Human Rights in the Anthropocene, by William Becker

Idealism got a bad name somewhere along the way. Google on it and one of the definitions that pops up is “the practice of forming or pursuing ideals, especially unrealistically.” The psychologist Carl Jung called it as bad an addiction as narcotics and alcohol — “the tendency of high-minded people to avoid facing the reality of evil,” as one Jungian put it.

True, it is difficult to remain idealistic in a world that produced Hitler, Pol Pot and ISIS. Idealism is less fashionable, less street-smart. There are advantages to cynicism. When we expect the worst, we are not disappointed when we get it. Cynicism is perverse evidence that a person must have standards, since he expects the world to fall short of them.

The debate about cynicism and idealism runs through our literature. Victorian novelist George Meredith noted that cynics “are only happy in making the world as barren for others as they have made it for themselves.” Oscar Wilde observed that a cynic “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” George Carlin believed you could “scratch any cynic and you’ll find a disappointed idealist.” Swiss essayist Alian de Botton agreed: “Cynics are — beneath it all — only idealists with awkwardly high standards.”

On the other hand, science fiction writer Glen Cook defends his lack of faith in humanity by arguing that “every ounce of my cynicism is supported by historical precedent.” Russian poet Joseph Brodsky felt that “Life — the way it really is — is a battle not between good and bad, but between bad and worse.” The late Mike Royko, the Pulitzer price columnist in Chicago, wrote “Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic and I will show you somebody who hasn’t the faintest idea what the heck is really going on.”

But without idealism, we would not have the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights or the U.S. Constitution. We would not have wedding vows, John Lennon songs, or a papal encyclical on stewardship of the environment. We would not have the United Nations Charter, the Earth Charter, the UN’s Millennium Development goals, or the UN’s sustainable development goals. We would dream too small, expect too little and chronically underachieve.

A cynic probably would argue that all of the pronouncements of the world’s idealists – the declarations, treaties and charters — are not worth the paper they’re printed on, that their idealism is rarely justified, their hopes are seldom fulfilled and their plans usually are not accomplished. But can anyone argue credibly that a world without ideals and idealism would be a better place? Idealism invokes our better angels. It reminds us of what we would be if we were all that we could be. It is our collective conscience and the hope with which we survive divine discomfort.

This all comes to mind because of a message from a good friend in Europe who has been involved in developing a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Humanity, a document commissioned by French President Francois Hollande. Hollande asked a former minister of environment in France, Corinne Lepage, to develop a statement for “a new stage in the field of human rights” for presentation at next month’s international climate conference in Paris.


Corinne Lepage and her project team giving the Rights of Humankind Declaration Report to French President Francois Hollande.

The result from Lepage and her team is not the first such declaration. It updates two others, both with their roots in crisis and in France. The first — the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen — was inspired in part by the American Revolution, written for the French Revolution and approved in 1789 by France’s National Constituent Assembly. The second is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in Paris in 1948 by the UN General Assembly in the wake of World War II.

The crisis that inspires the new Declaration is not a war against classes or between nations, but the war that mankind is waging against the Earth’s life support systems and the war that the generations alive today are waging against the generations yet to come.

The human rights expressed in the new Declaration include the ability to live in healthy and ecologically sustainable environments and to preserve the natural resources that humanity holds in common. With these rights come obligations, the Declaration says, including the duty to respect the rights of others and of all living species; to serve as guarantors of ecological balance and our natural and cultural heritage; to ensure that scientific and technical progress work for rather than against the well-being of humans and other species; and to think about the long-term consequences of our short-term actions.

The authors of the new Declaration definitely know “what the heck is really going on”. It was their knowledge and their determination not to turn away from it that demanded a new invocation of higher principles and ideals.

Consistent with France’s tradition as the birthplace of these declarations, President Hollande intends to introduce the new document next month when more than 190 nations meet for the international climate conference in Paris. Hollande will ask the UN General Assembly to formally approve the Declaration next year. In the meantime, the Declaration’s ambassadors including some 40 million Scouts, will spread the word.


Corinne Lepage, Nicolas Imbert and Adam Koniuszewski accompanied by Scout representatives from around the world

Of what use is such a document? Only a cynic would ask.

Readers can co-sign the Declaration at LINK. For more information, contact Adam Koniuszewski, who was a member of the Corinne Lepage project team, at

The full project team includes: Ahmed ALAMI, Marie-Odile BERTELLA-GEOFFROY, Valérie CABANES, Francois DAMERVAL, Hubert DELZANGLES, Emilie GAILLARD, Christian HUGLO, Nicolas IMBERT, Adam KONIUSZEWSKI, Jean-Marc LAVIEILLE, Catherine LE BRIS, Bettina LAVILLE, Jérémy RIFKIN and Mathieu WEMAERE.     

This article was written by William S. Becker, Executive Director of the US Presidential Climate Action Project and originally published in the Huffington Post: LINK

The website of the Declaration in French and English can be found here

Climate Change: A new Era of Global Vulnerability

2013 was the worst year ever in terms of insurance losses from extreme weather in Canada: torrential rains and flooding caused over $1.7 billion in insured damage in Alberta while flash floods in Toronto cost $940 million in payouts. But with over $5 billion of damages each, the 2001/02 coast-to-coast drought and the 1998 ice storms are the most expensive disasters in Canadian history. So extreme weather events associated with climate change are already impacting Canada and are expected to intensify in coming years. Clearly, Canada is highly exposed to the impacts of climate change and yet it ranks low in terms of vulnerability. How can this be?

Developing Countries Disproportionately Impacted

Screenshot 2014-08-11 18.40.43

When looking at climate change vulnerability we must consider not only exposure but also sensitivity and the ability to adapt to those consequences. While Canada is increasingly experiencing these impacts, like most rich and developed countries it has a high adaptive capacity that helps mitigate the outcomes. So even the most devastating events, despite their substantial impacts, have left Canada’s infrastructure largely intact. Hence, despite their climate change exposure, the overall vulnerability of Canada, the United States and Europe is low compared to the regions of extreme risk in Africa, Asia and in Central America. To illustrate, the President of Honduras said Hurricane Mitch in 1998 had set the country back 50 years in terms of economic development (1.5 million homeless – 20% of the population, 70% of the transportation and water infrastructure was damaged, etc). This is why developing countries will disproportionately feel the effects of climate change.

A New Era of Global Vulnerability


In 1800, only 3% of the world population lived in cities. The proportion is now 50% and growing – especially in developing countries. Many of the fastest growing megacities with the highest concentration of infrastructure and people are in “extreme risk” locations. A quarter of the world population lives in low elevation coastal areas that are at risk from the consequences of sea level rise. We are entering a new era of global vulnerability in terms of human lives and infrastructure.

Preparedness is Key

bigstock-emergency-preparedness-checkli-24168524Emergency preparedness is a key factor in reducing risk and mitigating against the consequences of natural hazards. Developed and developing countries must work together to reduce the exposure of the most vulnerable and help prepare for future climate impacts.

Other resources

For anyone interested in learning more about this topic natural disasters the McGill University online course is highly rated and strongly recommended.

ISO, Standards & Climate Change

the-1999-NASA-Mars-Climate-OrbiterIt is hard to overstate the importance of standards. In many ways, they represent the essential ingredient that allows us to function. But famous disasters remind us that we cannot take this for granted. In 1999, NASA lost its $125 million Mars Climate Orbiter spacecraft after a 10-month, 400-million kilometer journey to Mars because some of its engineers used the metric system while the others used the imperial measurement system. As a result, when the spacecraft entered the Mars atmosphere at an altitude of 60km, instead of the 150km required, it disintegrated. The disaster cost $330 million, caused major embarrassment to NASA and a serious blow to the American space program.

IMG_0830This is why the work of the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to develop and promote standards is so important and why I was pleased to learn about ISO’s growing commitment to climate change and why I am happy to join ISO’s NEXTGen Global Climate Change initiative for young professionals from around the world. This 6-week program is focused on what needs to be done, how international standards can help and how young professionals can get involved. The global kickoff took place last week (August 6, 2014) with an online Google+ Hangout that is available on YouTube for those who missed it.

While the project is forward-looking, a historical perspective on how standards can help reduce carbon emissions is useful and the success story of energy efficiency standards for household appliances is a case in point. Let’s look at refrigerators for illustration. Why? Because they are constantly on and typically represent the most energy hungry item in a home.

Between the 1950-70’s refrigerators have more then doubled in size but their energy use increased almost fivefold. How is this possible? Marketing departments wanting to increase the available inside space decided to cut down on insulation. A product “innovation” that caused skyrocketing energy consumption. Countrywide, this trend would have required 175 GW (gigawatt) of electricity today. But thanks to almost four decades of energy efficiency standards, America now needs less then 15 GW. The difference represents the equivalent of eliminating 400 large coal power plants.

Need for StandardsContext is important. The 1973-74 oil-crisis saw barrels of oil go from $3 to $12 and energy efficiency became recognized as critical for energy independence and national security. California introduced the first wave of mandatory efficiency standards in 1978 and over the years, efficiency standards became the driving force for innovation and continue to do so. Initial objections by industry of rising prices and adverse economic impacts did not materialize. To the contrary, prices fell by two-thirds and industry welcomed new standard as an opportunity to market improvements and boost sales. This process of continuous improvement has helped innovation, competition and profitability while creating jobs. The new products are not only cheaper for consumers they also offer a better environmental performance which is a win-win for everyone.

As chair of the ISO Climate Change Technical Committee (ISO/TC 207/SC 7), Tom Baumann is well aware of the importance of standards to help corporations manage their greenhouse gas emissions for environmental stewardship but also to manage risk and improve business performance. This is why over 3,000 corporations and 800 institutional investors with assets under management of $92 trillion are already partnering with the Carbon Disclosure Project for their carbon footprint management. Blackberry’s Kelly Killby agrees that ISO standards have helped improve environmental and business performance. Thanks to the implementation of ISO standards, Blackberry has reduced waste to landfills by 90% in 2013 and reinvested the cost savings into other sustainability initiatives.

Climate change represents the defining challenge of our generation and will require the cooperation of all sectors of modern society: private enterprise, government and civil society. Given that it is crosscutting, it will mean that all professions will have to work together with a common sense of purpose and a shared understanding of what needs to be achieved. We know that reducing emissions is possible at the individual, organization and community levels. According to Johnathan Fung, moderator of the ISO Climate Change Group, the challenge now is how to scale-up solutions for climate change mitigation and adaptation for regional and global impact. A process in which standards will play a critical role. This will be one of the objectives of NextGen during the next six weeks.  Young professionals from around the world are most welcome to participate and contribute.

Find out more at: ISO NEXTGen, on Facebook and check out the Webinar.

More on this soon.

Les comptables, héros inattendus du développement durable

John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller

Peu de gens réalisent que le magnat des affaires et philanthrope John D. Rockefeller, qui a bâti la plus grande fortune de l’histoire, a commencé sa carrière à 16 ans comme comptable. Son assiduité, sa capacité à « tout voir et ne rien oublier » et sa compréhension exceptionnelle de la finance d’entreprise lui ont permis de construire son empire pétrolier en basant toutes les décisions importantes sur des calculs financiers précis au centime. «J’ai tracé mon parcours par des chiffres, rien que des chiffres », a déclaré John D. Son succès souligne l’importance d’une information financière fiable et précise pour que les dirigeants puissent prendre les bonnes décisions.

La comptabilité, le secteur militaire et le développement durable

Reconnaissant l’importance d’une information financière pertinente et fiable, l’ancienne Sous-Secrétaire à la Défense, Sherri Goodman, a déclaré « Vous ne pouvez pas gérer ce que vous ne mesurez pas » et a appelé à une meilleure surveillance de la consommation d’énergie et à un suivi complet de l’empreinte carbone du Département de la Défense, avec l’objectif que l’armée américaine n’ait plus besoin de pétrole d’ici 2040. Mais d’où vient cette volonté de trouver des alternatives au pétrole?

afghan convoy deloitteUn élément important est l’augmentation du nombre de victimes dans les opérations de convoi qui fournissent le carburant et l’eau durant les opérations militaires. L’autre est économique et résulte de la façon dont les coûts de carburant sont comptabilisés. Historiquement, le carburant était comptabilisé au prix d’achat, soit environ 2 à 3 $ US/gallon ou 0,50 à 0,80 $ US/litre. Mais récemment l’armée a commencé à surveiller le « fully burdened cost of fuel » – qui comprend le coût d’achat, le transport et la protection du carburant jusqu’à ce qu’il soit prêt à être utilisé sur le terrain. Dans les régions éloignées, ces coûts peuvent être des centaines de fois plus élevés que le prix d’achat et atteindre plus de 600 $ US/gallon (158 $ US/litre).

Avec des dépenses de carburant représentant jusqu’à 36 % du budget total des opérations en Afghanistan, on comprend pourquoi l’efficacité énergétique est devenue une priorité absolue pour l’armée américaine. Une priorité qui réduit les risques tout en générant des économies considérables. Par exemple, l’armée a investi 95 millions de dollars US pour isoler les tentes et autres installations militaires en Iraq et réduire les besoins de climatisation pendant la journée et de chauffage la nuit. Cette mesure a permis d’économiser 1 milliard de dollars US dans la seule année 2010 et de réduire de 11,000 le nombre de camions de carburant. Pour en savoir plus : La sécurité énergétique, la meilleure défense de l’Amérique par Deloitte.

Le leadership du secteur privé

Yvo de Boer and Adam Koniuszewski

Yvo de Boer et Adam Koniuszewski

Les entreprises ont un rôle clé à jouer quand il s’agit de durabilité. Sur les 150 plus grandes entités économiques du monde, 59 % ne sont pas des pays mais des multinationales et nos enjeux de développement durable les plus pressants sont en grande partie causés par leurs activités et par l’impact des produits qu’ils vendent. Aujourd’hui seules les entreprises sont en mesure de résoudre ces problèmes. Selon l’ancien Secrétaire exécutif de la Convention-Cadre des Nations Unies sur les Changements Climatiques (CCNUCC) et conseiller mondial sur les changements climatiques et le développement durable chez KPMG, Yvo de Boer : « La majeure partie des solutions à la dégradation de l’environnement et au changement climatique doit provenir du secteur privé ».

Et les leadeurs du secteur privé, incluant certaines des plus grandes sociétés comme IBM, Dupont, Wal-Mart et le premier fabricant mondial de tapis-tuile Interface sont déjà engagés sur la voie de la durabilité. Le fondateur d’Interface,  Ray Anderson a déclaré que « le Business Case pour la durabilité est clair et limpide et nous allons de l’avant avec nos initiatives aussi vite et aussi loin que nous le pouvons, car ça s’est avéré être très bon pour les affaires ». Depuis le début de leur projet en 1996, les émissions de gaz à effet de serre par unité de production ont diminué de 71 % et les bénéfices sont en hausse. Ray Anderson mentionne également :

« – Nos coûts sont en baisse et non pas en hausse, ce qui dissipe ce mythe. – Nos produits sont meilleurs qu’ils n’ont jamais été parce que le design durable permet une fontaine intarissable d’innovation. – Les gens sont galvanisés autour d’un objectif inspirant et partagé. – Et la bonne volonté du marché est tout simplement incroyable ! » Voyez comment Ray Anderson partage sa passion avec George Stroumboulopoulos :

Le parcours d’Interface vers la durabilité a commencé par la réduction des déchets et en investissant les économies dans la diminution de l’intensité carbone tout en développant des processus d’entreprise et des produits toujours plus innovants. Les systèmes comptables appropriés et une surveillance continue ont joué un rôle central dans ce processus. Le comptable Buddy Hay a dirigé cette partie de la démarche d’Interface avec la mise en œuvre du système de mesure EcoMetricsTM pour comptabiliser tous les matériaux et intrants énergétiques et tous les produits sortants, les déchets et la pollution. Selon lui, « Lors de la mise en œuvre de programmes de développement durable, il faut mesurer, comprendre et articuler les critères de succès. Cela nécessite la même rigueur que pour la comptabilité financière, mais appliquée aux ressources naturelles et à l’impact environnemental ». Améliorer le suivi a permis de réduire les déchets par unité de production de 95 % depuis 1996, d’éviter des millions de dollars en coûts et de financer des efforts de durabilité supplémentaires tout en récompensant les actionnaires par une augmentation du prix de l’action de 444 % (période de 5 ans se terminant le 31 décembre 2013).

Le Prince de Galles et la comptabilité pour un avenir durable  HRH-A4S

Craignant que nos mesures actuelles du profit et du PIB donnent des signaux erronés aux chefs d’entreprises et aux gouvernements, Son Altesse Royale, Le Prince de Galles a lancé un projet mondial pour aider la profession comptable à intégrer la durabilité dans l’ADN des entreprises. Grâce à son projet de comptabilité pour le développement durable, Le Prince veut démontrer l’efficacité de l’analyse pour la durabilité et créer un environnement favorable au changement. L’objectif est de « nous assurer que nous puissions affronter les défis du 21e siècle avec des outils appropriés et non pas avec les systèmes de décision et de “reporting” du 20e siècle ». En travaillant avec des organismes qui représentent près de deux millions de comptables à travers le monde, Le Prince aide la profession à surmonter le faux choix entre la réussite de l’entreprise, la durabilité environnementale et le développement humain.

Jessica Fries, présidente exécutive du A4S, connait l’importance de la participation des directeurs financiers dans le processus de construction de modèles d’affaires durables: “Le réseau de leadership des CFO A4S est le premier groupe du genre à réunir les principaux chefs des finances dans le but d’étudier leur rôle dans l’élaboration d’approches pratiques afin d’intégrer les questions environnementales et sociales dans les décisions financières. C’est un impératif commercial de plus en plus important pour les entreprises afin d’assurer la pérennité de leurs organisations; et il y a maintenant des preuves claires que les entreprises qui traitent des questions environnementales et sociales d’une manière stratégique peuvent arriver à de meilleurs rendements financiers et commerciaux “.

Un autre domaine d’intérêt est de savoir comment rendre compte du capital naturel et social. Une organisation qui a vraiment aidé à mettre en évidence leur importance est PUMA, la société mondiale de sport-lifestyle. Jochen Zeitz , alors PDG de l’entreprise, a développé le rapport de pertes et profit environnemental de PUMA : ” Nous comprenons l’importance de la santé des écosystèmes pour l’avenir de notre entreprise. Nous avons entrepris un projet pour développer une entreprise et une chaine d’approvisionnement qui prennent en compte nos impacts environnementaux en termes monétaires, de sorte que nous puissions prendre ces effets en compte au niveau stratégique et les incorporer dans nos processus de décisions “.

Valoriser le capital naturel dans la région de Montréal

David Suzuki et Adam Koniuszewski

David Suzuki et Adam Koniuszewski

Peu de gens réalisent que certains des plus grands centres de biodiversité dans la province de Québec sont situés dans la région métropolitaine de Montréal et sont en danger à cause de l’étalement urbain. La Fondation David Suzuki a publié un rapport qui valorise les services des écosystèmes d’une ceinture de verdure qui protègerait 19% du territoire de Montréal à 4,3 milliards de dollars par année! Ce travail a contribué à convaincre la Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal de créer cette ceinture de verdure dans le cadre de son nouveau plan d’urbanisme et le gouvernement du Québec d’investir 150 millions de dollars pour sa protection.

« Avec l’analyse robuste et les quantifications que la profession comptable peut fournir, nous pouvons mieux comprendre la valeur du capital naturel et l’importance de préserver et renforcer les écosystèmes et les habitats naturels pour nos communautés », a déclaré le scientifique en chef du Fonds de recherche du Québec, Rémi Quirion.

Les rapports de durabilité et le risque de « Greenwashing »

Malgré l’intérêt croissant pour la RSE et les rapports sur la durabilité, la hausse du chiffre d’affaires pour les cabinets comptables n’est pas sans risques. Professeur de comptabilité sociale et environnementale à l’ESSEC Business School à Paris, le Dr Charles Cho se spécialise dans les questions de comptabilité et d’intérêt public et a publié de nombreuses études à ce sujet. Dr Cho avertit que « La récente prolifération du “buzz de durabilité”, en particulier au sein de la communauté des affaires, ne devrait certainement pas être une avenue pour des stratégies et des comportements opportunistes. Nous devons vraiment faire très attention à ce qui représente des questions de fond par opposition à ce qui est susceptible de devenir une simple représentation symbolique. Malheureusement, ceci arrive plus souvent qu’autrement. Un exemple typique est la production de rapports sur le développement durable ou sur la RSE – nous avons de plus en plus d’éléments qui permettent de conclure que la plupart des informations contenues dans ces rapports est généralement biaisée, sélective, triviale et parfois trompeuse. Néanmoins, ils fournissent un bouclier “légitime”, ou un voile sur ce qui se passe réellement au sein des organisations. Par conséquent, ces rapports doivent au moins être contrôlés par un ensemble de règles, mais c’est loin d’être le cas présentement.

En ce qui concerne le rôle de la profession comptable, je reste sceptique sur certains aspects tels que la course des Big 4 sur le volet de la comptabilité publique pour obtenir le prochain mandat d’assurance / mission de vérification sur la durabilité ou la RSE. Ce type de service connait une croissance exponentielle et on n’a pas besoin d’être un lauréat du prix Nobel pour comprendre que ceci est une autre grande opportunité de conseil très rentable pour les Big 4. Cependant, je suis maintenant plus que convaincu qu’il existe des avenues possibles pour les comptables, les comptables de gestion en particulier, pour apporter une contribution significative à l’agenda du développement durable. Notamment par l’utilisation de leurs compétences techniques pour mesurer et rendre compte des impacts sociaux et environnementaux réels des organisations ».

Le Dr Michel Magnan, FCPA, FCA, professeur à l’Université Concordia, confirme que des aspects importants des rapports sur la durabilité d’entreprise sont symboliques plutôt que de fond. À son avis : « Il y a eu des progrès dans la qualité de la divulgation au fil des ans par les entreprises européennes et nord-américaines. Mes recherches avec mon collègue Denis Cormier indiquent que cette information est pertinente pour les acteurs du marché (investisseurs, analystes) lorsqu’une entreprise présente une bonne performance environnementale (telle que mesurée par des paramètres objectifs), mais la comparabilité entre les entreprises et la fiabilité des informations divulguées sont encore des problèmes majeurs. Il faut garder à l’esprit que, même pour l’information financière, avec l’application d’une règlementation stricte, il y a encore des discussions quant à la comparabilité, la pertinence et la fiabilité de l’information!

Un autre problème majeur est la portée des rapports de développement durable, c’est à dire, quand nous arrêtons-nous? Par exemple, quand on évalue les émissions de gaz à effet de serre d’une entreprise de confiserie laitière comme Nestlé ou Danone, jusqu’où devons-nous aller dans le calcul des émissions du processus de production? Devons-nous inclure le méthane émis par les vaches qui produisent le lait, ou même le processus par lequel elles sont nourries (qui est souvent mécanisé et polluant)? À mon avis, c’est le prochain obstacle que les rapports de durabilité devront surmonter ».

« Alors que l’on témoigne d’une évolution de la reddition de comptes en développement durable axée sur la pertinence des enjeux, nous vérifions non seulement les rapports afin de s’assurer de la précision et de la fiabilité de l’information, mais nos pratiques en développement durable permettent également aux  organisations de mieux comprendre les enjeux les plus importants pour leur stratégie d’ensemble. Avec la montée du processus de Rapport Intégré, nous anticipons une augmentation des besoins pour cette gamme de services que nous offrons partout au Québec, au Canada et à l’international. » 
– Luc Villeneuve, FCPA, FCA, Président, Deloitte Québec

Les comptables et le développement durable

Plus d’un siècle s’est écoulé depuis que John D. Rockefeller s’est retiré de la gestion de son empire pétrolier, mais la nécessité d’une information financière robuste et pertinente est plus importante que jamais. Le nouveau contexte mondial, l’état ​​de l’environnement et l’épuisement des ressources naturelles, sont sans précédent et présentent d’immenses défis et opportunités. Notre capacité à créer des systèmes économiques qui favorisent et récompensent les entreprises pour la restauration et l’amélioration des écosystèmes et des environnements  naturels, la conservation des ressources et l’élimination de la pollution et des déchets permettra de définir notre prospérité future. La profession comptable, fournisseur privilégié d’une information financière impartiale, fiable et pertinente, est idéalement positionnée pour accélérer cette transition.

À cet égard, M. Daniel McMahon, FCPA, FCA, président et chef de la direction de l’Ordre des CPA du Québec, évoque l’orientation stratégique adoptée pour 2013-2015 par le Conseil d’administration : « L’Ordre vise à être reconnu pour son rôle clé en matière de développement économique et sociétal du Québec et entend mettre en valeur le rôle des CPA en matière de développement durable ».

À propos de l’auteur: Adam Koniuszewski, CPA, CA, CFA, est diplômé en Commerce de l’Université Concordia à Montréal. Il a commencé sa carrière dans un grand cabinet comptable à Montréal puis à Londres ( Royaume-Uni ) avant de poursuivre sa carrière internationale au sein d’une société mondiale (Amérique du Nord, Europe, Afrique du Nord), où il a acquis une expérience en stratégie et développement des affaires, planification stratégique et gestion des risques, affaires corporatives et gouvernementales et en RSE. Adam a désormais rejoint le monde de la société civile, où il travaille dans le domaine de la durabilité. Il est un conférencier dans les forums internationaux sur les défis mondiaux de développement durable, de leurs les aspects financiers et du rôle du secteur privé. Adam est également impliqué dans diverses initiatives sociales et caritatives.


The 2014 Geneva Auto Show and the Future of Mobility


A few days ago I attended the 2014 Geneva Auto Show as air pollution levels across Western Europe were reaching crisis levels, forcing the French authorities to reduce speed limits and urban traffic by making public transportation free of charge in some 30 cities including Paris, Lyon, Grenoble and surprisingly even in smaller and remote places like Boulogne-sur-Mer… A similar situation hit Geneva but while the city was contemplating various restrictions the wind picked-up and lowered pollution levels. No such luck in Paris where free public transport and city-bikes where not enough, the city imposed alternative traffic based on license plate numbers.

And while these are severe problems in Europe and America, they pale in comparison with what is happening in China.  Last year Beijing experienced its worst traffic jam in history – exceeding 100km long and lasting more then a week! 

Worldwide there is around 1 billion cars on the roads, a number that is expected to increase to close to 3 billion by 2050 according to Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive of Renault and Nissan. Having experienced traffic jams on all continents, including in places like Beijing, I have trouble imagining what life would be like if the number of cars triples.

Luckily not all the automakers have this vision of the future. Earlier this year, Ford’s CEO Alan Mulally said that questions of mobility and quality of life are some of the most exciting challenges to address and that selling more and more cars is “not going to work”. Alan confirmed the views expressed at the Geneva Auto Show that in industrialized countries it is increasingly difficult to get young people excited about cars and driving (many don’t even want to pass their drivers license!) while in the developing world growing car ownership has clogged many cities. Bill Ford, the great-grandson of the company’s founder has always been interested in the wider environmental and human sides of the business and is helping steer the company towards making public transport vehicles and for it to play a role in the integration of mobility solutions for cities. Just as Henry Ford transformed the automobile industry by making cars affordable to the masses, it seems Bill Ford is helping reinvent the company from a traditional carmaker to a mobility solutions provider.

1199138587_f Car ownership and driving is no longer symbolic of independence and excitement. And with all the restrictions imposed on traffic (lower speed limits, urban congestion charges, the Low Emission Zones where only green cars are allowed, alternate driving system pioneered in Athens in 1982) and the intensification of urban-traffic, the driving experience is very different from a generation ago. It is not surprising then that automobile specialists like Patrick Garcia say with nostalgia that “young people are no longer interested in the performance of the suspension or of the engine, all they want to know are the CO2 emissions and if their smartphone can be synchronized with the car…”.

But even with improved public transport and despite restrictions on traffic, cars will continue to play a major role in mobility and the Geneva Auto Show was a chance to see the latest industry innovations and get a glimpse at how automakers see the future. The salon still featured high-powered vehicles like the Ferrari and Lamborghini models that people looked at with curiosity and perhaps envy but based on my informal survey of hostesses it appears that those actually looking to buy a car are more interested in fuel consumption and emission levels then acceleration or horsepower figures.

Mitsubishi iMiEV

Mitsubishi iMiEV

Luckily there is more and more to chose from. Over 60 low emission models (less then 95g CO2/km) where showcased with several hybrid / electric cars and there was an Electric Drive Center where BMW, Citroën, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Renault vehicles could be tested. According to the hostesses, a silent and smooth ride and the lack of idling appear to be the most appreciated features from these electric test-drives. After signing a CHF 1,000 (US$1,130) deductible in case of accident I got to test-drive the Mitsubishi i-MiEV on the indoor driving track. I confirm my previous experience of driving a Prius on real roads – I found this test-ride most enjoyable! On a full charge the CHF25,000 (US$ 28,400) i-MiEV can go for around 150 km (the typical daily Swiss commute is 38 km). Driving is also very affordable at CHF 1.35/100km (US$1.53/100km) based on typical Swiss electricity rates. A full recharge in a standard electric outlet takes 10 hours or 30 minutes for an 80% charge through high capacity charging. The car was easy to manoeuver making parking in tight spots a piece of cake. Hostesses say that what people find most amazing is the absence of an exhaust pipe!

Just a few years ago most automakers were laughing at the concept of the electric car while today they are all trying to catch up. So to me, the real story of this Auto Show how Toyota has transformed the industry by its $1 billion bet on the hybrid gasoline-electric Prius back in the 1990s. At a time when oil was trading for $15/barrel and Detroit was massively investing in ever-larger SUV’s Toyota was betting the future of the company on fuel-efficiency. In 2008, with $100+/barrel oil prices, the US Government had to rescue GM and Chrysler while Toyota became the world’s number one carmaker by sales and last year Toyota sold 1.3 million hybrid cars!

2014 Prius Plugin Hybrid

2014 Prius Plugin Hybrid

The iconic Prius remains the number one hybrid-vehicle in the world with cumulative sales of 3.8 million by June 2013. The whole family was on full display in Geneva, including the 2011-launched Prius Plug-in Hybrid that can be fully recharged in 90 minutes for a 25 km autonomy on fully electric mode. And Toyota has announced new improvements and features for the fourth generation Prius that should come out in 2015 to further improve fuel efficiency through a reduction in weight and better aerodynamics. No wonder the Prius consistently tops consumer satisfaction surveys! For an excellent account of the Toyota Prius story checkout this article by Robert Collier.

And if you think that with all this technology and all these engineers working to improve fuel efficiency that future improvements can only be marginal then think again. According to Amory Lovins from the Rocky Mountain Institute, less then 6% of the fuel moves the car and hence only 0.3% moves the driver. Dramatic reductions in weight, improved aerodynamics and lower rolling resistance are key to reducing fuel consumption, improving the safety and driver experience and opening the way for a massive electrification of the automobile industry. Now this is a positive vision for the future of the car industry and I look forward to seeing how this plays out at the 2015 Auto Show!


Selected tips for improved fuel consumption:

1) Buy low rolling resistance tires to boost fuel economy by up to 12% at no cost

2) Remove any ski racks or other accessories that increase drag for a 15% economy

3) Properly inflated tires (5%)

4) Do not carry any unnecessary weight in the car

5) Avoid excessive speeds and anticipate

6) Take an eco-driving course

How about an International Court for the Environment?

     Two weeks ago a new call was made for the creation of an international environmental court during a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels. This Corrine Lepage (MEP France) and Jo Leinen (MEP Germany) initiative, supported by a broad group of civil society organizations (see below) was well received by the public and the media. Within hours hundreds of signatures were collected through an online petition for the creation of the court.  A Brussels Charter has been drafted and will be sent to UNSG Ban Ki-moon and to EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso.


Jo Leinen, Ahmed Alami, Antonino Abrami, Alfonso Pecoraro Scano, Corrine Lepage, Jean-Philippe Rivard, Carlos Jativa, Adam Koniuszewski

     This is not the first time this idea is being explored. As far back as the late 1940s, a Commission on Crimes Against Peace and Human Security has been debating the inclusion of “Ecocide”, the massive damage and destruction of ecosystems and the natural environment, as part of the 1948 convention on “Genocide”. In 1995, due to objections from four countries (France, the Netherlands, UK and USA) ecocide was removed from the discussions of what would become the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2002 in The Hague to address genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression – but not crimes against the environment. This is why Ecocide is sometimes  called “The Missing 5th Crime Against Peace”.

     Interestingly, 10 countries, most of them former-Soviet states, already have local ecocide laws: Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan and Vietnam. Major Soviet-era disasters (Chernobyl, the Aral-Sea) and large-scale contamination during the Vietnam War provided compelling justification to protect their citizens from serious crimes against the natural environment.

         But for an ecocide law to be effective it would need to be implemented and enforced at the international level. Many now believe that the Rome Statute should be amended to bring back “ecocide” as originally proposed. To raise global awareness about this idea, UK Lawyer Polly Higgins staged the now famous “Mock Ecocide Trial” by the UK Supreme Court in 2011. Polly is leading a growing movement that has collected some 115,000 signatures in EU member states to make this happen. Check out her Ecocide TED Talk:

     At the Brussels conference, expert testimonies from the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear catastrophes, the Bhopal chemical disaster and the oil pollution cases of the Niger Gulf and in Ecuador provided compelling examples where international law has failed to address trans-national crimes against the environment. The difficulties in defining environmental crimes where are also discussed by International Criminal Court Judge Tarfusser and an international survey in seven languages was launched to better understand public expectations of what constitutes a crime agains the environment.

     The creation of such a court is not a silver-bullet that will resolve all our problems but could be an important element in the global governance framework needed to overcome the critical ecological challenges of the 21st century. Such a framework will also provide businesses with the stability and predictability necessary to plan ahead and a world-scale level playing-field to ensure fair competition.

In front of the Palace for Peace in The Hague

Peace Palace, The Hague

     If we agree on international law as the sound basis to maintain justice and order, then we also say that it must be upheld, enforced and re-invigorated. Impunity despite reckless activities that cause widespread environmental damage should ring as an alarm bell for the urgent “upgrade” needed in the field of international environmental law. The Hague, city of international order and justice and home of the International Criminal Court, would be an ideal location for a center of knowledge and expertise in this area. Institutions of academic excellence, such as the T.M.C. Asser Instituut, The Hague Academy of International Law, the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies and the Institute for Environmental Security are some of the institutions that can provide the intellectual capital necessary to make this happen.

     It is worth noting that INTERPOL has already set up a program to address crimes against the environment and observes that a significant proportion of wildlife and pollution crime is carried out by organized criminal networks because of the attraction of the low risk and high profit nature of these types of crime. More on this soon.

Charter of Brussels Supporting Organizations: SEJF Foundation,  International Academy of Environmental Sciences, The International Criminal Court of Consciousness Against Nature and the Environment, European Network of Prosecutors for the Environment, Basso Foundation, SERPAJ, SELVAS, End Ecocide in Europe, The Association of Former Ministers for the Environment and International Leaders for the Environment (FME-ILE) and Globe EU

and the support of Green Cross France & Territories 


Smart Solutions for Land Degradation

Land degradation is one of the great challenges of the 21st century. Drought and desertification destroys 12 million hectares a year (an area the size of Greece) and impacts 1.5 billion people – mainly the poor and underprivileged. It is mostly caused by human activity: poor agricultural practices, intensive farming methods that remove soil nutrients, flood irrigation, chemical pollution, etc. We are now running out of healthy soil, so critical for ecosystems to support life and human development.

Caux2013panelI was recently a guest speaker of Luc Gnacadja (Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification) and Martin Frick, the conveners of the Caux Forum Conference on “Land Degradation and Human Security”. Human rights activist Bianca Jagger opened the session with a keynote emphasizing that environmental, social and economic challenges are all connected. She noted that the dramatic weather conditions we are experiencing today are the result of “only” 0.8°C of warming – questioning how political leaders can say that 2°C of warming would be safe. Our lack of action to curb emissions puts us on a path towards much higher temperatures, climate disruptions that are impacting ecosystems, water and degrading productive soil around the world.

The good news on land degradation is that there are solutions and they do not require high technology or large investments as many would think. With just a “pocket knife” Tony Rinaudo explains that we can bring back to life trees and vegetation in areas that were turning into deserts. He says that it is not the average climate change temperature rises that are a problem but the extremes. Just one day at 46°C is enough to fry an entire annual crop as the temperature concentrates at ground level reaching a scorching 70°C! But trees can provide protection from such extreme temperatures, they maintain moisture, increase biodiversity, can help protect crops from pests and can dramatically increase yields. Reforestation can provide hope to the entire African continent.

As Allan Savory says in ancient times herds of animals were protecting lands from desertification. These herds are now gone and the land is degrading. Allan suggests that the use of cattle to “mimic” nature, a process called “bio-mimicry”, can help restore degraded lands. Check his TED talk:

Caux2013We often forget the long-lasting impacts on land of armed conflicts. The Gulf War resulted in the largest terrestrial oil spill in history and has permanently contaminated Kuwait’s groundwater. Industrial activity and toxic chemicals pollute water, soil and impact the lives of millions. Globally, obsolete pesticide stockpiles of 5 million tons are awaiting destruction. Their safe elimination will cost €20 billion and require the cooperation of civil society, governments and the private sector. More on that soon.

Yes, human activity has created these problems and time is running out. But through ingenuity and cooperation we can still repair and restore degraded lands and ecosystems. Even some of the worst impacts of climate change can be avoided. Innovative, low-tech and low-cost solutions are available. Their deployment at scale requires greater awareness and concerted action between government, business and civil society. The Caux Forum has become an important global platform to make this happen.

Those were my thoughts on this issue, I am looking forward to hearing yours.