Sustainable Climate Adaptation – The Post Copenhagen Priority !

[It was necessary to commence this post … only after visiting India.  See the first post of 2010-01-18.]

Well … we really saw it all at Copenhagen during those two long weeks in December 2009.  Wasn’t it great to watch ?!?   News, gossip, political ’shenanigans’ and spin … along with riots in the streets and walk-outs in the corridors … a veritable circus … an unmitigated farce !!!   A crime against humanity ????

Following the UNFCCC Summit … the PEW Center on Global Climate Change, in the USA (using their own words: an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to providing credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions to address climate change), offered this ‘credible information’ …

‘ A new political accord struck by world leaders at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen provides for explicit emission pledges by all the major economies – including, for the first time, China and other major developing countries – but charts no clear path toward a treaty with binding commitments.

The basic terms of the Copenhagen Accord were brokered directly by President Obama and a handful of key developing country leaders on the final day of the conference, capping two weeks of harsh rhetoric and pitched procedural battles that made the prospect of any agreement highly uncertain.  It then took nearly another full day of tense negotiations to arrive at a procedural compromise allowing the leaders’ deal to be formalized over the bitter objections of a few governments.

… ‘

Now compare this News Article, by Satyen Mohapatra, from the Hindustan Times, New Delhi, India … dated Saturday, 9th January 2010 …

India Brought China Onboard at Copenhagen

New Delhi: Environment & Foreign Minister Jairam Ramesh, on Friday, said India had brought China onboard at Copenhagen.

“India brought China onboard at Copenhagen.  The U.S. actually owes a lot to India”, he said here at an interaction.

Despite taking a leadership role during the negotiations, Ramesh said, the Chinese were not ready to talk directly with the US, but always as part of the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) Group.

Recounting how the Accord was reached at Copenhagen, Ramesh said it was “floundering on three issues: whether the goal of arresting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 should be expressed in terms of temperature or emission reduction or concentration of GHG in the atmosphere; what would be the international monitoring and verification regime for the mitigation actions of the BASIC countries; and whether the Accord would be legally binding”.

“We got 2.5 out of three”, he added.

And then … consider the opening of a statement by Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the last session of the Climate Summit on Friday, 18th December 2009 …

Mr. Chairman:

It has been four hours since President Obama announced an agreement that does not exist.  He is disrespecting the international community and behaving as an imperial master.

The document that you, Mr. Chairman, repeatedly claimed that did not exist is showing up now.  We have all seen drafts surreptitiously circulated and discussed in secret meetings, outside the rooms where the international community has been transparently negotiating through its representatives.

As it happens, Mr. Chairman, the non-existent document does exist.  I deeply regret the way you have conducted the works of this conference.

I can anticipate that the delegation from the Republic of Cuba has decided not to accept the declaration you are introducing.  I do not need any additional consultation in any other framework or format; therefore, I declare that at this conference there is no consensus on this document.

I add my voice to that of the representatives of Tuvalu, Venezuela and Bolivia.  Cuba considers the text of this apocryphal draft extremely insufficient and inadmissible.  The unacceptable goal of 2 degrees Centigrade would have incalculable catastrophic consequences, particularly for the small island nations.  It would also have a grave impact on numerous species of the biodiversity.

The document that you are unfortunately introducing contains no commitment whatsoever on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

I am aware of the previous drafts, which again through questionable and clandestine procedures, were negotiated in small groups and which at least made reference to a 50% reduction by 2050.  I have here with me those previous drafts that it would be worthwhile making public in this room and releasing to the media and the representatives of the civil society.

The document that you are introducing now leaves out precisely those already meagre and insufficient key phrases contained in those drafts.  This document does not guarantee, in any way, the adoption of minimal measures conducive to the prevention of an extremely grave catastrophe for the planet and for human beings.

To Cuba, the content of this document is incompatible with the universally recognized scientific criterion which deems it urgent and unavoidable to ensure at least a 45% reduction of emissions by the year 2020, and no less that 80% or 90% by 2050.

This shameful document that you bring to us is also insufficient and ambiguous with regards to the specific commitment of the developed countries to reduce emissions even when they are responsible for the global warming resulting from the historic and current level of their emissions, and it is only fit that they undertake meaningful reductions right away.  This document fails to mention any commitment by the developed nations.

Confused ?   Depressed ??   Frustrated ???


Some Observations from the 2009 UNFCCC Copenhagen Climate Summit:

1.  The 2009 Copenhagen Accord is a voluntary political agreement among a small number of countries … an arrangement of convenience.  It has no status within the international framework of the 1992 Convention on Climate Change and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol … it is a non-document.  It does, however, provide political cover for Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) … along with the USA … whose politicians have no wish to be bound by legally binding, meaningful GHG Emission Reduction Targets benchmarked back to 1990 levels … most especially, GHG Emission Reductions which would be stringently and independently verified by competent external agencies.  The Accord also has the potential, within it, to derail the entire UNFCCC process.

The Accord is not, therefore, being presented on this WebSite.

2.  The Developed Countries (i.e. the 1992 UNFCCC Annex I Countries) demonstrated that they had a small understanding of, but very little sympathy for, the concepts of ‘equity’, ‘fairness’, ‘historical responsibility’ and ‘climate justice’.

3.  It is now clear that the European Union’s Climate Change Targets of (i) a maximum 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperature is too high … a maximum 1.5 degree Celsius rise should be the target, with an essential reference to a ‘safety factor’ in all calculations … and (ii) a 20% Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emission Reduction by 2020 is far too low.  The time for playing games with numbers is over … GHG Emission Reductions by the EU Member States should be open to stringent and independent/external verification … not just by the European Commission (which is insufficient, on its own, in this particular case) … but also by competent indigenous agencies in the BASIC Group of Countries.  To heal the rifts at Copenhagen … greater openness and transparency is required from Europe !!

Spinning of EU GHG Emission Reduction Performance by the European Environment Agency (EEA) … to make it appear that Europeans are doing more, and better, than we actually are … should be firmly knocked on the head, i.e. forbidden !

And in Ireland, to bring this subject closer to home, we urgently need to find another home … one central location, properly managed … for the relevant/related GHG Databases currently held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Energy Ireland (SEI).  Here … let us recall a pertinent extract from the European Union Treaties … ‘statistics shall conform to impartiality, reliability, objectivity, scientific independence, cost-effectiveness and statistical confidentiality’.  This issue has been discussed in previous posts.  So … say no more !!!!

4.  Developed Countries continue to show a feigned interest in Climate Change Adaptation.  Too much of their energies and resources are still being directed at fully exploiting the ‘flexibilities’ in meeting Kyoto GHG Emission Reduction Targets.  They are wealthy enough … and they believe (mistakenly) that they possess all of the institutional capacities necessary to deal with any adverse impacts caused by Climate Change, including Variability and Extremes.  We have found recently in Ireland, however, during the National Major Flood and Snow Emergencies that we certainly do not have these capacities.  If anything, we now know that the relevant institutions in this country are incompetent, disorganized and dysfunctional.

Bearing in mind that the minimum life cycle for a Sustainable Building (just to take one important component of the Built Environment) is 100 years … the abject failure to reach a legally binding consensus agreement at Copenhagen … means that National Adaptation Strategies must now be planned and formulatedurgentlyon the basis of, at the very least, a 3-4 degree Celsius rise in global temperature.

What is Climate Change Adaptation ?

This encompasses, generally, all actions to reduce the vulnerability and strengthen the resilience of the Human Environment, including ecological and social systems, institutions and economic sectors … to present and future adverse effects of climate change and the impacts of response measure implementation … in order to minimize the threats to life, human health, livelihoods, food security, assets, amenities, ecosystems and sustainable development.

Built Environment Climate Change Adaptation, more specifically, means … reliably implementing policies, practices, projects and institutional reforms in the Built Environment … with the aim of reducing the adverse impacts and/or realizing the benefits directly/indirectly associated with climate change, including variability and extremes … in a manner which is compatible with Sustainable Human and Social Development.

Many opportunities can arise from Adaptation.

Why is a Sustainable Approach to Climate Change Adaptation Necessary ?

As an example and very briefly …

In Ireland, it has been proposed as an Adaptation Project … to divert water from the Shannon, a very large river in the west of the country … to Dublin, the capital city, which is located on the east coast … in order to deal with the expected shortage of water which will be caused by Climate Change in the medium term … among other factors.

“Fine”, you might say … and you may later add: “an interesting civil engineering infrastructural project”, as you visualize, in your mind’s eye, impressive Roman Aqueducts in the south of France or outside Rome.

BUT … if you then consider that there are no residential water charges in Dublin (so the concept of water conservation is almost unknown among householders); water supplied to houses in the Dublin Region are not yet metered (so there is no urgency to locate and deal with water leakage inside the private property boundary); there are enormous unintended losses, i.e. leaks, from the public potable water distribution system (approximately 40% even in the good times, and recently well in excess of 60% following the National Snow Emergency !); there are no requirements in our National Building Regulations to harvest any rainwater in any buildings or on any hard surfaces in the vicinity of those buildings … and, finally, Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) is not yet a standard procedure, at any level, within National and Local Authorities Having Jurisdiction.

So … just how ‘sustainable’, in reality, is the Shannon-Dublin Water Diversion Scheme as a Climate Change Adaptation Project ???



The Recent Major Emergency Response Fiascos in Ireland

Unless you have been living, for the past two or three months, in conditions similar to a detainee in the illegally occupied part of Cuba, called Guantánamo Bay … and you have been deprived of almost all sensory perception … you cannot have escaped (!) the fact that we have had a Major National Flood Emergency … followed by a Major National Snow Emergency … followed, again, by a National Flood & Water Emergency.  I kid you not !!!   But … the emergencies haven’t yet ended.  And … it’s not just the politicians … at national and local levels … who should bury their heads in shame.

It has been amply demonstrated that the relevant emergency-related institutions in this country are incompetent, disorganized and dysfunctional.  Focus your venomous attentions, as well, on the civil and public servants, administrative and technical staff, and private sector technical consultants who occupy space in these institutions.

Did you know that we actually have a National Directorate for Fire & Emergency Management (NDFEM), which is located deep within the Custom House … in the centre of Dublin City.  According to the NDFEM, a Major Emergency is …

‘ An incident which, usually with little or no warning, causes or threatens death or injury, serious disruption of essential services or damage to property, the environment or infrastructure … beyond the normal capabilities of the principal emergency services (An Garda Síochána, the Ambulance Service and the Fire Service) in the area in which the event occurs.’

Pages dedicated to NDFEM can be found on the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government (DEHLG) WebSite …

From the DEHLG HomePage, follow the link to the National Directorate for Fire & Emergency Management.

Please read … without laughing, crying, screaming out loud in utter frustration, or any combination thereof … about the NDFEM’s Mandate and Structure here …

Then … and only if you are brave enough … check out the Bozos, Wasters and Lúdramáns who sit on the NDFEM’s Management Board here … … and the NDFEM’s Consultative Committee here …

Prize specimens !   At least we can get rid of politicians at the next elections !!



2010 ACRECONF in Delhi (Dilli), India – 8th & 9th January

It was a great pleasure to be invited to speak on the subject of Sustainable Fire Engineering at the 2010 ACRECONF in Delhi (Dilli), India.  This ground breaking conference in Asia took place at the India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, Delhi … on the 8th & 9th January last.  Back during August (2009) in Bengaluru … the ACRECONF Chairman, Mr. Ashish Rakheja, told me that he expected an attendance of somewhere between 500-600 people at the Delhi Conference.  Over the two days of the actual conference, approximately 1800 delegates participated … an enormous response by architects, civil and service engineers, developers, client and construction organizations, etc., etc., from right across the country … and from the deep south.

Colour photograph showing some of the many participants at the 2010 ACRECONF in Delhi, as they enjoy talking and networking during the morning coffee break of the second day at the conference. The venue was the India Habitat Centre on Lodhi Road. The weather was chilly for the time of year, and there had been a heavy fog earlier in the morning. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-01-09.
Colour photograph showing some of the many participants at the 2010 ACRECONF in Delhi, as they enjoy talking and networking during the morning coffee break of the second day at the conference. The venue was the India Habitat Centre on Lodhi Road. The weather was chilly for the time of year, and there had been a heavy fog earlier in the morning. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2010-01-09.

For me … refreshing, extremely impressive, and certainly the highlight of the conference … was a multi-media presentation … on the second morning, just after the coffee break … by Mr. Karan Grover, the renowned Indian Architect.  He is quite an individual !

Before the break, delegates had been treated to an elaboration of the Environmental Design Innovations incorporated into the 71 storey Pearl River Tower (Guangzhou, China), by Mr. Varun Kohli of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in New York.  Construction of the Tower is now well under way.  Afterwards, however, an important discussion took place concerning the issue of fire safety, and fire engineering generally, in Sustainable Buildings.  It became clear to all of the participants that this issue is a major oversight … an intentional gap … in the design of these buildings.  I made the point, forcibly, that Sustainable Fire Engineering is open to innovation and design creativity. There will be an important follow-up to this discussion.

Colour photograph showing a silly tourist on a bicycle rickshaw, as he is brought sightseeing around the Bazaar District in Old Delhi. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by Mr. Daljeet Singh, Ministry of Tourism, with CJ Walsh's camera. 2010-01-09.
Colour photograph showing a silly tourist on a bicycle rickshaw, as he is brought sightseeing around the Bazaar District in Old Delhi. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by Mr. Daljeet Singh, Ministry of Tourism, with CJ Walsh's camera. 2010-01-09.

Unfortunately, the conference was peppered with references to ‘Green’ Buildings … an outdated marketing concept (!) … which, within its limited world-view, gives people the false comfort of not having to deal with thorny issues such as ‘social justice, solidarity & inclusion for all’.  I have discussed this issue many times in previous posts.

Even more unfortunately, where the Brundtland Definition of ‘Sustainable Development’ was actually presented in one session … as usual, it was only the first half of the definition which made any appearance.  The second, and more important, half of the definition had mysteriously vanished without trace … which made the whole effort a meaningless exercise !   What a waste !!   No wonder there is such confusion over the concept … at all levels … in most countries !!!

It was not surprising, therefore, that what was not stressed enough, during the entire conference, was that Sustainable Design Solutions must be appropriate to local geography, climate, economy, culture, social need and language(s)/dialect(s), etc.  The LEED Building Rating System (USA), for example, is not being properly adapted to local conditions in India !

A final issue … another major oversight … another intentional gap … in the design of buildings … Accessibility-for-All !   Even though India ratified the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on 1st October 2007 … this essential aspect of design … certainly in Sustainable Buildings … received no mention whatever during the conference … except by yours truly, in my presentation.

Overall … a magnificent achievement for the organizers !


Yesterday’s Burj Dubai Inauguration – The Tallest ?? How ?

Yesterday (2010-01-04), the Burj Dubai … recently renamed the Burj Khalifa, in honour of Abu Dhabi’s Ruler … was inaugurated.  Dubayy, as it is known locally, is situated in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).  Contrary to most reports, this building has a height of approximately 550 metres !

Colour photograph of the Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubayy, United Arab Emirates ... which was recently inaugurated on 4th January 2010. A romantic image, for now, of the World's Tallest Building. But ... how 'sustainable' ... and 'fire safe' ... is this building ?
Colour photograph of the Burj Khalifa Tower in Dubayy, United Arab Emirates ... which was recently inaugurated on 4th January 2010. A romantic image, for now, of the World's Tallest Building. But ... how 'sustainable' ... and 'fire safe' ... is this building ? Click to enlarge.

Every single metre counts in the race of the ‘tallest’ !   So, the timing of the following CTBUH(USA) Press Announcement, back in November 2009, was most fortunate.  In my opinion, the most meaningful height criterion is … Height to Occupied Floor.  But, what do you think ?   See below.

However … purposefully tripping you up as you race to read all about the height criteria of Tall and Super-Tall Buildings … we should all know and understand, I hope, that comparing the ‘size’ of structural members is a silly schoolboy’s game.  So, I would like to pose Some Important Questions (discussed, ad nauseam, in previous posts) about the Burj Khalifa Tower …

  1. Dubayy (Dubai) is a crude reproduction of the nightmare that is the 20th Century North American City, i.e. it is on the opposite end of the scale from being ‘sustainable’ !   ‘Greenwashing’ aside … How Sustainable is the Burj Khalifa Tower ?
  2. There is no effective system, in Dubayy, of Independent Monitoring and Technical Control of the processes of building design and construction by Local Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s) or Competent Technical Controllers … 

How Fire Safe is the Burj Khalifa Tower … for All of the large population, including People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF), who will undoubtedly be using/occupying the building during its long life cycle ?

Has the Tower been designed to adequately resist Fire-Induced Progressive Collapse ?   ‘Robustness’ and ‘Disproportionate Damage’ are separate, but related, structural concepts.

During my next visit to Dubayy … I will enjoy looking at, and photographing, the completed building.  But, I will not be entering the Burj Khalifa Tower !

Chicago, 2009-11-17:  The Council on Tall Buildings & Urban Habitat (CTBUH) – the international body which arbitrates on tall building height and determines the title of ‘The World’s Tallest Building’ – has announced a change to its height criteria, as a reflection of recent developments with several super-tall buildings.

The new criteria wording – ‘Height is measured from the level of the lowest, significant, open air, pedestrian entrance to …’ allows for the recognition of the increasing numbers of multi-use tall buildings with often several different entrances at different levels, whilst also accommodating buildings constructed in non-traditional urban or suburban locations.  The CTBUH Height Committee has determined that the previous description of where to measure tall building height from – ‘Height is measured from the sidewalk outside the main entrance to …’ is now no longer sufficient.

This will have an impact on both the height of tall buildings and their relative international height rankings.  Burj Dubai, set to open as the world’s tallest building in January 2010, will now be measured from the lowest of its three main entrances (which opens into the entrance lobby for the tower’s corporate suite office function), while the recently completed Trump International Hotel & Towers in Chicago will be measured from the lower, publicly accessible Chicago Riverwalk.  In the case of Trump, this additional 9 metres (approx.) means that it will surpass the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai to occupy the rank of 6th tallest on the current list of completed buildings.

“Beginning in 2007, with the knowledge that Burj Dubai would be significantly taller than any structure ever built, the CTBUH Height Committee met to review the criteria by which we recognize and rank the height of buildings”, said Peter Weismantle, Chair of the CTBUH Height Committee and Director of Supertall Building Technology at Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture in Chicago.  “As one might guess, with the committee being made up of architects, engineers, contractors, developers, building owners and academics, a variety of opinions and views were expressed.  The resulting revisions, almost two years later, reflect a general consensus of the committee in recognizing the most recent trends in tall building development around the world.”

Also in response to the changing designs and forms of tall buildings, the Height Committee has elected to discard its previous ‘Height to Roof’ Category.  “The roof category just doesn’t make sense anymore”, said CTBUH Executive Director Antony Wood.  “In the era of the flat-topped modernist tower, a clearly defined roof could usually be identified, but in today’s tall building world – which is increasingly adopting elaborate forms, spires, parapets and other features at the top of the building – it is becoming difficult to determine a ‘roof’ at all, even less so to measure to it.”

Colour image showing the World's 10 Tallest Buildings ... ranked by the Council on Tall Buildings & Urban Habitat (CTBUH), in November 2009, according to the criterion 'Height to Highest Occupied Floor'. Also included is the Burj Khalifa Tower, which was inaugurated on 4th January 2010.
Colour image showing the World's 10 Tallest Buildings ... ranked by the Council on Tall Buildings & Urban Habitat (CTBUH), in November 2009, according to the criterion 'Height to Highest Occupied Floor'. Also included is the Burj Khalifa Tower, which was inaugurated on 4th January 2010. Click to enlarge.

The Revised CTBUH Height Criteria and Diagrams of the Tallest 10 Buildings in the World as of November 2009 can be found here, ranked according to the three height categories now recognized by CTBUH.  These are: (i) Height to Architectural Top, measured to the topmost architectural feature of the building including spires, but not including antennae, signage, flag poles or other functional-technical equipment;  (ii) Height to Highest Occupied Floor, measured to the level of the highest, consistently occupied floor in the building (thus not including service or mechanical areas which experience occasional maintenance access);  and (iii) Height to Tip, measured to the highest point of the building, irrespective of material or function of the highest element.




Update on MACLAREN Baby Strollers in the European Union

Further to the previous post concerning MACLAREN Baby Strollers

Maclaren will provide hinge cover safety kits for all new European Union (E.U.) consumers.  From some unspecified date at the beginning of 2010 … which could be January, February, March, or even later … all new pushchairs in shops around Europe will have the hinge covers as a standard accessory.  I wonder … will there be a cost for this accessory item ?   And, on the ground … who will monitor what is happening … to ensure that there is a high level of consumer protection ?

After a meeting held in Brussels, on 3rd December 2009, with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Maclaren USA, Mr. Farzad Rastegar … European Union Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva welcomed the decision by Maclaren to provide all existing European consumers … on request only … with hinge cover safety kits for their pushchair buggies.

Earlier … in a letter, dated 30 November 2009, to Commissioner Kuneva … Mr. Samuel McQuigg, Managing Director of Maclaren Hong Kong had written …

” The safety of children and peace of mind for parents have always been the top priorities at Maclaren.  We hereby confirm that Maclaren are providing the hinge cover safety kits upon consumer request for strollers already in the global market.

 All new strollers shipping as of January 2010 will have the hinge covers as a standard accessory included as part of the package.  The effective date of this production change is pending confirmation of lead times with our manufacturing group.  We can assure you these actions are well underway and we continue to act in a proactive manner.

Yours sincerely, “


Too many chiefs !   All very vague !!   Still unacceptable under European Union Primary Legislation, i.e. the E.U. Treaties !!!




French Term ‘Développement Durable’ – A Critical Error

Happy New Year (2010) !   Buona Fortuna a Tutti e Tutte !!

Time to get serious again.  Does anything about this next little anecdote sound familiar ?

The country is France … a critical error is discovered … there follows much beating of breasts, many tears are shed, apologies all over the place … but …. everyone keeps going forward, exactly as before.  No … not the infamous Thierry Henry Handball Incident.  Something different … something technical … something which continues, day after day, to add to the international confusion about the meaning of Sustainable Development, or to be more precise Sustainable Human & Social Development !


In January 2009, the French Sénat considered a Proposed Amendment to the Grenelle de l’Environnement Legislation

From the Official Record (No 631 – 22 Janvier 2009) … Article 1ER

I.   A la deuxième phrase du premier alinéa de cet article, remplacer les mots:

développement durable

par les mots:

développement soutenable

II.  En conséquence, procéder à la même substitution dans l’ensemble de ce projet de loi.

The purpose of this Amendment … Objet

Cet amendement a pour but de revenir aux sources du concept de développement soutenable telles qu’énoncées dans le Rapport Brundtland de 1987 et par le Sommet de Rio de 1992.  C’est «un modèle de développement qui satisfait aux besoins de la génération présente, a commencé par ceux des plus démunis, sans compromettre la capacité des générations suivantes à satisfaire les leurs».  Cette définition de la soutenabilité du développement s’oppose radicalement à celle de la durabilité du développement qui peut être prônée par toutes et tous, notamment les grands groupes industriels et financiers, sans que soit pour autant mise en œuvre une réelle politique de protection de l’environnement.

The Proposed Amendment was defeated.


What happened was later explained by Yann Cohignac … on the French WebSite (!!!) …

Le «développement durable» est un oxymore: un développement perpétuel ne peut en aucun cas être durable.  Il vaudrait donc mieux parler de «développement soutenable».  Cette opinion, défendue par certains sénateurs, a agité les premiers débats autour de l’examen de la Loi 1 du Grenelle de l’Environnement.  Mm Muller et Desessard, ainsi que Mmes Blandin, Boumediene-Thiery et Voynet avaient ainsi déposé un amendement pour opérer un changement sémantique dans l’ensemble du texte.

Objectif: rétablir le sens des mots.  Car, selon Jacques Muller (PS, Haut-Rhin), «notre modèle de civilisation est insoutenable au sens physique et biologique, car nous n’avons pas de planète de rechange, mais également au plan éthique.  Le développement industriel productiviste, qui n’est ni durable, ni généraliste, est la négation de la solidarité avec les générations futures et entre les habitants du village planétaire».  Et de dénoncer les entreprises qui pratiquent le greenwashing, «se contentant de spots publicitaires et de campagnes de communication mâtinés de développement durable sans rien changer à leur politique exclusivement orientée vers le profit à courts termes».

Ce qui fait dire au sénateur que «dans un monde aux ressources limitées, c’est une aberration de parler de croissance durable du PIB.  Par respect pour ceux qui aspirent simplement au développement, nous préférons parler de développement soutenable, écologiquement et éthiquement».

Trop Tard Pour Changer

Au Sénat, on a reconnu que l’expression «développement durable», tirée de l’anglais «sustainable development», était très mal traduite.  «Toutefois, l’article 6 de la Charte de l’environnement, adossé à la Constitution, fait référence au développement durable», répond Bruno Sido, rapporteur de la Commission des affaires économiques du Sénat (sans parler du ministère même du «développement durable»).

Et surtout: «les Français se sont appropriés l’expression, quelque fausse qu’elle soit.  Comme la bataille contre l’usage incorrect de l’expression “bien achalandé”, c’est une cause perdue.  Mettons plutôt notre énergie à défendre les idées qu’à changer les termes.  Avis défavorable».  Amendement refusé, donc.  La traduction impropre de l’expression sera ainsi durablement utilisée dans l’Hexagone.  Une exception culturelle française de plus.

Les Raisons de la Confusion Sémantique

En 1992 a lieu le second Sommet de la Terre, à Rio de Janeiro (Brésil).  L’expression «sustainable development» est alors concrétisée grâce au Rapport Brundtland: elle est largement médiatisée auprès du grand public, et traduite en français «développement durable».  Dans une première traduction des travaux de la Commission Mondiale sur l’Environnement et le Développement, c’est en effet le terme «développement durable» qui est retenu.  Une seconde traduction, par les Editions du Fleuve, préférera «développement soutenable», adaptation littérale de l’anglais «sustainable development».  Mais il est trop tard: l’expression est entrée dans les mœurs et déjà défendue par les tenants de la «durabilité».

Toutefois, certains relèvent régulièrement l’erreur de traduction.  De nombreuses ONG utilisent ainsi de préférence le terme de «développement soutenable» pour insister sur les dangers qui pèsent sur la biosphère face aux activités humaines.  Les adeptes de la décroissance, eux, considèrent que l’expression «développement durable» est un oxymore: les deux mots révèleraient une contradiction, puisque les ressources naturelles sont finies et non infinies.