According to several sources, the UN Climate Summit (November 11-22) in Warsaw, Poland (know as COP19/CMP9) will be noteworthy for a few reasons:
(1) A Range of Stakeholders Will Have Their Voices Heard. Polish Environment Minister and President of the COP19 Conference Marcin Korolec has already held preparatory meetings with, among others, business leaders – the summary of take-aways from these consultations is available online. NGOs and other stakeholders also have been and continue to be consulted and are having a voice during the eleven days of meetings.
(2) Cities and Subnational Governments Will be Included as Focal Points of Consultation and Action. Representatives of cities and other subnational levels of government will be meeting repeatedly to discuss actions that they have been taking and their ideas for what should be done with regard to mitigation of the ongoing and worsening climate crisis. Their conclusions and suggestions will be finalized and communicated on November 20 and 21.
(3) Best Practices Will Be Considered and Promoted. Specifically, the two days of subnational governmental conversations will consider best practices in terms of mitigation and adaptation that can be replicated.
(4) “We Can Manage What We Measure” Will Be a Theme. This is a truism in all areas of human activity, and obvious to anyone who has tried to manage anything. Even if no goals are established for emissions reductions, the very act of measuring and publishing environmental impact data has been shown to work in various contexts related to pollution and waste. Regardless of when or what goals are eventually set, the measurement and tracking of emissions is an essential first step toward achieving them. So propagating the practice of measurement and reporting is vital, and will be highlighted in, among other venues, the dialogue on best practices of cities.
The City of Warsaw provides a perfect illustration of why the themes above make sense. The City recently published its 2013 Integrated Sustainability Report (press releases and the report are available in English and Polish).
95% of the world’s largest 250 corporations over 4,000 organizations already publish data on their environmental, societal, and economic impacts, but Warsaw is at the vanguard of cities to do so (and the first of any entity to adopt the latest GRI standard).
If cities embraced measuring and publishing environmental impact data on a widespread basis, it could be a critical step toward curbing costly, needless, and destructive environmental negative side effects of how we conduct our daily affairs – including those that are contributing to climate change. This statement is supported by five facts:
(1) a majority of the planet’s +7 billion (soon to be 9 billion) people now lives in cities (a recent epochal tipping point);
(2) we enjoy a greater degree of access to – and control over – local government (compared to national government);
(3) many energy, water, sewage, waste, transportation, and other infrastructures are managed by municipalities (or other sub-national levels);
(4) inasmuch as public infrastructure functions are often outsourced, reporting can involve (and thereby put appropriate constructive pressure on) for-profit infrastructure service companies. In other words, cities can demand that partner companies and organizations start measuring, reporting, and reducing negative impacts;
(4) the long-predicted impacts of climate change are being acutely felt in the world’s cities – especially in major coastal metropolises providing an impetus for immediate constructive change and adaptation; and
(5) ambitious goals have been set and significant tangible steps taken by cities.
Cities and other sub-national units of organization therefore (1) are vital foci for change, (2) deserve to have their voices heard, and (3) should have their readily replicable best practices – including efforts related to measurement – highlighted and propagated.
The 2013 UN Climate Change Conference hopefully will be remembered and applauded for acknowledging and acting upon these realities.
More details about goals and aspirations for the Warsaw COP19 Climate Summit may be found here.
The author helped the Warsaw Department of Infrastructure prepare the City’s 2013 Integrated Sustainability Report and is scheduled to speak about the importance of measuring environmental impacts at the COP19/CMP9 UN Climate Change Conference. He is a tenured associate professor of business law and sustainability at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and since 2006 has also taught courses and seminars in other countries, including in Poland at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences. He has authored over 30 publications, focusing primarily on sustainability reporting.
Adam J. Sulkowski
Associate Professor of Business Law and Sustainability
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Visiting Professor at Warsaw University of Life Sciences
Linked In: linkedin.com/in/adamsulkowski