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Science for Sustainable Societal Transformations: Towards Effective Governance

5/9/2011 | German House New York

Crossing the Bridge Between Research and Practice: Towards Effective Governance for Sustainable Development

This event addressed sustainable development policy and the challenges on the road to sustainable development.

Natural and socioeconomic systems of our planet are on non-sustainable paths. Yet, events such as Fukushima and the recent flooding in the Midwest of the United States have inspired people across the globe to change course.

Coinciding with the 17th annual conference of the International Sustainable Development Research Society (ISDRS), Prof. Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), and Prof. Peter Schlosser, Associate Director and Director of Research, Earth Institute, Columbia University, discussed how top scientific insights can be made accessible and useful for real-world solutions on sustainability.

Dr. Oliver Schnakenberg, Deputy Consul General in New York, gave opening remarks. Falk Schmidt (IASS) moderated.

The recent Head of the German Ethics Commission on “Safe Energy Supply,” Prof. Töpfer is also the founding and executive director of the 18-month old IASS. Prof. Töpfer explained that the organization answers the call of a major scientific institution in Germany focusing on sustainability at the interface of science and society. Research areas include, for instance, closing the carbon cycle, solar energy, soil degradation, a critical assessment of climate engineering, as well associetal transformation processes. Prof. Töpfer further explained that to bring about the effective use of scientific results, the IASS works to enhance communication between researchers and politicians. This process includes understanding the cultural side of development, historical social developments, and characteristics of a knowledge democracy, as well as the transdisciplinary approach that merging all three requires.

Falk Schmidt followed with a presentation about the IASS “Science for Sustainable TRANSformations: Towards Effective GOVernance” project, a transdisciplinary research project identifying sustainable development pathways.

Switching to the United States, Prof. Schlosser gave a presentation about the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Co-host of the ISDRS conference, the institute was created 10 years ago to address society’s non-sustainable trajectory and has 18 departments today. In its mission, the Earth Institute recognizes the harsh reality that unless we close the gap between rich and poor worldwide, sustainability will remain unattainable. Prof. Schlosser went on to identify the role of the university insustainable development. According to him, the close relation between education, research, and practice are all at the university. In fact, the institute is establishing transdisciplinary degrees in sustainability to connect to both its labs for sustainability research and the technology transfer from academia to real crises. The Earth Clinic, with its aim of “Solving Real World Problems,” fulfills this last step. Schlosser also pointed out that transferring information from the lab to the real world effectively requires an understanding of societal will and how people make decisions. He concluded that with its academic programs undergoing refinement and a rapidly growing faculty, the Earth Institute is beginning to explore the prospect of an international alliance insustainable development.

The Institute for Advanced Sustainable Studies (IASS) offers interdisciplinary and internationally oriented fellowships. For more information, please click here.

For more information about the Earth Institute at Columbia University, please click here.

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  • Featured Speakers

    • Dr. Oliver Schnakenberg (Welcome Remarks)

      Deputy Consul General, Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany, New York

    • Prof. Peter Schlosser

      Associate Director and Director of Research of the Earth Institute; Vinton Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science; Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University

    • Prof. Dr. Klaus Töpfer

      Founding Director and Executive Director, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS)