Enhanced management of waste, renewable resources and the role of technologies were all debated in November when Mexico hosted a seminar dedicated to the need for sustainable consumption and production. Jeff Cooper reports
The United Nations Environment Programme's 8th High Level Seminar on Sustainable Consumption and Production took place in Monterrey, Mexico on November 15-16 2004. 260 experts from more than 60 countries gathered together to contribute to a better understanding and promotion of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) policies and practices.
Although it was the 8th High Level Seminar, the Monterrey event was the first to deal with SCP directly, as the previous seminar held in Prague in April 2002, CP-7 dealt with cleaner production. Subsequently, the Plan of Implementation of the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development devoted its chapter III to changing unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. Therefore, SCP-8 has expanded the scope of cleaner production to address sustainable consumption.
Many of the steelworks original buildings have been refurbished for new uses and others left in place together with many items of equipment retained in the parkland setting to show how the steelworks functioned and was developed over the years. The seminar's venue CINTERMEX, was also constructed on the edge of the old steelworks site.
Klaus Topfer, executive director of the United Nations environment programme, opened the seminar with a wide-ranging speech in which he introduced several of the themes that were the subject of parallel sessions later on. With reference to waste and resources he noted that Japan had adopted a 3Rs policy for the use and recovery of resources on a national basis, but for the developing world a 4th R was needed - repair - which would generate much needed jobs and skills.
Jose Natividad Gonzalez Paras, the Governor of the State of Nuove Leon noted that the importance of the seminar was demonstrated by the fact that in the past 50 years the volume of resources used in the world was greater than those consumed in the whole of previous human history.
He stated that while methane from landfills is not being exploited to any extent in the developing economies, in Nuove Leon 7.4mW is now being used. Utilisation of this pollutant from landfill both reduces the impact of a potent greenhouse gas and often substitutes for fossil fuel sources.
Delegates then heard a masterly, if somewhat pessimistic presentation from Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute. He summarised the arguments of his recently published book Plan B: rescuing a planet under stress and a civilization in trouble, which he produced in response to the continuing failure of governments to develop policies and practices that would lead to greater global sustainability.
He argued that despite recent advances in food production the world was facing imminent catastrophic loss of agricultural production capacity while global population still continued to grow, particularly in those areas most susceptible to famine. In four of the past five years grain production has fallen short of consumption and therefore depletion of the world's reserve grain stocks has taken place.