Where to begin?
Growing human pressures, and the processes of material consumption through conventional industrialisation and urbanisation that substantially ignited microclimatic warmings, are fast-forcing Accra’s Odaw River to disappear. Human-induced climate change has increased ephemeral conditions of the river, putting thousands of human lives at risk in rainy days. There are visible environmental changes, including polluted water, earthworm extinction and degraded flora, along the river that evidently authenticate this fact. Adverse changes in the river’s flow cycles have resulted in discomfort, insecurity and vulnerability among urban residents, especially troubled children, to microclimatic ills – floods and energy deficits are few to mention. The river is so relevant that greener and scientific solutions are urgently needed to avert its collapse.
Odaw River is a transcommunity water facility located in the Greater Urban Accra. It stretches beyond Achimota and then passes through Dr. Kwame Nkrumah Interchange before entering the Gulf of Guinean Ocean. As a shared eco-asset that connects different urban settlements, collective approach to eco-modernising and sustaining its resources for people and nature is suggested. A roadmap ought to guide this collective approach from the short to long run.
Getting all to participate in an improvement roadmap
One of the feasible things that can be done is forming and tasking an expert committee to design and oversee a Fund for Transformative Urban and peri-Urban River Eco-modernisation (FUTURE) or Green Urban Landscape Fund (GULF). Apart from the Fund, a clear roadmap that does not facilitate just ‘shallow’ dredging but instead greening to decouple pollution from the river’s ecosystems is not less important to recommend. The roadmap may include the following four key areas:
– Resolving the influence of changing institutional portfolios in disrupting the continuity and sustainability of eco-modernisation intervention;
– Geospatial mapping and modelling of the river properties to boost strategic urban policy framing and participatory monitoring of the river catchments;
– Seeding human values to inspire active youth involvement in the Odaw River affairs; and
– Institutional streamlining to establish and empower a scientific research consortium.
The roadmap must guide policy directions and have unrestricted spaces to accommodate all disciplines and every one, as much as it is feasible. Undoubtedly, the Parliament of the Republic of Ghana is an endowed institution with noble members who have vast expertise in public development policy and, as such, ought to impartially debate and re-join forces with professionally trained sustainability scientists to devise improved scientific schemes to save the Odaw River from rapid deterioration. Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency and other governmental and non-governmental institutions, including the National Development Planning Commission; Water Resources Institute of the CSIR; Ministry of Science, Environment, Technology and Innovation; Ministry of Food and Agriculture; Ghana Association of Industries; National House of Chiefs; Christian Council of Ghana/faith-based organisations; civil societies; NGOs; and those dealing with pressing issues that pertain to carbons, disasters, and migration can lend assistance in realising a vision of toxic-free Odaw River. In the process of resourcing institutional and civil society actors to mutually work together, a question, which will likely rise is ‘how can eco-modernisation of the river be profitably financed and the benefits fairly shared?’ Eco-modernising the river is science-driven and, of course, capital intensive. There are various urban development sectors that are competing for financial budgetary allocations thereby, perhaps, obstructing investment into inventing or transferring scientific solutions to clean the river. One can think of physical infrastructure, education and digitisation! All these sectors are necessary if Accra’s Millennium City and the 2030 Agendas are to be realised. But, most often funding has been skewed from sustainable eco-modernisation of the river ecosystems to carbon-emitting sectors that may become obsolete by the year 2250, while the values of water in the river, at the time, will still not diminish in terms of adapting to climate change risks. Indeed, sounding the mantra of “priority” to underestimate the importance of Odaw River is not a good thing. The truth is that eco-modernising the river fits, and can be expertly integrated into re-addressing majority of urban development-environment issues – climate change, energy, eco-tourism, wastewater, internal mobility. etc., and hence deserves a radical public policy attention in regards to financing green infrastructure. Embracing cleaner and greener models of industrialisation is another way to gradually do away with pollution of the river.
Keep dialoguing, learning and doing
‘People know every little about Accra’, as a former Mayor of Accra, Nat Nuno-Amarteifio, would not hesitate to say. Certainly, people walk across the Odaw River almost every day and yet might know little or nothing about its geoprofile and urban development-environment significance. Many people have turned their back on the river. The consequence of such attitude and the happenings of polluted waters have coalesced to influence people to create an image of how Accra is to look like in the future; and suggested that a new capital city is built. Assuming a new city is built; some experts and citizens are asking an intriguing question: “will you send a new set of Ghanaians to live in the new city?” Such a new city is a dream wished for. And, it is good to imagine and have dreams for in them is the adrenalin to persevere towards achieving sustainable human living conditions. But, a more realistic opinion that echoes well is that Accra is alive and can be sustainably transformed to become a desirable city through concerted policy interventions backed by the massive “will of the residents”. A “will” that does not destroy the Odaw River and other urban environmental resources!
In 2014, I participated in a colloquium organised by the International Growth Centre in collaboration with the Oxford University and the University of London’s LSE on the theme: ‘Building effective cities for growth’. At that meeting, Prof Ralph Tetteh Mills who happened to be a member of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences brilliantly discussed and alluded to the rapidly shrinking of “eco-assets”, including green open spaces in and around the Efua Sutherland Park, situated close to the National Theatre and the George Padmore Library. According to Prof Mills, such open zones are vital for building a sustainable city in which ‘walking and cycling are safe’, and the residents have chances to use the open areas that are easily ‘accessible and enjoyable’. On several occasions, the well-respected and late diplomat, K.B. Asante, had warned the Ghanaian public against ushering in a deserting city phenomenon.
Certainly, Odaw River and its eco-assets can be greenly eco-modernised to serve the purposes of generating recreational, eco-tourism, energy and money-making benefits to drive green urban economic agendas devoid of pollutions. All-inclusively engaging more actors in matters concerning how to do things differently to clean, green and sustain the Odaw River provides the enabling foundation to respect others’ views in finding innovative and sustainable solutions.
Nowadays, the subject of sustainability remains all-important. It is not only relevant in academics but also in policy, governance and practice. This is because living in sustainable conditions is increasingly recognised in almost every society. Yet, the global society continues to face challenging and unpredictable sustainability issues. Why? Natural and non-natural resources have not been profitably managed to equitably meet basic needs of people without having to destroy the resources. Humans’ contribution to climate change, for instance, has aggravated rapid rate of environmental and ecosystem destructions. The destroyed ecosystems consequently have led to a reduction in the opportunities for livelihoods, foodstuffs, jobs and thereby bolting the cycle of hunger, poverty and shelter deficits. The current real-life situations clearly show that policy lags behind in resolving these complex challenges, especially in the global South. If you are not unemployed, you are not safe, you are poor, homeless or rich but unable to effectively lead and govern well because of threats of inequality and carbon toxicity.
Another example is that unplanned cities are now confronted with enduring slums, climate-induced migration and youth joblessness. No single day passes without disturbing news about environmental issues and natural disasters such as conflicts, wildlife thefts, fires, mudslides, floods and pollutions. In both print and online social media in various parts of the world, videos and text messages related to severe degradation of the natural environment have been published to substantiate a need for collective action to reverse the undesirable trends. The disasters are rendering political and socio-economic sustainability structures more and more vulnerable, for which policies are required to coordinate resources, peoples and institutions to redress.
Socio-environmental conflicts largely emerge from various factors, including how people interact with, use or connect to nature. High utilisation of poisonous chemicals in agriculture, industry and exploitative surface mining for minerals come into mind. The formulation and implementation of policy interventions to deal with such the development issues has yielded mosaic of successes. Very often this has happened because scientific data to inform reframing of the interventions is deficient or lacking. In the present and the future, data derived from scientific means is necessary and funding to get it must be vehemently stressed. But, well-trained experts with excellent and deeper understanding of sustainability sciences are also needed to contribute to redesigning fresh policies that eliminate the barriers of faith, poverty, gender, politics, carbons and cultures to make society friendly, enjoyable and all-inclusive. The obvious fact is that there is a very wide gap between science and policy from a sustainability context. This is affecting how to systematically nurture, build and sustain society in which the needs of all persons are readily available. As sustainable society in which sheer human suffering is done away with among the marginalised groups like children, aged, disabled persons and less educated women in deprived communities! This vacuum must be filled over time if society is to become sustainable, and continue in meeting everyone’s needs, interests and lives. Gross systemic failures of relationships, leaderships and other ingredients needed for stimulating human cooperation to foster sustainability can be resolved if the interconnectedness of science and policy is recognised by training and utilising experts with a stronger grounding in sustainability-related sciences. The role and ever importance of scientists in the ‘futures of cities’ have been eloquently stressed (McPhearson et al., 2016). For industries of all kinds that pose severe pollution threats, ‘chemical leasing’ (Dunjić, 2016) is one of the innovative science-business-policy model that can be employed to decouple emissions from industrial processes while at the same time giving higher returns on industrial investments socio-economically and environmentally. Carbons are lowered as well.
Science plays key role in explicit understanding of the processes, changes and events that lead to creating the development challenges I mentioned above and those that I did not mention due to limited space. It also aids appreciation of the consequences if solutions for the challenges are not resolved. The practical solutions that are required; and the ways to sustain the solutions tend to be convincing when the actors in the solution chain are mobilised using tested scientific modelling, tools and value-checks. Most often science unearth information, which is hidden from the views of policymakers, decision-makers, governors and leaders as well as the ordinary citizens in the informal economies. It thus helps to establish verifiable evidences to guide policy decisions and choices of lifting people from informal to formal economies. This is one of the obvious ways by which science is strongly linked to, and crucial for connecting society, economy and environment through policy. From this angle, sustainability science emphasises the ‘triple-bottom-line’ – respecting all disciplines, harnessing resources and streamlining institutional roadmaps. Policy is interconnected to science by making it possible to get the vision of sustainability to materialise on the ground.
Certainly, society operates in a system that involves multitude of physical structures, institutions, cultures, and norms that must be knowledgeably managed to bring in high-quality sustainable development gains. This implies policy structures constituting society must be built to function in systemic manners before the needs of people can be met quickly and sustainably. In the same way, science must meet the needs of society by revealing the realistic data that goes into weaving the social structures. What it means in real-life is that science must provide evidence-based information to enrich policy; and policy, on the other hand, must promote scientific services towards finding solutions for problems confronting humanity. Policy facilitates how to translate scientific inventions to equitably impact on every segment of society in all areas of economic and environmental improvements.
With a growing ambition of the global community to resolve some of the world’s pressing issues through international agendas such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, New Urban Agenda, and the Paris Agreement, the need to comprehend the interdependencies, interactions and multi-connectedness of science and policy in driving sustainability is substantiated. From the local to global levels, the significance of science and policy in getting to the level of human cooperation for social advancement is so clear. One can think of carbon risks which are not controlled by national borders or international boundaries. Carbon risks are happening everywhere and troubling people at varying scales and intensities. “Common sense” is useful in everyday life but the vast differences in human interests, aspirations, values and geographical locations suggest that policy cannot be vaguely formulated without incorporating scientific evidences in the policy towards tackling the economic and socio-environmental challenges like the carbon impacts. Ignoring science to engage in large-scale development has the propensity to cause disillusionment, discontent and misery. Thus, the methods and procedures for delivering social innovations at various levels will require well-blended policy and scientific instruments. Imagine the oscillating nature of social and climate tipping elements manipulating or fast-forcing the earth’s climate systems to reach tipping points!
We cannot succeed in realising a just and sustainable society in the medium to long run without utilising integrated tools, knowledges and skills drawn from both science and policy firmly grounded in sustainability sciences. In connecting science to policy vice versa, the element of human values for getting to human cooperation must remain high on sustainability agendas.
- Dunjić, B. 2016. Innovative business models (chemical Leasing). A paper presented at the Green Industry course – Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development. UNIDO Institute for Capacity Development/Central European University, Hungary, July 19, 2016.
- McPhearson T.; Parnell S.; Simon D.; Gaffney O.; Elmqvist T.; Bai X.; Roberts D.; Revi A., 2016. Scientists must have a say in the future of cities. Nature 538: 165-166.