Published on May 29, 2008
SRDTOOLS WP4: Review of Trade-offs and Critical Thresholds Critical thresholds and how they fit into regional development and regional sustainable development assessment Patrick ten Brink Senior Fellow and Head of Brussels Office, IEEP Dissemination Workshop 13 February 2007 Brussels SRDTOOLS: Methods and tools for evaluating the impact of cohesion policies on sustainable regional development (SRD). DGResearch Contract no:502485
Presentation Structure 1. What are critical thresholds? 2. Why worry about critical thresholds and trends? 3. Critical thresholds/trends - guidance for the evaluation methodology 4. Insights from the case studies 5. Where they can critical thresholds be particularly usefully applied ? • We focus on environmental critical thresholds, but the concept applies also to social and economic – eg employment levels, education levels, competitiveness, economic viability etc.
Part 1 What are Critical Thresholds? ‘There are thresholds which cannot be crossed without endangering the basic integrity of the system. Today we are close to many of these thresholds; we must be ever mindful of endangering the survival of life on earth.’ The Brundtland report (1987)
Examples of Thresholds • Modification of ecosystems (eg wetlands drying out >> grass lands) • Eutrophication and oxygen loss - Algal blooms and fish kills • Acidification (destruction of forests) • Habitat size and species survival (too small – eg through fragmentation – to support species) • Invasive Species (invasives become established/dominant) • Salt levels and soil quality (no agricultural activity above certain salinities) • Change of status of resources (eg drinkable to undrinkable water) • Water that needs no pre-treatment to water that does (higher costs) • Loss of services – ex forest unable to stop mud slide / landslide • Loss of permafrost compromises roads, houses
What are ‘Thresholds’ in Critical Thresholds? ‘Critical thresholds’ - a small ‘pressure’ – eg additional pollution load - can lead to non-linear change to a system and a critical result i.e. where there are major implications, often irreversible. ‘Threshold’ has a broader meaning, and refers to the value of some parameter of a system which signals a change to it, i.e. the parameter signals a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference (as far as the system or system function is concerned) on either side of the threshold. Links to critical loads concept: a critical load for any given ecosystem is the maximal exposure to an anthropogenic activity (eg pollution) that an ecosystem can adjust to without suffering long term damage Warner-Merl 1998
When is it ‘Critical’ ? ‘Critical’ = factor being examined is essential for system sustainability or integrity, i.e. it is some aspect of the system which • makes the system what it is, or • enables it to function as it does and • offer the services that it does. Eg. Population densities – below a certain point, species collapses (fish stock – not just an environmental problem) Eg. pH of soil or water and ability to sustain life (important to agriculture) Eg. Soil stability and water retention from forest cover Eg. Water content and nature of habitat (wetland) Yes, not all will agree that ‘critical’ is ‘Critical’. There can be a critical threshold for a local issue that may be regarded as overall not critical for the decision at hand given other concerns – at least it is clear.
Critical Thresholds and related terms Thresholds responses Examples Natural critical •Desertification starting thresholds •Salination of water bodies •Oxygen levels in water and species viability •Soils critical loads and use (eg ph and different species) Science established •Water unsuitable for bathing critical thresholds •Water temperature and species viability – eg corals •Oxygen levels and species viability •‘Acceptable’ exposure levels to particulates, SOx, NOx etc Political responses •Aspirational targets: CHP, Renewables, Biofuels •National binding targets, non binding for locality or region – recycling rates, CO2 emissions, composting rates •Water critical load targets of ANC=0 Legal responses with •Emission limit values: SOx, NOx, particulates (LCPD) legal thresholds •Environmental Quality standards: Ozone, NOx •Noise – levels at the fence, night-time. •Share of renewables (some countries) •Use of asbestos in buildings Stakeholder issues / •Protection of landscape value - historic woodlands, forests particular thresholds •Incinerator or landfill location – NIMBY (not in my back yard) •Location of radioactive waste storage location •Emissions below legal limit levels but above acceptable social levels – e.g. odour, noise
Part 2 Critical thresholds - aims of using critical thresholds in our analysis
Critical trends and thresholds – why do something? • Critical thresholds have not been sufficiently integrated into thinking and decision making in the context of regional development. • Decision-making explicitly or implicitly accepts trade-offs across economic, social, human and nature domains. • Some of these trade-offs are not sufficiently understood and decisions as to what is appropriate can be erroneous where information is lacking or not transparent. • The explicit consideration of critical thresholds and critical trends in regional development – in planning, in ex ante and ex post assessments – can help avoid some mistaken decisions and inappropriate loss of natural capital. • As a result, it may avoid decisions which compromise our or others’ welfare, and which in places undermine the health of communities, and of society.
What can we aim for? • Better ex post evaluation and hence better understanding of what the result of choices/ policies/programmes/projects actually was and hence learn lessons for the future. • Better ex ante assessments to help ensure that policies, programmes and projects better reflect SD and build better on the needs and possibilities of the region. • Better regional planning (especially if a SWOT that incorporates critical trends and thresholds can be used).
Aim of the Work on Critical Thresholds A. The work is of potential importance to regional authorities who wish to understand their (region’s) position vis-à-vis critical thresholds: a. What and where they are b. Where they have been crossed c. Where are they close to crossing them d. Where are they likely to be crossed given current developments e. What trade-offs have occurred – and which are not in line with sustainable development and which ones are. Some cases of win-loss are ok – eg if WIN-loss (under weak sustainability) Use of thresholds can help identify cases where win-loss is really a win-LOSS or indeed loss-loss
Aim of the Work on Critical Thresholds (cont.) B. Help evaluate and plan their policies and programmes (ex ante assessment)- in other words: where will current plans / policies / programmes / projects: a. (Be likely to) lead to critical thresholds being crossed? b. Lead to improvement vis-à-vis critical thresholds (i.e. move away from ‘danger zone’)? c. Allow other actions (flanking measures etc) to be taken to reduce the threat of crossing thresholds? d. Cross a (non-critical) threshold and yet still be ‘acceptable’ given other benefits – in other words where are the trade- off’s acceptable (and why)? And, of course, where did programmes, themes and project have what impact (same questions) (ex post assessment)?
Part 3 Critical thresholds - the tools / evaluation methodology
Methodology: Steps in the evaluation of the State of SD of the region (including use of critical thresholds) 1. Identify the stock and flow indicators the four capitals and sustainable development. 2. Describe the region in terms of 4 capitals using appropriate stock and flow indicators. 3. Work out what the developments of the key indicators are over time. 4. Analyse the synergies and trade-offs between the 4 capitals and general historical developments. 5. Assess what the critical thresholds are for the region. 6. Assess which ones have been breached, and which ones are in danger of being breached 7. and what level of danger – imminent, medium term, long term.
Operationalising Critical Thresholds Use of traffic light scoring Past System: use of + and -, complemented by indicators and prose New System proposed: Table 1: Scoring: Traffic light system for critical thresholds State of the environment relating to the critical threshold improving (eg regenerative capacity greater than emissions, or other actions having a positive result) Sufficiently close to a critical threshold that serious attention should be paid; still possible to avoid breach of critical threshold (potentially critical trend) Critical threshold breached or imminently breached - attention needed to avoid further problems, to plan for consequences of loss of threshold (eg adaptation), and to compensate losses (eg investment in ‘replacement site’ or financial compensation) etc No impact or not applicable
Operationalising Critical Trends For some issues the case studies will look at critical thresholds and for others it makes sense to look at critical trends. These can also be represented by the traffic light system or coloured arrows. Note that in some cases there can be several indicators, combining general indicators, critical threshold based indicators and critical trend based indicators to describe the situation. Whatever bundle of indicators is most useful can be used. Positive trend – moving away from a threshold (green arrow) Trend heading towards a threshold - serious attention should be paid; still possible to avoid breach of critical threshold (potentially critical trend) (amber arrow) Critical trend - e.g. such that critical threshold will inevitably be breached - attention needed to avoid further problems, to plan for consequences of loss of threshold (e.g. adaptation), and to compensate losses (e.g. investment in ‘replacement site’ or financial compensation) etc (red arrow) No impact or not applicable (white arrow)
s d es/ on) T.I. T.P. U.R. S.M. 1999) 1999) 1999) 2006) W.M. (1994- (1994- (1991- (1994- (2000- 93 and project Measur + + (+) (+) (+) Economic growth and balanced economic growth 0 0 0 0 + Improved accessibility of d Capital external markets and internal 0 0 0 + (+) Levels of education and vocational qualifications ) + + + + (+ Employment levels (Youth Capital Selecte Manufacture Human ) ) 0 0 0 and women) (+ (+ Entrepreneurship R+D investments 0 0 0 0 0 + + + + + Links between public and private leading to innovation ) ) ) 0 + (+ (+ (+ Survival of companies 0 0 0 + Social Capital (+) Income disparities and disparities in quality of life ) ? 0 0 0 (+ Employment durability - - + + + Land use - - 0 + + Nature conservation Capital Natural - 0 + + + Resource management 0 + → ← ← Spatial balance versus concentration and spin offs 0 0 0 ← ← Eco efficiency and economic Trade-Offs growth in rural communities 0 0 + + (+) Diversification of rural communities and economic 0 0 0 + (+) Develop cooperation with Win-wins Africa and Portugal - 0 + + + Eco-efficiency and economic
Integrating critical thresholds Selected Planned Natural Capital Natural Capital Measures/ Spend – last study evaluation – SRDTools approach projects (EU funding) approach in Million Euros Land use – eg forest Land use – eg forest Nature conservation Nature conservation Climate Climate cover cover Transport 2123 infrastructure - - - (1036) (2000-2006)
Integrating critical thresholds Overviews, aggregates and details • Note that evaluating a programme or a priority area / theme that builds on a wide range of projects will not necessarily lead to a single aggregate indicator • – so there can be a bundle of indicators and ‘traffic lights’. • Note that some green and yellow lights at the project level can cancel each other out when considering the programme effect. • However, red lights can in principle not be ‘cancelled out’ given their importance. • Important not to go for single average and the benefit is seeing all the issues. • See also the ‘deliberative matrix’ tool.
Part 4: Critical thresholds - Insights from the Case Studies - Questions they covered 1. Which critical thresholds, or trends, if any, can be identified in relation to the key trade-offs and related indicators in the region? 2. Are any of the thresholds being breached already? 3. Are any of the thresholds threatened by critical trends? 4.What stakeholder acceptance or resistance is there to existing breaches and to critical trends and potential breach of critical thresholds? 5. Has there been a policy response to these critical trends/thresholds? 6. Is the policy response adequate from the viewpoint of different stakeholders? 7. What further policy responses or investments are needed to recover from breaches, or to avoid a breach where there are critical trends? 8. Can the issue be adequately addressed at a regional level by regional decision- makers, or is a different level of approach needed (e.g. global, national)? 9. Finally, are there other critical thresholds or trends in the region, but that are not relevant to the key trade-offs that were identified?
Cases study: East Midlands The key issue investigated was the impact of increased housing developments on region’s water resources. Critical trends were identified in relation to: • falling ground water levels, • increasing pollution levels, and • increasing flood risk. There was already evidence that water consumption thresholds were being breached in some areas. The Environment Agency - the region has a ‘vulnerable water environment’ + ‘there is little further indigenous resource that can be developed without compromising the water environment’ Source Medhurst J and House S of GHK
Cases study: East Midlands • A risk map has been developed by the Environment Agency • to highlight areas where new development could put pressure on the waste treatment infrastructure. • The map shows that there are a number of Sewage Treatment Works that are in the ‘high’ risk category, in terms of the pollution capacity (BOD risk) and flow risk (capacity of river to hold higher volumes). • These are particularly concentrated in the West of the region. Source Medhurst J and House S of GHK
Cases study: CR: Prague & Urban Sprawl Type of capital Critical trends local regional national concerned man-made road system capacity / o/r r o Natural noise load / o g g/o Natural dust and smog emission load / o g g/o man-made, natural traffic congestions / o/r r g man-made, natural individual automobile o o g conveyance man-made, natural change of the compact character o o o of the city man-made, natural transformation of outer urban o o o areas natural, human change in land use o g g Source Blažek J. et al (2006)
Cases study: Prague – some key insights • with respect to the nature of identified critical trends it was hard to set critical thresholds in terms of precise figures; the least complicated situation appeared to be regarding natural capital • as fundamental it should be seen the identification of trends that are threaten breaking critical thresholds (e.g. critical trends related to road system capacity) • critical thresholds would differ either on various geographical levels or even within the certain geographical level • critical thresholds are having diverse relevancy or significance on different geographical levels Source Blažek J. et al (2006)
Cases study: Poland - Lubuskie Voivodship •At Lake Slawskie: large-scale intensive agricultural production, including animal farms, butchery and meat industry. •The lake >> increasingly polluted - from 1997 to 2004 overgrown with algae. •Historically - lake a valuable tourist destination, with 35-40 thousand tourists in the summer, supporting about 1,000 jobs in the tourist industry. •There has also been a fishing industry (25-30 tonnes of fish per year) and the lake is a refuge for species facing extinction: smooth snake, marsh tortoise, European bittern; it is also a breeding ground for 130 bird species. •Now a lot of this is lost due to pollution from the large scale intensive agriculture Water pollution Water quality regarded as third grade. red (natural capital) Species loss red Leads to reduction in Area being considered less attractive to orange manufactured capital tourism (tourism) orange Also affects human capital Risk of harmful impact on human health orange (and societal capital – recreation) orange Source Building on SRDTOOLS work by K.Olejniczak, A.Płoszaj, M.Smętkowski
Cases study: Andalucia Orange There are 4803 Hm3/p.a. of water supply and Water use and availability water use of 5454 Hm3/p.a. according to the – and depletion of Century XXI strategic assessment of Andalucía. /damage to groundwater There is a high exploitation of reserves in aquifers aquifers Red of 31% with a resulting drop in levels – there is increasing seawater intrusion in coastal aquifers compromising its quality, usability and increasing costs of pre-treatment. Also high use/regulation of water resources Orange (Guadalquivir 63%). There is increased urbanization of coastal areas, including the occupation of the coastal public Urbanization of coastal Red domain and the creation of an urban continuum. strip/unprotected areas – Critical threshold already breached (some say: Marbella) or inevitably breached (all agree bar some sceptics, usually with interests in being ‘sceptics’) at regional scale. Action should be taken. Damage to protected areas Orange In Andalucía 17.1% of the territory is natural areas. There is an important need to keep some levels of connectivity and integration of these areas to insure the conservation of biodiversity. Trend heading towards a threshold - serious attention should be paid, and policy measures should be investigated. Source Building on work by Josefina Maestu and Pedro Ortiz
Slovenia - Pomurje Regional Case Study Figure 4.4 : Spatial allocation of the main trade-offs in Pomurje Major settlements The main transport corridors (incl. 5th EU road corridor) Area 1: win-loss trade-offs: N+ x (H, S, M)- Area 2: win-loss trade-offs: N+ x (S, M)- Area 3: win-win trade-offs (possible win-loss with N): S+ x M+ (x N-) Area 4: win-win trade-offs (possible win-loss with N): H+ x M+ (x N-) Area 5: win-win trade-offs: (possible win-loss with N) S+ x N+ (x N-) Area 6: loss-loss trade-offs: N- x M- Area 7: loss-loss trade-offs: N- x (M; S)- Source Building on work by Romeo Varga and Colleagues
Part 5 Critical thresholds - Where can they usefully be applied? • SWOTs and regional development planning • Sustainable Development Assessment of the region • Ex post assessment – e.g. of previous policies, programmes, projects • Ex ante assessment e.g. of future policies, programmes, projects • Resource mapping and housing development decisions • Flood risk mapping
Background on SWOTs •In the UK, for example, most RDPs have SWOTs that include with environmental issues. •The RDPs tend to contain a section entitled ‘Environmental Profile’ or similar which outlines the environmental baseline, highlighting the environmental issues of importance to the regions. •In some cases a full environmental SWOT is included, however, usually there is a general SWOT for the whole programme. •In the general SWOTs consideration of the environment ranges from very limited with one or two elements mentioned to more comprehensive Objective 1 regions - UK, Merseyside (General SWOT) Outstanding wildlife habitats and coastal environment. Real potential to Distinctive and attractive physical environment. build on existing Objective 2 Regions - South Scotland’s (Environmental SWOT) system and High quality natural environment and landscapes strengthen it Good and expanding range of environment related recreational facilities A growing environmental business sector
SWOTs - should systematically look to integrate environmental critical trends and thresholds Strengths Weaknesses (a) what are the natural resources that (a) Are there any critical environmental already or potentially contribute (the issues in the region? ‘opportunities’) to society and its (b) Are there critical trends or thresholds human, social and economic (c) Can they be influenced positively or welfare and development, negatively by proposed projects or (b) ensure that these resources are policies? built upon or safeguarded and not (d) Issues there a need to compensate compromised by other policies or those facing the loss or invest to actions. develop/extend another site to substitute for the loss. Opportunities Threats (a) Are there any opportunities to ‘build (a) What threats are there to biodiversity on’ the natural capital? and eco-system services? (b)Are there any opportunities to protect (b) Where are we particularly close to a this natural capital? threshold? (c) Do developments / projects / policies threaten the natural capital and system viability?
Sustainable Development Assessment of the region • Identify the main developments in the region for the four capitals over the useful past - data (indicators for the region) and practical insight (cases). This could usefully build on any available SWOT analysis. • Identify general trade-offs made between the capitals. • Identify environmental issues for which trends and thresholds might be important or critical even – generally and specifically where there are insights on trade-offs. • Complement, or rather complete, the trade-off analysis with the use of critical thresholds – where are there critical thresholds/trends related to the trade-offs. • Synthesise insights as to where the regional development was sustainable or not – in terms of win-wins, trade-offs, and ‘SD-unacceptable’ trade-offs given critical thresholds and trends.
Evaluation of programmes and projects 1. Note the range of programmes and projects in the region and select an appropriate sample/case to explore in detail 2. Develop appropriate SD indicator set to allow analysis. 3. Analyse the impact of the programme or project on the 4 capitals and assess synergies (win-wins) and trade-offs. 4. Assess what the relevant critical thresholds are related to the programme/project at hand. 5. Analyse whether the programme/project has breached a critical threshold or not, or whether increasing the risk of this (and over what timescale likely problem is to arise) – for ex post assessment. 6. Where a critical threshold has been breached reconsider whether the trade-offs were acceptable or retrospectively should not have taken place (ie had the additional information been available). – for an ex post analysis
Ex post assessment – e.g. of previous policies, programmes, projects This would start with a normal SD assessment of the region, and in addition for the policy, programme or project of interest: • Identify how the policy, programme or project could in principle interact with the four capitals (generally, and specifically – for specific indicators; direct and indirect). This helps identify the scope of the analysis. • Identify which environmental issues were affected or potentially affected and identify which if any critical trends or thresholds exist. • Develop indicator data to assesses the trade-offs that relate to the policy, programme or project. • Complement with additional facts on trade-offs (soft knowledge, interviews with experts, those involved/affected, other evidence that might not be indicator based). • Explore whether there has been a contribution to a critical trend or critical threshold being breached. • Reassess the trade-offs. Were some wrongly characterised in the past? • Synthesise insights • Conclude which tradeoffs had appeared appropriate but upon reflection using critical thresholds were shown to have been inappropriate • Identify lessons for how this could be avoided in the future – processes, policies, evaluation styles.
Ex ante assessment e.g. of future policies, programmes, projects This could be a general ex ante assessment or a specific contribution to Impact Assessment depending on what is being assessed. In general a project would be covered by an EIA, plans and programmes by an SEA and policies by IA if EU level. • Develop (or identify if already existing) a vision of the development of the region and in particular the area related to the policy, programme and project. • Identify those issues across the four capitals that would directly or indirectly be relevant to the policy, programme and project being evaluated. • Ensure that those areas of sensitivity to the region are noted (e.g. from SWOT – either existing or carry one out; this should include policy and objectives analysis for the region) and clarify suitable indicators and other information and data needs (including stakeholders to be affected). • Develop a future reference case for developments of key indicators for the four capitals for the region, with a particular focus of those indicators or insights linked to critical trends or thresholds. • Explore the likely impacts of the policy, programme or project across the four capitals issues identified as potential/likely to be sensitive, paying special attention to critical trends and thresholds in the area. • Identify likely trade-offs, possible negative affects on critical thresholds and trends. • Assess whether trade-offs, if and where they exist, are warranted in light of additional insights on critical trends and thresholds.
Where can critical trends & thresholds be useful? • Ex ante, sustainable development (SD), and ex post assessments • Integration into SWOT analysis within regional planning activities • Water Framework Directive-related assessments and reporting • Strategic Environmental Assessments - the integration of critical thresholds into the SEA process would enable the decision-makers to identify any of the critical trends where trade-offs would not be acceptable • Flood risk and risk mapping for housing development • National SD assessments and reporting Basis of policy response – eg target setting; legislative setting (eg exposure thresholds (EQS), emissions limits (ELVs) Better explicit understanding of what the decisions really were/are Better decisions Less wasteful use of natural resources; more suitable protection Real stewardship, realised responsibility and sustainable development
SRDTOOLS WP4: Review of Trade-offs and Critical Thresholds Thank you – Questions? Where do you see the integration of critical thresholds as most useful? Patrick ten Brink firstname.lastname@example.org Dissemination Workshop 13 February 2007 Brussels See also http://www.srdtools.info/ for other outputs from the wide SRDTOOLS team