“Students Need to Be Aware, Informed and Be Active”
Nobel Co-laureate talks about Environment to CNU Students
By Rigoberto Banta Jr., Head Student Editor
As part of a variety of programs to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Chonnam National University (CNU), the CNU 5.18 Institute has been spearheading the ‘Yongbong Forum’, a series of lectures from different famous scholars from around the world. Dr. Sergio Trindade, a co-laureate of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was invited by CNU to be the guest speaker in the 2nd Yongbong Forum last November 12, 2012. The Chonnam Tribune was able to interview him about his thoughts on environment and the role of the youth in the climate change issue. – Ed.
Dr. Sergio Trindade, a co-laureate of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize
Chonnam Tribune (CT): In your article for the 321st issue of the Chonnam Tribune, you have talked about people are resigned to focus on technocratic solutions for climate change and have further stressed that there is a need to engage with the relevant stakeholders. Who are these stakeholders and what are the technocratic solutions that you have mentioned? In what ways can people answer immediately to climate change?
Trindade: There are too many things that are too complicated to be decided by experts need to engage with the grassroots, and this is where the concept of stakeholders came about. It is very simple to know the stakeholders—you need to focus on a topic. A simple example: public transportation. Who are the stakeholders in public transportation? Of course the public that uses public transport, companies that provide public transport, the drivers and staff that makes this company work, the government that sets the regulations; providers of the fuel—they are the stakeholders. Climate change is very broad, so you need to focus and zoom on one particular topic that is of concern and we quickly find the stakeholders. You need to engage these stakeholders to go beyond the technocratic solution. What are the technocratic solutions? I can tell you, very simply, given, say, we move the public transportation system to electric transportation. This is moving into a technocratic solution. How to we move from here to practical steps? You must engage the stakeholders. They are the ones that will help you the practical vote. You can engage with a reputed technical consultant and tell you ‘electrify public transport, make contribution to [lessening] greenhouse emissions’, easy said and done. But to do it in practice and accomplish what you said, you need to engage with the stakeholders. How do you do that? Well, promote a process of dialogue that is based on information and analysis that is readable by all participants. You don’t want to keep the information to those only with the expertise, you want to have the information accessible to all participants which means you need to move away from the technicalities, the details of the science and technology and get into what it means in practice. My main solution is to be aware of the solutions that are untested by the dialogue between or among the stakeholders because they are not sustainable. Monorail, look at Manila. Manila had a monorail plan for a long time, but never engage[s] with the stakeholders. The stakeholders, the jeepney [drivers] make a living out of that chaotic living that they provide. You come with a technocratic solution, the monorail. But how do you do that? You need to engage with the stakeholders, the users of public transport, jeepney drivers. And what did they get from the monorail? You have to listen to the people instead of telling them what to do.
CT: But if we do that, it will not be as efficient as if you would talk with the experts and the academe that has been at the least engaging with the stakeholders that you have said. What is your opinion on this if we are going to talk about the efficiency of engaging with the stakeholders?
Trindade: I always think about long-term. You can have a quick-fix, but a quick-fix I not sustainable. Experts and the academe have a lot to contribute in this process. But they are often confused with decision making. They should not be decision makers. They are providing input to the decision process. But they [should] not have the exclusivity of decision-making.
CT: New business trends have cited that joining the initiative to mitigate carbon emissions will be good for the national economy because it will enable the countries to obtain financial resources through carbon credits. The European Union, for one has been in the forefront of selling carbon credits. What are the chances that other economic and political blocs follow suit? What other sustainable solutions do you suggest?
Trindade: I think carbon trading is one of many possibilities. It is important, it is useful, it is used in many parts of Europe and they learned a lot in the process of implementing it. In the beginning of their system, they set up a price of carbon and the system collapsed and they start [again] from scratch. Besides the market in Europe, there is the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism). The model of Europe is a system of trade between the counties of Europe. The CDM are carbon transactions between developing countries that need to abate their emissions which they cannot do on their own therefore needing the help of develop nations. This satisfies their legal obligation to downsize their greenhouse gas emissions. There are several schemes and carbon trading is one of them and carbon trading is just one of them. Yes, it will be used in some countries but it is one of the many tools to use the market forces to promote carbon abatement.
CT: Last year, Gwangju has joined cities around the worlds in the Urban Environmental Accords initiative boasting of its clean environment and green policies. However, urbanization threatens its clean environment. As Gwangju develops, what are the best ways to preserve its environment while pursuing urbanization as well? Please explain the crucial role of cities in promoting sustainable urbanization
Trindade: These things are not mutually exclusive. In fact they can reinforce each other. There is concept called as ‘sustainable city’. The sustainable city is one in which urbanization enhances sustainability. [One example] is the use of solar power. What you have in a city is lots of surfaces exposed to the sun and those surfaces are seldom used to capture solar power via photovoltaic. You can also grow food in in roof which is done in many places in the world. You can also stimulate mobility that is not dependent on fossil fuels. Mobility that is dependent on human force and it does not have to be just walking around, but it could which could improve the health of the people and you can go to bicycles and electric battery bicycles. You can go to public transport that operate on hybrid engines or some of them can even have a solar panel on the roof that can generate electricity for the vehicle. We have to think, we have to be creative and identify what the growth of the city offers for sustainability. Because people do not think in those terms, there is a need to bring these ideas for promoting, disseminating, engaging different groups. For instance, why don’t we use the football craze of Korea and [utilize] the players to become ambassadors to this idea. Why don’t we engage the top players in Gwangju to promote these ideas by putting solar panels in their residences? Germany is using a lot of solar power and Korea is not far in latitude, why don’t we use the availability of solar energy here as well?
CT: The Carbon Bank System of Gwangju City is an acclaimed award-winning environmental policy that gives back green points to Gwangju citizens in return to their green efforts. What should Gwangju city remember in implementing programs that expects a huge participation of the citizens? Does a medium-sized metropolitan city such as Gwangju having a 1.5M strong population have a higher possibility of creating better environmental policies than mega-cities such as Seoul? What are your thoughts about the increasing number of mega-cities across the world especially in the Asian region?
Trindade: If you look at them, what exactly is a mega-city? It is not a city born in one day. It grew over a period of time. If you would look at them in a different eye, they are composed with smaller cities. In the world, you would see mega-cities where some districts act like small cities. The benefit of a small city in respect with a mega-city is that it is easier to engage the stakeholders. It is easier to mobilize the population but it is easy to be done in mega-cities as well is you decompose the mega-city in its constituent parts. I think that yes, smaller cities maybe easier to work with because of its size but it does not prevent bigger cities from enjoying the benefits [of pushing for green policies]. There is a need to look at mega-cities with a different eye. It varies a lot and there is no uniform solution. I remember a city in the south of Brazil a few decades ago. In Brazil, people build lots of construction in the hillside which is catastrophic to the people themselves and possible to landslides. This city prevented its people to construct at a certain height and it has spared the city tremendous problems which happed in other cities. It is not about the size but it is [as well] about the people who live in the city who understand the perils of disorganized growth. The reason why people build on the hillsides as because it was cheaper and there were no claims to the land.
CT: On the other hand, there are criticisms against climate change specifically about the monopolization of some companies where only specific few companies are selected by the government and international organizations in order to partake into this green initiative. Because of this, they singlehandedly participate in green growth initiatives. What is your opinion on it? How will government give opportunities to smaller companies?
Trindade: Resources are always limited and sometimes to get things going, you need to focus, and you hope that by promoting certain initiatives, you have a demonstration effect that would encourage others to follow suit. And the issue is, the government has a very important role to play but in the end, the private people and companies are the ones who do things. So what you need is a framework in which those initiatives can thrive to make the ball rolling. But I think that the bigger picture is one in which these initiatives have the power of dissemination. They serve as some sort of catalyst or some sort to emulate what has been accomplished. Now, as I’ve said, there is a concept such as the sustainable city. If you have a model of stakeholders, you can organize into the future. You can organize the city in such a way that you don’t need much mobility in the city, that you live closer to where you work; the fresh produce is produced in your building, and all of these things. This is part of ‘thinking differently’ in a city of the future. And you really have to have mobility; you should promote means that are much more sustainable than those which are dependent on exclusively on fossil fuels.
CT: What are your suggestions to the university administrators and student leaders alike to promote the mitigation of carbon footprints?
Trindade: Now, it is very important to go beyond the general concepts and ideas: what can I do? People are anxious, people are concerned but they don’t know what to do in practical terms. For example, when you brush your teeth, do you keep the water running or do you shut it off when you’re not using? Stopping the water from running is a small thing, trivial, but a large number of people do small things you’ve got an impact. What I can suggest to you is that the university and the students in general, should think hard about what they do on a daily basis to see what they can do to save. What people can students can do is to mobilize all the people, engage other stakeholders, make a case for the sustainable city. This goes beyond the act of saving greenhouse gases which is important too: perhaps it is of a larger reach if [the university] starts discussion groups and begin to gather people who has the knowledge not to decide on anything but for them to inform the students what is happening, what is the mitigation measures that one should take, and the engage the leaders of the city in its projects such as the carbon bank project of Gwangju. For this project of Gwangju City, for example, why is this limited to a certain number of participants? This can be done as a collective effort. Activism is over and beyond the actions that one can take. Students can simply turn off the ignition of the car while parked. A simple act which pertains to the mindset of the students—they do not know that they are promoting war as precious resources such as oil become scarce because of this mindless acts.
CT: How do we motivate students to act now? Please give your message to CNU students in regards to environmental conservation.
Trindade: Students forget that their first obligation is to study. I think that the first thing that they should do is to study this matter. Get information, understand what the issue is, and understand the limitations of the solutions. It takes time. Solutions take times because it goes down to the social, economic and political pillars of the society that students can know through studying. Let me give you a simple example. Nowadays, people know about how pollution affects the environment. But forty years ago, this was not the case. The first United Nations conference on environment was in 1972. In 1992, there was environment and development conference in Rio. It took decades for us to get the public at large to engage and mobilize the authorities. The climate issue is relatively new which has been a recent part of public discussion. It takes times. I hope that it will take less than forty years because we are really on a very serious prospect. IT cannot be dealt with in forty years; it should be dealt with much faster. The students need to be aware, informed and be active.