A sustainable future for the Mekong Delta region?

The UNU Media Studio was invited to attend the ProSPER.Net (Promotion of Sustainability in Postgraduate Education and Research) Young Researchers’ School in Ho Chi Minh City recently. ProSPER.Net is a network of higher education institutes in Asia and the Pacific, convened by the UNU Institute of Advanced Studies in Yokohama, working to integrate Sustainable Development into postgraduate courses and curricula.

Hosted by the RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) Vietnam campus, the purposes of the workshop were to “enhance the understandings of all participants in a range of key imperatives for sustainable development” and  “build research capacity in sustainable development within and across universities of the Asia- Pacific region.” The 15 or so emerging scholars received training on how to communicate their sustainability-related research to academic and wider audiences including through articles for Our World 2.0.

Sustainability, whatever that means

‘Sustainability’ and the phrase ’sustainable development’ would have to be two of the least defined, and most over-used terms in the English language. And although sharing local experiences about sustainability can be fruitful, discussions rarely give us a sense of the true costs and benefits of economic development models.

To their credit, the RMIT organisers arranged a bus tour of the burgeoning South Saigon Urban Development.The multi-million dollar partnership between Vietnamese authorities and construction companies from countries like Taiwan, Japan and China is a reflection of HCMC’s growing wealth and internationalisation. Office towers and high-rise apartments, new roads and utilities are being built on what was previously paddy fields and swamp land.

HCMC is predicted to experience significant sea-level rises as a result of climate change and also house an expanded population of 25 million by 2050. Therefore serious road, public transport, housing and disaster mitigation infrastructure will need to be developed to alleviate the problems of an already overcrowded and polluted city. But is a South Saigon development model catering to Vietnam’s elite and international investors sustainable? With no major accompanying public transport initiative underway, inhabitants will be living the high-octane automobile-dependent lifestyles of people in developed countries and increasingly, developing world megacities.

Good morning Starbucks

Beyond sustainability, what really struck me about these developments was how much of a Vietnamese character they lacked, especially in comparison to the uniquely Vietnamese hustle and bustle of HCMC.  Like growth-hubs in many Asian megacities, there is a predictable replication of western-style gated unit blocks, sterile thoroughfares, McStarbucks food joints and high-end fashion and shopping facilities. That is what attracts the developers and grows an economy, they tell us.

Japan resident Pico Iyer writing about Tokyo recently said that:

“Now that Shanghai looks in parts like Beverly Hills, and Delhi is lighting up with Thai restaurants, there are few cities on the planet that are less Western than Tokyo…”

Perhaps Tokyo’s uniquely Japanese feel is an exception? Or perhaps the underlying Vietnamese character of modern HCMC will shine through as time goes by? Overall, I get the feeling that such economic developments dependent on international contractors have little incentive to reflect both local culture and sustainability, however you define the them.

by Mark Notaras on November 14, 2010 - Comments (00)  

The Minature Earth

We just need to keep sharing this video with as many people as possible.

by Brendan Barrett on September 12, 2010 - Comments (01)  

Apply for two short courses at the UNU

UNU Short CoursesTwo courses on (1) Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance (DMHA) and (2) Climate Change, Energy and Food Security (CEFS) will be offered by the United Nations University in the 2010 Fall Semester.  These are electives to the Masters in Sustainability Science, Peace and Development and can be taken by non-degree students (i.e. students not enrolled in the masters programme). The courses are taught in English, and bring together teaching faculty from a network of universities in the Asia Pacific region via video-conference and online learning.

The DMHA classes will commence on 21 September 2010 and will continue every Tuesday until 28 December 2010 for 15 sessions. The CEFS classes will begin on 1 October 2010 and continue every Friday for 15 sessions.

Each session is one and a half hours in length from 13:00-14.30. In the Tokyo, the classes are hosted in the UNU Media Studio located on the ground floor of the United Nations University.

How to apply: The deadline for applications is 17 September 2010. Please send your CV (maximum 3-4 pages), one-page write-up justifying your interest in the courses and their relevance in your future endeavor, and one relevant publication (if any). Please indicate which course you would like to apply for as either DMHA or CEFS (or both).

Please note that we receive high number of applications from highly qualified candidates every year. The review and selection process may involve short telephone interview (please provide a direct telephone and/or mobile number on the cover letter).  Following this, only the selected candidates will be informed individually.

For further information about the courses, please write to Dr. Akhilesh Surjan (DMHA Course Coordinator) or Dr. Brendan Barrett (CEFS Course Coordinator) at: mbox@unu.edu

by Brendan Barrett on August 30, 2010 - Comments (01)  

Our World 2.0 Trailer in Akihabara

For the month of August, our catchy new video trailer is up on the big Yodobashi Camera screen in Akihabara – the Tokyo electronics district. It runs through August every few minutes during the morning commute: 7:30-8:30am.

This is our second run on the big outdoor screen. Our very first video brief also ran on this same screen every morning for a few months back in late 2008.


by Jason Hall on August 20, 2010 - Comments (00)  

OurWorld 2.0 at Global Media Forum in Bonn 2010

Find out about the insightful trip of OurWorld 2.0 to Bonn attend the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum. Here is the slide presentation we delivered to the session on the influence of social media which focused on how to present solutions rather than problems when it comes to report climate change issues.

Listen to the full workshop session and get to know more about Ideas for a cooler World from Deutsche Welle as well as the German Ministry of Environment.

by Stephan Schmidt on July 9, 2010 - Comments (03)  

Coalition Of The Willing – MUST SEE

A must watch for all leaders of the future! A very well articulated vision for change.
Well done to the Knife Party and the 24 artists from around the world who came together on this one. Please share widely!


by Citt Williams on June 29, 2010 - Comments (00)  

Our World 2.0 trailer

At the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum on Wednesday, we will be screening this 1 minute Our World 2.0 trailer, together with some stories from Our World 2.0. This year’s forum is focusing on the role of the media towards climate change issues.

by Citt Williams on June 19, 2010 - Comments (01)  

“Ideas For A Cooler World” – Covering climate protection and possible solutions

Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum

Melting ice caps, catastrophic hurricanes, floods and drought plunging entire regions into crisis: these are the drastic images usually conveyed by the media. What we hardly hear about is what is actually being done to halt and adapt to global warming.

Media representatives from around the world, high-profile experts of governmental and non-governmental organisations, politicians, artists, entrepreneurs and scientists will sit around the same table at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum. A simple philosophy drives this initiative: Those working on the future have to think in networks – and in global dimensions.

Deutsche Welle GLOBAL IDEAS will host a Workshop at the Global Media Forum about the best practices and solutions from around the world how to adapt with climate change. As part of the United Nation University we are very much delighted to represent the Our World 2.0 webzine in this workshop.

The Workshop will be held on 23 June 2010 – 11.00 a.m. in Room Aeltestenrat

Manuela Kasper-Claridge, head of the Business Department and responsible for the special coverage of climate issues at DW-TV, and Brendan Barrett, Head of United Nations University Media Studio will explore the challenges facing the media in covering climate protection and raise the following questions:

* Why does current media coverage focus mainly on the negative impacts of climate change rather than on ways to deal with it?
* Is it difficult to report on climate change in a pro-active manner?
* What role should the media play in the future?
* To what extent can this influence public opinion and motivate people to become involved?
* How can a global network be built to promote collaboration on the climate front?

Find more information on the site of the  Global Media Forum.

by Stephan Schmidt on June 3, 2010 - Comments (00)  

The (limited) power of consumers

Today’s forum on ‘Green Lifestyles and the Powers of Consumers’ was the most engaging of the 2-day conference: The Great Transformation – Greening the Economy. The panel, including the Executive Director of the Forest Stewardship Council Andre de Freitas and a well-known member of the German parliament, discussed the extent to which people’s buying habits can change unsustainable production.

As soon as you talk about what we eat, wear and use, and where it comes from, people tend to take notice and want to have their say. The audience was keen to know how they could change their buying habits in the name of a better world.

Yet, consumers’ (or citizens’ as many prefer) preferences to be green are undermined by an over-supply of information and an under-supply of time. There are several surveys out there that indicate that people would like to buy products that are more sustainable, organic or fair-trade. But, as illustrated by this recent one in Britain for sustainable seafood cleverly entitled ‘The Which?‘, people are bombarded by confusing labels.

Furthermore, every type of product e.g. seafood, coffee, timber has different certification and labeling standards meaning that you need to recognise many organisations and ratings systems.

“People don’t want to deal with these issues 24 hours a day” said German Greens and Bundestag member Bärbel Höhn.

“Consumers are too busy with their lives and their kids”.

What is the true value of a label?

What is the true value of a label?

The session, however, did not provide simple answers – in fact, to the contrary, the panel illustrated that shades of gray and contradictions pepper the debate on ‘ethical consumer’ issues. Simplistic slogans that say ‘boycott this’ or ‘only buy that’, although appealing, may not always make a positive difference on the ground.

One audience member suggested that we could reduce our environmental impacts by avoiding favoured products like coffee, chocolate and bananas,  rather than trusting long and poorly governed supply chains to deliver fair trade and organic products.

But de Freitas cautioned against complete boycotts of product which are known to have negative impacts.

“The boycott of tropical rainforest products in the early 1980s resulted in more deforestation because the timber became less valuable and people switched to raising cattle”.

“The world is far too complex to make those assumptions,” he said.

It seems impossible to know with 100% certainty that you are supporting sustainable primary producers in the developing world obtain a fair price for their work. de Freitas and others working to encourage large companies to be socially responsible don’t have any illusions about the shortcomings of voluntary standards. Although far from a great transformation, maybe there is value in labeling as a first step in the evolution of a better system.


Here are some thoughts and observations I took away from the conference, in no particular order:

- Credibility counts: it helps to have conference organisers who are green in name and deed, not to mention professional. Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung provided a green building and seasonal, local, vegetarian food (although the provision of bottled water instead of tap water seemed unnecessary).

- Bigger is not always better: it might seem obvious but usually representatives of current governments and executive members of organisations make the least original contributions to the debate, either because they have more at stake or less time to prepare something new to say.

- Global green: if a global movement for climate change is needed, as several speakers like Jerome Ringo called for, then surely language matters. Global climate advocacy seems to be so Anglo-American centric and some ideas don’t translate well, even into a related language like German. Still, Avaaz and others do their best to provide different terminologies, but without volunteers this can be costly.

- Growth pains: even the experts had trouble articulating what sustainable or progressive growth is. There seem to be many competing ideas our there and this has made it easier for societies to preference the economic devil we know.

Check out Our World 2.0 in the next couple of weeks for more detailed stories on innovative solutions presented at the conference.

by Mark Notaras on May 31, 2010 - Comments (00)  

Buildings speak louder than words

On the first morning of The Great Transformation – Greening the Economy conference, Alliance 90/Greens Bundestag member Renate Künast was passionately calling for reduced electricity use when she was rudely interrupted.

However, she was not cut short mid-sentence by her fellow panelist, an impatient chairperson or an overexcited audience.

Rather, ironically, it was a few seconds of noise from the Heinrich Böll Stiftung’s (HBS) new open-plan office building itself. A remotely controlled curtain was released in order to allow the full morning light to enter the large auditorium through a long glass-paneled wall. No doubt deliberately timed with the curtain, specially located windows also opened to let the fresh outside air into the room.

According to HBS, the concept behind the building follows three basic principles:
• Intelligent systems with as little equipment as possible that save resources and keep down installation and operating costs.
• Energy is not lost until it leaves the building. Waste heat is recycled in an innovative manner.
• Ventilation and cooling are as natural as possible and give users maximum control.

In quantitative terms, the building consumes 55.7 kilowatt hours of energy/metre squared while the solar system on the roof generates 53 000 kWh of energy every year which is fed into the heating system.

The large auditorium at the new Heinrich Böll Stiftung building

The large auditorium at the new Heinrich Böll Stiftung building

Something harder to measure, but equally important, is how building design can enhance people’s quality of life. Nobody likes to be stuck inside on a nice day, let alone for a conference. But this conference has been all the more enjoyable because of the natural light and air coming in.

Of course it helps to have a view of a beautiful city like Berlin. Still, the principle of limiting our separation from the natural environment through building design can be universal. Furthermore, money can easily be saved in the long term through energy savings.

(Photo by Stephan Röhl).

Renewable returns

The same principle applies for the renewable energy industry where the earlier you invest, the more you will make in return.

In the ‘Towards 100% Renewables’ forum, Martin Rocholl, Policy Director for the European Climate Foundation spoke enthusiastically about ‘Roadmap 2050’.

Using modeling projections for future energy use and pricing, this new study claims that the European Union can plausibly achieve an 80% emissions reduction target by 2050.

According to Rocholl, a former director of Friends of the Earth Europe, some of the typical arguments against renewables are debunked by the research. These include claims that renewables are not cost effective or a reliable and continuing source of energy. Rocholl and supporters on the panel stressed the study’s backing by several large European energy providers.

Values must change

It may be just one building but HBS is walking the walk and setting an example for other organizations still talking the talk. Real change has to begin at home.

This was a theme echoed by many speakers and audience members throughout the day including Künast. Her approach is that a real transformation is needed in the West, where “people are living off the cost of others”.

She was unapologetic in saying that for most of the people in room, predominantly from Germany and other European countries, climate change is not yet an existential threat.

“People are doing add-on green elements but this is not a transformation.”

“The EU has to determine what it wants to be in 20 years time, not just economically but also socially…whether or not financial markets should be primary policy or whether 100% energy renewable should be the target,” says Künast.

For a truly great green transformation to take place “the values we live with have to change.”

by Mark Notaras on May 29, 2010 - Comments (01)  

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