Tuesday, 29 May 2007

ECOSUMMIT DAY 4: BEIJING DECLARATION

By ADRIAN ELY, STEPS Centre member

Finally, on the last day of the Ecosummit, the organisers presented a 'Beijing declaration', which called for more environmentally sensitive development and highlighted the important contribution that ecology could make in reaching this goal.

Having greatly enjoyed his previous talks, I decided to attend Rusong Wang’s morning session on transitions in urban ecosystem management. We heard about efforts to create ecocities in the North and South, and the ways in which both environmental sustainability and social justice considerations could be incorporated into urban planning.

The general idea of planning for people rather than cars was central to a presentation by Richard Register. Criticising BP’s recent biofuels grant of $500,000,000 to the University of California, Berkeley, Register stressed that instead, a move away from personal transport (and thus vehicle fuels) was fundamental to the ecocity challenge and was possible through a radical rethink of how our cities are built.

Later in the session, a comparative paper looking at the environmental management of the Hudson (New York) and the Huangpu (Shanghai), pointed to the important role that civil society had played in the US case. Questions were raised from the floor about the downstream impact that the Three Gorges dam might have in allowing increased coastal erosion around the Shanghai area, including possible impacts on the new ecocity development of Dongtan.

The afternoon session included three talks spanning from the micro to the macro level of ecology. John Lee of the University of Manchester discussed “intentional” (planned) experiments and “unintentional” experiments (those based on ecological monitoring following anthropogenic environmental change), and pointed to examples from the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, China, Mongolia, Norway, South Korea and Brazil.

Jizhong Zhou gave us an insight into emerging techniques in microbial ecology, such as the use of microarrays for analysing microbial community genomics as they respond to environmental change. Next, Alan Covich, president of the Ecological Society of America, discussed the total value of ecosystem services, including ecological, economic and social values. Through an improved understanding of ecosystem impacts gained from studies of, for example, invasive species, as well as new scientific infrastructure such as that provided by the US National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), Covich argued that our capacity for predicting the total ecosystem services impacts from global climate change was increasing. One of the most pressing challenges, he said, was the need to avoid the current (narrow) approach to ecosystem services by incorporating social values into this work. More productive partnerships between natural and social sciences would be key to overcoming this hurdle.

Felix Müller closed the EcoSummit by again highlighting the need to integrate insights from various disciplines. We could learn a lot, he said, from ancient Chinese scientific/philosophical ideas, and he pointed to the great opportunities for collaboration with the Chinese colleagues who we had met at the conference. Finally, Bai-Lian (Larry) Li, chair of the conference’s international scientific committee, presented a declaration which had been formulated by the organisers of the conference, in consultation with representatives of the many participating organisations. The declaration called for more environmentally sensitive development and highlighted the important role of the ecological sciences in informing policies to that end.

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