Global citizen observatory - The role of individuals in observing and understanding our changing world.

Speech Published 25 Feb 2009 Last modified 13 Apr 2011, 09:43 PM
Lecture by Prof. Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director, European Environment Agency. Annual Earthwatch lecture - Citizen Science, Oxford, 16th February 2009 .

It is no longer sufficient to develop passive lists or reports to ‘inform’ citizens of changes in our environment. We need to engage with citizens and ask how they can ‘inform’ us.

Prof. Jacqueline McGlade

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1.    EEA  

The European Environment Agency - has a key role in ensuring the EU and its citizens can make the changes our environment needs. We are required to support sustainable development and help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe's environment, through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information.

2.    Climate change 

2O years ago, when the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change was first set up, climate change was the realm of scientists and statisticians, and still at the periphery of the public consciousness. Today, it is recognised as the most pressing environmental question the world has so far faced; and we are only now beginning to appreciate the enormity of the challenge ahead.

3.    Biodiverstity

At the global level, if temperatures increase by 1.5 to 2.5 degrees, the IPCC has estimated that 20-30% of species globally would be at risk of extinction. Alarmingly this could be as high as a 40-70% extinction rate with a 3.5 degree rise. Ensuring that biodiversity and ecosystems can adapt to climate change is a good strategy for us to adapt. One cannot exist without the other!

4.    New green economy initiative

Globalisation has led to open markets and free trade, but it has also pushed our natural and ecological capital to the limit. A 'new green deal' developed by world leaders is essential to tackle the current global economic and climate change crisis. It will demand that we move beyond GDP and think more clearly as how to embed ecosystem assets and services in the ultimate distribution of net income. As Bobby Kennedy said in 1968

"Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."

5.    Consumption

In today's setting, where consumption and production patterns are served by ecosystems around the world, and where individuals, businesses and governments can exert a global reach, many different types of policy can affect the resilience of the ecosystems and biodiversity worldwide.

Our current consumption and production patterns may well lie behind our material wealth … but they are also responsible for many negative impacts on the environment.

6.    Citizens role in observation and changing our lives

Too often information is made available as lists of figures or spreadsheets that only experts can interpret. Imagine if all the data that underpins our evening weather forecasts, or how Google and Microsoft work were presented in this way…..do you think they would continue to be as popular? To encourage and benefit from participation we need to present our information in a way everyone can understand.

 

 

 Abstract.

"Global Citizen observatory - The role of individuals in observing and understanding our changing world."

They key to protecting and enhancing our environments is in the hands of the many, not the few. Although our political, economic and administrative structures may be designed to tackle our environmental concerns through scale and strategic decisions – it often leaves citizens unused, and silent observers.

To truly adapt to the changes our planet needs in the face of climate change, biodiversity loss, water stress etc we need to harness the information and will available at the very local level and empower citizens to actively improve their own environment through new techniques in earth observation and new economic ideas.

2O years ago, when the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was first set up, climate change was the realm of scientists and statisticians, and still at the periphery of the public consciousness.

As climate change has become more important, so has how we react. The IPCC now tell us that mitigation costs of climate change can be limited to about 1-3% of global GDP per year if we take strong, early action.

While at the global level such a cost benefit approach is sensible, it will produce different results at the country level - at the global level the poorest countries will suffer earliest and most. The costs of adaptation in a country like Bangladesh, or the Arctic, where temperatures are rising quicker and higher, are expected to be much higher than in European countries.

The current global economic crisis has also brought into sharp focus our need to know more about the true costs of our economic activity. Globalisation has led to open markets and free trade, but it has also pushed our natural and ecological capital to the limit.

A 'new green deal' is essential to tackle the current global economic crisis, but we also need more than economic stimulation by adding green measures to national and business balance sheets. We must include the real value of using our natural capital in what we consume, even if we have pushed its production out of sight and out of mind. 

Evidently we need to tackle this at a global level, but it can only be successfully implemented into a new sustainable global economy if we involve citizens on the ground, as knowledge pools, as investors and observers.

New systems for earth observation: Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES), the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS), the global observatory for environmental change and the climate change simulator are about to change the way people see and react to the problems we face in the world.

If we are to tackle our environmental problems, including climate change, we need to move beyond conventional systems of data collection and management. We also need to move away from the current economic reality where the true value of our natural and ecosystem capital is ignored in the price we pay.

It is no longer sufficient to develop passive lists or reports to ‘inform’ citizens of changes in our environment. We need to engage with citizens and ask how they can ‘inform’ us. Obtaining and using local knowledge will help us empower citizens, and it will also give us a better indication of what we need to do to be truly sustainable.

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