Covers environment, transportation, urban and regional planning, economic and social issues with a focus on Finland and Portugal.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The New Wars of Climate Change

Conflict syndrome

In the year of 2005 the first Human Security Report documented a decline in the number of wars, genocides and human rights abuse over the past decade. However, in the 2008 edition of the biennial report Peace and Conflict, new evidence suggests that if there was a global movement toward peace, since the end of the Cold War in the 1990s and early years of the 21st century, it has stalled. New challenges point to a conflict syndrome - a sum of factors that often operate in conjunction to undermine the stability of states and the foundations of human security.

In fact, human-induced climate change is already taking place and it’s not very difficult to find press warnings of climate change causing violent conflict. The question is: is the world facing a new era of war?

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The Past

Researchers from the Department of Geography at the University of Hong Kong reported, in July 2007, that cool periods in China and the resulting scarcity of resources, such as shrinking agricultural output, are closely linked with a higher frequency of wars over the past 1000 years.

The research Climate Change and War Frequency in Eastern China over the Last Millennium, which compared variations in climate with data from 899 wars in eastern China between 1000 and 1911, was published in the journal Human Ecology and can be resumed in the following way:

- War frequencies showed a cyclic pattern that closely followed the global paleotemperature changes.

- Reduction of thermal energy input during a cold phase would lower the land carrying capacity in the traditional agrarian society, and the population size, with significant accretions accrued in the previous warm phase, could not be sustained by the shrinking resource base.

- War frequencies varied according to geographical locations (North, Central and South China) due to spatial variations in the physical environment and hence differential response to climatic change.

The research shows that human population increases and collapses were correlated with the climatic phases and the social instabilities that were induced by climate changes during the last millennium. The findings proposed a new interpretation of human-nature relationship in the past, with implications for the impacts of anomalous global warming on future human conflicts.

The Future

A 2003 report prepared for Pentagon years ago explored the potential consequences of an abrupt climate change and concluded that it would create serious food shortages due to decreases in global agricultural production, decreased availability and quality of fresh water and disrupted access to energy supplies. This would result in large population movements and an escalation of global conflict.

The “Abrupt Climate Change Scenario” report warned of the need to strengthen US defenses against "unwanted starving immigrants" from the Caribbean, Mexico and South America. Such kind of strategies usually claiming their pragmatism and appealing, intentionally or not, to security, fear and other emotional or irrational issues , can have negative consequences, undermining the role of civilian institutions in the search of democratic and sustainable solutions.

The Present

Google Earth: Crisis in Darfur
This unprecedented online mapping initiative from the USHMM and Google Earth lets you visualize, better understand, and respond to the genocide in Darfur.

The conflict and resulting tragedy that have unfolded in Darfur since 2003 have taken the world headlines. The most common way of explaining the context was in terms of ethnic differences between Arabs and Africans. Actually, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki- Moon, believes that we are already seeing in Darfur a violent conflict caused by climate change - "the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change".

No conflict ever has a single cause. In the case of Sudan, the escalation of violence has been attributed to such factors as:
historical resentments and local perceptions of race;
demands for a fair distribution of power between dissimilar groups; unfair distribution of economic resources (Sudan is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with wealth and power concentrated in the capital);
disputes over access to and control of increasingly scarce land, livestock and water between pastoralists and agriculturalists;
small arms proliferation and youth militarisation; bad government agricultural policies and weak state institutions.

Thus climate change alone (or drought and land degradation caused by it) does not explain either the outbreak or the extent of the violence in Darfur. The other 16 countries in the Sahelian belt have felt the impact of global warming (including Mali and Chad), but only Sudan has experienced such devastating conflict. Darfur is, in fact, an exemplary case showing how the physical consequences of climate change interact with other factors to trigger violent conflict, like the nature of power structures at the local, regional, national and international levels.

Climate scare stories don’t take into consideration the forms used by many poor communities to peacefully manage their affairs. Generally, violent conflicts in the South are more related to resource abundance than resource scarcity. An example is the competition over rich mineral reserves in the Congo or diamonds in Sierra Leone.

The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report of 2007 shows that global warming will have global effects, varying in both kind and degree. Second the research for this report, the consequences of consequences of climate change include a high risk of armed conflict in 46 countries with a total population of 2.7 billion people, and a high risk of political instability in a further 56 countries with a total population of 1.2 billion - a total of 102 countries as being at risk of significant negative knock-on socio-political effects.

The 46 countries identified as facing a high risk of armed conflict have current or recent experience of armed conflict and additionally, particularly weak institutions of government and very poor economic performance.

Another example showing that environmental scarcities and massive population movements do not always result in violent conflict was Malawi, which has been suffering from massive famine but no war has followed. Also, the Asian tsunami of 2004 created huge refugee problems but did not lead to violent conflict. Why not?

Climate change - violent conflict [1]

The answer lies in “intervening variables”. Environmental scarcities do not directly cause violent conflict, but the outcome depends on social and political factors that impact on the potential for violent conflict - some variables increase and others decrease conflict probability.

Actually, we don’t know exactly what these factors are and how they influence the capacity to adapt to climate change. But the current understanding is that we are talking about 3 political and social characteristics:

1 - the deeper the divisions between ethnic and religious groups or between classes are, the more likely it is that environmental scarcity causes violent conflict.

2 - states with weak political institutions are particularly vulnerable, since they find it difficult to manage the social tensions caused by climate change.

3 - democracies are better able to protect the environment and manage peacefully the consequences of environmental degradation.

A better understanding of climate change requires an interdisciplinary knowledge in astronomy, physics, geology, chemistry and biology. The observations from Space are crucial for this, but the economic and social sciences also play a fundamental role. And effective solutions to this urgent problem only can be obtained in peace by international collaboration.


[1] Tapani Vaahtoranta, The wars of climate change, OSCE review 3/2007, The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

[2] David D. Zhang, Jane Zhang, Harry F. Lee and Yuan-qing He; Climate Change and War Frequency in Eastern China over the Last Millennium, Human Ecology, Springer Netherlands, Volume 35, Number 4 / August, 2007

[3] Dan Smith, Janani Vivekananda, A Climate of Conflict: The Links Between Climate Change, Peace and War, International Alert, London UK, 2007-11

[4] Betsy Hartmann, War Talk and Climate Change , t r u t h o u t | Perspective, 26 November 2007


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Environmental Sector will create 500 000 jobs in the Nordic countries

Working Life in the Nordic Countries Photo: AiN

In Denmark, the number of employees in the sector of the wind energy has increased from 2900 to 21000 in ten years (for 5,3 millions of inhabitants). Norway is one of the world leaders in the sector of the solar energy, Iceland in the geothermal energy, and Finland and Sweden are among the most advanced European countries concerning biofuels. There is a strong potential of development in renewable energies.

New types of needs appear. For example, in Sweden, a new legislation will oblige owners of 600 000 properties to have their energy consumption checked by certified auditors, in 2008 (the first has just received his qualification).

Also Sweden will have a shortage of 50 000 engineers by 2010, according the latest edition of the magazine Working Life in the Nordic Countries.

The main problem is the labour shortage, at a time of the start of baby-boomer retirements and when the Nordic economic boom increases the demand for labour. But in the Nordic Region there is the potential for half a million new jobs to be created, according to the Nordic Council.
"We strongly believe that the efforts needed to combat climate change do not have to be regarded as constraints on the economy. Instead, they can be used as a lever for new, green technology." – Maud Olofsson, 2007


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Nordic Model – an Example for Europe to Follow?

The Nordic Model – an Example for Europe to Follow?
by Christoph Mayerl

The Scandinavians have shown that economic success and an extensive welfare state are not mutually exclusive. What is the secret of the Scandinavian model? Is it suitable for the rest of Europe?

Are you just residing or have you really started living? The question the largest furniture company in the world addressed to its German customers is a very Scandinavian question.

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The implicit message is: we discovered the secret of good living a long time ago, so when will you arrive at it? Right now, if possible, an increasing number of European politicians are answering, as they look more and more towards the far north for solutions to their countries' problems. "We need to change course, as the Scandinavians did a long time ago," Kurt Beck, leader of the German Social Democrats, said in a television interview last summer.

Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland have achieved what some economists believe is impossible: despite high taxes and a welfare state with generous provisions, their economies are booming. "On average the Nordic countries outperform the Anglo-Saxon ones on most measures of economic performance," the US economist and Nobel Prize winner Jeffrey D. Sachs asserted in November 2006 in an article for the magazine Scientific American.

The Scandinavians Score Points in All Areas

The general enthusiasm for the Scandinavian model is understandable. In almost every study, whether it concerns poverty, press freedom or life expectancy, the Scandinavians come out top. According to the Pisa study [on educational achievement] Finland produces the smartest pupils year after year. In Denmark employees feel more secure than in Germany even though a quarter of them change their jobs every year. Swedish women bear an average of 1.8 children. And if that were not enough, the health systems in Scandinavia are free, there is a comprehensive network of day-care facilities and an apparently stable social safety net. For years delegations of politicians have been queuing up in Helsinki, Stockholm and Copenhagen to find out how the Scandinavian model works.

Their expectations are high. For people are looking to the Scandinavian model not only as a blue print for social reforms in individual states but as something that might eventually make the rest of Europe a better place to live. "A European social model that really deserves the name would guarantee prosperity and competitiveness, prevent social division by safeguarding basic social rights, and help to reinforce the concept of Europe in the minds of Europe's citizens," the sociologist Josef Weidenholzer wrote in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard on 28 Februar 2006.

Sweden Is the Original Model

So what distinguishes the Scandinavian model? The simple answer is that the Scandinavian states use high levels of taxation to finance extensive welfare states that offer comprehensive provision to their citizens in many areas. Looked at in more detail, the picture quickly becomes more differentiated and more complex. Sweden is considered to represent the Scandinvian model in its purest form, with the others displaying differences of emphasis.

The parameters become clear when the Scandinavian countries are compared with Britain, whose espousal of minimal social provision now means that it represents the opposite end of the spectrum to Scandinavia within Europe. The top taxation rate in Sweden is 56 percent, in Britain it is 40 percent. The expenditure of public bodies and of the social security system is 60 percent of GDP in Sweden and 44 percent in Britain. Other equally important elements of the Scandinavian system that are more difficult to put a figure on include high levels of investment in education, training and research, a family policy favourable to children and women and strong but politically moderate trade unions.

For the German politician Karl-Martin Hentschel, a member of the Green Party, a special feature of the Scandinavian model is the proximity of the government to its citizens. As he wrote in the tageszeitung on 9 March 2007, "The municipal communes are the State. For example they collect most of the tax revenues... The average citizen only comes in contact with the federal state when he has dealings with the army, the police force or the judiciary, which are the traditional institutes of the authoritarian state. Given the important role of the communes it's no wonder citizens are willing to pay higher taxes. They see where the money's spent."

Early Reform of the Welfare State

While Scandinavia's European neighbours enthuse about the Nordic model, in Scandinavia itself it is not considered sacrosanct. Faced, [like many other countries], with the phenomenon of an aging population, Scandinavia too has cut back social spending in recent years. On 22 September 2007 the Swedish newspaper Expressen greeted the announcement by the conservative government of stricter regulations for the long-term unemployed. "The goal is to restructure a system in which 1.5 million people of working age were outside the job market when the Social Democrats left office..."

Reforms are also taking place in Denmark, which by Nordic standards is already considered almost neoliberal. The Danish version of Scandinvian employment policy is known as flexicurity. The obstacles to hiring and firing are lower than anywhere else except Ireland and Britain, but unemployment benefit is high and there is a good system for helping people to find employment. The result is a very dynamic labour market with a lot of movement. More than a quarter of Danish employees lose their jobs every year – but usually only for a short time.

When it comes to reforms, which are jointly supported by the government and the opposition, politicians are not afraid to introduce unpopular measures. Last year agreement was reached on raising the retirement age to sixty-seven and incentives were created for students to graduate more quickly. The Danish daily Berlingske Tidende welcomed this step on 21 June 2006. "The government carefully prepared Danish citizens for the measures over a long period of time. This has met with acceptance because a slight change in course now is better than radical measures later."

Is the Scandinavian Model Really a Model?

Denmark's recent moves in the direction of a more liberal economy demonstrate how difficult it is to generalise about the Scandinavian system. The economic journalist Inga Michler thinks the notion is questionable and concluded in Die Welt on 30 June 2006: "There are many good ideas in the North, but there's not a standard model that could be taken as a whole and implemented in Germany."

Looking abroad, the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter also sought to dampen expectations. The economy has recovered since the crisis in the early 1990s, it wrote on 9 March 2007, "but it would be ridiculous to speak of a Scandinavian miracle."

Sceptics think that the Scandinavian economies are still growing not because of but in spite of their overblown welfare states. The European state is maternal: protective but also infantilising. Its high taxes and benefits discourage anybody from doing too well," Martin Wolf wrote in the Financial Times on 1 March 2006. In a piece for the Brussels Journal Martin de Vlieghere even declared the Scandinavian model to be a myth, citing the prosperity index of the OECD, in which the Scandinavian countries are continually falling. According to Vlieghere the real Europeans heros are the Irish, who in only eighteen years have moved from twenty-second to fourth place – thanks to low taxes.

Scandinavia and East European Pragmatism

In Eastern Europe, where national economies are having to manage an enormous transformation process, it tends to be Ireland rather than Scandinavia that is the model. In Gazeta Wyborcza of 21 September 2006 Witold Gadomski urged the Poles to make an effort to do what the Irish had done. "If Poland doesn't reform its public finances, enter the euro zone, lower taxes, introduce structural reforms (liberalising the energy sector, telecommunications and train services) and complete the privatisation process, it won't be able to repeat Ireland's success."

The Baltic countries, on the other hand, which are undergoing a similar transformation process, feel closer to the North, not only geographically: "Is Ireland really a model for Estonia?" the Estonian newspaper Postimees asked on 22 February 2007. "There can be no doubt that the Irish model is a sure bet because in Ireland there is a consensus between employers and employees about suitable outline agreements. However, we must bear in mind that Ireland took the first important steps towards boosting its industry a quarter of a century ago. It sounds like a cliché, but for Estonia, the only alternative is a science and research-based economy."

The Scandinavians themselves, while impressed by Ireland's economic miracle, basically support the course followed by their own governments. "But that is no guarantee," the Swedish sociologist Joakim Palme explained in an interview with euro|topics. "The Scandinavians will continue to advocate high taxes only as long as they continue to receive generous benefits from the state in return." So it is not a matter of a romantic ideal of the Nordic social state, but rather a temporary contract. Currently there is nothing to suggest that Sweden's welfare state might come under pressure. But the saying "ingenting är omöjligt,"nothing is impossible, applies in Sweden as well. It is not for nothing that the globally successful furniture company uses this slogan in its domestic advertising campaigns.

Christoph Mayerl
Born in 1976, Christoph Mayerl studied journalism, philosophy and politics in Eichstätt, Bavaria. He works as a free-lance journalist in Berlin.
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Melanie Newton
Original in German