15 June 2020

75 for UN75: A Conversation on Rethinking Our Climate

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations, and as part of its 75th anniversary initiative (UN75), United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) is hosting the "75 for UN75: 75 Minutes of Conversation" series of online dialogues with academics, educators, researchers and students around the world, to discuss their priorities for the future, obstacles to achieving them, and the role of global cooperation in managing global issues. On 5 June 2020 UNAI hosted a webinar on the theme “Rethinking Our Climate”, as part of this series.

Climate change is the defining issue of our time. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Although greenhouse gas emissions are projected to drop by about 6 per cent in 2020 due to travel restrictions and economic slowdowns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, this improvement is only temporary. Once the global economy begins to recover, emissions are expected to return to even higher levels.

Saving lives and livelihoods requires urgent action to address both the pandemic and the climate emergency. On 5 June 2020, UNAI hosted a webinar witin the framework of the World Environment Day under the theme “Rethinking Our Climate” to explore these issues and the role of universities in combating climate change.

The webinar began with a special performance by renowned baritone Claudio Jung of the Republic of Korea, which was followed by remarks from the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon. “Academic institutions are particularly well positioned to take the lead and help the United Nations rethink climate related issues and responses,” he said. “This understanding led me to launch United Nations Academic Impact in 2010 to align partners, educators, researchers and students with the UN to actively contribute to climate change and sustainable development efforts.” According to Mr. Ban, initiatives like UNAI facilitate the transfer of knowledge, advance critical research and help instil a sense of civic responsibility.

Ms. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), discussed the importance of sustainability and the circular economy, an economic system aimed at eliminating waste and the excessive use of resources. It incorporates the concepts of reuse, sharing, repair, refurbishment, remanufacturing and recycling to minimize the use of resources and the creation of pollution and carbon emissions. “In terms of response, all of us know that innovation is key, so is the change of behaviour,” she commented. “Everybody needs to understand the urgency and impact of the trajectory of greenhouse gas emission. There has to be a change in the social norm, and this change is already there in the way of circular economy.”

Ms. Yoonhee Hwang, Director of the Association of Korean Universities in Support of UNAI, pointed out that most Korean educational institutions have already started their journey towards responsibility, sustainably and change. She believed that more and more universities are paying attention to global citizenship education that will prepare the next generation of global leaders, and the development of curriculum with a long-term vision on sustainable development.

“We should focus on ‘survival development’,” added Dr. Ducksu Seo, Assistant Professor of the Department of Spatial Environment System Engineering at Handong Global University. “Our world is projected to have 16 billion inhabitants by 2100, and this has a number of implications for our economy and energy consumption.” Dr. Seo went on to explain that the impact of population growth on the environment takes two major forms: consumption of resources such as land, food, water, air, fossil fuels and minerals; and the production of air and water pollutants, toxic materials and greenhouse gases. Both make climate change and environment protection matters of extreme urgency.

Dr. Arvind Kumar, President of the India Water Foundation, highlighted the value of water in combating climate change. “Water facilitates the interconnectedness and interlinkages with other sectors like agriculture, industry, energy and environment. Water also connects policy areas in the economic sector as well as societies. It is a tool for cooperation and trust.” Dr. Kumar said it is imperative we have sustainable solutions for water problems via effective legislation and new policies and practices for water management.

Ms. Jueun Han, a recent graduate of Handong Global University in the Republic of Korea, wrapped up the discussion with insights from the student community. “The role of universities is to help students understand that change is possible, and everyone has the potential to change the future. When it comes to climate change, understanding how deeply connected we are with the environment is important. Global citizen education also taught us that individuals are interconnected rather than being independent, single actors.”

During the Q&A, the panelists answered questions from the participants on topics such as the design of more sustainable college campuses around the world, the concept of “smart cities” and the use of technology to minimize the human impact on nature.

Additional resources:


UN75 Rethinking Our Climate

On 5 June 2020, United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) hosted a webinar on the theme “Rethinking Our Climate”, as part of the UNAI “75 for UN75: 75 Minutes of Conversation” online dialogue series.