Friday, May 29, 2009

Op-Ed: The choice challenge (Try nudging)

‘Nudging’ travel behaviour change through the design of information systems…

- Erel Avineri, University of the West of England

Today’s travellers have a wealth of information at their disposal to help plan and execute their journeys. The availability of travel information to the public has changed dramatically in recent years with the increasing use of the internet and mobile communications. Millions of portable satellite navigation systems are sold every year in the UK and Europe. The number of people using web-based journey planners to inform their journeys is increasing. The rapid technological developments in the field of Advanced Traveller Information Services (ATIS) demand a greater understanding of what part this technology is now playing in relation to travel behaviour, and how such systems can be designed to benefit both individuals and transport systems as a whole.

It has been generally argued that when making choices between alternative transport options, travellers behave in a reasonably rational way, and can be approximated to act according to their interests, as long as they are provided with complete and accurate information on each of the alternatives – they try to minimise money and other costs, and maximise their utilities from the journeys they are making. Due to the size and complexity of the transport system, choosing between alternative routes, alternative modes of transport (car, bus, train, cycling, etc.) or the timing of their journeys is not always an easy task for travellers.

Providing travellers with reliable and updated information on travel options is therefore acknowledged as having the potential to improve travellers’ choices in ways that are beneficial for individuals and society. Stemming from its 1998 Transport White Paper, the Department for Transport has given, and continues to give, notable attention to traveller information systems as part of its approach to transport policy.

Individual travellers are commonly seen as rational human beings who, through choice making, maximise their utilities. However, insights and (theoretical) understandings from psychology and behavioural economics are now emerging through the literature to paint a more complex picture of decision-making processes. Empirical studies provide much evidence that in real life, the behaviour of travellers is typified by bounded rationality. Travellers’ limited cognitive resources have a strong effect on their use of information. Recent evidence showed that even when provided with explicit information on their travel choices, travellers turn out to interpret and value this information in a way that systematically violates the assumptions of rational behaviour. But it is not just the content of information that influences our choices. Inspired by the work of cognitive psychologists, researchers at UWE Bristol found that travellers are heavily influenced by context, ie. the manner in which travel information is being presented.

Thaler and Sunstein ( from the University of Chicago) argue in favour of the so-called Libertarian Paternalism approach, as a way to help people make the ‘right’ choices without restricting their freedom of choice. In their recent book (‘Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness’), they suggest the incorporation of small features in the environment to attract people’s attention and highlight the ‘right’ choices for them and alter their behaviour. The art and science of ‘nudges’ could inspire the further design of ATIS, to help travellers make better choices. The following are a few (out of many) examples that illustrate such nudges.

Defaults: a default is the option that individuals receive if they do not explicitly request something different. Defaults have strong influence on behaviour – and they tend to become a habit. Some journey planners provide travel information on more than one mode of transport. In the design of a journey planner, travellers could be provided by default with information about car transport, even if they are planning to use public transport – this default might increase the attractiveness of car transport.

On the other hand, setting public transport as the default mode could nudge people to consider this as the first option. No matter how defaults are set, it is important not to restrict the choices available for the traveller – making information on all alternatives available.

Framing and ‘loss aversion’: People tend to feel and behave differently when information about their choices is presented (or ‘framed’) as gains or losses. The following illustrates three possible ways of presenting the same information on two commuting choices.

Under the rational choice model, the format of the information should not matter. However, since people are more sensitive to losses, they might find the cycling option specifically attractive in the third alternative. This is a rather simple example of how the designers of travel information systems can help people to make more sustainable travel choices simply by choosing a specific format to present information about time (and other attributes) of the alternative choices.

Salience: A specific challenge ATIS designers are faced with is how to provide travellers with information on the environmental costs of their journeys. A growing number of travellers are already aware of, and have concerns about, the greenhouse emissions they generate. When informed about environmental impacts, they might make sustainable choices. However, many of the negative impacts of our travel choices are not salient. For example, it is difficult to the driver to easily imagine the air pollution and climate change caused by carbon emissions.

Carbon emissions are invisible to travellers; it is therefore difficult for them to associate their travel behaviour with environmental costs. Without feedback, a behavioural change is less likely. Providing drivers with daily information on their carbon emissions might make them ‘visible’, and could make it easier for them to do the right thing. Recent research reports on the effect of in-vehicle data recorders on drivers’ behaviour; this on-board technology collects and records information on the movement, control and performance of the vehicle. It was found that drivers, through the provision of daily feedback on their performance, tend to improve their safety behaviour. Using the same technology to provide drivers with environmental costs, against some targets or against previous performance, could provide them with a psychological incentive to change their behaviour.

The effectiveness of travel information systems may be enhanced if more consideration and emphasis is given to the design of the information context.
The libertarian paternalism approach is not offered as an alternative to other measures to influence travel choices. In some cases, synergy between the pricing and the soft intervention by nudges could be an effective policy. ‘Getting the prices right’ by taxes and subsidies could be the first step of a transport policy; however, the effect of pricing policies on behavioural change is limited – partly because of individuals’ bounded rationality. Travellers do not always associate their behaviour with the relevant costs and this slows down the process of behavioural change. Nudges can help individuals to overcome cognitive biases, highlight the better choices, and increase the size and the speed of behavioural change – without restricting choices or limiting travellers’ freedom of choice.

In liberal democratic regimes, where the public and political acceptability of regulation and enforcement are low, the libertarian paternalism approach, through the nudging of travellers, could be one of the most promising approaches to deal with the need for a radical and urgent behavioural change. The last 10 years have seen a rapid evolution of the field of travel information provision. The technological level of today’s systems, the widespread availability of travel information services, together with the insights from behavioural sciences, makes the incorporation of nudges into travel information systems more easy and cost-effective than ever. This could be the trigger to achieve the behavioural change we urgently need.

Dr Erel Avineri,
Reader in Travel Behaviour, Centre for Transport Society,
University of the West of England, Bristol
This article appears in the current edition of The Science & Technology Review, issue 2, pp. 133-134. Published by PSCA International. World Streets thanks them for permission to reproduce the full text of the article here.

* Listen to the author on "Nudging" in the following podcast presentation -

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Shared space - From Living Streets

“Shared space”: whereby road signs and segregation are minimised

The concept of shared space places importance on how drivers make decisions about their behavior. A shared space can be one in which motor traffic is not physically separated from people or cyclists, and there is an absence, or severe reduction of, traffic signals, signs, road markings, humps and barriers.

When no user has obvious priority, all users look out for each other. Shared space means drivers are forced to pay more attention to their surroundings by looking out for pedestrians and cyclists. It encourages drivers to make eye contact and interact with pedestrians, rather than assuming they have right of way and ignoring life going on around them. It may sound counter-intuitive, but trial schemes have reduced pedestrian casualties by nearly half. Thorough consultation with all user-groups is essential to ensure that schemes meet the needs of everybody.


• Raised pavements have existed since before the Roman times, but only became common in towns and cities in the 19th century. As motor traffic and speed increased it became more common to separate pedestrians and motorcars;

• The use of traffic lights, guard railing and road signs have increased, all of which make drivers respond automatically without regard to the world around them. Pedestrians can be viewed as inconvenient barriers to smooth traffic flow, even in streets whose primary function is for shopping, or living in;

• Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman observed that traffic efficiency and safety of urban streets improved when redesigned to encourage people to negotiate their movements with others;

• Shared space is used widely in some parts of the Netherlands and Germany, and is becoming more common in the UK with schemes in Southampton, Brighton, Kensington and Ashford.


• A pedestrian-friendly environment, with reduced traffic speeds and railing allowing freedom of movement;

• Motorists, pedestrians and cyclists are compelled to engage with each other;

• Schemes have huge potential to reduce the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured on our roads. The redesign of Kensington High Street in London, which incorporated shared space concepts, resulted in the number of casualties being reduced by 47%;

• Reduction in traffic congestion: A proposed shared space plan for Exhibition Road in London is expected to reduce the amount of traffic by 30%.

Further Reading
* European shared space project site:
* video demonstrating shared space in action:
* UK’s Manual for Streets town planning guidance:

Rob Cann, Policy Coordinator,
Living Streets,
London, UK

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Brainfood: Canned video interviews via Skype

If you have a minute you may want to have a quick look at this. You may find some use in it. A few weeks ago some friends from The Movement Design Bureau in London (Eyes on the Street), called over to suggest that we might spend a few minutes together to demo a Skype video link they are working with in a program they call Re*Move (forgive them, they're English).

To give our video some content they invited me to wing it on the subject of a kind of "layered conference" that I have been giving some thought to for the last months, namely to investigate in some depth and from different angles the concept of and potential for sharing (as opposed to old-time ownership) in this strange new world of ours. . . including various aspects of sharing in transportation.

I thought you might possibly want to have a quick look and cogitate a bit about how you might in time want to put this approach to work in some of your own projects? Remember. They are just getting underway with this. It's still brainfood.

From Re*Move, The Movement Design Bureau

Eric Britton's shared vision for future transportation

Eric Britton has a plan. The man behind, thinks a lot about the future of transport, and its connection to the overheating nature of the planet. His 'Plan B' vision is a radical twelve point blueprint that he thinks needs to be gone through to stop us cooking the planet - and is an interesting read.

In the green transport field right now, alongside electric cars, high-speed rail, and all the usual stuff that gets tossed around, perhaps the most intriguing idea concerns not the development of new products, but the networking together, and sharing of existing ones. Our cars, bicylces, space - how do we 'use' them more effectively? Take cars. Right now, we're fast-forwarding to a world of hybrids and EVs - but what's the point when we've still got single vehicle occupancy, one-person-to-one-car ownership, and one hour in every 24 utilisation rates?

The problem is that at the very heart of the notion of today's car is a concept built around ownership, freedom and the ability to cut yourself off in a little glass and steel box. Your car is a space that, right now, you probably only choose to 'share' with your friends and family. Sharing a car with a complete stranger (even if you're not both in it at the same time) is a relatively big leap to make, but it's something worth thinking about.

That's what Eric wants to look into in more depth. So in the video chat (above) we had with him a few weeks back, he described the idea of a conference - for want of a better word - to draw people together to talk about sharing within the bounds of future transportation. On the first day, Eric suggests transportation-related talk should be banned. Instead, the attendees - linked together with experts and interested parties across the world via video and Internet, would seek to understand the human psychology behind sharing things. Then on the next days, this would be developed into the field of transportation applications. The big news? Eric doesn't think it will work without a woman at the helm...

Can we make this happen? Can you help? Watch the video, let us know what you think, and check out World Streets for more.

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Honk! Swine flu increases traffic fatalities in Mexico City

This is a very short note, but I thought folks on the World Streets blog might appreciate this traffic factoid from here in Mexico.

Apparently the swine flu in Mexico City caused few real deaths but many traffic deaths. The large drop in the volume of cars increased velocities and also increased traffic fatalities. There were 12 traffic fatalities in the 6 days before the government issued their swine flu alert and 75 traffic fatalities in the 6 days after.

Here is the kicker: the increase in traffic deaths (63) dwarfs the number of swine flu deaths (8) during those six days.

Thought that might be of interest.

Kind regards,
Tom Bertulis
ITDP, Mexico City

SOURCE: See Comment below

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Back from Seoul: Denis Baupin on Cities against Climate Change

We try very hard in World Streets to stick to our topic, which is already broad enough. But from time to time we reach out to give attention to the basic underpinnings of public policy which shape the basic environment of our sector and our ability to do something about it. In this spirit, we are pleased to present here a recent "reflection" made by Denis Baupin, Deputy Mayor of Paris in change of sustainable development policy, upon his return from the second meeting of the C40 Cities against Climate Change conference which just concluded in Seoul. You will find below the French language original, and after that if you scroll down a loose translation which your editor has roughed out into English.
Les 19 et 20 mai, Denis Baupin a participé, au nom de la Ville de Paris, à la réunion biannuelle du C40, l’alliance des 40 plus grandes villes de la planète contre le dérèglement climatique. Vous trouverez ci-dessous pour information son compterendu « personnel », en ligne sur son blog

De retour de Séoul: Les villes contre le dérèglement climatique

- Denis Baupin, le 21 mai 2009

Les 19 et 20 mai, j’ai participé, au nom de Paris, à la réunion biannuelle du C40, l’alliance des 40 plus grandes villes de la planète contre le dérèglement climatique. Après New York, il y a deux ans, et avant Sao Paulo en 2011, elle se tenait cette fois à Séoul. Le moins que je puisse en dire est que j’en reviens avec des sentiments forts, mais contrastés.

Un mouvement en marche
Tout d’abord, et c’est le plus important, cette réunion a fait la preuve que, pas à pas, quelque chose est en train de se passer : une prise de conscience réelle et sérieuse. Prise de conscience des risques considérables que le dérèglement climatique fait peser sur la planète et l’humanité, prise de conscience de l’urgence à agir, prise de conscience de notre responsabilité, nous, notre génération, pour tenter d’enrayer le processus.

Entendre les maires de Toronto (Président du C40), de Londres, de Sao Paulo, de Séoul, de Copenhague, de Sydney, de Rotterdam, le gouverneur de Tokyo, les représentants de Berlin, Milan, Varsovie, Karachi, New Delhi, New York, Los Angeles, Addis Abeba, Johannesburg, Lagos, Stockholm, Melbourne et Paris, mais aussi Bill Clinton (dont la Fondation appuie financièrement le C40) dire les uns après les autres à quel point le dérèglement climatique leur importe, décliner leurs projets, rivaliser d’arguments et de volontarisme, a parfois un côté un peu lancinant et rébarbatif. Mais cela exprime malgré tout une évolution majeure des discours et des priorités affichées. Pour nous écologistes, qui avons longtemps été seuls à prêcher dans le désert sur ces questions, c’est indéniablement un pas important qui a été franchi.

Et ce d’autant plus que, réunion après réunion, une communauté humaine s’est constituée : pour tous ces élus, techniciens et associatifs, tous à la fibre plus ou moins militante, engagés dans ce combat, chaque rencontre est non seulement l’occasion d’échanger sur nos projets, sur la meilleure façon d’agir, mais aussi de participer à une aventure humaine incroyable - quelque chose qui nous dépasse -. De tous les continents viennent des personnes d’origines, de cultures, de religions différentes, mais qui partagent toutes le sentiment de vivre quelque chose d’exceptionnel, face à un défi hors norme : c’est la première fois que l’humanité doit gérer une épreuve qui touche tous les terriens.

Au-delà de cette prise de conscience commune, la seconde utilité majeure de cette rencontre est l’échange d’expériences. J’étais pour ma part amené à plancher, sur la base du travail effectué à Paris, sur les politiques de mobilité d’une part et sur les énergies renouvelables en ville d’autre part. Quelle satisfaction de voir combien l’ampleur du travail accompli est reconnu par ses pairs, qui eux-mêmes s’affrontent aux mêmes contraintes politiques et techniques, mais aussi d’échanger sur les bonnes idées, les expériences menées, les innovations (que de questions sur Vélib !)… Quel plaisir aussije ne résiste pas à le mentionnerde voir le vice-gouverneur de Tokyo présenter fièrement une plaquette de prototypes de mini-hydroliennes urbaines et de mini-éoliennes, sur la base des mêmes intuitions que nous avons à Paris des potentiels énergétiques sous-exploités, démontrant qu’à Paris comme à Tokyo, on cherche sur les mêmes pistes.

Durant ces deux jours, il n’y avait pas moins de 16 ateliers. Je n’ai évidemment pas pu assister à tous, mais de toute part, la qualité des échanges était au rendez-vous, les progrès perceptibles, année après année. Un exemple parmi d’autres de coopération entre villes que je trouve particulièrement emblématique car portant sur l’une des plus graves menaces à venir : en octobre 2008 nous avions tenu une rencontre à Tokyo sur « l’adaptation » des villes aux conséquences du dérèglement climatique, c'est-à-dire comment faire en sorte que les dégâts soient les moins graves possibles puisqu’on sait quil y aura de toutes façons un début de dérèglement climatique. Depuis s’est mis en place un réseau des « villes-deltas » animé par Rotterdam, tant ces villes vont être amenées en tout état de cause à répondre à des problèmes similaires d’une ampleur considérable.

Le troisième point fort de cette rencontre a été la montée en puissance d’un véritable lobby des villes vis-à-vis des Etats. Pour le C40, comme pour d’autres réseaux de villes et de territoires aujourdhui coalisés, l’objectif est non seulement que la conférence des Etats à Copenhague débouche sur un succès (c'est-à-dire un accord sur les suites de Kyoto) mais qu’y soit également reconnu la part que les villes auront à jouer dans l’application de cet accord. Objectif résumé par trois mots « Engage, Empower, Ressource » : des engagements clairs et chiffrés avec un calendrier ; des pouvoirs et compétences supplémentaires confiés aux villes qui s’engagent pour le climat en matière de réglementation (d’urbanisme, de logement, de transport, etc. permettant de lever des obstacles à l’action) ; des ressources contribuant à financer les villes qui agissent pour le climat (fiscalité sur le CO2, un partage des revenus des ventes aux enchères des quotas de CO2, etc.). Clairement les villes revendiquent de prendre leur part de l’effort, à condition que les Etats « ne se mettent pas dans leur chemin » et au contraire facilitent leur action. C’est en fait la généralisation au niveau planétaire de ce que des Etats et villes américaines ont engagé pendant l’ère Bush : agir, ouvrir la voie sans attendre l’Etat fédéral et contribuer ainsi à sa transformation.

Cette « politisation » des villes sur le terrain des Etats qui n’était pas gagnée d’avance, est aujourdhui un acquis. Et j’aurais l’occasion du 2 au 4 juin prochains d’aggraver encore mon bilan carbone en allant à Copenhague pour une rencontre des villes pour finaliser leurs revendications quelques jours avant de les porter à Bonn se tiendra l’une des dernières réunions des Etats, préparatoire au sommet de décembre. Surtout, au-delà des revendications, c’est finalement une diplomatie internationale des villes qui est en train de se mettre en place, une sorte de contre-pouvoir des Etats, capable de peser en cas de carence de ces derniers, pour leur forcer la main. Ne serait-ce que parce quau niveau des villes, nous sommes bien placés pour savoir quil ne suffit pas de voter des textes et d’édicter des lois ; le plus souvent, l’essentiel est dans la mise en œuvre.

mais aussi de grosses faiblesses

Pour autant, malgré ce bilan très largement positif, je ne peux laisser sous silence des craintes quant aux faiblesses de cette conférence.

La première faiblesse, - et la plus importante- porte sur le poids des mesures prises. Que pèsent tous ces projets d’isolation thermique, d’éco-quartiers, de traitement des déchets, de transports collectifs, de renouvelables, de mobilités douces, d’éclairages plus économes, etc. face aux logiques lourdes d’un mode de développement et de production encore très loin de s’inverser ? Comment ne pas y penser dans une ville comme Séoul l’automobile est reine, les autoroutes pullulent, les tours grimpent, et les cheminées d’usines (en banlieue) sont bien plus visibles et nombreuses que les panneaux photovoltaïques ? Derrière ces discours volontaristes, quels moyens sont réellement mis en œuvre ? Quelles ambiguïtés se cachent derrière les termes de « développement soutenable », « d’énergie propre » et de « croissante verte » répétés par les nouveaux convertis, jusqu’à en avoir la nausée ?

Moi-même qui représente Paris, et qui défends devant mes collègues les projets que je porte avec volontarisme, je ne peux m’empêcher de m’interroger : aurais-je vraiment les moyens de les mettre en œuvre ? La volonté politique (pas la mienne, mais celle de la municipalité) sera-t-elle vraiment au rendez-vous ? Comment s’inscrira-t-elle dans le temps, quand on voit comment la politique de mobilité s’est tout à coup affadie, quand on voit surgir les projets de tours, d’équipements énergivores et peu utiles (stades, etc.) aux dépens d’investissement plus urgents ? D’autant plus convaincu de l’importance de la volonté politique pour avancer que j’ai pu en mesurer l’efficacité, je me convaincs quun mouvement est malgré tout engagé et quil est inéluctable, ne serait-ce que parce que les contraintes écologiques s’imposeront. Les villes ne peuvent agir quau rythme des compétences et des moyens quelles ont. Tout chemin commence par de petits premiers pas qui, certes, peuvent paraître hésitants, mais au moins indiquent la direction à prendre.

Mais le problème, avec le dérèglement climatique, comme cela fut fortement souligné lors des conclusions de ces deux jours, c’est que le temps joue inéluctablement contre nous. Chaque jour qui passe sans changement, c’est autant de tonnes de CO2, de méthane, etc. parties dans l’atmosphère de façon irréversible. La lourdeur de nos procédures, l’inefficacité des prises de décision, au niveau des Etats mais aussi des villes, nous risquons de les payer durement.

La seconde faiblesse touche, pour les villes comme pour les Etats, au profond décalage entre Nord et Sud. Même si le C40 comprend 20 villes du nord et 20 du sud, force est de constater que dans les prises de parole, dans l’organisation même de la conférence (y compris la capacité à se rendre à Séoul). Les plus pauvres sont les plus mal servis, alors quils sont les moins responsables du dérèglement climatique et probablement les plus importantes victimes. Pauvre parmi les pauvres, le continent africain, certes représenté par certaines de ses grandes villes, a ainsi vu sa parole fortement minorée. L’enjeu est pourtant crucial : la conférence de Copenhague risque bien de buter cette fois brutalement sur le refus du sud de la planète (dont l’empreinte écologique par habitant est inférieure à 1) de prendre des engagements si le nord ne reconnaît pas sa lourde responsabilité et n’accepte pas de mieux partager, notamment pour aider les pays du sud à s’adapter aux conséquences du dérèglement climatique. Je suis donc intervenu en ce sens pour que le message que les villes porteront auprès des Etats manifeste cette volonté de solidarité nord-sud.

Ce ne fut pas ma plus lourde tâche. Car un troisième point m’est apparu tout aussi inquiétant, portant sur la place du nucléaire, évoqué à plusieurs reprises par des intervenants, et notamment le gouvernement de Séoul, comme une des « énergies propres ». Il est toujours pénible, dans une assemblée consensuelle, chacun tente de mettre en évidence les avancées communes, d’apparaître comme le vilain petit canard qui rompt l’unanimisme, même s’il est partiellement artificiel. J’avais déjà le faire lors de la réunion de Tokyo quand, pour prévenir les conséquences du dérèglement climatique sur l’agriculture et l’alimentation, des chercheurs japonais préconisés l’utilisation massive d’OGM. J’avais perçu alors dans l’assemblée des regards soulagés que la contradiction ait été apportée. Le scénario fut à peu près le même quand j’ai fait part de mon désaccord pour qu’on puisse classer dans cette enceinte le nucléaire parmi les énergies propres. De la part des quelques Verts présents représentant leurs propres villes, des sourires entendus, ce n’était pas une surprise. Mais aussi nombre de témoignages par la suite me remerciant d’avoir fait cette intervention, ajoutant pour l’un d’entre eux « Surtout venant du seul Français dans la salle » ! La chose m’avait jusque- échappé : que ce soit le seul représentant du pays le plus nucléarisé du monde qui fasse cette remarque ne lui donnait que plus de poids.

Pour autant, l’alerte est bien présente. Ce n’est pas une découverte. Mais y compris dans de tels rassemblements les idées écologistes sont de mieux en mieux prises en compte, la vigilance face au « nucléaire contre l’effet de serre » reste de mise.

S’appuyer sur les acquis pour continuer d’avancer

En guise de conclusion très provisoire, je reste pour autant convaincu que l’évolution à laquelle nous assistons ces dernières années est historique. L’avenir dira si elle sera suffisante pour avoir un impact réellement significatif. Rien ne permet aujourdhui de relâcher la vigilance ; surtout pas les rapports des scientifiques qui décrivent une situation toujours plus alarmante ; ni la menace du retour au gouvernement français de Claude Allègre, le plus célèbre négationniste du dérèglement climatique (après Bush, mais de celui- on est débarrassé).

Raison de plus pour poursuivre notre action, ne pas faire la fine bouche sur les acquis, et s’appuyer sur cette prise de conscience planétaire pour accélérer le mouvement. Les six mois qui viennent seront cruciaux : de la mobilisation des peuples du monde, des corps sociaux, des collectivités, de leur pression sur les gouvernements dépendra le résultat de la négociation de Copenhague. Si Copenhague est un échec, les conséquences sur l’évolution du climat dans les années qui viennent, pourraient être bien dramatiques et se compter en centaines de millions de victimes des catastrophes, personnes déplacées et réfugiées. Si Copenhague, au contraire, se conclut sur un succès, sur une capacité de l’humanité à réguler ses gaz à effet de serre, le pire sera peut-être évité. Et sur la base de cette capacité à adopter des compromis planétaires, d’autres grandes négociations pourront peut-être être engagées sur la biodiversité, le partage des matières premières dont les réserves s’épuisent et sur un échange plus équitable.

Une utopie ? Peut-être. Mais il dépend de chacun de nous de ne pas rater cette occasion historique.


Rough translation follows: (We invite our bilingual readers to help us improve on this. Please copy your proposed revisions to the editor.)

On 19/20 May Denis Baupin, Deputy Mayor of the City of Paris for Sustainable Development, participated in the name of his city in the biannual meeting of the C40 group, an alliance of 40 of the great cities of the planet against climate modification. You will find here his personal reflections on his trip and findings.

Back from Seoul: Denis Baupin on Cities against Climate Change

- Denis Baupin, 21 May 2009

On 19 and 20 May, I represented the City of Paris in the biannual meeting of the C40 alliance of the 40 largest cities of the planet against climate change. After New York two years ago and before Sao Paulo in 2011, this year we met in Seoul.

The least I can say is that I come back from the meeting with strong feelings, some of which mixed.

A movement in motion...

First and most important, the meeting made it clear that, step by step, something important is going on: a growing awareness . Awareness of the risks that climate change poses to the planet and to humanity. Awareness of the urgency to act. Awareness of our responsibility, that we, our generation, must now step forward to try to halt the appalling process that has been engaged.

I listened to the mayors of Toronto (Chair of C40), London, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Copenhagen, Sydney, Rotterdam, the governor of Tokyo, representatives of Berlin, Milan, Warsaw, Karachi, New Delhi, New York, Los Angeles, Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, Lagos, Stockholm, Melbourne and Paris, and also to Bill Clinton (whose Foundation supports the C40) . . . repeat one after another how climate change is important, and then go on to describe their projects, their arguments and their will to succeed – all this at times a little one-sided and certainly a little daunting. But nevertheless, demonstrating a significant shift in their statements and priorities. For us environmentalists, who have long been the only one preaching in the desert on these issues, it is undeniable that an important step has been taken.

And over the two days, meeting after meeting, a human community was formed: for all these elected officials, technicians and associations, more or less militant, engaged in this fight, each session gave us not only the opportunity to discuss our projects, our ideas on how best to act, but also to participate in an incredible human adventure - something that transcends us. Coming together from all continents and people of different origins, cultures, different religions, but all sharing the feeling of living something exceptional, together in the face of an extraordinary challenge, the first time that humanity must somehow manage an event that affects everyone on Earth.

Beyond this common awareness, the second major high point of the meeting was the opportunity to exchange experiences. I for my part presented a report telling about our work and accomplishments in Paris, on our policies for sustainable mobility on the one hand and on renewable energy throughout the city on the other. What satisfaction it is to see the extent to which our work is recognized by our peers, who similarly have to face the same political and technical constraints, but also to share news on good ideas, experiments, innovations (many questions on Vélib!) ...

What a pleasure, too - I cannot resist to mention it - to see the vice-governor of Tokyo proudly present a plate of mini-prototypes of urban hydroliennes and mini-wind turbines, based on the same intentions that we have in Paris to find and harness underexploited renewable, showing that Paris and Tokyo are on the same tracks.

During these two days, there were no fewer than 16 workshops. I was not able to attend all, but everywhere the quality of the exchanges was notable, perceptibly progressing year after year. One example among others of cooperation between cities that I find particularly symbolic, because it addresses one of the most serious threats still to come. In October 2008 we held a meeting in Tokyo on "adaptation" of cities with the consequences of climate disruption, i.e. , what to do to ensure that the damage that will occur is the least grave possible, given that we at least now aware that this sharp change is indeed going to happen. This led to the creation of a network of “city-deltas "hosted by Rotterdam, in the knowledge that these cities are all going to have to figure out how to respond to similar problems of considerable magnitude.

The third striking occurrence of this meeting was the emergence of a true lobby -- of Cities vis-à-vis States/Nations. For the C40, as with other networks of cities and other political units today, the aim is not only that the conference of States in Copenhagen will succeed in its goals (i.e., an agreement to follow up on Kyoto) but that it is also recognized the cities will play a major role in the implementation of this Agreement.

An objective summed up in three words by "Engage, Empower, Resource": Clear commitments and targets with a timetable, with additional powers and responsibilities to be entrusted to the cities who are committed to the climate in terms of policies and regulations (planning, housing, transport, etc.. to remove obstacles to action). As well as the importance of contributing resources to finance the city in its actions on climate (CO2 tax, a revenue sharing auctions of CO2 allowances, etc.).

Clearly cities will have a major role to play, provided that the Nation States "do not get in their way" but rather come in to facilitate their work. What we are now seeing is the global generalization of what a growing number of cities committed to during the Bush era: that is, acting, both individually and collectively and thus showing the way, without waiting for the federal state to decide.

This "politicization" of the cities on the ground previously held at the national level was not won in advance. It is a real achievement.

And I will now have the opportunity from 2 to 4 June to further exacerbate my carbon footprint by going to Copenhagen for a meeting of cities to stake their claims, a few days before taking them to Bonn for one of the last national meetings, preparatory to the December Summit. Above all, it is important that this new role of the city of international diplomacy is put in place, providing a sort of counterweight to national governments, capable of weighing in the balance and, if necessary to force their hand. If only because at the city level, we are well placed to know that it is not enough to pass legislation and enact laws, most often the key is in implementation.

... But also great weaknesses

However, despite this largely positive review, I cannot leave you in silence concerning the some of the weak points of the conference.

The first weakness - and the most important – is the reality of the net impact of the measures taken up to now. What really is the weight of all these projects of thermal insulation, eco-areas, waste treatment, sustainable transport, renewables, of mobility, more efficient lighting, etc. – in the face of the enormous inertial weight of an established pattern of living and development far from being turned around, or even modulated.?

What really to think when face in a city like Seoul where the automobile clearly reigns supreme, where highways abound, towers and factory chimneys climb (including in suburbs) – all of which much more visible and numerous than their photovoltaic panels? Behind all our fine speeches, how are the financial and other resources actually being implemented? What ambiguities behind the terms "sustainable development", "clean energy" and "growing greener" repeated endlessly by bright new converts to the point of nausea?

In my role representing Paris, together with my colleagues defending the projects that I try to carry out with determination, I cannot help but wonder: will we really have the means to implement them? The political will (not mine, but that of the municipality), will it really be there?

How indeed is this going to work out over time, when we see how our sustainable mobility policy is suddenly fading, when we are witnessing proposals for building more towers, more energy devouring projects of little real usefulness (stadiums, etc.). -- at the expense of far more urgent investments? All the more convinced of the importance of political will to move forward as I could gauge their effectiveness, I am convinced that a movement is still engaged and that it is inevitable, if only because ecological constraints are going to impose it. Cities can move ahead only on the base of the skills and resources they have at their disposal. Every path starts with one small first step which, admittedly, may seem hesitant, but at least it can show the direction to take.

But the problem with climate change, as was strongly emphasized in the conclusions of these two days, is that time is against us, inevitably. Each day that passes without fundamental change on our part, will see many more tons of CO2, methane, etc.. entering the atmosphere with irreversible impacts. And given the cumbersome procedures, inefficient decision-making at the state level but also the cities, we risk to pay a very high price.

The second crucial weakness for the cities as in the States, is the deep gap that exists between North and South. Although the C40 includes 20 cities in the North and 20 from the South, it is clear that in taking the floor, in the organization of the conference (including the ability to travel to Seoul)., that the poorest are the most poorly served -- and while they are least responsible for climate change they are probably the most hard hit victims. The poorest of the poor, the African continent, certainly represented by some of its major cities, has seen their influence greatly reduced.

The issue is crucial: the Copenhagen conference may well face this time the refusal of the South of the planet (including where the ecological footprint per capita is less than 1) to make commitments if the North does not recognize its heavy responsibility and accepts to do its full share, especially to help the southern countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change. I intervened with the message that the Cities must make clear to the States the high importance of North-South solidarity.

But that was not my most difficult task. As a third point and no less worrying series of statement favoring nuclear energy, mentioned several times by speakers, including the government of Seoul, as a "clean energy". It is always painful in a consensus meeting, where everyone tries to highlight the common progress, to appear as the ugly duckling that breaks the unanimity, even if it is partly artificial. I had already done as much at the meeting in Tokyo when, to prevent the consequences of climate change on agriculture and food, Japanese researchers recommended widespread use of GMOs. I had seen in the assembly looks of relief that the contradiction has been publicly stated. The scenario was roughly the same this time when I expressed my disagreement about policies favoring nuclear energy. From the few Greens present representing their own cities, this was met with smiles and came as no surprise to them. But also a number of other representatives came up later to thank me for making this point, one person adding that "It was especially striking coming from the only Frenchman in the room"! Actually this point had escaped me: that coming from the mouth of the only representative of the most “nuclearized” county in the world lends this statement even more weight.

However, the warning is there. This is no new discovery. But the truth is that even in such gatherings as this where the ideas of environmentalists are increasingly taken into account, continuing vigilance against the "nuclear against the greenhouse effect" polemic is still required.

Building on the gains to continue to advance

As a provisional conclusion, I remain convinced that the trend we have been witnessing in recent years is historic. Time will tell if it will be enough to have a meaningful impact. Nothing should get in the way of our continued vigilance, neither the reports of scientists who describe a situation increasing ever more alarming, nor the threat of return to the French government by one Dr. Claude Allègre, the most famous Holocaust denier of climate change (after Bush that is, but at least we are now free of him).

All the more reason to continue our action, to recognize the achievements and to build on this growing awareness to accelerate the global movement. The six months ahead will be crucial: the mobilization of the peoples of the world, social bodies, communities, pressure their governments depend on the outcome of the negotiations in Copenhagen.

If Copenhagen is a failure, the impact on climate change in coming years will be dramatic and be counted in hundreds of millions of disaster victims, displaced persons and refugees. If Copenhagen, by contrast, ends with a success on the ability of mankind to control its greenhouse gas emissions, the worst may be avoided. And on the basis of this ability to adopt global compromise, other major negotiations may then be initiated on matters such as biodiversity, the sharing of raw material reserves are depleted and a more equitable exchange.

Utopia? Perhaps. But it depends on each of us not miss this historic opportunity.

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