable development as a destination. Sustainable development must be a path we seek through a dynamic process of adaptation, learning and action. Sustainable development must be about understanding and acting on interconnections between the economy, society and natural capital.  Natural capital includes resources such as minerals and energy, timber, agricultural land, fisheries, and water.

The vital services arising from Africa’s natural capital are imperceptible, especially policy makers. Moreover, the value of nature’s goods and services are not readily captured in markets, so their contribution to Africa’s economy and livelihoods remains largely unaccounted for. Consequently, governments do not know what it would cost the economy if these services were lost. Imagine how much a bee would invoice for pollination services or a wetland for water filtration or upland forests for urban water supplies?

It is important to change the way GDP is used to measure economic progress. We must put a value on currently “free natural assets” like clean water and standing forests, soils, insects and the benefits they provide. Africa needs tools for taking natural capital into account for improved economic decision-making.

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize-winning economist and Columbia professor, believes that GDP is outdated and misleading. Stiglitz argues that GDP must take into account the depletion of natural capital and that “Net” National Product (NNP) be adjusted for the depreciation of natural capital.

Africa’s natural capital is threatened by powerful drivers of change, including, rapid population growth, growing inequality, urbanization, climate change, land degradation and climate change. The problem for a majority of poor smallholder farmers is not unsustainable choices, but lack of choices in the first place. Real and sustainable choices are feasible once the basic needs and stable livelihoods are guaranteed.

African leaders must stop wringing their hands and looking to the West and China for massive cash and technology transfers. African governments, business and civil society leaders must scale up efforts to empower people to make sustainable choices. These efforts must be achieved through:
·      Adopting “natural capital accounting” and assigning a value on the functions of protected forests, including their role in curbing erosion, providing clean water to cities, supporting wildlife and regulating the rain cycle to ensure enough rainfall for crops;
E Enabling a twenty-first century green revolution that accounts explicitly for Africa’s women led smallholder farming systems and vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. 
·      Scaling-up access to quality post-primary and secondary education, emphasizing knowledge and skills to ensure that the youth can contribute to solutions that address today’s challenges and capitalize on emerging opportunities.


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