COP26 Climate Change conference:  A net-zero greenwash or a big chance to align countries in a logistical process to a global strategy to rapidly decarbonise, fund grassroot ideas in addition to clean technologies to fast-track innovation in every sector 

How to facilitate a shift to carbon neutral economies internationally to harness the power of humanity’s goodwill  and readiness to turn the climate change tide in our favour?

A perfect storm of solutions … a system change.

Since 1991, governments and scientists had been meeting for the United Nations COP conferences. They were trying to establish an agreement on the reduction of greenhouse gases and year after year had failed. In preparation for what looked like it was going to be the fifteenth year of failure, our small team decided to make a film to challenge the whole notion of trying to reach an agreement. We believed that a specific agreement between so many diverse countries, between North & South and East & West too was impossibility due to so many divergent factors in each country and region. There were too many variables that needed to be traversed and put into an agreement. A joint film project – Ecoplaza Paradise Oasis – presented the concept of getting a “flexible agreement,” which was essentially to be an agreement that got everyone onto the same side and then for them to encourage the very rapid extrapolation of best practices and communicate this between countries. The film was screened at COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 and then at COP21 the concept of a “flexible agreement” was taken up and ratified into the Paris Climate Accord. The extrapolation process however, has yet to be done properly and while it is now accepted that it is advantageous to bring all parties together, the sharing of best practice and information is still completely lacking even on a national scale, let alone a local scale. This gap can be rapidly filled in through NGOs extrapolating best practice and establishing links with public and private sector to make this exchange fast and match projects to funding.

Ecoplaza concept is part of a larger body of work that was presented in 2004. The work was and still is today highly advanced of any other proposals. Among 70 concepts introduced to various groups and leaders was a new concept of the need for having a global integrated strategy as opposed to targets that most countries cannot agree upon and piecemeal solutions. We postulated that national strategies need to be aligned with a broader global strategy to be effective. There need to be workable models-formulas developed, replicated and applied across the board that help engage whole communities and countries in the process of solving our environmental and social challenges. The notion of the need for a global strategy as an effective way of combating climate change was finally accepted and applied by the COP 21 at Paris Accord meeting in 2015, 11 years later after its first appearance in the world.

What could such realignment look like?

Sustainable land and water use practices including seaweed farming, aquaponics, and organic cultivation based on permaculture principles rely on solutions that originate in nature. Halting the thawing of Siberia’ permafrost has now also found its solution in observing nature over many decades and intuiting answers from the observations. This ground-breaking concept is a long-life project of Sergey Zimov, a Russian scientist who established The Northeast Science Station in Cherskii, Sakha Republic has been creating a Pleistocene park since 1988.  The Park’s large herbivores such as reindeer, moose and bison are reinstating the grassland and rebalancing the natural cycle through grazing and trampling the land.  

Although it may appear simple to an untrained eye, a method involves an in-depth understanding of a vast array of complexities that make up Siberia’s fragile ecosystem that is also a tipping point, which indicates we have breached the balance.  In this case, Tundra instead of being a carbon sink now is a CO2 and other gasses emitter accelerating the warming of the planet and driving the unstoppable feedback cycle.   

To date a father and son team have made amazing contribution to climate change solutions and their findings benefit international research. This totally natural solution does not depend on highly sophisticated and expensive high tech equipment to conduct the program.  It offers a great promise of reversing the trend of progressive meltdown, extrapolating the results to other areas and creating opportunities to further the climate change mitigation programs that seek out solutions inherent in a troubled ecosystem. It is certainly an interesting prospect but also one that requires highly dynamic thinking that allows for unorthodox ideas, that have proved themselves to work, to be explored and funded appropriately so that we can keep apace with the tipping points that are now affecting our rainforests, oceans and polar regions.

Algae – being small but making big waves in climate change solution answers

In many regions of the world where natural water and soil resources are depleted, this return to pre-industrial model of land use to produce food is the only option. Man-made solutions are secondary to phenomenal capacities of the Earth’s systems to repair, regenerate and bring themselves back into balance, if assisted in the right way. Man just has to accept this science-backed fact that the climate equilibrium can only be achieved if we accept and embrace this reality.

We see this today with nature-led solutions such as carbon sequestration performed by all kinds of algae. Microalgae including Chlorella, Spirulina ( strictly not an alga but a cyanobacteria) and many others are farmed for high value products sought out by different industries. Spirulina farms are especially springing up like fungi on a fertile ground created by small-scale farmers who are keen to promote this type of climate change solution by investing in this biological aid. SMES such as and breweries that emit lots of CO2 are now able to decarbonise their activity by capturing their carbon outputs in situ and converting them into green biomass with help of intelligent designs such as a microalga bioreactor.  Two 400 litre algal bioreactors were installed at Young Henrys Brewery in Sydney by a team of University of Technology Sydney Climate Change Cluster with the aim of making the brewery and their product carbon neutral. Interestingly, my team and I promoted the creation of clusters of Ecoplazas around the world where there is a constant flow of information in and out of the system that creates a positive feedback loop that counteracts the climate change loop putting us firmly on the path of climate restoration.

We need to seek new links and join the dots between these seemingly unrelated strands of information and fields. Livestock farms can cut their gas emissions to much lower levels by using feed containing algae, too.

A craft brewery is a good example of how this could work in practice.  A spent malt – a brewing by product is fed to livestock so a waste-resource link exists already.  In the same way a brewery uses microalgae to cut their CO2 emissions, a livestock farm can reduce its methane emissions by including algae in the feed.  Although the application is new and we are only just at the beginning of this process, by doing so we have entered a new paradigm of thinking that is also a catalyst for more innovation to be seen in coming years.

We need more of these types of all-sector partnerships where one element enhances the other in a perpetual loop of complex interrelationships with a sum total being greater and smarter than individual solutions operating in isolation. This is how we can collaboratively create a perfect storm of solutions – a phrase that we made up to demonstrate how this multifaceted complex ecosystems of solutions can take on life of its own and become an unstoppable force in helping nations tackle global warming whilst rapidly building their capacities to reverse a global climate catastrophe. 

Why our efforts to date have fallen behind what’s required to disrupt the current trajectory of the Earth’s immune system collapse?

One reason for this is wrong thinking modality with its correspondent modus operandi that have resulted in a decades-long inability of political leaders to mobilise and galvanise their populations to become a key instrument driving the positive change today, independently of any targets set for 2050, 60 or 70, or even 2100. Numbers picked as if it was a lottery!  

For any strategy to work there need to be spaces created in cities and beyond within each nation that introduce-foster-stimulate this complex shift. Spaces where we can constantly innovate new ways to join business to environment and community  within a framework of an open-ended improvement strategy that is going to be unique to each nation but aligned in its main goal of stopping the ecosystems’ collapse caused by accelerated global warming. Mitigation strategies are not enough- we need to seek to realign fast or nature will dictate the course of our lives. Prevailing linear way of dealing with social and green innovation can be averted if we treat every innovation, especially originating outside of left-brain academic sphere, with the same level of interest as technological, profit-driven ideas. 

This will result in a combined sum of thousands of such shifts that will reverse a downward spiral and create a global momentum and movement to alter today’s status quo. Imagine the world where intangible policies that result from diluted targets are replaced by a plan of action that countries actually can adhere to because they have necessary tools.  That way they can work towards meeting their targets by building their know-how and resources to not only decarbonise their economies but actually create societal and environmental enhancements on scales unseen before. Who can actually sustain their interest long enough when the discussion stops at targets alone? Something more powerful and consciousness-altering globally is required for this difficult shift to get off to an unstoppable beat. Yes, there are embryos of change visible, nobody can deny that but they are now overshadowed by stories of natural disasters that combine in a perfect storm of demise, wrecking peoples’ lives and bringing the infrastructure of entire regions down, no longer just in the Southern hemisphere.  How can we change this ?! The answer is by establishing physical spaces…we called Ecoplazas.  

We have all solutions we need..I am sure you have heard people say. Solutions are now shared on the Internet and the thinking is local with a global reach, but we need a physical – Internet-like manifestation of tangible, widely seen, felt and perceived solutions and answers right within our communities. To focus a constant stream of innovation requires a social space – a friendly and informal green learning and networking space that includes many ‘speaker corners’ where ideas are further improved upon, critiqued and tried. Later to be disseminated fast through a network of such green spaces across regions.  Ecoplaza is how we do it!

An Ecoplaza – What is it and how it works

Ecoplaza is just a working name for the concept and it got inspired by a Mexican Zocalo, a central meeting place. My hope is that many such spaces will come to life under hundreds of different names. This is an-award winning concept presented at the COP15 in Copenhagen to IPPC scientists, promoted at green and art festivals and cultural venues in California and presented at University College, LA and during a conference held at Berkeley University.

Ecoplaza a self-help centre is established by local residents under the guidance of local councils. They are self-help centres that bridge social and welfare gaps through people finding self-help and support from others. They are a facility that would be of the most benefit to the elderly, young people, disadvantaged and unemployed. A facility that benefits all of society by providing a new form of self-help support mechanism. They link charities to volunteers, young people to the knowledge of their elders and opportunities and create a more widely supported society to help young people find training and meaningful jobs, and find investment for projects. They are a way to encourage localism, build local economies, and fill in some of the gaps that neither capitalism nor any other form of last century political philosophy is able to effectively address in technology- dependent world. Ecoplazas are a university of life, for life skills and training that is facilitated by local people wanting to give back to society and essentially “pay-it-forward” to help those people around them.   

Ecoplazas are purely logistical and a new way of identifying and sharing skills, investment and goodwill. They are natural disaster response centres and schools of climate change adaptation for and run by the community.  They are non-political and their objective is to facilitate local cooperation that can derive benefit to all across all political spheres. They are entertainment and leisure orientated and their introduction would be the single most significant advancement for decades in fostering self-help for all. They are established to regenerate land and community, increase employment and provide support for the third sector. Through various mechanisms they also facilitate a way for the second sector to be able to interact and assist in the improvement of local areas in a highly cost effective way. Ecoplazas as a concept are particularly important for an aging population and a young population that is not connected to opportunities and a social infrastructure. Ecoplazas enable local areas to align with international environment protection goals.  

A number of concepts have gone out and have influenced the thinking and shifted a climate change focus.  However, what is still largely unexplored is the way in which we look at socio-economic and environmental challenges and turn these into economic and social opportunities.  A process that is seeking to forge a new paradigm in terms of trade and good will from local businesses, local government, organisations and the participating public.  This translates into city residents sharing in the combined input, new resource base and profit, and many other lifestyle benefits.  There will always be an added element of innovation with this big idea, as each community will make it their own. The idea of creating an integrated model for solving problems has caught on. However, the model which was presented in 2004 goes far beyond solving all kinds of problems simultaneously because it creates enhanced leisure facilities and more opportunities in our neighbourhoods, while affecting a major awareness shift.

To preserve integrity of this work I co-authored and published a book in 2012.  The work demonstrates how this integrated model could be instigated in every country. The findings that make up this integrated model are based on case studies of diverse projects that we ran in the UK and internationally over a couple of decades. We sponsored them ourselves by re-investing the profits. The model celebrates and empowers collective creativity that serves a common goal of regeneration and wellbeing that is possible under a radical environmental alignment of all actions across all nations.

My book cover with an artist impression of an Ecoplaza in or outside any city

References

  1. Eye of the Storm [Explore 5/31/14] by Joe Parks
  2. Melting snow in Tundra, Sterlegova (75.26N 89.09E), Taimyr, Russia (1991) by GRIDArendal
  3. Polygon tundra, Lena Delta, Sakha Republic, Siberia, Russia by GRIDArendal

       Algal images :

  1. LOS DIMINUTOS FILAMENTOS DEL ALGA DE BAMBÚ, BAMBUSINA BORRERI. LAGO DE SANABRIA” by PROYECTO AGUA
  2. Chlorella by Vladi Damian
  3. LOS GIROS DE SPIRULINA, MOVIMIENTO EN EL ORIGEN ” by PROYECTO AGUA

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