25 bright new minds tackle energy sustainability

27 May 2009

Students from nine Asia-Pacific countries have been set a huge task.

The students have been attending the 2009 Eco-Minds forum being hosted by The University of Auckland in partnership with Bayer, UNESCO and the United Nations Environment Programme. The forum’s focus was sustainable energy sources.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart McCutcheon opened the forum, talking about the University’s commitment to sustainability and the environment and its recent Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) award for the 2008 staff and student energy saving campaign.

Professor McCutcheon urged the students to rise to the challenge and this challenge was made very clear by each speaker at the opening ceremony.

“What we do now will influence our future and environment is now the bottom line,” said Prof. Bryan Gould, former Waikato University Vice-Chancellor, British Labour MP and now chair of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO.

Through a video link, Dr Wolfgang Plischke of Bayer’s board of management also laid down a challenge to the students, saying “it is you who will assume responsibility for the world to ensure the planet is worth living on in the future.”

Dr Young-Woo Park, Regional Director for UNEP stressed the importance of taking a holistic approach to sustainable energy in the face of climate change.

“This is like a chain. If one link in the chain is broken, it will not work.”

He also talked about the need for innovative and intelligent minds to tackle the problems facing us and, like the other speakers, stressing the task the students face.

“You are the future and the future of the world’s ecological system depends on you.”

“It’s your minds we’re after,” said Prof. Gould. “This is about changing minds, about what matters today and tomorrow. If we’re to avoid following the path of the financial crisis then we must not treat the environment as an add-on. It is the real deal.”

In formally opening the forum, Governor-General The Hon Anand Satyanand suggested sustainable development may require many different answers.

“There is a complex interplay across culture and environment and finding the right answers will depend on a range of factors from timing to tradeoffs. We need to retain a critical eye, disavow simplistic answers and be prepared to compromise.”

He ended his address with a Maori proverb.

“Kaua e rangiruatia te hā o te hoe; e kore tō tātou waka e ū ki uta. Do not lift the paddle out of unison or our canoe will never reach the shore.”

While at the forum, the students have been visiting power stations and working in groups to prepare presentations on what they have learnt and how those lessons can be applied in their own countries as part of a transition to sustainable energy supply systems.