Solving climate change by mimicking nature

Commonwealth discusses possibilities

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate Editor Features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

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IF you follow the discussions on climate change, you’ll notice that they typically urge vulnerable countries to adapt to and mi
tigate the deleterious effects of the global warming phenomenon.


But the Commonwealth group of countries — which stands to bear the brunt of the effects given the number of small island developing states in its membership — is trying to steer attention away from merely coping and towards reversal.


To that end, Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland hosted leading biologists, ecologists, oceanographers and other authorities on sustainability and regenerative development from around the world at a two-day brainstorming workshop called ‘Regenerative Development to Reverse Climate Change’ at the secretariat headquarters in London on the weekend.


A major focus of the proceedings? Biomimicry.


The concept is as old as time itself, yet as an area of specialised science, particularly one being used to address climate change, it is an emerging area which takes cues from nature in the innovation of sustainable designs.


The discussions were expected to explore whether scientists can develop a carbon reduction programme which can roll back the effects of climate change while catalysing economic development; examine the practical application of concepts such as biomimicry — in which buildings are engineered to have the carbon-reducing capabilities of trees; discuss the implementation of the circular economies — which involves the conversion of food waste to renewable gases; examine the potential for a long-term programme that will provide countries with proven, practical and tailored initiatives they can use to cut carbon emissions; discuss how resources can be mobilised to fund innovations to address climate change; and consider the potential for a climate change reversal lab in June 2017, so Commonwealth countries can receive tailored and funded climate action toolkits linked to the secretariat’s Climate Finance Access Hub.


"It’s not just a talk shop, it’s a doing shop," Scotland told the Jamaica Observer by phone hours before the start of the event which attracted scientists from around the world, including biomimicry champion Dr Janine Benyus.


"We are getting all the best people together so they can do something. It’s like we say in the Caribbean, ‘you have to do something before something do you," added Scotland who is a Dominica native.


According to Baroness Scotland, Tropical Storm Erika, which lashed her homeland last year leaving damage amounting to between 90 and 95 per cent of GDP, and Hurricane Matthew which whipped an already fragile Haiti early last month, are the latest examples of an increasingly urgent need to arrest the effects of climate change.


"These incidents present a real existential threat to each of us in the Caribbean, in the Pacific, and some of the other vulnerable States. It’s not surprising therefore, that we would be at the vanguard of wanting to address this," she said.


In tandem with that, the SG pointed to environmental action the secretariat has taken over the years with a view to addressing some of the impacts of climate change on member countries. Among them, the Langkawi Declaration on the Environment (1989), the United Nations Programme of Action on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (1994), Port of Spain Climate Change Consensus (2009), and in Malta the Commonwealth came up with a solution which was eventually adopted by the rest of world in Paris (2015).


"Since the Commonwealth has 31 of the 39 small states in the UN, [we asked ourselves] what can we do to keep on campaigning and pushing the boundaries so that we can address this threat. So we said, ‘Let’s look at nature. How does nature respond to some of these impacts? What can we learn? Can we create a more cyclical economy? Can we make it regenerative? Can we make it viable to have sustainable projects?" said Scotland.


The baroness made reference to a power plant in Iceland that generates electricity from volcanic hot springs and where buildings are engineered to have the carbon-reducing capabilities of trees and that mimic trees by pulling carbon from the atmosphere and sinking it underground. She hopes to see large-scale replication of those and other innovations as part of the way forward.


"What I’d love is to map the needs and come up with the best, most creative, most fast-working solutions so we can share that with our countries and say these are [some strtegies to] put in place to change and reduce the impact of climate change in a way that will regenerate and restore the environment. It’s a big ambition but I think it’s doable," she told the Observer.


"We want to [get rid of] climate change as quickly as we can by developing a regenerative development model through which to promote the advancement of what is largely viable and complements, respects and restores the natural environment and I want to get it there quickly," Scotland reiterated.


"The Commonwealth Charter gives us a mandate to support and promote sustainable development which respects and protects the environment. I have tasked this group of leading biologists, ecologists, oceanographers and authorities on sustainability and regenerative development, to help me deliver this," the secretary general told workshop participants.


The brainstorming lab, as Scotland styles it, took place ahead of COP22 will convene in Marrakesh, Morocco November 7-18.

 

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