Two new courses for Fall 2011

The United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP) and the UNU Media Centre are inviting applications for two certificate courses on (1) Disaster Management and Humanitarian Affairs (DMHA) and (2) Climate Energy and Food Security (CEFS). See the course announcement here.


A total of 14/15 “once-a-week” class sessions will be conducted from September 2011 to  December 2011/January-2012.


Course participants should commit themselves to visit UNU Media Centre once a week (from 13:00 to 15:00 hrs) to receive the lectures and participate in interactions offered during the entire Course period. The certificate will be awarded to those who successfully complete the coursework assignments and maintain an 80% attendance rate.


Send the following required documents via email to:  (for DMHA Course)  OR  (for CEFS Course).

1.       Your CV (maximum 3-4 pages) with a recent passport photo.

2.       One-page cover letter justifying your interest in the course and its relevance in your present work and future endeavors.

3.      One relevant publication (if any).


Applications should reach us latest by 1 September 2011 (for DMHA Course)    OR  16 September 2011 (for CEFS Course).


Upon acceptance, successful candidates will be required to pay a tuition fee of 20,000 JPY for the course.


At the moment, these courses are only offered to students or professionals who can commute to the UNU campus in Tokyo. There are no fellowships, travel support, or assistance available for attending this course.

You are kindly requested to share this announcement with your colleagues, networks, staff members, interns, academic associates, and disseminate through mailing lists, newsletters, etc.

by Brendan Barrett on August 29, 2011 - Comments (00)  

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 (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)  

Our World 2.0 selected to blog “The Great Transformation”

United Nations University’s Our World 2.0 web-magazine has been selected as the official blog site for a major international conference on a global green new deal.

“The Great Transformation – Greening the Economy”, brings together German and world leaders from government, industry and civil society and will be held in Berlin, Germany, on May 28 & 29. The conference is a joint initiative of German political foundations the Heinrich Böll Stiftung and Stiftung Mercator, as well as the Center for American Progress.

The aim of the conference, in the wake of the failure of last year’s COP15, is to discuss how the world can transition away from unsustainable fossil fuels and towards a ‘low carbon society’. Two vital topics will be focused on by the participants: firstly, ’smart policies’ that guide and regulate changes in economic and energy policy; and secondly, ’smart technologies’ that can kick-start an ecological turnaround for a declining planet.

Of particular interest to the Our World 2.0 community will be the session on Social Media and Climate Change. While development of technology to mitigate and adapt to climate change is important, the real challenge is to communicate the benefits of environmental change to greennewdeal_logo290the public, especially through the internet.

More information on “The Great Transformation” including the conference programme can be found here. Keep an eye on Our World 2.0 for reports and interviews from the event.

by Mark Notaras on May 14, 2010 - Comments (01)  

In the fields with the locals: documenting and raising awareness of climate change in Central and Inner Asia

TIAN SHAN MOUNTAINS, KYRGYZSTAN – Outside, the hot sun beats down. A flock of sheep, horses, and cows munch summer highland grasses. Inside our little felt yurt, it is cosy. Kyrgyz shepherd Dootkasy and his wife Anarkul, head our small circle. We sit crossed legged around a smorgasbord of fresh cream, butter, wild berry jams and homemade bread. Later, Anarkul brings the boiled goat’s head. The eyeball is a treat.

For over 2 months now, Russian filmmaker, Ivan Golovnev and I have been travelling through rural Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russian Altai. Working closely together with local storytellers, NGOs and scientists, we are recording and screening local people’s perspectives of climate change for the United Nations University and The Christensen Fund.

[Picture: An informal Our World 2.0 screening in Dootkasy and Anarkul’s Kyrgyz Yurt]

Grassroots perspectives on climate change are valuable and most importantly local. With deeply spiritualized and centuries old knowledge of the earth’s systems and cycles, local people guide livestock, plant crops, and shift winter camps. Often, none of this knowledge is written down. The traditional songs, carpet motifs, clothing, architectures, daily rituals and the mythological epics of these places are encoded with the survival information. Moreover, these cultural peculiarities provide an ancestral code of how to live harmoniously with and within the local nature.

Imagine, at minus 30, when the sacred mountain pass is blowing its blizzard and you’re bringing home the sheep, great-great grandpa’s knowledge of how to live is useful… you remember his pattern of conduct or perhaps sing his specific clan song.

Today, the national assessment reports flowing into the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention for Climate Change) website are chock full of statistic, long term modeling projections, and serious expert recommendations. The country’s leading scientists add their Institute’s research whilst Government’s task force committees implement achievable solutions and damage control.

Out in the fields and pastures where the livestock is born and dies, people are also talking and taking stock. Everybody has an opinion about the weather… as if they know life depends on it.

“The glaciers that provide all life are getting smaller or have disappeared completely.” “The rich sunny slope grasses are drying out and changing species variety”. “Dry highland animals like yaks, camels and horses are being incorporated into sheep flocks”. “Rain patterns are extreme and unreliable”. “Sacred totem animals, plants and geographic sites are taking on new behaviors”. “Sun’s radiation is increasing and damaging the children’s skin.” “Planting calendars and thanksgiving ceremonies are moving weeks later. Unseasonal heavy rains are eroding valuable time and soil… “.

Further towards the bigger villages and power lines, government built community housing and infrastructure is sinking into melting permafrost. River levels and their hydro-electric power outputs are decreasing. The fresh produce yield in the markets and bazaars is not as big or as juicy.

All the while, the old people try to remember and teach great-great grandpa’s language, whilst their young immerse themselves within foreign entertainment screens.

[Picture: Our World 2.0 climate change video festival screening where a big crowd gathered in Khorog Park, Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan]

After travelling many miles and sharing tea in many rural kitchens, it can be observed, those amongst us still living closely with nature, are consciously and rapidly participating in a process of short-term survival and climate change adaptation.

Remarkably, its can also be observed, swift local awareness and adaptation often correlates to how well a community has maintained its bio-cultural relationships. Noticeably, this ancestral survival knowledge also bestows the custodian with a guidebook to wise climate adaptation.

In some places, traditional resource management systems, almost eradicated with the event of techno-industrialization are being discussed, revitalized and even systematized. From diversifying crops, flocks or architecture, an ancient encyclopedia of simple adaptations is being identified. For example, there is much to learn from traditions that understood and culturally enforced zones of environmental conservation centuries before today’s ecological movement.

[Picture: Interviewing Altaian Telengit leader and shaman, Slava Cheltuev about their knowledge of the inter-connectivity of natural systems, and human behaviour]

At such a time in history, the harmonic and responsible knowledge of our ancestors should not to be discarded or arrogantly overlooked as folklore. There is no used by date on age-old proven methodologies.

Today, traditional knowledge custodians are as diverse as all the spoken languages on the earth. With this and climate change adaptation in mind, a large challenge lies ahead. Can we globally recognize, nurture and enhance these diverse communities with disappearing traditional knowledge systems?

For the benefit of those generations ahead of us, we must responsibly act like those generations before us. Pay heed to great grandpa’s wisdoms, and re-energize it as a respected opinion and pillar of our globalized culture’s way of being, doing, and of knowing.

[Our World 2.0 climate change video screening to the young minds of Gorno-Altaisk State University, Russia where climate scientists, government officers and local television were also present.]

by Citt Williams on October 20, 2009 - Comments (00)  

Our World 2.0 in China: Just another country, just another conference

The First International Undergraduate Conference on Climate, Water, Weather and Society was held last week in Shanghai, China.  The conference was attended by about 50 talented students from countries including China, Korea, Indonesia, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, Australia and the United States.

The students learned about climate systems and society’s responses, including positive ones, to environmental challenges, and also presented on their own initiatives such as Three Degrees.  They pledged to partner across borders to strengthen the student movement’s role in addressing climate change.

China, with 20% of the world’s population, is not just another country.  If China’s coal fired power plants continue to grow in number at the present rate, the world’s temperature will rise 3 degrees Celsius by 2100, regardless of what anyone else does.  So, in solving climate change, the Chinese dragon must be understood.  In short, history, culture and language do matter in international negotiations.

I attended this conference to seek out exciting stories from young leaders from all over the world.  Establishing a more even playing field in reporting of global affairs, especially the climate crisis, is critical.  The vast majority of scientists, writers, academics and policy makers are either from, or located in developed countries (yours truly included).  However, 80% of the world’s population is not.
Despite our best intentions, we cannot honestly address global problems without a truly global conversation that empowers the majority world, including those marginalized within South countries.

Likewise, despite immense good will and camaraderie, simulated international negotiations between the students demonstrated the depth of the challenge to democratize environmental advocacy, through the web and in international institutions and forums.

That is why, building upon this philosophy, I am eager to see creative communicators from the global south penetrate though the cyberspace mire and reach audiences consumed by happenings in their own backyards.

I am particularly inspired by the young and articulate Chinese undergraduates I met.  We should hope that these future leaders continue to champion real progress in the world, and are not lured by the comparatively better re-numeration in the corporate sector.

While these human distinctions are important, the planet does not care whether we are from Sweden or Swaziland as it goes on breathing under the stresses we place upon it.  It is tempting to feel helpless when people speak endlessly about the extent of the glacial melt or the predicted rises in global temperatures.

ilanHowever, I was encouraged by the face that despite their lack of experience, some members of the “eco-generation”, so-labeled by their professors, are ready for the fight for what they believe in.  They are armed with open minds and open eyes, and if the Chinese Government allows, open tools for communication.

Today’s 20 year olds, “digital natives”, can better visualise a world beyond the growth economy.  They are not responsible (yet) for the broken system we have.  I believe that they, and not the current generation of leaders who will meet at Copenhagen this December, will have the credibility and courage to stand up against the vested corporate interests of the fossil fuels, forestry, farming and fishing sectors.  Experienced scientists who presented at the conference (including Ilan Kelman – photo above) confessed that they had learned much from the students’ collective imagination and attitude – I certainly did.

Let’s not be complacent.  The potential leaders of tomorrow are already struggling against our biggest enemy: the apathy of the masses.  My Chinese colleagues tell me that this is as much a problem in their society as it is in Western democracies.  More climate education is needed at the school and university level to inculcate a progressive mindset about planet Earth into society.  This has been a longtime passion of Professor Michael Glantz from the University of Colorado’s Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), the brains behind the conference.  INSTAAR and the organizers from the East China Normal University deserve credit for enabling such a collaborative, intimate and activist vibe for the conference.

While the fruits of this conference will not be seen immediately, I don’t feel this was just another conference.  Keep an eye on Our World 2.0 in the upcoming weeks for more upbeat stories from conference attendees.  We also look forward to more of your positive tales about how our world responds to climate change, peak oil, food security and biodiversity challenges.

by Mark Notaras on August 5, 2009 - Comments (00)  

UNU and YouTube Think Green

In recognition of World Environment Day 2009 which takes place on 5 June, UNU is collaborating with YouTube Japan to support a special channel called Think Green.

More than 15 million users access YouTube each month in Japan. In order to help this community find videos that encourage them to think about environmental topics, YouTube has collaborated with some of its premium partners to create this new channel that will remain active for one year.

thinkgreen1In addition to the UNU, the content partners include NHK, National Geographic, Asahi and Diginfonews. Around 100 videos are showcased in the channel, including five video briefs published in Our World 2.0 produced by the UNU Media Studio.

World Environment Day (WED) was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 to mark the opening of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.

WED is one of the principal vehicles through which the United Nations stimulates worldwide awareness of the environment and enhances political attention and action. The day’s agenda is to:

- Give a human face to environmental issues;

- Empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development;

- Promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes towards environmental issues;

    - Advocate partnership which will ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.

    The theme for WED 2009 is ‘Your Planet Needs You-UNite to Combat Climate Change’.

    by Brendan Barrett on June 4, 2009 - Comments (00)  

    Discovering our Bubu: Indigenous perspectives of Climate Change

    Attending a summit with over 300 Indigenous peoples is an incredible experience. Glancing around the room your eyes are bombarded by a sea of traditional costumes: Amazonian feather headdresses, Mongolian Dels, Saami hats, Maasi head jewllery. Its easy to feel the buzz and excitement of such a collective who against many odds have managed to come together. Waved off by loved ones, from the remote corners of the world they journeyed here to Anchorage. Each having been chosen to carry and intimately share their community’s story and concerns. And with each hour that passes, we hear yet another heartfelt statement from the  frontlines of Climate Change. Stories from traditional peoples whose life is land, whose way of survival and knowing is ancient and whose concerns run spiritually deep.

    I write from Anchorage where I am a part of the small UNU delegation attending the Indigenous Peoples Summit on Climate Change. The summit has brought to together over 300 Indigenous spokespeople to discuss and strategize the best possible position for Indigenous rights within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

    Coupling with the UNU-IAS Traditional Knowledge Initiative, the Media studio’s contribution has been the makings of a 5 part video portfolio of “Indigenous perspectives of Climate Change”. The five 6 minute videobriefs were made for Our World 2.0 in collaboration with communities and storytellers in Papua New Guinea, Australia and Borneo, Indonesia.

    Colin recording narrationMarilyn and Citt work on translations

    I think its important to quickly mention the process…With each videobrief, we worked on telling the story the community wanted to tell about Climate Change. After a day or two developing a rough script with the community designated storyteller, a cameraman and producer shot the film. Afterwards, we stayed on to translate then edit the story with participation from the storytellers. We cared for the Indigenous Intellectual Property by developing a talent consent form that granted us a non-exclusive license to the storyteller’s story.  At the end of the process,  we screened the film to the community involved for translation and cultural consent. Then the community were given a small hard drive with all the raw materials and a non-exclusive licence to use the materials we had created. We took a copy of the materials back to Tokyo for polishing, uploading and eventually back-up archiving. Usually the process took 10-14 days. These films are now to be distributed widely through UN, community and broadcast/online media networks.

    The first video in the series “Walking on country with spirits” was recorded in the wet tropics “Kuku Ngungkal” country (near the Daintree) with Traditional Owner, Marilyn Wallace. She shows Paul Bell (camera/editor) and I how Climate change is being experienced by her mob.

    I needed to be very, very sensitive and respectful to what’s really going on.

    Although not explicit, the learning I received came from a little word called “bubu”. Whilst doing the translations, Marilyn explained to me the word bubu means – my home country, the land, the soil beneath, the ecosystems (all plants/animals), the biosphere above and beyond, my identity and my responsibility.  This idea of bubu is a profound and spiritual paradigm shift and I urge you to also get in tune with your bubu’s needs!

    And so without further a due, I present you with the UNU’s Indigenous Perspectives of Climate Change video brief series… screening tomorrow night at the global summit.

    Local solutions on a sinking paradise, Carterets Islands, Papua New Guinea from UNUChannel on Vimeo.

    by Citt Williams on April 21, 2009 - Comments (02)  

    Wake up, freak out and then act….


    Don’t think that we need to say much about this video, other than it is brilliant.


    Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip from Leo Murray on Vimeo.

    If you don’t like it, let us know why. If you want to know what you can do, starting reading Our World 2.0.

    by Brendan Barrett on February 3, 2009 - Comments (01)  

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