All posts by Gertjan Storm

“Big Data”-workshop June 13: my notes

“Big DATA”, Global Systems Science-conference, Brussels, Wednesday, June 12, 2013.

Notes and ideas:


I. Context:


Global issues, global challenges, “big data”….. 


The (9) “Planetary Boundaries”-issues as a representative set of global sustainability issues (“PB”) are complex and interrelated. To deal with the issues – in analysis  and in action and for and over the long term- a new approach and methodologies are required in order to deal with the risks while acknowledging the related important uncertainties. “Precaution” should (hence) receive more emphasis in policies and measures to be taken on the basis of amongst others new approaches to risk assessment and risk management: “Integrated Risk Governance” as a relevant option (IRG).


IRG would at the political level deal with the 9 PB-issues with a view to the “best action” taken, today and tomorrow, ideally based on objectives defined in the public interest, on global consensus and bottom-up.


The private sector and the private financial sector generally operate in a market-determined environment and tend to be dominant players (knowledge, knowhow and capital). International and global supply chains driven by the private sector illustrate the scope and importance of the roles of both these actors and the actors in the private financial sector.


Governments would have an interest to “govern” these processes, an interest driven by the need to deal with the “PB”-issues.


Stakeholders becoming increasingly active and present in these processes, both in the world of finance and in the economy, reflecting to a great extent issues of relevance and importance to society.


The four angles have been described in order to play a role in the debate as potentially relevant and priority themes for the proposed “need to reflect on and experiment with how knowledge and foresight are developed and to understand how confidence and empowerment appear in multi-level, multi-stakeholder decision and policy-making making processes….” in the introductory GSS-note for the theme of “Big Data” at the GSS-conference.


The EU would be a relevant and “living laboratory” with elements such as ongoing decision making on the one hand and its relationship with the needed sustainability approach based on e.g. IRG on the other.


II.“Environmental Democracy” and “big data”:

The “Aarhus-Convention” provides a connection for the issue of Big Data with an international legal framework. Currently applied to Europe in UNECE, Latin American countries are now actively considering the option to apply the “tool” of a convention.

“The UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted on 25th June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus at the Fourth Ministerial Conference in the ‘Environment for Europe’ process. The Aarhus Convention is a new kind of environmental agreement. The Convention:

▪ Links environmental rights and human rights

▪ Acknowledges that we owe an obligation to future generations

▪ Establishes that sustainable development can be achieved only through the   involvement of all stakeholders

Links government accountability and environmental protection

▪ Focuses on interactions between the public and public authorities in a democratic context.


An Aarhus-instrument “E-PRTR” (successor of “EPER” European Pollutant Emission Register):


“The European Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (E-PRTR) is the new Europe-wide register that provides easily accessible key environmental data from industrial facilities in European Union Member States and in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Serbia and Switzerland. It replaces and improves upon the previous European Pollutant Emission Register (EPER). The new register contains data reported annually by some 28,000 industrial facilities covering 65 economic activities across Europe.

For each facility, information is provided concerning the amounts of pollutant releases to air, water and land as well as off-site transfers of waste and of pollutants in waste water from a list of 91 key pollutants including heavy metals, pesticides, greenhouse gases and dioxins for years 2007 to 2010. Some information on releases from diffuse sources is also available and will be gradually enhanced”.


end of quote.


Evolution in environmental law can also be seen by looking at: “ADVANCING JUSTICE, GOVERNANCE AND LAW FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY: “Environmental law is essential for the protection of natural resources and ecosystems and reflects our best hope for the future” (Rio+20 and the World Congress of Chief Justices, Attorneys General and Auditors General):


(a short representation of the main themes):

“…. the World Congress on Justice, Governance and Law for Environmental Sustainability…. The importance of human rights as an essential component of legal strategies for sustainable development, and to highlight specific human rights that are directly related to economic development, social protection and environmental protection.

The 1992 Rio Declaration states in its very first Principle that “human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.” The pursuit of inclusive, equitable and

sustainable development can only take place when human beings are the central concern. Therefore, sustainable development is a process that takes place where human beings, and therefore human rights are of fundamental importance.


…. Perhaps no human right is closer to an essential component of sustainable development than the right to health and a healthy environment. The right to health is a human right recognized and protected by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It also has been recognized in the jurisprudence of a number of national courts….


A human right closely related to the right to health is the right to life. The right to life is protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as in national laws and constitutions. In India, the Supreme Court observed that the right to life “includes the right of enjoyment of pollution- free water and air for full enjoyment of life….


The right to life may also be thought of more broadly to encompass the right to life of communities and peoples, protected by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provides a number of important protections to the native lands and culturally specific way of life of indigenous peoples.  In national jurisprudence, the rights of communities and indigenous peoples have often found protection. In a case in Colombia that involved logging on the territory of indigenous peoples, the court found that “the devastation of forests alters their relation with the environment and endangers their lives since with the reduction or disappearance of the forest, the main source of animal protein, is also reduced or extinguished.”

Similarly, in Costa Rica, the court concluded that “the devastation of the forest endangers indigenous peoples’ cultural and ethnic integrity and that these communities were likely to suffer future damages due to their cultural dependence on the tropical forest in which they dwell.”


…..The right to development is highlighted as the third Principle in the Rio Declaration of 1992, which states that “the right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.” The right to development in terms of inter-generational equity was addressed at the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna in 1993. The Vienna Declaration states that “the right to development should be fulfilled so as to meet equitably the developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.”  At the national level, there is also jurisprudence to support this inter-generational approach”.

end of quote.


“Environmental Democracy” could finally here be seen as part of a broader approach, to democracy and sustainability, as described in an IASS-analysis “Transgovernance: The Quest for Governance of Sustainable Development” (IASS Potsdam, 2011):

“Reflexivity, knowledge democracy and “second modernity”” and “Complexity of problems requires a plurality of solutions, institutions, arrangements…” as concepts to work on.


III. “Applications for solutions by way of opportunities for action”: “Apps4Opps”:

the use of data used in building solutions for sustainability issues and their widest and fastest application:

– the European Environment Agency and “Apps” for mobile phones on its website

– initiatives in society to deal with specific issues, e.g. air quality and the role of in the USA in how to address air quality issues in a given geographical area

– other examples to build on with a view to further “action”.



Gertjan Storm,

June 2013.









“Some “professional network initiatives’ ” examples to share”: follow-up since December 2012

Follow-up observations to my December 27, 2012 post. I also refer to my comment in November 2012 under “open gss” with “….observations and ideas to share, from the perspective of “initiatives in society” related to EU-policy processes…”.

Looking at the different posts and comments I find a lot to be further inspired and challenged. Let me just quote here the one from Carlo Jaeger in February: “…Great post, it helps me to keep my tendency to despair about the EU under control!…”.

The initiatives articulated in my December post continue. The following can be said about it in this post:

– professional networks thrive, seek a balance between knowledge and action and appear to fill a void in addressing public goods-issues (networks organised as an “org”)

– networks become more sophisticated also thanks to “interaction” among participants and with “science”, and to increasing demand in society and the private sector, for sustainability solutions

– support for networks from public authorities seems to emerge at the level of EU member states

– “despair” about the pace of change is allowed for when looking at the governance processes in the EU, taking the need for action based on an assessment of the risks and uncertainties of the main global sustainability issues as the point of departure, as compared to actual EU-decision making.

The initiatives, linked to the GSS-issue of “Climate Policy and Global Financial Markets”, provide the following perspective:

1. “2Degrees-Investing Initiative” in co-operation with “Carbon Tracker” have launched a communications-drive on the issue of “Unburnable Carbon, Wasted Capital and Stranded Assets” (latest report 2013, in EU member states

2. “Rating Agencies and the Ecological Transition”: a seminar at the French National Assembly, hosted by the Parliamentary Sustainable Development Commission (Paris, February 2013) is in need of a follow-up

3.  “A transition to a low-carbon economy in the European Union” as an initiative of “GLOBE EU”, European Parliamentarians members of the global parliamentarian association GLOBE, remains on the table and will have to regain momentum towards a session with a number of ministers of Finance, in Autumn 2013. The two preceding processes will support this initiative.

In a broader setting global trends in accounting and reporting, disclosure and fiduciary duty and the relevant international processes dealing with the issues, constitute a further potential strong movement in favor of a much more operational approach to address sustainability issues.

The actual and latent “demand for scientific inputs and interaction” in the professional networks provides a relevant link to the GSS-project and to the forthcoming round of debate and networking in Brussels, in June 2013 I am looking forward to !

The contribution of Angela Wilkinson (March 2013) highlighting “How should GSS enable policy making to better ‘host’ the future in the present?” should be referred to here:

“…. Global Systems Science needs a deliberate and reflexive element of actionable supranational or ‘global’ foresight that recognises the contingent nature of an unpredictable future as a motivator for change in the present. Today’s big policy challenges benefit not just from looking back to see established patterns, but in looking forward and imagining different possibilities…”.

I see Angela’s contribution as one of the important comments i have tried “to absorb” for the purpose of further debate and action.


Gertjan Storm,

May 31, 2013.

“Forests” as another example from a professional network to share

With the GSS-project “Vision” in mind i present a few notes on “Forests”. Looking for “… highly interconnected challenges, “system of systems”..” as framed under “Vision” on the project website, “Forests” provides  a relevant and pertinent example from a professional network i wish to share.

The need for action arising from the analysis of issues under the heading of “Forests”, makes for a strong case to consider “… to support policy-making, public action and civic society to collectively engage in societal action …. ” by way of the provision of “scientific evidence”, referring to the framing of the “Vision”.

A specific case i am involved in supporting on a voluntary basis an initiative, relates to the following elements, elements of “REDD+” from the UN-REDD+-site on the one hand, and of ongoing processes of deforestation and resource exploitation in forest areas and the consequences for indigenous peoples on the other, brought together in the following three observations after the question described here:

“Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation” as a relevant and potentially significant contribution to global climate mitigation: can climate action as developed and defined in the framework of UN-REDD+ be reconciled with the rights of indigenous peoples?:

1. Sustainability at the global and local levels: is “convergence” in attaining objectives in the areas of climate, biodiversity and ecosystems, especially also water, and in the domain of the rights of indigenous peoples, achievable and feasible, and under what conditions, with the following two elements:

2. The example of a concrete and significant problem area, i.e. Ecuador, and of the initiative of Norway to finance a REDD+-programme in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru (proposed funding 150 million $).

3. The immediacy of action and of outcomes needed for the sake of indigenous peoples as a human rights issue is a key question to be addressed (see also “environmental democracy” as defined in the Aarhus Convention and the possible extension of the geographical scope of “Aarhus” to Latin America, as supported by 14 countries in the region).

I look forward to the opportunity to exchange views on the issue at the forthcoming project conference.

Gertjan Storm,

May 2013.


ps: the site with information about the concept of “REDD+”, of “multiple benefits” and about “anticipated future activities”.


Some “professional network initiatives” examples to share

Professional network initiatives I am involved in, related to Global Systems Science focal themes, may provide a perspective and possible options to “connect to society” (“in a sea of options to do so”).

I look forward to reactions and I will be happy to provide more detailed information:

1. “A transition to a low-carbon economy in the European Union” as an initiative of “GLOBE EU”, European Parliamentarians members of the global parliamentarian association GLOBE (planned for the first half of 2013).

The purpose is to engage with a number of ministers of Finance of EU-member states on the transition. “Mobilising long term private capital and integrating ESG in financial regulation” are among the agenda issues.

A “group of experts” of which I am a member, is engaged by GLOBE EU to advice on the planned meeting.

2. “2Degrees-Investing Initiative”, launched in December 2012 as a “think/action tank”: provides the launch document. The documents ends with  a number of messages of support, including a message from the president of GLOBE EU, and a one by me. 2Degrees-Investing Initiative is also participating in the GLOBE EU “group of experts”.

3. “Rating Agencies and the Ecological Transition”: a seminar to be held at the French National Assembly, hosted by the Parliamentary Sustainable Development Commission (Paris, February 2013). France is currently preparing a “Transition Ecologique”- action plan. The purpose of the seminar, organised by “European Partners for the Environment” I advice,  is:

“The objective of the European workshop is to redefine the performance and value concepts at the level of States, local authorities and businesses in order to lead to new assessment methods, generate innovation and creativity. We will focus on Social and Environmental Rating Agencies as well as Financial Rating agencies, and their respective role in the ecological transition of rated enterprises and authorities (Regions and Cities)”.

Brussels, December 20, 2012