Ar C.J. Walsh – Consultant Architect, Fire Engineer & Technical Controller – International Expert on : Sustainability Implementation + Accessibility (including Fire Safety) for All + Sustainable Fire Engineering
2020-09-22: Adopted at the International Fire Conference: SFE 2016 DUBLIN (www.sfe-fire.eu) …
Many years have passed since the 1972 UN Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment and the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. In 2016, Sustainable Development remains an intricate, open, dynamic and continually evolving concept. The guide and driver for frontline practitioners, policy and decision makers must be a personal Code of Ethics … an integrated and inter-related whole which cannot be reduced to fixed rules inviting game playing and ‘trade-offs’. After working with this Code, it may be necessary to expand on and discuss its principles and/or some of the issues raised … not to narrow its focus, but to broaden interpretation.
The realization of a Safe, Inclusive, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment demands a concerted, collaborative, very creative and widely trans-disciplinary effort at national, local, regional and international levels across the whole planet – Our Common Home. The informed operation of appropriate legislation, administrative procedures, performance monitoring and targeting, and incentives/disincentives, at all of these levels, will facilitate initial progress towards this objective … but not the quantity, quality or speed of progress necessary. Our time is running out !
This Code of Ethics applies … for those who subscribe to its values … to policy and decision makers, and the many different individuals and organizations directly and indirectly involved in the design, engineering, construction, and operation (management and maintenance) of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for ALL.
The Purpose of this Code of Ethics is to guide the work of competent individuals and organizations in a context where incomplete or inadequate legislation, administrative procedures and incentives/disincentives exist … but, more importantly, where they do not exist at all … and, amid much confusion and obfuscation of the terms, to ensure that implementation is authentically ‘sustainable’, and reliably ‘safe’ and ‘resilient’ for every person in the receiving community, society or culture … before it is too late !
2015-11-06 ! We are very pleased to announce that the Fire Safe Europe Alliance … www.firesafeeurope.eu … has become actively involved, together with Glasgow Caledonian University and FireOx International, in co-hosting SFE 2016 DUBLIN. To facilitate the Network’s full engagement and provide sufficient time for promotion, etc … it was jointly agreed that the new dates for this Event shall be from 28-30 September 2016.
We have every confidence that SFE 2016 DUBLIN will now be a much better event … having a wider range of stakeholder participation.
Sustainable Fire Engineering – Effective Fire Safety for All in Sustainable Buildings ! 28-30 September 2016 Dublin, Ireland
———— www.sustainable-firengineering.ie or www.sfe-fire.eu
——— Approved Regional Sustainable Built Environment Conference in the 2016-17 Series
—— The Gresham Hotel, O’Connell Street, Dublin, Ireland
Céad Míle Fáilte (Hundred Thousand Welcomes) to Dublin, in Ireland … and to the First International Conference devoted to this complex subject !
The 21st Century has had a cruel and savage birth: extreme man-made events, hybrid disasters, severe natural events, complex humanitarian emergencies, with accelerating climate change and variability. The old certainties are crumbling before our eyes …
The resolute Answer to these threats and the rapidly changing social and environmental needs of our world is Sustainable Fire Engineering !
• SFE fulfils a critical role in the realization of a Safe, Resilient & Sustainable Built Environment for All ;
• SFE facilitates positive progress towards the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals & 169 Performance Targets, which were adopted in September 2015 ;
• SFE fast-tracks proper compliance with the Basic Requirements for Construction Works in the European Union’s Construction Products Regulation 305/2011 (Annex I), specifically the interlinked Requirements 7, 2, 1, 3 & 4.
Please join us in an informal, multidisciplinary and pre-normative forum … as we examine Sustainable Fire Engineering more deeply.
INTRODUCTION to SFE 2016 DUBLIN
Fire Losses – both direct and indirect – amount to a very significant percentage of GDP in all economies, whether they are rich or poor … and result in enormous environmental damage and social disruption. Fire Engineering, including Fire Prevention and Protection in Buildings, is a major multi-billion Euro/Dollar component of the Construction Industrial Sector – worldwide.
Unfortunately … a fundamental conflict exists between Sustainable Building Design Strategies and the fire safety responses adopted in today’s Conventional Fire Engineering. To take a simple example: for cooling, heating or ventilation purposes in a Sustainable Building, it is necessary to take advantage of natural unobstructed patterns of air movement in that building. On the other hand, fire engineers in private practice and control personnel in Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s) will demand that building spaces be tightly compartmented in order to limit the spread of fire and smoke … dramatically interfering with those natural patterns of air movement.
Unusual fire behaviour and a range of difficult fire safety issues (critical, in the case of firefighters) also arise from the Innovative Design Features (for example, ‘green’ roofs, elaborate intelligent façades) and Building Products / Systems (for example, photovoltaic panels) being installed in Sustainable Buildings.
A wide chasm separates the language and understanding of these two very different design disciplines. As a result, the performance of Sustainable Buildings can be seriously compromised. If, on the other hand, adequate independent technical control is absent on site … it is fire safety which is weakened.
And because, in most countries, the emphasis is placed on pre-construction design intent rather than the ‘real’ performance of the completed/occupied building … these problems are ignored and remain hidden … until a serious fire breaks out !
SUSTAINABLE FIRE ENGINEERING’s AIM
The Aim of Sustainable Fire Engineering is to dramatically reduce all direct and indirect fire losses in the Human Environment (including social, built, economic, environmental, virtual, and institutional) … and to protect the Natural Environment.
Towards Zero Preventable Fires in the Built Environment !
In essence … Sustainable Fire Engineering heavily front-loads Fire Prevention and Fire Protection Measures … above and beyond the minimal and very limited fire safety objectives mandated by current legislation.
Adapted to local geography, climate change and variability, social need, economy, and culture ;
SFE 2016 DUBLIN OBJECTIVES
1. To initiate discussion and foster mutual understanding between the International Sustainable Development / Climate Change / Urban Resilience Communities and the International Fire Science & Engineering Community. 2. To bring together today’s disparate Sectors within the International Fire Science and Engineering Community … to encourage better communication between each and trans-disciplinary collaboration between all. 3. To transform Conventional Fire Engineering into an ethical and fully professional Sustainable Design Discipline which is fit for purpose in the 21st Century … meaning … that fire engineers can participate actively in a sustainable design process, and can respond creatively with sustainable fire engineering design solutions which result in Effective Fire Safety for All in Sustainable Buildings. 4. To launch a CIB W14 Research Working Group VI Reflection Document: ‘Sustainable Fire Engineering Design & Construction’ … which will establish a framework for discussion on the future development of Sustainable Fire Engineering.
Download the Information on the Links Page … Review the wide range of Topics which will be examined and discussed at SFE 2016 DUBLIN … Submit an Abstract for a Paper … and Give serious consideration to becoming an Industry Exhibitor, or an Enlightened, Far-sighted Sponsor !!
2013-05-30: Further to the recent post here, dated 2013-04-02 … and this Page on our Corporate WebSite …
Pausing … and stepping back … to consider conventional architectural practice, how architects are educated, and whether or not the professional institutes are helping, or handicapping, the forward progress of Architecture for a Better, More Sustainable World … I am deeply concerned about the future …
1. Should it be ‘Multi-Disciplinary’ or ‘Trans-Disciplinary’ ?
The word ‘trans-disciplinary’ is confusing to a lot of people … surprisingly, to many at senior levels in construction-related industries, research sectors, and academia … not just in Ireland, but internationally. The more senior the level, it seems the higher are the walls of that proverbial ‘box’. But, let me reassure you, thinking outside the ‘box’ is not confined to people in their early 20’s !!
Looking over just the initial list of Consultant Specialists in a complex architectural project … it is the task of the Architect to transform a widely ‘multi-disciplinary’ input into a coherent ‘trans-disciplinary’ output. These two concepts are very different.
Next Generation Architectural Processes and Procedures are urgently required …
2. EU Climate & Energy Policies – Key Driving Forces for Sustainability !
Recently, the European Commission issued this Green Paper … (which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to say about Climate Change Adaptation !) …
European Commission COM(2013) 169 final – Brussels, 2013-03-27
Click the Link Above to read and/or download PDF File (104 Kb)
Concerning this Green Paper … Two Important Points …
(i) Current European Union (EU) Climate and Energy Policies are not just a passing fad … they are here to stay. With certainty, we also know that they will become more and more stringent … and that higher levels of performance will be mandated … not just on paper or a computer printout … but in reality, for example, in buildings which are constructed and actually occupied by ‘real’ building users. Refer also to recent findings, in Europe, about the large and growing discrepancy between car fuel efficiencies claimed after testing in a laboratory, and when later monitored under ‘real’ driving conditions.
(ii) It has now become obvious that the European Commission has lost the plot … big time ! Policies and Actions in closely related fields have been permitted to become fragmented, disjointed, and even counter-productive. Written into the EU treaties is the term ‘sustainable development’ … an intricate, open, dynamic and continuously evolving concept. However, senior levels (both political and bureaucratic) in the different Directorates-General of the European Commission have long ago forgotten, mislaid and/or lost the proper meaning of ‘sustainability’ … and the essential interdependency of its many aspects.
… which brings me to the urgent necessity for Next Generation Architectural Design Concepts …
In Europe … the 1990’s and early 2000’s, taken together, was a period of construction experimentation and research. We thought we could afford the resources and the lazy times … to try this, that and the other. Little emphasis was placed on practical implementation in ‘real’ buildings. However, the scale and immediacy of today’s Sustainable Development Challenges in the Built Environment have, within a few short years and much more quickly than expected, become unprecedented.
The Yanks (Gringos) are very strong on marketing … much stronger than Europe … so let’s examine a small model building … and see if its Architectural Design Concept is both coherent and comprehensive …
Mr. Amory Lovins, of the Rocky Mountain Institute in the USA ( www.rmi.org ) … has produced a very snazzy Visitor’s Guide to the sprawling complex that is ‘his home, bioshelter and office’ in Snowmass, Colorado … a Guide intended for wide public circulation.
Concerning this Building … Three Points of Interest(?) …
(i) For a fleeting moment … let us imagine that a percentage – not even all – of the vast populations living in Africa, India and China wanted the same sort of lifestyle, including the house, that Amory Lovins possesses. What would be the resource implications for this planet ??
(ii) In a first construction ‘try’ … separate solar and/or photovoltaic panels fixed in place on a roof … attached to the building, almost as an afterthought … were the norm. Now, however, these building systems are no longer innovative … they must be properly shown to be ‘fit for their intended use’ (to comply with building regulations and codes) … and they should now be fully integrated into the architectural design concept for the building … which is not the case in the photograph above. [ Car manufacturers face a similar design challenge today … how to successfully integrate new technologies, e.g. satellite navigation screens, smartphone docking stations, usb sockets, bluetooth, etc., etc., into the front dashboard.]
Anyway … how reproducible is this model building in urban and suburban contexts … in the USA … or elsewhere in the world ?? How many people would have access to sufficient land outside a building to ‘plant’ one, or a series of photovoltaic panels ? Tracking photovoltaic panels, as shown above ?? And as seen in Italy, with those ridiculous photovoltaic fields (in a post, dated 2011-11-07 ) … good agricultural lands should not be used for this purpose … not now, not ever, never !
(iii) Sustainable Buildings are ‘high-tech’ … and a very large amount and variety of electronic and mechanical equipment is necessary in order to reliably monitor and tightly control their performance … in other words, to operate a building in accordance with its design specification. Again … these services should be fully integrated into the architectural design concept for what is, no longer, just a simple dwelling. Do similar houses without basements, for example, now need a central well-ventilated service room, complete with compact workstation ?
In my opinion … the Architectural Design Concept for this building is not coherent. The overall architectural impression is one of a large sprawling house, on a very large plot of land … with many different ‘environmental/energy’-related appendages, or add-ons. Can you see any coherence ?
It is the task of the Architect to consider all facets of building performance at the earliest stages of design … whether a small building, or a very large complex building … and to integrate those many diverse, but interdependent, facets into a coherent architectural statement … having a conceptual single crystalline shape … while also bearing in mind ‘person-centredness’, ‘flexibility’, ‘adaptability’, ‘accessibility for all’, and a ‘long and useful life cycle’.
[ An aside … closer to home … we are now witnessing the rise of the ‘Passive House Designer’. This person, who is able to use a specific computer software package … no less, and no more … need not necessarily be an architect, or have any architectural education/training. Is it possible to refer to the realized output from this software as ‘architecture’ … or are they merely drab, boring boxes ?? ]
3. Sustainable Buildings, Fire Safety & Fire Engineering ?
In the elaborate Amory Lovins Visitor’s Guide above … there is only one mention of fire hazard in the building … and that is in relation to a Passive Clothes Dryer (Page 40). End of story with regard to the Fire Safety Issues for its Users … and the Fire Engineering Implications arising from a chosen architectural design and chosen construction materials and methods.
When I was referring to a centrally located service room in # 2(iii) above … that room should also be structurally hardened, and fire and smoke ‘separated’ from other spaces in the house. Or … if the service equipment is located in a roof space, there are implications for roof structural reliability in a fire situation, and the fire resistance of the ceiling construction beneath. Or … if the equipment is located in a basement, a simple intermediate timber floor construction overhead is inadequate.
Furthermore … an intelligent fire detection and warning system … and a suitable domestic fire suppression system … are no longer luxuries or optional extras, but essential requirements ! Who would want to lose such a valuable investment ??
And insofar as fire safety issues are not being considered … it seems, at all … in the case of most ‘high-tech’, sustainable buildings … and certainly not in the case of the Lovins House … the Architectural Design Concepts for these buildings ‘suffer’ from a gaping hole … an enormous void … they are incomplete and, therefore, entirely inadequate.
Fire Engineering involves much, much more than mere compliance with building regulations and codes … whose fire safety objectives are limited, and whose performance requirements are sometimes inadequate and always minimal.
Unfortunately … there is a fundamental conflict between Sustainable Building Design Strategies and the current state-of-the-art in Fire Engineering Design. As an example … for cooling, heating and/or ventilation purposes in a sustainable building, it is necessary to take advantage of natural patterns of air movement in that building. On the other hand, fire consultants in private practice, and fire prevention officers in Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s), will demand that building spaces be strictly compartmented in order to limit the spread of fire and smoke … thereby dramatically interfering with those natural patterns of air movement.
In everyday practice, there is a vast chasm in understanding and communication between these two very different design disciplines. As a result, serious compromises are being enforced on Sustainability Performance. If, on the other hand, adequate independent technical control is absent on the site of a Sustainable Building … it is the fire safety and protection which is being seriously compromised.
A range of critical fire safety issues (fatal, in the case of firefighters) are also arising from the Innovative Building Products and Systems being installed in Sustainable Buildings.
And because the emphasis is on pre-construction design ‘intent’ rather than the ‘real’ performance of the completed and occupied building … all of these problems are being conveniently sidestepped or ignored … and they remain hidden from everybody’s view.
Sustainable Fire Engineering Design, on the other hand, is the creative response to Sustainable Design … and the powerful drivers of Climate Change Adaptation, and Energy Conservation/Efficiency in Buildings.
Sustainable Fire Engineering Design Solutions are …
Adapted to Local Conditions … Geography, Climate (change, variability and severity swings), Social Need, Culture, and Economy, etc., etc ;
‘Reliability-Based’ … the design process is based on competence, practical experience, and an examination of ‘real’ extreme events, e.g. 2001 WTC 9-11 & 2008 Mumbai Attacks, and 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Incident … rather than on theory alone ;
‘Person-Centred’ … ‘real’ people are placed at the centre of creative endeavours and proper consideration is given to their responsible needs … and their health, safety and welfare … and security … in the Human Environment.
Sustainability … continues to fundamentally transform our Fire Engineering, Architectural and Consultancy Practice at Sustainable Design International Ltd (SDI) !
… this is how we would like to help you … whether you are an individual, or an organization … whether you are located in Ireland, Italy or Turkey … some other part of Europe, the Arab Gulf Region, India, Japan, China … or wherever !
And … we can, if requested or necessary, work in collaboration with local partners in those different geographical regions.
– FireOx International is the Fire Engineering Division of Sustainable Design International Ltd. (SDI) –
Fundamentally, the 9-11 World Trade Center Incident in New York (2001) was an Extreme ‘Real’ Fire Event. It presented the International Fire Engineering Community with a catastrophic failure in conventional practices and procedures related to:
Fire Engineering, Structural Engineering, and Architectural Design ;
Human Building Management Systems ;
Emergency Response by Firefighters, Rescue Teams, and Medical Personnel ;
National and Local Organizations Having Authority or Jurisdiction (AHJ’s) ;
… and with the serious problem of entirely inadequate Fire Safety Objectives in the building legislation, model codes and design standards of the most economically advanced countries in the world.
Those people who understand the building design process, and have experience as construction practitioners, have long realised that the lessons from 9-11 must be applied across the full spectrum of building types … not just to tall buildings. Right up to the present day, unfortunately, many people in the International Fire Engineering Community are either unwilling, or unable, to do this.
Furthermore … Fire Engineering, Architectural Design and Structural Engineering must, of urgent necessity, be seamlessly conjoined … with the aim of removing misunderstandings and the wide gaps in client service delivery between the different disciplines.
In 2002, a series of Long-Term 9-11 Survivor Health Studies commenced in the USA … and in 2005 and 2008, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued a series of Post 9-11 Critical Recommendations concerning the design, construction, management and operation of buildings.
At FireOx International … we have fully integrated this essential design guidance into our frontline fire engineering and architectural practice … we have developed unique and practical solutions for worldwide application, some of which appear in International Standard ISO 21542: ‘Building Construction – Accessibility & Usability of the Built Environment’, published in December 2011.
FireOx International’s Commitment to You
As a necessary response to the New 21st Century Paradigm of Real Extreme Event in a Built Environment which is becoming more and more complex … is subject to climate change and severe weather events … and is vulnerable to malign and malevolent disruption –
WE are committed to … the implementation of a Sustainable Human Environment which is Fire Safe and Secure for All, meaning that an ‘appropriate project-specific fire safety level’ is our fire engineering objective, with ‘human health protection’ targeted as a priority … through the use of innovative, reliability-based and person-centred sustainable design practices and procedures.
What is an ‘Appropriate Fire Safety Level’ in Your Building or Facility ?
It is rarely, if ever, explained to clients/client organizations that the Minimal Fire Safety Objectives in building legislation are focused solely on protecting the ‘interests’ of society, not those of the individual … are, quite often, inadequate and/or flawed … and are, always, revised only after the latest tragedy !
To properly protect Your Interests as a client/client organization … we strongly advise that the Appropriate Level of Fire Safety in Your Building or Facility should exceed the minimal level of safety required by building legislation. We would also caution that, in many jurisdictions (e.g. India), compliance with national building legislation is voluntary.
Which raises the issues of whether or not you will actually get what you pay for, and whether or not the Fire Protection Measures in Your Building or Facility are reliable (in other words, will they perform as intended at the time of a ‘real’ fire, which may occur at any time in a building’s long life cycle) !?! Competent Technical Control of Design and Construction, independent of the design and construction organization(s), is essential.
You should carefully consider the following spectrum of issues which may be directly relevant to Your Project. Following a process of consultation with you, we then develop Project-Specific Fire Engineering Design Objectives … bearing in mind that you must also comply with safety at work, anti-discrimination, and environmental legislation, etc … maintain business continuity, etc … be energy efficient, etc … and be socially responsible, etc …
– Protection of the Health of All Building Users … including People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF), Visitors to the building or facility who may be unfamiliar with its layout, and Contractors or Product/Service Suppliers temporarily engaged in work or business transactions on site ;
– Protection of Property from Loss or Damage … including the Building or Facility, its Contents, and Adjoining or Adjacent Properties ;
– Safety of Firefighters, Rescue Teams and Other Emergency Response Personnel ;
– Ease and Reasonable Cost of ‘Effective’ Reconstruction, Refurbishment or Repair Works after a Fire ;
– Sustainability of the Human Environment (social – built – virtual – economic) … including Fitness for Intended Use and Life Cycle Costing of fire engineering related products and systems, etc … fixed, installed or otherwise incorporated in the building or facility ;
– Protection of the Natural Environment from Harm, i.e. Adverse or Damaging Impacts.
FireOx International – Our Fire Engineering Services
WE will advise you on Fire Safety Policy, Fire Safety Strategy Development, Fire Safety Implementation … and, whether you are within or from outside the European Union, on CE Marking of Fire Protection Related Construction Products ;
WE understand the process of Design, particularly the new language of Sustainable Design … and we will produce Creative Fire Engineering Solutions for Your Project ;
WE are thoroughly familiar with the intricacies of Building Sites … and we will verify and/or validate Design Compliance during construction, and at project completion … and, if requested or necessary, as a completely Independent Technical Controller ;
WE communicate easily and effectively with other Professional Design Disciplines, including architects and structural engineers … and we will act as fully participating members of Your Project Design & Construction Team … and, if requested or necessary, as the Design Professional in Responsible Charge** ;
Are adapted to Local Geography, Climate/Climate Change, Social Need, Culture, Economy … and Severe Events (e.g. earthquakes, flooding) ;
Are ‘Reliability-Based’, i.e. that design process based on practical experience, competence and an examination of real extreme events, e.g. 2001 WTC 9-11 & 2008 Mumbai Attacks, and 2011 Fukushima Nuclear Incident … rather than theory alone ;
Are ‘Person-Centred’, i.e. that design process which places ‘real’ people at the centre of creative endeavours and gives due consideration to their responsible needs, and their health, safety, welfare and security in the Human Environment.
It is there, not here, that we define Sustainable Human & Social Development … and describe how our Practice is responding to this open, intricate, dynamic, and still evolving concept. The resulting transformation in how frontline services are provided to our Clients/Client Organizations ensures a much more comfortable ‘fit’ to their needs … and a greater level of protection, safety and security for society !
[** 2005 NIST(USA) Final Report on 9-11 World Trade Center 1 & 2 Tower Collapses
– Footnote 49 –
… the Design Professional in Responsible Charge – usually the lead architect – ensures that the (Design) Team Members use consistent design data and assumptions, co-ordinates overlapping specifications, and serves as the liaison with enforcement and review officials, and with the client or client organization. ]
Click the Link Above to read and/or download a PDF File (4.83 Mb)
Extract from ‘Foreword’ …
This publication serves as a timely update on what has occurred since the Earth Summit of 1992 and is part of the wider Global Environment Outlook-5 (GEO-5) preparations that will lead to the release of the landmark GEO-5 report in May 2012. It underlines how in just twenty years, the world has changed more than most of us could ever have imagined – geopolitically, economically, socially and environmentally. Very few individuals outside academic and research communities envisaged the rapid pace of change or foresaw developments such as the phenomenal growth in information and communication technologies, ever-accelerating globalization, private sector investments across the world, and the rapid economic rise of a number of ‘developing’ countries. Many rapid changes have also taken place in our environment, from the accumulating evidence of climate change and its very visible impacts on our planet, to biodiversity loss and species extinctions, further degradation of land surfaces and the deteriorating quality of oceans. Certainly, there have been some improvements in the environmental realm, such as the significant reduction in ozone-depleting chemicals and the emergence of renewable energy sources, new investments into which totalled more than $200 thousand million in 2010. But in too many areas, the environmental dials continue to head into the red.
Click the Link Above to read and/or download a PDF File (670 Kb)
SDI is a professional, trans-disciplinary and collaborative design, architectural, fire engineering, research, and consultancy practice … specialists in the theory and practical implementation of a Sustainable Human Environment (social – built – virtual – economic).
WE are committed to … the protection of society, the best interests of our clients, and ‘user’ welfare … not just cost-effective compliance with the Minimal Health & Safety Objectives in Legislation & Codes !
Sustainability … continues to fundamentally transform our Architectural, Fire Engineering & Consultancy Practice.
Click the Link Above to read and/or download a PDF File (4.72 Mb)
If we measured the world’s response to environmental challenges solely by the number of treaties and agreements that have been adopted, then the situation looks impressive. Over 500 international environmental agreements have been concluded since 1972, the year of the Stockholm Conference and the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
These include landmark conventions on issues such as trade in endangered species, hazardous wastes, climate change, biological diversity and desertification. Collectively, these reflect an extraordinary effort to install the policies, aims and desires of countries worldwide to achieve sustainable development.
Yet despite the impressive number of legal texts and many good intentions, real progress in solving the environmental challenges themselves has been much less comprehensive, a point clearly underlined in the Global Environment Outlook-5 (GEO-5), for which this report ‘Measuring Progress: Environmental Goals and Gaps’ and a previous publication ‘Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment: From Rio to Rio+20’ are companion products leading up to Rio+20.
This report outlines findings from a UNEP study that, with support from the Government of Switzerland, has catalogued and analyzed existing ‘Global Environmental Goals’ contained in the international agreements and conventions. It asks the fundamental question as to why the aims and goals of these policy instruments have often fallen far short of their original ambition and intentions. One possible reason is that many of the goals are simply not specific enough; the few goals that are specific and measurable appear to have a much better record of success.
These include goals to phase out lead in gasoline, ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and certain persistent organic pollutants (POP’s), specific Millennium Development Goal targets calling to halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation, and targets to increase the number and extent of protected areas. Indeed, even when measurable targets have been set but not actually met, they have usually led to positive change and often to significant change.
The vast majority of goals, however, are found to be ‘aspirational’ in nature. They lack specific targets, which generate obvious difficulties in measuring progress towards them. In addition, many aspirational goals are not supported by adequate data that can be used to measure progress, global freshwater quality being one stark example.
It is clear that if agreements and conventions are to achieve their intended purpose, the international community needs to consider specific and measurable goals when designing such treaties, while organizing the required data gathering and putting in place proper tracking systems from the outset.
A set of Sustainable Development Goals, as proposed by the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Sustainability, could be an excellent opportunity and starting point to improve this situation while representing another positive outcome from Rio+20, two decades after the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 and four decades after the Stockholm Conference.
Achim Steiner, United Nations Under-Secretary-General, and Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi.