Cornerstone Course – Day 5: Digital Society – Big Data

Digital Society is a very elastic phrase. We will explore three examples:

  • Network Neutrality
  • Privacy and Surveillance
  • Big Data

All are focused on how technology changes society. It is a contested topic on whether the impact is positive or negative. Issues are at the intersection of information and communications technologies and society, law, and public policy.

Big Data

Mass collection of personal information is essentially discrimination, however, widely used in credit rating (Gandy & Oscar , 1993) . The Internet aggravated the situation by commercial use of targeted marketing. This leads to a fine-grained market segmentation and systematic discrimination which in turn is hard to detect or resist. Even worse, most companies cannot pinpoint the discrimination that they apply in their services.

The traditional scientific approach describes itself as

  1. Formulate hypothesis
  2. Design and conduct experiments
  3. Use results to confirm or disprove
  4. Basis for decisions and actions

It is arguably not how science works, but it is how science presented itself to work.

Big Data contrasts to the scientific approach as it

  1. Existing large data set (not necessarily what you where looking for)
  2. Mine data for correlations (patterns)
  3. Infer links between factors (sort of a hypothesis)
  4. Basis for decisions and actions.

The approach is completely automated and produced by a computer, no humans involved (other than devising the algorithms). Resulting models of the world are highly complicated and incomprehensible to humans (even beyond the possibility of understanding by humans). Big data further focuses on correlations rather than causation. The complete data is used rather than sampling and statistics are used in contrast to actual individual accuracy. To make this work you must collect all the data in advance and more specifically you must collect any data you can.

Why now?

Computational power has become much cheaper. Data is available and data mining & machine learning have become viable. The Internet of Things (IoT) is increasing the amount of data available drastically. Processing the data is difficult and it is not clear how malicious actors could influence the process. Most IoT services are useful, but they generate a huge amount of data that is shared and used by the provider of the IoT services.

Google Translation is a case in point for Big Data. Previously, people tried to deconstruct language by understanding the grammar and then reassemble them in another language. Google learns nothing of grammars, but actually correlates the same text in two languages to obtain a statistical connection between languages. The EU provided a great source of data as (nearly) all its text are (manually) translated in all 24 official languages.

Another example is Google Flu Trends, which automatically found search terms that where correlated with influenza cases to create a prediction system. The system worked well for data between 2004 and 2010, however than it broke down. The question is whether public policy can be based on this.

“Personal data is the new oil of the Internet and the new currency of the digital world.” – Meglana Kuneva, European Consumer Commissioner, 2009

Buying habits, how likely you are to vote for a party, likelihood of accidents and health habits can be (tried to be) predicted. Statistical learning is better with larger data sets which favours larger players. Data has unexpected/unpredictable uses when it is correlated which apparently with unrelated information. All this makes data looks like a natural monopoly.

An example is exploding manhole covers in New York that happened inexplicably. However, they could be correlated to requests for telephone line repairs. After investigation it was found that old (broken) lines produces explosive chemicals that eventually would go off. Replacing the lines solved the issue.

However, correlation is not causation and therefore it is dangerous to base policy solely on Big Data.


Gandy, J., & Oscar , H. (1993). The Panoptic Sort: A Political Economy of Personal Information. Critical Studies in Communication and in the Cultural Industries. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Inc.

Cornerstone Course – Day 5: Digital Society – Privacy and Surveillance

Digital Society is a very elastic phrase. We will explore three examples:

  • Network Neutrality
  • Privacy and Surveillance
  • Big Data

All are focused on how technology changes society. It is a contested topic on whether the impact is positive or negative. Issues are at the intersection of information and communications technologies and society, law, and public policy.

Privacy and Surveillance

“You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” – Scott McNealy (Co-founder of Sun Microsystems, 1999)

In the physical world you could go to remote locations that are private and data was stored in paper – hard to copy, easy to destroy and costly to move. Additionally, information sharing was limited and specialized based on a regulated and trusted system – e.g. bank, post office, phone company, state, etc.

The biggest change is that most personal data is now online – easy to copy, hard to destroy and cheap to move. Infrastructure capital cost is nigh zero with little regulation and very rapid adoption. Additionally, technology spans jurisdictions and a big incentives to monetize personal information.

A positive outlook could be personalized services. Price-discrimination is easier to perform which makes the economy more efficient. On the back of the medal personalized services in the area of news creates gaps in the society (e.g. Obama would loose according to Republican news sources and in the information bubble of people). In the book (Sunstein, 2001)this issue is broadly discussed. However, there seem to be noticeable portion of a population that consumes news of opposing views (“Ideological Segregation Online and Offline,” 2011) .

Is regulation futile?

Facebook enables to identify people by simply photographing them and uploading it to Facebook to get recommendations who is in the picture. Privacy cannot be protected without forbidding such services.

On a darker point surveillance by government has been facilitated by the same technology. Surveillance infrastructure is a commodity and large-scale computing power is available, possibly soon bolstered by quantum computing.

US vs EU regulation

In the US activities are usually allowed unless specifically forbidden whereas in Europe they are usually forbidden unless specifically allowed. In Europe there are privacy protection agency which can sanction (up to 2% of annual worldwide turnover).

The EU anti-trust body has become prominent because it can generate income for the EU.

The Save Habor Principle was an agreement regulated data exports, however the European Court of Justice ruled it incompatible with European Law and consequently it was replaced with Privacy Shield.

In Europe you have to provide your consent as a consumer to companies for them to process your data. Today, consent is usually given by using the service. This form of consent implies that people do not understand what they are consenting to. Research showed that people care for privacy, nonetheless they ignore privacy by giving immediate consent to internet services  (Staddon, Acquisti, & LeFevre, 2013) (QUOTE). The EU introduced the “Right to be forgotten” to whip off content off the internet that has been stored under this kind of consent.


Ideological Segregation Online and Offline. (2011). Quarterly Journal of Economics, 126(4), 1–2.
Staddon, J., Acquisti, A., & LeFevre, K. (2013). Self-Reported Social Network Behavior: Accuracy Predictors and Implications for the Privacy Paradox. Presented at the Social Computing (SocialCom), 2013 International Conference on , Washington, DC, USA.
Sunstein, C. R. (2001). (1st ed.). Princeton University Press.

Cornerstone Course – Day 5: Digital Society – Network Neutrality

Digital Society is a very elastic phrase. We will explore three examples:

  1. Network Neutrality
  2. Privacy and Surveillance
  3. Big Data

All are focused on how technology changes society. It is a contested topic on whether the impact is positive or negative. Issues are at the intersection of information and communications technologies and society, law, and public policy.

Network Neutrality

The term dates back to the telephone line networks. It is focused on the Internet, but there are more kind of networks which rely on the same principle.

The main idea is that traffic over the network should all be treated the same. No package should be singled out for its user, content, origin or destination.

“The principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data of the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication” – FCC

The Wallstreet journal said in 1990 that the major effect of the Internet would be the replacement of the fax machine – which would be a major change. However, it eventually failed at that as the fax machine provides a receipt for having sent and printed a file which the US legal system recognize as a serving a subpoena.

Minitel was a France initiative to look up phone numbers on a small computer in the 1980. In the follow-up it offers weather forecasts and soon allowed private companies to offer services. It was quite successful, however, it was always run by France Télécom S.A. (top-down) and eventually the Internet overtook it because the internet was bottom-up.

In 2008 2/3 of the Internet bandwidth was used by BitTorrent. The share was actually decreasing. However, the FCC was investigating Comcast whether they slowed BitTorrent connections. This was the precedence for the FCC to enforce net neutrality. The next round was fought between Netflix and Comcast in 2012 when Netflix accused Comcast of throttling their video services to favour their own. Out of court settlements were reached and end-user speed on Netflix increased. Another case happened in 2015 when the Marriott hotels blocked wireless spectrum to prevent customers from operating their own mobile Wi-Fi hotspots. After a public outcry they retreated from the policy.

In Switzerland communication providers offer their own video services without limitation (Salt/Zatttoo and Swisscom/Swisscom TV Air).

Networks and layers

Networks in general are built in layers. Specifically upper layers built on lower layers.

[table id=6 /]

The Internet is only fixed in the IP protocol, technology above and below can be changed. This is called the Internet hourglass model. The network types on the bottom of the glass and the applications above at the top of the glass have evolved tremendously.

On the downside IP is very constrained. Improving it is very difficult, but denial of service attacks (DOS), security concerns and the limited number of addresses require changes.

Network neutrality has a technical foundation that it requires the end-to-end communication to work. However, there are two perspectives.

  1. Functions should only be implemented in a lower layer if it can be completely & correctly implemented at that layer
  2. In addition, if the function is needed by all clients of that layer

On the one hand, the advantages are that the network doesn’t know anything and doesn’t do things that are better done at the end. The argument naturally emerges from the technical structure of the internet. Additionally, it provides the following advantages:

  • Long-term evolvability
  • Application autonomy
  • Reliability
  • Minimizes interfaces between modules
  • reduces complexity

Those advantages are claims and not necessarily correct. On the other hand, disadvantage is that the internet does not do things well, but it does them all. Phone calls for instance. Phone lines were optimized for verbal communications. When a fax machine was connected it had to realize that, stop echo cancelling, stop compressing. The phone system typically ran at 90% utilization whereas the internet rarely runs above 20%.

Carrying public internet traffic is not economically viable as the traffic does only cost but cannot provide income. Sprint subsidized the public internet by phone systems and today the internet is subsidized by large companies buying private networks.

Modularity as a design principle offers advantages by minimizing interfaces between modules and reducing complexity. Facebook started out as a website out of a dorm room. However, the design tends to be static and can have negative effects on

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and Tunnels allow to disguise the content of your communication (e.g. human right activists hiding communication from a repressive government or drug cartels organising their deliveries). This poses a problem for law-making if they want to change net neutrality. Encrypted content cannot be identified and therefore the loss of net neutrality would most likely result in the illegality of VPNs.


The US has different legal framework for DSL and cable modem providers. Telecommunication services and information services have different legal requirements. Telecommunication services are more restricted and enforced net neutrality whereas information services do not. DSL is a telecommunication services and cable modems are information services. The legal definitions are not clear and still contested in the courts. The FCC tries to reclassify cable modems to be telecommunication services.


  • Does a neutral network discriminate against Quality of Service applications? (e.g. Skype)
  • Does the argument hold in a world of competition between DSL and cable?
  • Do we need special regulations? Isn’t this topic for antitrust policy?
  • Is this a debate about economic effects or about freedom?
  • Situation in Europe and Switzerland?
  • Technical solutions to the network neutrality problem? How to resolve this transparently?



Cornerstone Course – Day 3: Urbanisation II

This entry will deal with urbanisation is from the view of UN Habitat and all numbers come from them.

4 billion people (54% of people) live in urban areas. Of those 1 billion live in Informal Settlements (or slums) where basic services and tenure security are lacking. However, cities account for 80% of GDP. Urbanisation is related to economic development, but also to inequality and exclusion which drive safety and security concerns. Additionally, city account for 70% of the CO2 emissions and therefore can be considered a main cause of climate change.

Sustainable urbanisation

Previous/current urbanisation has been unsustainable in terms of environment, society and economy.

  • Environmentally, suburbanisation sprawls over land and destroy ecosystems
  • Socially, inequality, exclusion, and deprivation form spatial inequality and divided cities
  • Economically, unemployment , low-paying jobs and informal income cause hardship and poor quality of life

To reach sustainability the following issues must be tackled:

  • Continuous growth of slums: Caused by a lack of housing policies. Slums are vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters. Often slum dwellers are semi-legal have no (government) services and lack utilities (water, electricity and waste disposal). Lack of tenure security creates a state of temporary accommodation
  • Provision of urban services: Includes transport, water, sanitation, electricity health, education, maintenance of public space, lighting, cemeteries, etc.
  • Climate change: Climate events could damage urban areas , but also drive people from endangered areas to urban areas (rural-urban migration)
  • Inequality and exclusion: The gab between the rich and the poor is increasing, this in turn leads to increased crime, gated communities, privatisation and segmentation of urban space, segregation
  • Upsurge in involuntary migration: Forced migration is changing urbanisation, people are displaced into neighbouring countries, requires innovative housing solutions, often stay after cause for migration is resolved, can be a breeding ground for frustration and radicalisation
  • Rising insecurity and urban risks: Terrorism, urban warfare, disease and pandemics are major risks, but also fear of crime and violence. This may cause brain-drain and hinder economic development

Urban Stories

A preview of the course Urban Design I given at D-ARCH at ETH.

Apartheid is not only South African, but a general construction pattern in cities used to keep cheap labour close to Middle- and Upper-class housing. It can be seen in São Paulo, Caracas and Johannesburg.

Urban terror has replace rural terror (e.g. how it happened in Colombia) from revolutionaries to extremists to criminals.

Natural catastrophes haunt urban environment and are often unaccounted for because they mostly hit the informal settlements.

Social housing plans like 23s de Enero in Caracas provided infrastructure that would later help barrios (slums) to grow in the in-between spaces creating a functioning environments (compared to other social housing plans that failed horribly).

Transportation systems are often unique and transplanting them is difficult. The important part is to be able to describe the essential units of the system and find places where such a system could be of advantage. An example are cable-cars in the mountainous slums of Latin America (Caracas, La Paz, etc.). The cable-car stations where used as bases to create additional services (post services, ATMs, etc) in a secured area. Cable-car masts can be used to host wind farms (not a 3-rotor design).

Skyscrapers are an interesting environment. Elevators are a reason why skyscrapers are not interconnected on higher levels. Elevators are stopping at each floor though through design elevators could only stop at every few floors with ramps connecting the intermediate floors.

More can be found in the Urban Toolbox.

“There is not an ideal world, but we can improve upon the current state.” – Hubert Klump

Latent challenges

Latent challenges are often ignored like air pollution in cities (in South Asia and elsewhere), no drinking water from the tab (like Manilla in the Philippines) or homicides per day (in Caracas more people are murdered per year than die in the Syrian civil war without mentioning). Latent problems are so permanent that often they are overlooked.

Some definitions

Tenure: The process of acquiring land to live on.

In the developed word generally, lad is bought, its development is planed, it is build upon and then people move in.

In many parts of the developing world tenure is not existent. Therefore people squat land. If they are not forced out they start building. The building is slowly and iteratively extended as there is no security for the ownership of the building.

Cornerstone Course – Day 3: Urbanisation I

There is a claim that more 50% of humankind live in cities. This claim, however, is wrong. The reason is that a city and an urban environment is not the same and the correct description would be that more than 50% live in urban environments.

This differentiation has a huge impact, Caracas, Mexico City and Jakarta have a continuous urban area that goes beyond the official city borders of each and result in abrupt policy changes along the administrative borders. For instance, Caracas has 5 different mayors and police forces and the mayor of Mexico City only covers 38% of the urban territory and Jakarta grew into most of its neighbouring towns and cities.

Cities in the tropical zone expand into the arable land and risk the food supply. The overlap of urban expansion with food production is a policy challenge. Changing agricultural land to real estate gives a short-term economic boost (to owners), but permanently damages the ground for agricultural purposes.

Urban discussions put forth by Yona Friedmann in the 60s already pointed out future migrations due to insufficient urbanisation. The collapse of urban environments due to (civil) war and bad economic circumstances have causes a large flow of migrants towards Europe that is remnant of Friedmann’s predictions. Migration challenges our consolidated models of cities. For instance, the Calais Jungle in France is a 30’000 people town with no formal infrastructure that epitomizes the challenge.

Shenzhen did not exist 30 years ago and now is the fourth-biggest city in China. It was a top-down decision by the Chinese Government to urbanize 250 million people and Shenzhen is one of the resulting cities. The urbanisation constitutes a migratory move.

Blue print cities have shown not to work properly, so the focus has moved to an iterative model that starts out with existing slums. The slums than get improved infrastructure until they are a functional city. In Latin America people have been brought into the vicinity of the city, creating slums. The slums are slowly transformed by introducing infrastructure. However, this poses many difficulties.

What is needed to create those cities is scale-less handling of the problem from a block in a quarter to the intercity areas. Hierarchical ordering of the problem is not sufficient to solve the problems (as shown by the past).

A provocative claim to close the introduction is that China is urbanising beyond their territory (in Africa, South-East-Asia and more).


Cornerstone Course – Day 3: Water quality

Water has many exotic physical properties: surface tension, transparency in green and blue wavelengths (allows photosynthesis), protection from wavelengths shorter than UV light (high biodiversity). Surface water however looses lots of biodivserty (76% in freshwater, 39% in seawater).

The physiological water cycle in humans consist of 5 litres of blood that transport sugars, amino acids and fatty assets as well as “waste treatment plant” in the kidneys. Similarly, we can consider the water cycle on Earth. Water equalises global temperature, it is a greenhouse gas (around 33°C compared to without water).

Water pollution influences water quality tremendously. Point sources such as sewers, industrial effluents and diffuse sources such as pesticide treatment require different strategies.

Self-purification of water is a process where bacteria (spherotilus and protozoa) are increased through sewage, however once they use up the organic matter they decrease. Other side products are ammonium and nitrate which are then used by algae to grow. Dense population requires unpolluted areas in a river to work. To improve river quality sewage treatment plants have been built to reproduce self-purification in a controlled environment and only let cleaned water is released. However, the process is faster and sludge of bacteria need to be gathered and treated separately. This approach however only works for point sources where we can collect the sewage before it mixes with clean water.

Chemical pollution (dispersed) needs to be tackled differently. Often chemicals are regulated in order to keep pollution levels low. Especially, micro-pollutants are dangerous (antibiotics from hospitals and farms could contribute to the evolution of multi-resistant pathogens; carcinogenic compounds should not enter water cycle).

Risks can be mitigated by front-of-pipe, process, and end-of-pipe solutions. For instance an additional step in sewage treatment plants to remove micro-pollutants before the traditional process is an upcoming technology.


Improved water nutrient efficiency allowed to handle the increased food consumption  of the growing population. A side effect is that nitrogen (7-fold increase for doubling of output) and phosphorus have been increased. Algae grow in the ocean where the rivers deliver the fertilizer and those algae take out oxygen effectively killing the ocean in the respective areas (so-called dead zones).

To reduce those factors, improve cultivars, optimize irrigation systems, minimize crop loss and stop food waste.


Zero-emission/low-emission is newly formulated goal of many industries. Zero-emission gives a competitive advantage at it means that less regulations apply.

For example in the copper industry 100m3 water are used to treat 100tons of ore. Ore is ground, floated and moves from 1% to 30% copper. At that rate you can transport it and refine it elsewhere. The waste water generated is highly toxic and needs sewage water treatment. The ore produces 99 tons of tailings per ton of copper. In a second step copper is smelted and you get 70% to 99.5% pure copper, and the waste is a slag of water and sulphuric acid. In a last step refining takes place to reach 99.99% coper with a waste water filled with precious metals.

The process can be optimized to reduce water consumption and waste production and treatment.

Urban systems

Zürich has 1000km of urban sewers, 3100km of private pipes and around 200 pumping stations, retention basins and more. The infrastructure is worth about 200 billion CHF.

In most parts of the world sanitation tanks collect waste, it gets collected, (hopefully) treated, and then disposed.

Those different context require different approaches to solve the problem. Income and rainfall are important factors in the design of the urban water system. Drinking water and sanitation are difficult to provide in low-income, low rainfall regions.

Water quality impacts the development of children and sanitation and hygiene as well as water treatment are needed to improve their chances to develop normally.To reach those goals measures need to be simple, work for everyone and be cheap. They must also be culturally sensitive in order to be successful.

Cornerstone Course – Day 3: Water use case study

A case study about the Zambezi river basin. There a several big flood planes (wetlands each the size of Switzerland). It also includes Lake Malawi and there are 2 large dams (colonial heritage) for energy generation.

Half of the basin is highland above 1000m, the other half falls towards the sea. Temperature is constant up to the delta. The weather is tropical in the North and more arid in the South. 11 sub-basins form the ecological system. The upper basins have have a flood cycle whereas the lower parts have a constant flow due to the dams.

Population is distributed unevenly with the headwaters nearly empty and high population in large cities (Lusaka and Harare) and Malawi. Agricultural potential is high in the headwaters. Additionally Malawi and Zimbabwe have potential areas.

Currently there are plans to build 4 additional dams in the range of 1 GW (similar to nuclear power plants).

A marginal value of water can be computed for hydro-power. The higher parts have a higher marginal value which would compete with agriculture and hence agriculture would need to be very efficient. However, concerns of food security trump economical concerns.

Tourism plays another factor as they wish to see pristine nature and dams have shown to decrease the population of many wild animals (e.g. the Lechwe antelopes reduces by nearly 2/3).


Victoria Falls bordering Zimbabwe and Zambia and already has some tourism infrastructure. Focused on luxury tourists from the West. Botswana profits through tourists coming to the national parks after visiting the falls. There is a special visa to get into this tourism area.

Lake Malawi is situated inside Malawi and is close to Tanzania. Pristine beaches and aquatic tourism (snorkeling, scuba-diving, sailing, etc.). Beach tourism is a possible development.

There seems to be a conflict potential between Lake Malawi and Victoria Falls.


Effects on (downstream) neighbors

Effect on ecological system (Barotse Floodplain, Kafue Flats, Lake Malawi, Delta)

Mining seems to be more stable than tourism fluctuation, but it causes dependence on foreign development. This dependence constitutes a loss of control. For instance, Zambia accuses Glencore in the courts for pollution of the water in the copper mines.

Coal (Mozambique) not discussed

Agriculture and Hyrdo-power

Sugar plane plantation in the Kafue flats are feeding the capital Lusaka and potentially damage the ecosystem as well as reduce water flow to down-stream power-generation.

Other agricultural projects are currently under consideration and conflict potentially with upcoming power-generation projects.

Agricultural projects in Zambia and Zimbabwe conflict with power-generation plans in Mozambique. Malawi has all agricultural and power-generation projects within its borders and can therefore balance the different needs internally.

A cooperative power-generation project between Tanzania and Malawi on the inflow of Lake Malawi has the potential to knit together neighbors.

Agricultural developments in the Barotse Floodplain have the potential to turn into Zambia’s corn chamber, but could drain water resources downstream to unacceptable levels endangering, tourism, power-generation and mining. Such a development could cause conflict between Zambia and its neighbours Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Additionally, it could have a tremendous effects on ecosystem of the floodplain.

Treaties between countries could ease conflicts and international players could nudge them (e.g. Worldbank, IMF, etc.).


Cornerstone Course – Day 3: International Water Resources

Water resources are unevenly distributed. Less than 10 countries have 60% of the world’s available fresh water.

Water stress appears when there is not enough renewable water to replace the withdrawal. Conventionally, 40% of withdrawal of the available yearly resources is considered to be the threshold for water stress.

Climate change and population change increase the requirements of water moving most stress free regions into the stressed zone. However, population increases the stress more than climate change (which partially even eases the stress due to local circumstances).

Water Use

Traditional water use is constituted of domestic, industrial and agricultural use. Agriculture is the dominant consumptive use (70%), followed by industry (22%) with domestic use being a distant third (8%).

However, in High-income countries the ratio moves to D:11%/I:59%/A30% and low- and middle-income countries to D:8%/I:10%/A:82%.

Australia is a major agricultural exporter despite the aridity (60% of water are for agriculture).

According to UNESCO the water use is steadily rising. However, we withdraw more water than we actually consume leaving a huge water waste.

An unexpected additional loss of water occurs at reservoirs where water evaporates.

Emerging Issues

Several issues are connected to human water use:

  • Preservation of aquatic ecosystems (non-traditional water use) which offer many advantages:
    • Impacts on biodiversity
    • Natural filters in wetlands
  • Conservation of resources (water quality and pollution):
    • long-lasting toxics reduce permanently the amount of water available
  • Increase of living standards
  • Country technological level (recycling, efficient irrigation and water supply)
  • Population habits
  • Water use conflict

The US has twice the water consumption per capita than France. This could be tracked to the long period of high living standards, different laws and maintenance of intensive greenery in arid areas (e.g. lawns in California).

Anthropogenic causes:

Humans use water in production cycles, here are a few examples (source to be added)

[table id=5 /]

Case studies:

The Colorado River has nearly none of its water reaching the Gulf of California due to dams along its course. Consequently, salt water from the sea is now flowing into the river turning the ground salty. A mitigating strategy that arose is now to use pulse-flow releases regularly to wash away the salt as the base flow does not suffice.

The Aral Sea has been depleted by water-intensive cotton and rice crops. Between 1977 to 1987  (?) the lake lost 85% of its its volume. Fishing, local communities, the ecosystem have been negatively impacted, and further aggravated by pollution from pesticides.


International Water Bodies (IWB)

There are 261 counted IWBs in 1999 with 60 in Africa, 53 in Asia, 71 in Europe, 39 in North America and 38 in South America. Compared to 1978 it is an increase of more than 20% (214 IWBs).


This provides a source of conflict, for instance how to equitable allocate and how to handle pollution

Typical disputed rivers are the Rhine, the Danube, the Nile, the Euphrates, the Rio Grande and the La Plata.

Case studies:

The Toktogul dam was built in 1974 to irrigate agriculture (cutton) when in 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed the dam was nationalised by Kyrgyzstan for energy production upsetting the water usage down-stream. in 1992 a commission was set up and in 1998 a treaty for regular water releases was agreed upon.

Planning and Management

Water use requires management and the build up of reservoirs requires eventual releases which must be organised to reduce damage.

The concept of Peak Water assumes that water consumption beyond a certain level will yield no further benefit for humans society (and ecosystems) and will eventually lead to decline (similar to the concept of Peak Oil).

Currently 54% of fresh water are intercepted and therefore the opportunity to create reservoirs is highly limited. The cost of creating new reservoirs are high (population relocation, ecological impact, etc.).  Additionally, constructed reservoirs can cause sediment trapping, morphological changes , water scarcity, flood risk and saltwater intrusion.

The new concept:

Instead of focusing of supply also questions of demand are integrated and water management is made more efficient. Trade-offs between different uses are considered, management is distributed and coordinated, more monitoring is done to enable better informed decisions. Smart economics are introduced. Decision-making is made more participatory and integrated.

The concept is named Integrated Water Resources Management. The participatory nature, however, lengths the process to come up with a decision. It has become an interdisciplinary task to manage water use.

Legal Dimension:

The EU is a forerunner on legal frameworks with its EU Water Framework Directive:

  • Covering ecosystems and require to maintain them
  • Sustainable water use is required (long term perspective)
  • Improve aquatic environment
  • Reduce pollution
  • Mitigate floods and droughts

“Anyone who solves the problem of water deserves not one Nobel Prize but two – one for science and the other for peace.” – JFK

Cornerstone Course – Day 2: Climate Change II

Climate Change History:

Emission trends are not disputed any more. However, they can be viewed in different lights. Either emissions include production emission (i.e. are counted at the end user), or emission are only counted where and when they happen (i.e. caunted locally when they happen).

Policy-wise the focus increased beyond mitigation to include adaptation. Previously, adaptation was seen as post-colonial compensation. It spins off from impacts research. The focus was on slow changes in rising temperature and climates shift. However, extreme weather frequency increased and therefore it became a more urgent problem. Extreme weather effects take up the focus as they are news-worthy and can be directly felt.

Adaptation is becoming more mainstream as it is considered in existing policy fields and new knowledge is communicated. Adaptation as a field of its own is absorbed by the mainstream.

Current Climate Change:

Mitigation is the main field and the idea is to reduce the impact. It is summarised as a formula of

Impact = Population * consumption * energy intensity * carbon intensity

Consumption and population are difficult to change as religious and capitalist influences dictate most of their development. The focus lies on technology. Technology could improve energy intensity and carbon intensity.

Non-energy solutions range from reducing methane production in cattle to refrigeration for foods (to reduce food waste). Agricultural technologies is dominated by deforestation reduction. Energy solution cover heat usage, power usage and mobility usage. The main idea is to switch mobility and heat electricity-driven technology.

Four fields offer themselves up: electric heating and mobility systems, sustainable energy supply, alternative fuels, efficiency increases.

Mitigation Scenarios:

Stabilisation scenarios are provided by the IPCC without telling how to get there. Each scenario just tell us where we end up with specific CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. However, it is hard to explain them and most interpretations of IPCC’s graphs are plainly wrong.

Mitigation policy approaches:

Three example policies:

Tragedy of The Commons: We have to limit the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, but each single “player” wants to emit as much CO2 as possible. However, a solution is yet to be found. Other “commons problems” can be used as comparison. Many solutions can be found (per the multiplier listed above). However, the formulation sets up a zero-sum-game which results in adversarial distribution politics. Another thing is that ideological differences may impede the manipulation of some multipliers. Also free-rider and cheating must be handled.

Energy Transition: The requirement is to go from technology set A to technology set B. It can be framed as a win/win situation. It neatly focuses on carbon intensity and energy intensity. It also offers opportunities for single nations to develop profitable front-runner industry (e.g. Wind and Solar in Germany). However, carbon intensity can probably not get to zero. Another downturn could be that improved carbon intensity could make other impacts worse. E.g. in semi-conductors more than 70 elements are used and to fully recycle them large amounts of energy need to separate reduce the value of separating in the first place.

Policy instruments:

Scale dictates what kind of policy instrument can be used:

  1. Global commons problems require global agreements.
  2. Technological transitions require national strategies.
  3. Co-benefits of change are associated with sectorial policies.
  4. Technological and behavioural changes are underlying of all.

Each instrument offers different advantages and disadvantages:

[table id=4 /]

Politics is not regarded as the job of scientists, however, studying politics could be. Most scientists try to keep their own opinions and biases out of their products which is much harder than it sounds.

Climate science uncertainties are seen in a new context when they enter the area policy:

  • Pardigmatic: Are we asking questions from the right angle?
  • Translational: Can we explain our findings to people without losing nuances?

Two case studies in Solar Development in Germany where two groups support solar technology, but disagree with one another.

Desertec: Large-scale PV (cheap) in Africa and distribute it to Germany driven by technology companies and as a co-benefit more integration between Europe and MENA. Failure is blamed on political will and support.

Eurosolar: Small-scale lcoal PV (rooftops) to gain energy autonomy and were drivven by grass-roots.  Failure of the project was blamed on resistance by the “incumbent fossil-nuclear complex”.