Food / Agriculture: December 2009 Archives

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"Cool Globe" by Terri Spath

A San Francisco non-profit, The Carbon Collaborative, has been running a ten-day series of informative events, briefings and panels called Cafe Copenhagen in conjunction with the UN COP-15 climate negotiations.

"Glocalization" efforts such as Cafe Copenhagen plug into and also amplify international issues impacting the global climate, environment and economy. These type of approaches help local leaders to contextualize their own initiatives; by doing so they are also more likely to influence and benefit from national and international policy outcomes.

The San Francisco Carbon Collective is a partnership of government, business, and environmental organizations tying to accelerate development of effective policy and market-based responses to climate change.

For the Copenhagen Cafe series of events, the organization put together everything from panel discussions, "Ask the Expert" briefings, lunchtime coffee discussions and participant surveys on expected COP 15 results and impacts.

"A lot of this about capacity building: so much is changing so fast, and it's such a broad area. People working on these issues can never get enough," said David Pascal, president of the San Francisco Carbon Collaborative. "And then there are people new to these issues. Some have even been holiday shopping and just wanted to stop in and see what we were doing."

Copenhagen Cafe is being held in the Crocker Galleria's Green Zebra Center in San Francisco's Financial District. Tonight's program (Dec. 10) at 6-8 p.m., for instance, will center on Sustainable Food Systems in conjunction with a farmers market, while a panel discussion on Monday night Dec. 14, 6-8 p.m., that I am on is focused on Sustainable Cities. Clean technology is topic of a panel on Tuesday, December 15.

Other themed events of the Copenhagen Cafe series focus on forestry, indigenous rights and oceans.

Copenhagen Cafe also features more casual "Coffee Talks" on topics such as "Negotiating Justice" (today, December 10, at 11:30 a.m.) and "What Can I Do? How to Work Your Changespheres" (Friday, Dec. 11 at 11:30 a.m.).

Guests on the Monday, December 14 Sustainable Cities panel that I am moderating will include Jean Rogers, lead sustainability consultant for Arup Engineering, Gordon Feller, CEO of Urban Age and executive editor of Urban Age Magazine, and UC Berkeley transportation researcher Laura Schewel, formerly of the Rocky Mountain Institute.  

According to Pascal, the almost-year old organization is fostering multi-stakeholder collaboration; building sector capacity; and supporting the development public policies, while catalyzing development and deployment of environmentally friendly technologies.

The collaborative has a permanent downtown office space, separate from the Copenhagen Cafe, in which shared tenants can informally work together, including DNV (Det Norske Veritas), the world's largest Clean Development Mechanism verifier, The International Emissions Trading Association and CSRware a cloud-computing carbon footprinting software firm. These companies and the collaborative are able to bring shared expertise and opportunities to the table for clean tech and related business planning, financing and operational strategies.

An early area of focus for the collaborative in capacity building and strategy development is carbon emissions trading, according to Pascal. California is set to begin trading in 2012, with the United States and other new markets outside Europe expected to launch markets by a later date, depending on the outcomes in Copenhagen and in Congress.

"Instead of waiting for these markets to unfold and be revealed, we are going to be trying to influence their early outcomes through our networks and events," Pascal said.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute



  

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A sustainability ranking of 30 major European cities was released today in Copenhagen, the Scandinavian city that besides hosting the UN COP15 climate talks, has been chosen as top scorer in the new European Green City Index.

The study, sponsored by Siemens AG and developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit, ranked 30 major cities across Europe relative to one another in eight categories with 30 underlying qualitative and quantitative indicators.

The top cities, in ranked order:

1. Copenhagen, Denmark
2. Stockholm, Sweden
3. Oslo, Norway
4. Vienna, Austria
5. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Don't think that this ranking is of the "Greenest Cities" in Europe, even though it's called The Europe Green City Index. Such an assumption is made by many about city sustainability indices. The cities at the bottom of this list are the poorest overall performers out of the study universe of 30. (Many thought the sustainability ranking for 50 US cities that I created in 2004 was a list of "America's greenest cities," even though we called it the SustainLane US City Rankings; the study is also featured in the 2007 book, How Green is Your City?)

The lowest-ranking cities in the European study, out of the total of 30 cities:

26. Zagreb, Croatia
27. Belgrade, Serbia
28. Bucharest, Romania
29. Sophia, Bulgaria
30. Kiev, Ukraine

Kiev_SunnyLake.JPGKiev, Ukraine

Interestingly, all the laggard cities are located in either the former Soviet Union, or in former Soviet-controlled Eastern European nations. The difference between the overall highest ranking city, Copenhagen, at 87, and the lowest-scoring city, Kiev at 33 is substantial.

The new European city ranking analyzed cities by the following eight categories:

  • CO2
  • Buildings
  • Energy
  • Transport
  • Water
  • Waste and Land Use
  • Air Quality
  • Environmental Governance
These categories leave out food, the only large oversight. Food accounts for a significant amount of greenhouse gas and other environmental impacts in its production, processing, transportation, storage, retailing and disposal. Siemens does not have a direct interest in the food business, so such an omission is not surprising.

When I added "food" as an indicator category for the 15 SustainLane US City Rankings categories--as measured in community gardens and farmer markets per capita--many, even in the "environmental community," were baffled. It's amazing to think that just five years ago there was so little connection seen between food to sustainability, especially in urban areas.

Fortunately, times have changed and the emphasis on local food and on sustainable agriculture and food production has been significant, especially in certain US urban areas (New York, Boston, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle).  

Back to the Europe Green City Index, Copenhagen ranked high in energy use--number 2--as measured in percentage of renewable energy, and also in environmental governance, in which it tied for first with Helsinki, Stockholm and Brussels, all scoring a perfect 10 points.

Copenhagen also ranked third in transportation; it has the highest rate of commute cycling of any major European city, with 36 percent of all trips taken by bicycle. Portland, the leading US city for cycling, by comparison, has an overall bike rate of 6 percent.

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City cycling in Copenhagen

There is an obvious correlation in overall scores between the more wealthy--and higher-scoring--northern European cities and their poorer Eastern European counterparts, but the study did not include criteria for any direct economic or social factors. Housing affordability was one ranking criteria I added to the SustainLane US City Rankings after teachers that couldn't afford living in pricey San Francisco asked, "How sustainable is that?"

Some of the specific underlying indicators for the European Green City Index, included quantitative data points such as recycling rate, and use of public transportation along with other qualitative indicators (e.g. CO2 reduction targets, efficiency standards for buildings).

Besides these tidbits of indicator information and the chart provided at the beginning of this post showing overall scores, the study has not yet provided adequate methodological factors such as weighting of indicator categories and a better explanation of exact scoring within the eight individual indicators for qualitative categories.

The index would also benefit by breaking out categories of analysis that are artificially grouped in a single category, such as "Water and Land Use." Water itself can and should be broken into separate categories such as "Water Supply" and "Water Quality." Land Use is also significant enough to merit a separate category of analysis, since planning and zoning can create large-scale urban sustainability impacts for many decades

Still, the results of the Europe Green City Index should be very useful, and will hopefully have the impact on European cities that other city sustainability rankings have achieved elsewhere with citizens, business, media and politicians: making urban sustainability performance more transparent, understandable within a class of peers, and subject to competition in "a race to the top."

Some of our biggest challenges in cutting carbon to reduce global climate change will be in understanding the system dynamics that cities and other complex entities such as corporations, neighborhoods or even our households comprise. We no longer have the luxury of viewing our energy sources, food, water, buildings and land as separate, unrelated systems, even if business, government and academic institutions have been formulated according to these silos.

Nor can we view our cities as separate systems from nature, the global climate and our social fabric.

Keeping score matters, or else we wouldn't know the score.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute

 








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There's carbon in them thar roots!

Just as San Francisco has made commercial and residential composting mandatory and other cities are considering doing so, a worldchanging application for using compost to dramatically increase carbon sequestration in suburban grasslands has been confirmed by the Marin Carbon Project.

Soil carbon sequestration is the process of moving greenhouse-gas causing CO2 from the atmosphere into the soil. After the ocean, soil is the second largest pool of carbon on the planet, with twice the amount of carbon that is in the atmosphere, according to Whendee Silver, a biogeochemist and professor at University of California at Berkeley.

"Healthy grasslands, which make up 30% of global land and 50% of land in California, put a lot of carbon into roots to lock in nutrients," Silver said. The Marin Carbon Project's research is focused on how to increase that natural carbon sequestering process, or restore it, in the case of damaged rangelands.

Silver and others presented the results of research last night that the Marin Carbon Project has been conducting at about two dozen sites in rural West Marin County, about 45 miles north of San Francisco.

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The Marin Carbon Project is a collaborative research effort between the University of California, the USDA, the Marin Agricultural Land Trust and Marin Organic (the nation's first county-wide organic label) and The Nicasio Native Grass Ranch.

The project, which is about a year into a three to five-year process, has determined that an increase of 1 metric ton of carbon sequestration per hectare on 50% of California's managed rangelands could sequester 42 million additional metric tons (MMT) of carbon. This is slightly more than 41 MMT of carbon emissions from the California commercial and residential sector's energy use. This increase in carbon sequestration would also offset the 14 MMT of greenhouse gasses produced by livestock.

In order to make our grasslands and grazing lands better carbon sinks, Silver said, "we need to add compost and manure to the soils to help it sequester."

The Marin Carbon project has tested both manure and compost applications throughout dairy ranches, and while are both are effective at soil carbon enrichment, compost is preferred because it is less likely to contaminate land or watersheds, as improperly applied manure can.

Silver said researcher found that the ability of grassland soil to sequester carbon is not correlated with climate or soil type, but rather is directly related to how grasslands and rangelands are maintained. When trees and shrubs are left in grassland areas, for instance, there is 30% extra carbon sequestration.

Adding compost or manure also greatly increases soil carbon sequestration. "The test plots we added compost to retained over 90% of carbon that was added with no significant increase of methane or nitrogen oxides (two other potent greenhouse gases)." Tilling soil, on the other hand, has a negative impact on carbon sequestration, which doesn't bode well for industrial agriculture (which also uses petroleum-based fertilizers as soils inputs) and corn-fed feedlot operations.

The test data from the Marin Carbon Project can now be applied to a more extensive life-cycle and economic analyses. This means that other factors will have to be analyzed such as the total carbon and methane produced by livestock, combined with calculating the greenhouse gases that would have been produced if compost were sent to the landfill.

Other locations performing extensive soil carbon sequestration agricultural and rangeland research include New South Wales in Australia and Barritskov, Denmark.

Despite the lack of discussion in Copenhagen on agriculture and food production in relationship to climate change, the results are encouraging for combatting global change through specific actions in organic agriculture and sustainable food production that benefit regional economies.

San Francisco and other urban areas can use their food scraps to not only enrich their region's agriculture, grazing and dairy production--which strengthens the link between urban and rural food systems--but they can directly offset their carbon footprints. 

The early results from the Marin Carbon Project show that metro-area greenbelts and farming lands now have even greater intrinsic value.

This makes the case even more compelling for containing exurban sprawl around our cities and building smarter and denser communities. By all accounts, increasing protection and stewardship of regional natural resources has benefits that are far greater than most ever knew.

Warren Karlenzig is president of Common Current, an internationally active urban sustainability strategy consultancy. He is author of How Green is Your City? The SustainLane US City Rankings and a Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute.
      
 



 

About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Food / Agriculture category from December 2009.

Food / Agriculture: September 2008 is the previous archive.

Food / Agriculture: January 2010 is the next archive.

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