Monday, September 30, 2013

Politics of Sustainability -- India and China

The title of the talk -- Politics of Sustainability -- intrigued me and it was heavily promoted on the UMass Amherst website, so I gathered two of my doctoral students, one from China and the other from India, and off we went to hear former United Nations policy advisor Mukul Sanwal speak on climate change and sustainability. His talk was under the auspices of the political science department at UMass and Five Colleges, Inc.
Mr. Sanwal worked for the United Nations from 1993 to 2007, serving first as a policy advisor to the executive director of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and later to the executive secretary of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Given that the IPCC just produced its Fifth Assessment report, and it has been getting a lot of attention in the media, his topic was especially timely.
Sanwal began his talk by stating that what India and China will do will frame the future. He emphasized the shifting of the population from being producers to being consumers and noted that the global middle class will triple by 2030. He noted that the climate crisis is caused by the scarcity of resources, or the distribution of resources, and sees the problem as one to be managed, and not solved -- I thought this rather pessimistic but very much appreciated his emphasis on conservation and the importance of altering the behavior of consumers. We need to have better ways of measuring carbon imprints and environmental impacts on the consumption side.

In terms of economic development, we are seeing major migrations to urban areas, especially in China and India, and urban design for sustainability is critical. The population was 1.6 billion in 1900 and will increase to 9 billion in 2050. The urban population was 30% (of 2.5 billion) in 1950 and will be 70% (of 9 billion) in 2050. Economies are now driven by the services sector and not just industry.

It is expected that the transport sector will generate half of the global emissions by 2050.

We need to educate the population about changes in lifestyle and, where feasible, also have the right legislation.

Changing behavior is not easy and society needs to agree that changes need to be made. And we can make the changes through the food that we eat, the homes that we live in, and the modes of transport that we use as well as the products that we buy.

We need a common vision for human welfare (and that of our planet).

Ken Toong, our award-winning Executive Director (and chef) of Auxiliary Enterprises, was also in the audience, and he made some great comments on what his group is doing in sustainability in terms of reducing food waste in the dining commons and also serving red meat infrequently. He is in the blue shirt in the photo above.

Lots of ideas were generated -- thanks to Mr. Mukul Sanwal for sharing his experiences and wisdon with us today.