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)  

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)  

Videobriefs in Central Asia

Powering the Pamir Mountains - still from documentary video
In the last months the Media Studio team has been exploring the mountains and valleys of Central Asia to produce a series of videobriefs dealing with energy, land management and climate change issues.

Two of the videobriefs are part of the activities of the Sustainable Land Management in the High Pamir and Pamir-Alai Mountains (PALM) project, a United Nations initiative to support the communities of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in the conservation of their environment during their  difficult transition from the Soviet Union into the globalized economy.

The videobrief on Tajikistan traces the problems people face to access energy on the Eastern Pamir mountains after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The high cost of heating and cooking fuel has prompted people here to massively uproot the few shrubs that grow in this high altitude environment, severely degrading the land and drastically reducing its capacity to feed domestic and wild animals.

The videobrief on Kyrgyzstan show the changes in the use of land of Kyrgyz herders after Independence in 1991, which have led to increasing numbers of livestock which in turn is degrading the land, threatening its ability to feed the animals the people here depends on.
It also shows Kyrgyz, Tajik and UN experts and officials  as they try to bring in solutions to the situation.

The videobriefs were shown on October 5 in a PALM project meeting to a group of Kyrgyz, Tajik and UN researchers and officials in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where they were well received. The videobrief on Tajikistan was particularly shocking to participants, as although they were aware of the situation they did not know to what extent the lives of people were being affected by lack of access to energy sources.

The two videobriefs will be soon published in UNU’s webmagazine Our World 2.0

by luis on October 14, 2009 - Comments (01)  

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)  

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)  

Launch of OurWorld 2.0 Japanese version

ourworldHere it is at last.

It has taken longer than we had planned, but we are delighted to announce the launch of the Japanese version of the Our World 2.0 web magazine.

You may recall that this web magazine deals with the interaction between climate change, peak oil and food security, and that we launched the English version in July 2008.

We have spent the past few months writing new articles and translating the entire web magazine. As we moved forward from now on, we hope to publish every article in English and Japanese at the same time.

We are also looking for people to help us run the web magazine and for sponsors to support its future development.

by Brendan Barrett on October 22, 2008 - Comments (00)  

Leading visions on Climate Change

Over the last couple of months we have been doing quite a lot of work on Climate Change. A recent UNU symposium “Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Time of Climate Change” brought together some of the world’s leading scientists and writers on environmental issues, including ground breaking thinkers whose work and research are at the intersection of science, policy making and communications. The symposium invited them to examine how our thinking needs to change if we are to collectively take on the myriad challenges presented by global warming.

The Media Studio was lucky enough to interview several of the speakers throughout the day and the resulting videos offer an insightful, and at times confronting, perspective on current Climate Change dialogues.
The below interviews embedded in the neat new vimeo gallery player include:

Dr. James E. Hansen from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, USA
Prof. Gwyn Prins, Director of the Mackinder Centre at the London Schools of Economic and Political Science, UK
Prof David Sanborn Scott, from the University of Victoria, Canada
Dr. Alex Evans, Centre on International Cooperation, New York University, USA
Ted Nordhaus, Chairman, Breakthrough Institute, USA
Prof. Shuzo Nishioka, Senior Advisor, National Institute for Environmental Studies, Japan
David Steven, Managing Director, River Path Associates, UK

by Citt Williams on October 10, 2008 - Comments (01)  

Voices of the Chichinautzin in Moondance Film Fest

The UNU-produced documentary Voices of the Chichinautzin is part of the official selection of the Moondance International Film Festival in the Feature Documentary Category. The festival will take place in August 29, 30, 31, and September 1, in Boulder, Colorado USA.

Voices of the Chichinautzin will screen on Saturday, August 30, 2008 in the Shambala Center Community Room, 1345 Spruce Street, Boulder, Colorado 80302.

The Moondance International Film Festival, popularly known as the “American Cannes”, is one of the premier venues for the exhibition and promotion of feature and short films in the US, and one of the leading indie film festivals in the world. Dedicated to celebrating and sharing with international audiences the absolute best in the world of films and screenplays, film scores, and some 25 other genres, the festival features special presentations, retrospectives, workshops, pitch panels, a gala awards reception and ceremony, and many of the world’s top indie film screenings.

You can find a full schedule of the festival here:

by luis on July 13, 2008 - Comments (00)  

The Chichinautzin communities remember Aldo Zamora

On the lands of the Tlahuica communityOn 15 May I traveled to the Lagunas de Zempoala National Park in central Mexico to join an event organized by the Tlahuica community of San Juan Atzingo and Greenpeace . They commemorated one year of the death of Aldo Zamora, a young environmentalist from this indigenous community who was killed by illegal loggers. The story of this tragic event is told in the UNU-produced documentary Voices of the Chichinautzin.


For me it was good to meet again Aldo’s father Ildefonso Zamora, and the Thahuica Chief Alejandro Ramirez, two of the key people featured in the documentary. I had the opportunity of giving them a DVD copy of the video, and visit their land and projects for the whole day.

I am happy to report that things had changed a lot in the area since the last time I have been there. Following Aldo’s death, the massive incursion of the army and police forces has caused illegal logging activities to decrease on an estimated 95%. The Tlahuicas have also received lots of material support from several government agencies, which includes trucks and uniforms (see photo) among other things. Their ecotourism project in the Tonatihua lagoon has been built and is already receiving visitors. Perhaps most importantly, after a legal battle which spanned several decades, the ownership of 18,000 hectares of their lands had finally been given official government recognition.

However, this success story has a very bad downside. A year has passed and justice has not been done, as the identified killers of Aldo Zamora have not been captured.

by luis on May 21, 2008 - Comments (00)  

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