UN guest says change starts in universities

04 June 2008

The University was reminded of its importance in the emerging green economy when the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme visited the City Campus on Wednesday, June 4.

Achim Steiner, who was in New Zealand for World Environment Day, said universities such as Auckland faced the challenge of making sustainability a focus of all academic programmes.

At a lunch with 40 academic and general staff from the University, he praised The University of Auckland for the efforts already made by its staff. He also recognised the work of Property Services staff for introducing sustainable operations and practices to the University.

Mr Steiner was hosted by the University’s Environmental Coordinator, Dr Lesley Stone, during his two hour visit. After attending the lunch he gave an open lecture at the Maidment Theatre titled "Are we glimpsing the emergence of a green global economy?"

"When your University was established 125 years ago, it was an era associated with unfettered progress and human ingenuity. Sustainability was not a factor," he said at the lecture.

Mr Steiner urged universities to consider sustainability in all research and developments, and to better train and equip students to effectively manage the earth’s natural resources in the future. He encouraged disciplines to work together to “unlock” solutions, particularly by looking to the ingenuity found in nature.

"Your university is the best platform you have to influence change in the political system, business sector and community."

His talk focused on how societies are transitioning to a far less carbon-intensive future and how economies must adjust to this.

"Climate change is just one prism through which we are looking at the future of the global economy. We are in a process of massive change, the biggest since the industrial revolution, and are faced with the global task of reinventing the way our economies are run."

Mr Steiner urged New Zealand to prepare its economy for a rough ride in the transition to a low-global carbon economy. He noted the distance tourists must travel to reach New Zealand, and the distance our goods and services travel to reach other countries.

"New Zealand has every reason to be worried about how it will perform in a future carbon constrained economy. You have to demonstrate how your products will compete in an economy that puts a price on a carbon footprint."