An Interview
with
Dr Stefanos
Fotiou

A SHARPER VISION FOR A CLEANER FUTURE

Jack RiisfeldtJuly 23, 2021

 Dr Stefanos Fotiou is responsible for the planning and implementation of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s work on natural resources management, climate change, sustainable urban development, and the green economy. From decarbonisation through to the cities of the future, we sat down with Stefanos to sharpen our approach to the epidemic political and industrial challenges that threaten our sustainability outlook.

INTERVIEW

The developed world has traditionally created a sharp division between the urban and the natural realm. With urbanisation and environmental degradation closely linked, how can we ensure the cities of the future work in synthesis, not antithesis, with the ecosystems they inhabit?

We have recently published in UNESCAP the “Future of Asian and the Pacific Cities” report which outlines pathways for sustainable urbanization. The report makes the case for four priorities to realize a sustainable urban future in Asia and the Pacific, each of which contain specific policy pathways (15 pathways in total). A sustainable future occurs when planning lays a foundation; resilience guards against future risk; smart cities deploy the best technology for the job; and financing tools help pay for it all. Getting these essentials right in cities today is vital in order to adapt to the demands of tomorrow. When it comes to the synthesis of urban development and ecosystems let me make reference to the one of the 15 pathways of the report namely the “use of nature-based solutions and resilient infrastructure in integrated urban and climate change planning”. There are a number of concrete actions that cities can implement on linking urbanization with ecosystems such as the:

  • Development of constructed wetlands for contaminant remediation and maintaining ecosystem services.
  • Large scale application of urban agroforestry to address challenges of land tenure, health, food security and unemployment.
  • Rehabilitating mangroves to protect coastlines and island biodiversity in coastal and island cities.
  • Use of combined natural and engineered infrastructure for water management.

 

The failure to decarbonise is caused not by economic barriers but by vested corporate interests and political inertia. How do we overcome political and corporate barriers to ensure a critical mass of climate action is achieved?

The UN Secretary general has recently outlined specific measures that can ensure a critical mass of climate action. These include to cancel all global coal projects in the pipeline, end coal plant financing & shift investment to renewable energy projects and jump-start a global effort to a just transition. In addition, putting a fair price on coal and applying widely the polluters pay principle are measures that are very much needed. In the UNESCAP we’ve showed with our analytical work that such measures create economic and social co-benefits beyond the environmental ones. Using this evidence during policy making will help to overcome a number of behavioral and institutional barriers. I also believe that greater accountability of all stakeholders will result in better climate action.

 

Air pollution is both a tangible and daily impact on human wellbeing felt in cities across the world, and a sign that earth’s lungs are choking on greenhouse gas emissions. How can we both reduce air pollution and leverage its tangibility for broader climate awareness? 

The causes of air pollution and the sources of pollution vary among various countries and geographical areas. Out study shows for example that in Thailand and other countries in the regional forest fires and agricultural fires are a big source of pollutants. Internal combustion vehicles are also responsible for big part of air pollution alongside energy generation from fossil fuels and industrial activity. To respond to this multi-dimensional problem, we need a set of solutions that are targeting three categories of measures: Conventional emission controls focusing on emissions that lead to the formation of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Further air-quality measures for reducing emissions that lead to the formation of PM2.5 and are not yet major components of clean air policies in many parts of the region.  And measures contributing to development priority goals with benefits for air quality. Such measures include but are not limited to the following:

  • Strengthen emission standards for road vehicles.
  • Strengthen industrial process emissions standards.
  • Better management of agricultural crop residues.
  • Prevent forest and peatland fires Promote more efficient rice production practices.
  • Increase electrification of transport while at the same time replacing fossil fuel energy sources with renewable ones.

 

Climate action has traditionally been seen as the developed world’s luxury, but the developing world’s burden. How can we ensure that climate action does not unjustly reinforce developing nations’ economic disadvantage, while recognising that these countries will be most affected by climate changes?

 The international framework of climate negotiations recognises the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. This principle, and the way that is applied, can ensure a fair transition to carbon neutral economy. While the practical application of this principle requires to set standards and reference dates it is still a guiding principle. The Paris agreement has also established a mechanism for Loss and Damages. The so-called Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage promotes the implementation of approaches to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts, in a comprehensive, integrated and coherent manner The mechanism is established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change by:

  • Enhancing knowledge and understanding of comprehensive risk management approaches to address loss and damage.
  • Strengthening dialogue, coordination, coherence and synergies among relevant stakeholders.
  • Enhancing action and support, including finance, technology and capacity-building.