Jean Monnet Module proposal selected by the European Commission

Exciting news! The European Commission’s Education, Audiovisuals and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) has selected a Jean Monnet Module proposal I wrote with Prof. Riccardo Pavoni (University of Siena) for co-funding under the Erasmus+ Programme (Call EAC/A03/2016).

Among the 833 proposals received by the EACEA for Jean Monnet teaching and research activities, 141 were selected for funding. The project activities will now be hosted by the Department of Law of the University of Siena and implemented over the course of three years.

EULawSD seeks to explore the ever-expanding corpus of European Union Law relating to sustainable development, with an emphasis on its interactions with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations in September 2015. The module will consist of an annual 40-hour course primarily aimed at students of the Single Cycle Degree Programme in Law at the University of Siena, but also open to students from the Political Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences departments. The course will be complemented, on an annual basis, by a keynote opening lecture, a final expert roundtable, a dedicated website, and a series of webinars.

I am honored to be a co-recipient of such a prestigious grant, among the hundreds of applications received by the EACEA, and I look forward to my involvement as manager of the module’s activities despite my distance from Siena.

The full list of selected proposals can be found here.


SDSN Youth at the SDSN Mediterranean Conference

A few hours removed from the wrap-up of the 2nd SDSN Mediterranean Conference, I want to take the opportunity to congratulate all current members of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Youth Network on doing a wonderful job.

Schermata 2015-03-07 alle 16.44.35

A few hours removed from the wrap-up of the 2nd SDSN Mediterranean Conference, I want to take the opportunity to congratulate all current members of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Youth Network on doing a wonderful job to prepare and cover our session on “The Role of Youth for Sustainable Development“, not just the keynote speakers (Dario Bettaccini, Fulya Kundaklar, Şila Temizel) but many others who could not be present and whom I’d like to thank heartily for working tirelessly on the launch of this initiative and allowing me to be part of such a wonderful team for the foreseeable future, including (but not limited to) Siamak S Loni, Tim Dobermann, Michelle Huang, Melissa Peppin, and Ian Lieblich.

I also look forward to engage with executives and leaders of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and in particular those who attended the Conference (Maria Cortés-Puch, Holger Kuhle and Achim Dobermann), so as to make sure that SDSN Youth and SDSN work in close cooperation to support the adoption of a bold post-2015 agenda in New York later this year.

Finally, I applaud the organizing team from the Università degli Studi di Siena, who backed the idea of a session on youth involvement in the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals and accomplished the feat of managing a perfectly successful event here in Siena.

P.S.: As SDSN Mediterranean unveiled the outcome document of the Conference, the “Siena Declaration for Sustainable Mediterranean Agriculture and Food Systems”, I welcome the inclusion of many poignant references to the role of Universities and Youth for sustainable development, which -I hope- is also due to the glaring success of our session on the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Youth Network’s proposal:

“4. UNIVERSITIES can play a pivotal role in tackling MED Agri-Food challenges not only through research and promotion of solutions, but also through education. They should provide students with sustainable development knowledge and skills useful for promoting principles and tools of integrated sustainability, awareness on the meaning and role of SDGs and SD research and execution. These skills are relevant also in the labour market. This last aspect is of particular importance for the Mediterranean area and, above all, for Mediterranean Agri-Food businesses (especially the smallest ones), which often suffer from a serious lack in expertise and knowledge on sustainable development principles and practices.

5. STUDENTS should be at the core of future sustainable development initiatives. Students at any stage of their career should be made aware of the role of Sustainable Development principles and tools, including SDGs, to tackle Mediterranean environmental and societal challenges.

6. BUSINESS world should adopt a different approach to sustainability. Recent data and statistics highlighted once again the leading role of the Agri-Food sector in Mediterranean economies, as well as on youth employment. To deal with new needs and contribute to implement SDGs, however, businesses should take advantage of the opportunities given by research on sustainable agriculture and business models.”


Dispatches from the ground. February 2015

Hi everyone,

sorry for the long hiatus I took from updating this blog. A whirlwind of academic deadlines and personal issues kept me from being active as much as I would have liked but hey, there are a bunch of good news that I am going to share with you during the next few weeks, so be on the lookout for them!

As of now, I am glad to announce that for the last three months I have been teaming up with a wonderful group of individuals from around the world (including fellow Italian and friend/colleague Dario Bettaccini) to work on the launch of SDSN Youth, the Global Youth Chapter of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. This is going to be an extremely interesting experience, and whatever position I end up assuming within the project, I am enthusiastic about the idea of promoting the role of youth for sustainable development in the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals, which are currently being discussed in preparation of their eventual adoption (due September 2015).

Regarding the operations of SDSN, it is also fitting to remind you that the University of Siena (the SDSN Regional Center for the Mediterranean Region) is hosting the 2nd SDSN for Mediterranean Conference, themed “Solutions for Agri-Food Sustainability in the Mediterranean” and featuring the likes of Jeffrey D. Sachs and Achim Dobermann, on March 5-6. On that occasion, a special session will be held to celebrate the global launch of SDSN Youth, something that -it goes without saying- makes me particularly proud of the work we have been conducting in the last two years to establish Siena as a hub for sustainability and youth engagement with the help of Professors, students and the Administration as a whole. I will definitely keep you updated on the programme (which you can nonetheless find here: http://www.sdsnmedconf.unisi.i) and be available for questions on student participation through my e-mail address

In the meantime, thanks for having me again.


The Social Dimension of Environmental Sustainability (document)

Poster of the seminar “Health, Social Inclusion, Sustainable Development” (Siena, 20 May 2014)

On May 20, 2014 I had the pleasure of featuring as a speaker along with Tommaso Diegoli (Project Manager of MED Solutions) and Gianluca Breghi (Managing Director of Fondazione Sclavo) during the seminar “Health, Social Inclusion and Sustainable Development. Global and Regional Challenges“, co-hosted by Greening USiena and Fondazione Sclavo in partnership with MED Solutions and the University of Siena. As the title of the event suggests, covered topics included the progress on the MDGs, the transition to the SDGs, the push to achieve health for all, social sustainability as a pillar of sustainable development, perspectives for the Mediterranean region and so on.

My talk (“The Social Dimension of Environmental Sustainability”), in particular, focused on the mutual relationship that exists between social and environmental sustainability, analyzing the importance of a healthy bio-physical environment for livelihoods and societies and presenting examples of such an interaction throughout areas ranging from climate change to the plight of natural resources during armed conflicts.

Below you can find slides from my presentation (in pdf format), the content of which mainly relied on data and reports from UNSDSN, UNDP, UNEP, IPCC, FAO, TEEB. It was divided in the following sections:

a) Section 1: What exactly is social sustainability?
b) Section 2: Why “the social dimension of environmental sustainability”?
c) Section 3: Interactions: the Millennium Development Goals
d) Section 4: Interactions: the impact of climate change
e) Section 5: Interactions: armed conflicts and violence
f) Section 6: Conclusions

Download the document here:

Comments on Goal 9 of the UNSDSN draft report Indicators for SDGs

An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development
SDSN Leadership Council, An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development (2013)

After the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network unveiled its Action Agenda for Sustainable Development in June 2013, suggesting ten operational priorities for the post-2015 development agenda and proposing 10 goals (the so-called Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs) with 30 associated targets to replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) , intensive work has been conducted by the 12 Thematic Groups in order to identify proper indicators to help monitor and assess progress in the implementation of those goals. The result of this process is Indicators for SDGs, a new draft report which “presents an integrated framework of 100 indicators within the framework of the goals and targets proposed by the SDSN”. Public consultation has been encouraged at all levels to improve the draft version, and the deadline for submitting comments extended to March 28, 2014. You can find the draft report here (but also tweet about it using #indicators2015).

In this broader context, University of Siena has decided to take part in the discussion, drawing up a document of suggestions and observations aimed at integrating the SDSN report, to which professors and researchers within the Ne.S.So. board all contributed according to their respective areas of interest, and to which I also participated with a set of proposals focused on possible indicators for Goal 9 (Secure Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity, and Ensure Good Management of Water, Oceans, Forests and Natural Resources). The comments I wrote were included with some modifications and cuts in the submitted form, as a result of the excellent assembly work completed by Prof. Simone Bastianoni and his group (Ecodynamics); nonetheless, I am pleased to share an extended version of my personal contribution (one that includes some background and a few explanations on the points made), as we all wait for the final version of ‘Indicators for SDGs’ which will hopefully take our proposals into account. Don’t forget, I look forward to hear from you about it.

1. Goal 9 of the SDGs

Within the proposed Sustainable Development Goals and Targets, Goal 9 is concerned with “securing ecosystem services and biodiversity, and ensuring good management of water, oceans, forest and natural resources”. If pursued effectively, this goal basically requires that “biodiversity, marine and terrestrial ecosystems of local, regional, and global significance are inventoried, managed, and monitored to ensure the continuation of resilient and adaptive life support systems and to support sustainable development”, in accordance with the Aichi Biodiversity targets. At the same time, it implies that “water and other natural resources are managed sustainably and transparently to support inclusive economic and human development”1.

Goal 9 is also partitioned in 3 separate but interconnected targets:

Target 9a) Ensure resilient and productive ecosystems by adopting policies and legislation that address drivers of ecosystem degradation, and requiring individuals, businesses and governments to pay the social cost of pollution and use of environmental services.*

Target 9b) Participate in and support regional and global arrangements to inventory, monitor, and protect biomes and environmental commons of regional and global significance and curb trans-boundary environmental harms, with robust systems in place no later than 2020.

Target 9c) All governments and businesses commit to the sustainable, integrated, and transparent management of water, agricultural land, forests, fisheries, mining, and hydrocarbon resources to support inclusive economic development and the achievement of all SDGs.*

As stressed by the Action Agenda for Sustainable Development, a specific goal devoted to the protection of biodiversity and ecosystem services it provides is justified by the fact that “ecosystems, such as rainforests, mangroves, coral reefs, wetlands, drylands, and grasslands underpin human life on Earth, through provisioning services (e.g. food, clean water, energy, medicines), regulating services (e.g. climate, air quality, pollination, coastal storm protection), support services (e.g. soil formation), and cultural services (e.g. educational, religious, tourism)”2, 3. Today, such ecosystems are almost everywhere experiencing processes of heavy degradation, caused by pollution, eutrophication, climate change, overharvesting of resources and so on, while biodiversity loss is occurring at an unprecedented rate in the history of life on earth; a profound modification in the management and governance of the way mankind interacts with these support systems is thus needed to ensure sustainable development challenges are met throughout the four traditional dimensions of this concept (see fig.1).

Fig.1: Contribution of Goal 9 of the SDGs to the four dimensions of sustainable development. Adapted from SDSN Leadership Council (2013) An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development

However, it is not to be forgotten that substantial linkages exist between Goal 9 and the other SDGs, and especially Goal 6 (Improve Agriculture Systems and Raise Rural Prosperity), Goal 7 (Empower Inclusive, Productive and Resilient Cities) and Goal 8 (Curb Human-Induced Climate Change and Ensure Sustainable Energy), which will also have to be put into action in order to achieve development within planetary boundaries and fully secure biodiversity and ecosystems, as a consequence. This is something I consider in my comments (see infra).

2. Indicators for Goal 94

The SDSN draft report on the indicators for the post-2015 development agenda proposes, inter alia, the following indicators:

– for Target 9a: Ocean Health Index at the national level (more info here), Red List Index by country and major species group (here), Protected Areas Overlays with Biodiversity (here), Area of Forest Under Sustainable Forest Management as a Percent of Forest Area (here). More indicators that apply to Target 9a are covered under other Targets, i.e. Annual change in forest area and land under cultivation (Target 6b), while additional tools are left for countries to consider, such as with regard to the implementation of spatial planning strategies for coastal and marine areas or the use of destructive fishing techniques.

– for Target 9bOcean Health Index at the regional level, Red List Index for internationally traded species, Proportion of Fish Stocks Within Safe Biological Limits (see here), Protected Area Overlays with Biodiversity (regional and global); additional indicators for countries may include Abundance of Invasive Alien Species and Area of Coral Reef Ecosystems and Percentage Live Cover.

– for Target 9c: Proportion of Total Water Resources Used, Publication of Resource-Based Contracts, Access to Land in Rural Areas, Publication of All Payments Made to Governments Under Resource Contracts; additional indicators may include Improved Land Ownership and Governance of Forests.

As my main areas of interest currently lie within the Targets 9a-b, my observations are mostly concerned with indicators provided for those two.

3. Comments on Goal 9
3.1 Factoring habitat loss in 

Fig.2: Global urbanization and biodiversity hotspots, 2025. Orange dots are population in millions, light/dark blue patterns are biodiversity hotspots.
Fig.2: Global urbanization and biodiversity hotspots, 2025. (projected) Orange dots are population in millions, light/dark blue patterns are biodiversity hotspots. Source: UN & Conservation International 2012

Habitat loss, mostly caused by agricultural expansion, urbanization and infrastructure development, today accounts for the primary cause of species extinction and thus of biodiversity loss5. In order to secure ecosystem services it is then vital to simultaneously track down the drivers of habitat destruction; while Target 6b already provides for and indicator of the Annual Change in Forest Area and Land Under Cultivation, there is no mention in the report of the need to monitor urban expansion and other infrastructure development, with the former “occurring fast in areas adjacent to biodiversity hotspot and faster in low-elevation, biodiversity-rich coastal zones than in other areas”6, with more than 60 percent of the area projected to be urban in 2030 that has yet to be built7 and the latter also representing a foremost threat for habitats,  migratory species and genetic diversity.

Such an indicator (i.e. Annual Change in Wild and/or Protected Habitats and Land Under Urban and Infrastructure Development) could be made object of disaggregation at the regional and national level to better cope with different geographical and demographic contexts (i.e. infrastructure development in developing countries might in some cases call for a specific attention to balancing human rights such as access to electricity, water supplies, sanitation etc. and conservation considerations).

3.2 Fighting Wildlife Crime to Protect Biodiversity 

The goal of securing ecosystem services through the adoption of policies that address drivers of ecosystem degradation could require a parallel commitmment to protect biodiversity and wildlife per se, in order to be fully effective. Today, wildlife crime within the international trade of endangered species still represents one of the key drivers of biodiversity loss, as does legal overharvesting, with the two respectively believed to be worth $160bn and from $10 to 20bn dollars in 20108; adopting the Red List Index as an indicator, while necessary to monitor the species’ biological status, does not monitor the implementation of policies to safeguard or improve that same status as well.

The development of specific indicators could then provide a direct measure of the level of compliance that exists within the international community: as a suggestion, they might include the Volume of Funds (in the forms of international aid, fraction of national budget, or support provided for IGOs such as INTERPOL) utilized by governments to fight wildlife crime and implement international policies, the Annual Variation in Seizures of illegal biological material and the Number of Reported Cases of IUU Fishing in the High-Seas. In addition, as biodiversity hotspots in developing countries are often threatened by armed conflicts9, Goal 9 could ‘borrow’ the symmetrical indicator presented for Goal 1 (Refugees and internal displacement caused by conflict and violence) in the form of an indicator that measures Populations Negatively Affected by Civil War and other forms of violence.

3.3. Assessing environmental change on a warming planet

Fig.3: Per Cent of Live Corals. Source: CBD (2010) Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, adapted from Butchart et. al (2010) Science
Fig.3: Per Cent of Live Corals. Source: CBD (2010) Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, adapted from Butchart et. al (2010) Science

The contribution of climate change to biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation is a matter of primary importance10, expected to threaten with extinction approximately one quarter or more of all species on land by the year 205011, yet almost impossible to quantify effectively, especially at the global level and on a limited timescale. Nonetheless, at the regional and national level, where impacts of warmer temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns etc. are usually heavily studied and monitored, the development of specific indicators could help better assess the relation between those two issues and determine the extent to which ecosystems get modified overtime.

As a suggestion, Shifts in Species Range and/or Trophic Level (with a special focus on keystone species and, in general, on target species for which higher-quality data and assessment methods exist) caused by modifications endured by the food web or by other forms of environmental change attributable to climatic variations (i.e. coral bleaching events, widespread mortality, effects upon shell-forming organisms12) alone or in conjunction with other drivers, could provide the basis for such and indicator13.

3.4. Monitoring sustainability in global fisheries

Fig.3: Proportion of Fish Stocks Within Safe Biological Limits. Source: FAO 2013
Fig.4: Proportion of Fish Stocks Within Safe Biological Limits. Source: FAO 2013

Indicator 83, which refers to the Proportion of Fish Stocks that are Within Safe Biological Limits, could be integrated through an evaluation of the Proportion of Fish Captures (out of the amount of total catches) that come from Sustainably Managed Stocks and/or Stocks that are Within Safe Biological Limits, to monitor the impact of sustainable practices/fisheries on global fisheries production (and not just biological status by itself). Additional indicators on the subject could include the Temporal Variation in Capacity-Enhancing Subsidies (that is, public subsidies of all forms that enhance vessels’  capacity to catch fish) destined to the fisheries sector, which amounted to 20bn dollars in 200914, a measurement of the Decline of Keystone Species caused by overfishing (also a cause of ecosystems degradation) and the Proportion of Seafood Converted into Fishmeal for Aquaculture out of global catches. The last indicator could be particularly needed in the future, as the worldwide increase in the production of carnivorous species has determined an increased use of fishmeal, fish oil and low-value fish in aquaculture15 which in turn results in increased pressure on targeted stocks and entails a net-loss in the amount of seafood available for human consumption.

It is to be noted that the portion of capture fisheries used to produce fishmeal will be about 17 percent by 202116, declining by 6 percent compared with the 2009–2011 average owing to the growing demand for fish for human consumption. However, in 2021 fishmeal production should be 15 percent higher compared with the 2009–2011 average16 (though almost 87 percent of the increase will derive from improved use of fish waste), a rise which causes further concerns on the sustainability of a supply chain that is already facing a dramatic decline of global fish stocks.


On March 14, Thematic Group 8 of the SDSN (Forests, Oceans, Biodiversity, and Ecosystem Services) has launched a public consultation on its first draft report. The deadline has been set for April 14; you can find out more and read the current version here.


* Targets marked need to be specified at country or sub-national level
1 SDSN Leadership Council (2013) An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development; p.31
2 SDSN Leadership Council, ibid.; p.21
3 See the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment for more details
4 SDSN Leadership Council (2014) Indicators for SDGs draft report; pp. 110-121
5 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) Ecosystems and Human Well Being: The Biodiversity Synthesis (World Resources Institute, Washington DC); p.10
6 Elmqvist et al. (eds.) (2013) Urbanization, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: Challenges and Opportunities: A Global Assessment; p.2
7 Elmqvist et al. (eds.) (2013) ibid.; p.410
8 cited by Gillespie (2011) Conservation, Biodiversity and International Law (Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.); p.196
9 Hanson et al. (2009) Warfare in Biodiversity Hotspots (Conservation Biology. Vol 23, Issue 3); pp.578-587
10 for a general overview see CBD (2010) Global Biodiversity Outlook 3; pp.8-13
11 Malcolm et al. (2006) Global Warming and Extinctions of Endemic Species from Biodiversity Hotspots (Conserv Biol. Vol 20, Issue 2); pp.538–548
12 IPCC (2007) Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability (Cambridge University Press)
13 For an example of linkages between climate change and alteration in the food web, see Bond and Lavers (2014) Climate change alters the trophic niche of a declining apex marine predator (Glob Change Biol, unedited)
14 Sumaila et al. (2010) A bottom-up re-estimation of global fisheries subsidies (Journal of Bioeconomics 12); pp.201-225
15 Rana et al. (2009) Impact of rising feed prices on aquafeeds and aquaculture production (FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 541. Rome, FAO)
16 FAO (2012) The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012; p.189

Greening USiena e la Programmazione Triennale dell’Università degli Studi di Siena

10007514_424970114314902_166128786_nNell’ambito della programmazione triennale che gli atenei italiani sono tenute a presentare periodicamente al MIUR, l’Università degli Studi di Siena ha deciso di perseguire alcune linee di indirizzo, comprendenti una particolare attenzione ai temi dello sviluppo sostenibile. Il network di cui sono coordinatore ha partecipato alla discussione aperta dal Rettore Angelo Riccaboni, sottoponendo agli uffici competenti due progetti da condividere (l’uno relativo all’istituzione di un Sustainability Office, l’altro alla creazione di una Biblioteca Online dello Sviluppo Sostenibile) e contestualmente redigendo “Una Visione Strategica di Sostenibilità @UniSiena“, elenco di proposte concrete che speriamo di implementare e/o far implementare nel tempo con la collaborazione di tutti i soggetti operanti all’interno dell’Università stessa.

A questo link potete trovare il nostro documento: