Prof. Dr. Govindan PARAYIL
The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), which marked the twentieth anniversary of the seminal “Earth Summit” (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development or UNCED) of 1992, gave us an opportunity to reflect on the developments of the last two decades, as well as to reassess our work as a UN think-tank. As an academic institute whose mission is to “advance knowledge and promote learning for policy-making to meet the challenges of sustainable development”, we have been exploring the various factors hampering the world’s efforts towards sustainable solution from the vantage point of the emerging field of sustainability science. I hope our achievements will demonstrate UNU-IAS’s dedication towards its mission and its contributions to sustainability dialogues in academia, policy-making and community awareness programmes.
As a think-tank with a strong focus on research excellence, UNU-IAS has been active as ever. In the past year, our researchers published an impressive number of peer-reviewed journal articles, academic books and book chapters. 2012 was also replete with international conferences and programmatic activities. Most notably, we actively participated in the Rio+20 Conference and the eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD-COP11). For Rio+20, we came together to put forth a comprehensive volume that tackled the broad themes of the green economy and institutional framework for sustainable development from various, yet, precise perspectives, which we launched in Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro to very encouraging reviews. At both conferences, our programmes demonstrated their vast academic capacities, as they contributed to current debates on biofuels in Africa; shed light onto the interlinkages of traditional knowledge, biodiversity and community health; drew attention to the contributions of indigenous and traditional knowledge on climate change; analysed the role of governance in urban green economies; and compiled case studies on socio-ecological production landscapes. Our programmes also celebrated the growth of their international networks with the Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (RCEs) reaching 101 members since its inception in 2005 and the International Partnership for the Satoyama Initiative (IPSI) expanding to an astounding 126 members in just two years. Multilateral discussions were also prominent at our global events, such as the indigenous workshop for climate change mitigation workshop that brought together UN agencies, governments, indigenous peoples and local communities.
As an educational institution, our faculty members led the first class of the new MSc programme in Environmental Governance with Specialization in Biodiversity as they began their studies, adjusted to living in a foreign country, and travelled overseas to conduct fieldwork. The students are currently working as interns in research programmes and at international organizations while completing their theses in time for their graduation in February 2013. Taking part in a new postgraduate programme has been a challenging learning experience for both the institute and the students. I am confident, however, that the students will continue on from UNU-IAS with the knowledge that they have gained at UNU-IAS to address issues related to international environmental governance and sustainable development.
The world remains mired in what seems to be a never-ending roster of problems affecting our well-being, from changes in our natural climatic conditions, global economic crisis, unsustainable production and consumption practices, depletion of environmental and biological resources, and a sharp decline in various indicators of well-being. While noting that it is our actions and, more often, inactions that have precipitated these predicaments, it is imperative that we quickly come up with effective measures to mitigate the consequences and adapt to the changes in our socio-technological and natural ecosystems.
As the academic arm of the UN within the UNU family and an educational and research institution that pursues sustainable solutions, UNU-IAS will continue to grapple with these difficult local and global challenges while sharing its knowledge with the next generation of academics and policymakers.