Climate change adaptation in Central America: A review of national policy efforts

As a tropical developing region, Central America (CA) is one of the areas most vulnerable to current climate variability and future climate change. CA had already been severely affected by changes in climate variability and extreme events and there is a grave potential for an increase in the risk of disasters and therefore multiple losses due to climate change.

CA has a combination of social, economic, and governance factors that exacerbate its exposition to risk. For example, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua are more vulnerable compared to Costa Rica and Panama, where governance, health, and income indicators point to better conditions to face current climate variability and sustain adaptation to climate change.

The authorities of the region have responded to the climate change challenge with a combination of measures integrated into laws, strategies, and plans. Notwithstanding the progress reported in this article, recent developments are hampering and even converting into regressions the advancements in adaptation policy discussed here. Among the destabilizing situations of the economic and political fabric, which sustain progress, we could mention the uprisings and repression in Nicaragua; conflict and threats among the executive and judiciary powers in Guatemala; challenged electoral results, corruption scandals, and social unrest in Honduras; and the increasing fiscal deficit and political deadlock in Costa Rica to advance state reforms. This situation supports the conclusions on corruption as a threat to adaptation efforts, and the vital role of institutions for advancement adaptation.

Read the full paper here: Segura, L.D., Van Zeijl-Rozema, A. & Martens, P. (2022). Climate change adaptation in Central America: A review of the national policy efforts. Latin American Policy, November 2022, https://doi.org/10.1111/lamp.12277

Planetary Health leaders unite to build transformational change

‘We must act now!’ Organizations from across Europe come together to address the Planetary Health crisis being precipitated by the Earth crisis

AMSTERDAM – A new network of over 72 organizations from 12 countries was activated during a convening at ARTIS on September 26-27. Representatives are aligned around the transdisciplinary field and social movement of Planetary Health, which analyzes and addresses the impacts of human disruptions to natural systems on human health and all life on Earth. The Planetary Health European Hub consists of organizations from sectors including universities, healthcare, youth, business, civil society, and more. 

Co-organized by the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA) and the European Environment and Sustainable Development Advisory Councils Network (EEAC), the new hub was conceived to focus on the policy, funding, and organizational landscapes that make Europe rich in opportunities for building transformational change. 

“From the European Green Deal, the Health Environment Research Agenda for Europe, to the upcoming Horizon Health 2023 Agenda, now is the time to connect the dots, build collaborations, make links within the policy community, and fund Planetary Health priorities at scale,” said Sam Myers, Director of the Planetary Health Alliance and Principle Research Scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Members of the European Hub, including Maastricht University, came together in person and online and agreed on the Hub’s principles, developed working groups to tend to plans in research, education, policy, and movement building, shared lessons learned, built relationships, and set the framework for sustaining the Hub into the future.

For more information about the Planetary Health European Hub or to get involved, visit https://www.planetaryhealthalliance.org/pha-regional-hubs or follow the Planetary Health Alliance on social media.


Animals in Animal-Assisted Services: Are They Volunteers or Professionals?

Animal welfare is a growing concern in Animal-Assisted Services. Although studies have been conducted on stress signals and—to a lesser extent—positive emotions, no research has yet been conducted on the motivation of the integrated animal, to the best of our knowledge. Not all therapy animals are trained to assist. Are they volunteers or professionals? Volunteers have a higher degree of self-government and can quit when they are not motivated anymore. Professionals might, however, go the extra mile. Can we compare animal volunteers and professionals to their human equivalents? If so, this might help to structure discussions about animal welfare and motivation in interventions. Furthermore, it can provide better arguments for the career planning and career ending of these animals. Using animal-friendly interventions might influence motivation and, consequently, the moment at which efforts cease. Studying motivation is not easy, as it requires data on dopamine, the molecule involved in motivation, reward and repetition of behavior. However, the use of wearable techniques such as on site electroencephalograms (EEGs) for freely moving animals and non-invasive dopamine measurements is a developing and promising area of research. The translation of these data into context-ethograms—ethograms that show behavior in a context/intervention—can help handlers and therapists to understand the behavior of their therapy animal better and with less subjectivity.

Read the full paper here: Wijnen, B. & Martens, P. (2022). Animals in Animal-Assisted Services: Are They Volunteers or Professionals? Animals, 12(19), 2564; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12192564

The use of scenarios in climate policy planning

Scenarios are often used to depict the possible outcomes of alternative future developments as part of the evaluation of climate and energy policy measures. In Finland, scenarios have become a standard practice in climate-related policy planning. However, scenario planning often results in a single cohesive narrative, which lacks transparency in why certain developments and solutions are included and others left out.

This article focuses on how scenarios created during the planning of Finland’s Medium-term Plan for Climate Change Policy (KAISU) were built, and how the actors involved assessed the characteristics and quality of these scenarios. We interviewed a total of 18 participants from research, administration, and policymaking domains involved in the creation of the plan and the scenarios it contains. Semi-structured interviews provided an insight into the creation and use of scenarios as part of policy formulation, as well as points of further improvement for the process.

The KAISU plan was constructed as a cross-sectoral collaborative effort between policymakers, public officials, and researchers. Despite the variety of actors involved in the process, the resulting scenarios were perceived as well executed by the participants. However, national scenario foresight could be improved in three dimensions: 1) the process where actors collaborate to build scenarios, 2) the scenario methodology, where solutions and developments are included or excluded, and 3) use of the scenarios after their construction.

Read the full paper here: Aro, K., Aakkulaa, J., Lauttamäki, V., Varhoa, V., Martens, P. and Rikkonen, P. (2022). The use of scenarios in climate policy planning: an assessment of actors’ experiences and lessons learned in Finland. Climate Policy, DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2022.2123773

Planetary Health: Taking sustainability to the next level

After being a professor of Sustainable Development for more than 18 years, I am proud to let you know that – as of today – I will hold the chair Planetary Health at Maastricht University.

For me, Planetary Health has always been the foundation of sustainable development. However, the sustainability debate has been hijacked in recent years by industry and governments. Their view regarding sustainable development significantly has been subordinate to the dogma of economic growth with little regard for planetary health. How shortsighted this is, has been illustrated by the various outbreaks of zoonotic diseases (with corona as one of the latest examples), our current climate crises and the global decline of biodiversity. These are just some examples, but it is increasingly clear that our own well-being is closely connected with the health of the planet on which we live.

It is not nearly enough to keep the planet ‘as is’. There has to be a positive, regenerative development in order to make the planet, and everything on it, healthy. If we respect our planet, we respect life, we respect ourselves. That is also what the new chair Planetary Health stands for. Taking sustainability to the next level!

The dietary ecological footprint 

Food consumption is increasingly impacting the environment. Our results for China, together with previous findings, demonstrate that dietary patterns could contribute directly and significantly to the dietary Ecological Foot Print (EFP), and animal-based diets have greater environmental consequences in terms of land use than plant-based diets.

This study highlights again the dominant role of meat consumption, especially pork and seafood, in dietary patterns, suggesting that China has entered an era dominated by animal-based products. India, as another fast-developing country with the second-largest population, however, did not consume much meat, fish, or eggs. This resulted in a relatively lower environmental footprint for Indian people than for Chinese people. Although dietary choice is a personal matter, owing to the increasing environmental concern, individuals are motivated to change their dietary patterns. A transition to eating less meat would therefore reduce the negative environmental impacts. However, rising incomes and urbanization are driving a global dietary transition in which traditional diets are replaced by diets higher in refined fats and meats. This trend is especially significant in developing countries like China, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, and Mexico.

Graphical Abstract

In light of the generally continually increasing income, diversity dietary cultures, and dietary transitions, the impacts on environmental resources of meat consumption will be severe. Hence, incentives should focus on improving people’s awareness of sustainable dietary patterns. 

Read the full paper here: Su, B., Zhang, C., Martens, P. & Cao, X. (2022). A comparative study on the dietary ecological footprint in contemporary China. Science of the Total Environment, 851 (2), 158289.

Public awareness, lifestyle and low-carbon city transformation

Climate governance is not only an issue of emission reduction, but also a question of how to make people change their lifestyle of generating high carbon emissions. In our Chinese study, there are huge differences in citizens’ lifestyles, economic means, consumption habits, and awareness among different regions of the Western, central and Eastern parts of China due to unbalanced development.

Public understanding mainly relates a low-carbon city to a low-carbon life, and that here is a gap between low-carbon awareness and low-carbon behaviour. From the reviewed articles, we learned that while some citizens have knowledge of the conception of a low-carbon economy, it actually is rather difficult for them to change their behaviour as their low-carbon behaviour is passively affected by government, media and enterprises who advertise low-carbon products.

Then there are others who have been living a low-carbon life for many years, although they do not have any specific knowledge about the low-carbon concept. Improving the understanding of people’s motivation, concerns and cultural constraints as well as including aspects of reconciliation from the philosophical perspective might unify knowledge and action.

Education plays a vital role in improving people’s low-carbon awareness and changing traditional behaviours, which requires schools to provide more low-carbon knowledge to students and encourage them to engage already in an early age in low-carbon consumption habits.

Besides China, there are many other countries that are making an effort to reduce carbon emissions. For high-income European countries, such as the UK, Finland and the Netherlands, further behavioural changes in mobility patterns, housing or diet choices, which made up the largest contributions to household carbon footprints is most needed but also feasible. The aim of low-carbon city development is to create and put into practice city construction and social development models that will help to reduce carbon emissions under the premise of ensuring continuous improvements to the quality of life, whether it is economic development, consumption or transformation of lifestyle. When the different departments of cities attempt to cooperate and make rational use of natural resources and reduce carbon emissions, it will not only contribute to sustainable urban development but will also benefit individuals.

Read the full paper here: Wu, Y., Martens, P. & Krafft, T. (2022). Public Awareness, Lifestyle and Low-Carbon City Transformation in China: A Systematic Literature Review. Sustainability14(16), 10121.

Chinese concern for animals increased significantly after COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in devastating consequences for human health and social stability, not merely China but in the world as a whole, and been the catalyst for a greater scrutiny of animal welfare standards.

By comparing current data with data of 2015 we measured the impacts of COVID-19 on Chinese attitudes towards animals. The present study revealed that Chinese concern for animals increased significantly after COVID-19. So, the unfolding of COVID-19 has highlighted the interrelationships of humans, animals and nature and the ensuing tragedy may finally create an opportunity to see Chinese concern for animal wellbeing improve. Although still a long way to go, hopefully this could also be a indicator that the Chinese government will pay more attention to animal welfare. Not only due to its impacts on human health and social development, but, more importantly, for the sake of animal-wellbeing itself.

Read the full paper here: Su, B. & Martens, P. (2022). Public concern for animal welfare and its correlation with ethical ideologies after coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in China. Animal welfare, 31, 309-318.

Some like it hot?

Maastricht – 39,5 graden Celsius

30 jaar geleden begon ik aan mijn promotieonderzoek over de gevolgen van klimaatverandering op onze gezondheid. Met een integraal klimaat- en gezondheidsmodel, MIASMA, berekende ik de gevolgen van klimaatverandering op infectieziekten en de sterfte ten gevolge van hittestress. Later, als hoogleraar, begeleidde ik promovendi die keken naar de effecten van klimaatverandering op toerisme en op onze rivieren. Met andere Europese Universiteiten modelleerden we in het begin van deze eeuw de verspreiding van dierenziekten, zoals blauwtong bij schapen. Op veel van onze projecties werden cynisch gereageerd (net zoals op onze projectie (van jaren terug) dat een volgende pandemie weleens een zoönose kon zijn (wij noemden het toen ‘panic virus’)). Helaas zijn de meeste voorspelling uitgekomen. In de toekomst zal het verlies van biodiversiteit nog grotere effecten met zich meebrengen. Daarom wordt het nu tijd om die modellen te gaan weerleggen. Niet door de wetenschap te ontkennen, maar door het Antropoceen achter ons te laten. Met voldoende daadkracht en creativiteit kunnen we nog veel ten goede veranderen. Laten we hopen dat deze voorspelling ook uitkomt.

Education in a warming world: Trends, opportunities and pitfalls for institutes of higher education

The human-induced socio-ecological sustainability crises pose a severe threat to all levels of society, particularly the most vulnerable. In recognition of this, many of those within the higher education sector are focusing on sustainability through their research and innovation, teaching and learning and institutional footprints. However, institutional and policy barriers and external challenges have stymied structural change. In this paper, we present examples of trends, opportunities, and pitfalls for Higher education institutes (HEI) sustainability across five domains: (i) innovative approaches to climate change education (ii) transformative research agendas; (iii) climate change education through professional development; (iv) supporting academic advocacy; and (v) whole systems approach to campus greening. We argue that HEI endeavoring to become truly sustainable organizations must embody values consistent with social-ecological sustainability. Misalignments between espoused values and embodied practice within HEI undermine organizational legitimacy and inhibit the sector’s contribution to the public good.

Read the full paper here: Kelly O, Illingworth S, Butera F, Dawson V, White P, Blaise M, Martens P, Schuitema G, Huynen M, Bailey S and Cowman S (2022) Education in a warming world: Trends, opportunities and pitfalls for institutes of higher education. Frontiers in Sustainability. 3:920375. doi: 10.3389/frsus.2022.920375