On the redefinition of the interaction between man and nature. The German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) gathers important experience
In December 2011 the extension of the Kyoto Protocol till 2020 was finally muddled through in Doha, Quatar – but is this enough? The consequences of climate change are noticeable and visible everywhere. And yet it is not possible for humanity to agree: on a common goal of how to deal with climate change, with its existing problems and challenges. It seems as if we are overwhelmed, in our role as "maker of nature", to consider nature itself as an equal partner, as an equal player in the game for our future and that of the generations to come.
Living in the Anthropocene
According to the chemist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen, we are currently living in a new geological era. To describe this he introduces the term "Anthropocene". The idea behind it is that man’s action interferes fundamentally in the biology and geography of nature. According to the OECD the number of people living on earth is expected to grow from its current seven billion to more than nine billion by 2050. As a result of this immense population growth and the consequently disproportionate development of megacities, global warming, ocean acidification, rising sea-levels and lack of drinking water will occur as major problems: Humanity obviously affects the climate and – vice versa – the climate affects humanity. The interaction of man and nature and its interdependence, can be among other things seen in the fact, that clean water and access to it was declared as human right by the United Nations in 2010. However, this special status seems to be still far from being anchored in the global consciousness. On the contrary: This precious matter becomes more and more scarce and at the same time is wasted day by day. From governmental and institutional to individual household level obviously too little importance is being attached to the meaningful use of this precious elixir of life.
In its role as policy advisor the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) conducts a development aid project called "Adaptation to Climate Change in the Water Sector in the MENA region" ("ACCWaM"), which aims at supporting the region to confront the consequences of climate change. According to the principles of cooperative practices, described by Jill Bennett, writer, cultural critic and scholar at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney, in her essay "Life in the Anthropocene", ACCWaM seeks to help to accomplish the implementation of the principles of relevant sustainability, effectiveness and efficiency at all different levels in the MENA region. The cooperative practices that take place in an international, innovative and cross-border context, support a paradigm shift towards an ecological practice, which allows for society to adapt to climate change.
Innovation on different levels
As an example of transnational cooperation the work on the political level of the GIZ project “ACCWaM” can be cited. It advises its partner organizations on the preparation of an action plan for the water security strategy for the Arab region. The strategy aims at the strategical regulation of water resources against a background of climate change. For this purpose GIZ collaborates with the Arab League, which promotes political, economic, cultural, scientific and social development programs in the Arab region. It consists of 22 Arab member countries and also promotes the water security strategy and a plan of action for its implementation. The GIZ project additionally collaborates with ACSAD, the Arab Center for the Studies of Arid Zones and Dry Lands. On the one hand ACSAD has, as a regional organization under the umbrella of the Arab League, specific expertise in the management of water and land resources in dry and arid areas. On the other hand ACSAD is the only institution within the Arab League, with a mandate for water and natural resources.
The approach of the Water, energy and food nexus shows how the consideration of two separate areas can have strong influence as a measure on climate change adaptation in the water sector if they are "cooperatively connected". In this context special attention is attached to the principle of relevant sustainability and effectiveness when implementing technical projects by using renewable energy and energy efficient solutions. Technical innovations in the form of pilot projects are first tested on a small scale and in the case of successful results the prospective pilots will operate on a higher scale. In Jordan for example the pilot project pursues a change in the agricultural land use. Instead of irrigated agriculture GIZ promotes solar energy farming to support a meaningful, climate and resource friendly economy. Also in Egypt renewable energy is used by GIZ in water management. The pilot project in the Nile Delta is gradually replacing diesel powered engines of water pumping systems by solar-powered ones. There are no limits to creativity in these cases - because the existing approaches were obviously not very promising.
Together with UN ESCWA (The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia), the regional project ACCWaM also sought to invest in research and development to generate new knowledge, which forms the basis of the implementation of innovative approaches. By setting up a virtual knowledge hub between Europe and the Arab countries ACCWaM and UN ESCWA contribute to inter-national and interdisciplinary exchange of knowledge. Thereby boundaries between East and West are resolved, the dichotomy between the Islamic and Western world would not be considered. The approach is to face the ever-increasing complexity by integrative attempts: Because the scientific network helps to promote social change, which is strongly affected by climate change.
ACCWaM also places greater emphasis on creating a general awareness for the problem of climate change and its impacts related to water resources. Thereby civil society as an additional target group is integrated into the project which illustrates the cooperation between various actors. As in Egyptian society - especially as the 2011 Revolution has vividly shown – music as a medium of communication is widely used and the idea is to let the issue of climate change and water recycling be prepared by young musicians in the form of lyrics dealing with the topic. The songs are then to be chosen in a competition and awarded prizes. By means of music important knowledge is passed on. It will make sure that water must be handled deliberately by each single person and that man - in the spirit of the Anthropocene – has to take responsibility for the natural and thus social development of the earth and humanity. At this point again it is clear how two contrasting disciplines - art as humanities and climate change from the view of natural sciences - may lead to fruitful results if they are connected.
Innovation and its limits
The question that arises is, of course, whether the in theory so promising-sounding ideas appeal to the reality. At least ACCWaM has already recorded a significant number of important experiences on this issue. The question of whether man really has so much impact on the natural course of things is easy to answer, at least in the Arab world. A look at a satellite image of Cairo is enough to see to what extreme extent the natural ground surface is covered by a huge concrete jungle. And it is without controversy that the weather conditions will have long-term effects on the access and use of water. If then the statement of Nobel Laureate Crutzen is approved who claims that the effects of human-induced climatic conditions will still be visible in 50,000 years, the idea of the Anthropocene does not seem to be so outlandish.
But what does the future hold? From which status quo do we base our assumptions? The GIZ project reveals that on the one hand climate change exists and on the other hand urgently has to be tackled. Additionally, the project shows that all levels are confronted by this problem of climate change. The scope is immense, but what are the prospects for success? Is it worth the effort?
In an interview in 2011 the famous British scientist and geologist Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz claims that one of the main weaknesses of the idea of the Anthropocene is the lack of global awareness. The Anthropocene is "first and foremost a cognitive challenge." Will people understand what role they play in the world and how they relate to it? Will we be able to adapt our values to the changed conditions, before we - as Jared Diamond would say – go down as a civilization after we have cut down the very last tree?
Not only the government, as an institution, but the undertaking of responsibility by each individual helps to create a global awareness that the Anthropocene makes the people "to the title Hero of the Age that could seal his disappearance" (Zalasiewicz, Speigelonline, 2011). Be it the average citizen, the climate policy, the tentative signing of the Kyoto Protocol by various nations or the still inefficient water use in agriculture, industry and households in the Middle East. Climate change is to be understood not only as a scientific phenomenon, but also as a cultural one: culture, understood as a social value and norm system seems to play a key role in shaping the future. On the long run a response that includes practical change of human behavior will be the most effective solution (cf. Stehr; von Storch, 2006). This is at the same time probably the biggest challenge: to consider culture and climate not as opposites, but as equal partners in society.
Bennett, Jill (2012): Jill Bennett. Leben im Anthropozän. 1. Edition: Hatje Cantz Verlag.
Crutzen, Paul J.; Schwägerl, Christian (2011): Living in the Anthropocene: Towards a new global ethos. In: Yale Environment 360. Available online on http://e360.yale.edu/feature/living_in_the_anthropocene_toward_a_new_global_ethos/2363/.
Jared Diamond: University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Department of Geography.
OECD: OECD-Environmental outlook till 2015. The consequences on inaction. Summary. Available online on http://www.oecd.org/berlin/49907296.pdf.
Schwägerl, Christian (2011): Erdgeschichte: "Wir sind auf der Erde das dominierende Raubtier". Published by Spiegel Online. Available online on http://www.spiegel.de/wissenschaft/natur/erdgeschichte-wir-sind-auf-der-erde-das-dominierende-raubtier-a-748356.html.
Stehr, Nico; Storch, Hans von (2006): Anthropogenic Climate Change: A Reason for Concern Since the 18th Century and Earlier. In: Geografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography, Volume 88, M. 2, S. 107–113. Available online on http://w3k.gkss.de/staff/storch/pdf/geografiske-annaler-2006.pdf.
UNEP (United Nations Environment Program): Energy-Water-Nexus. Available online on http://www.unep.org/pdf/Water_Nexus.pdf.
United Nations - Framework Convention on Climate Change: Kyoto Protocol. Available online on http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php.