Doctoral Students Participated in the 36th UNU Global Seminar

On 11, 12, and 22 March 2021, Hirai (D5), Jerome (D3), and Saiful (D3) participated in the 36th UNU Global Seminar. 

  1. What is the UNU Global seminar?

United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) has been organizing the UNU Global seminar. The seminar aims to enhance awareness about contemporary global issues and the role of the United Nations in addressing those issues. Undergrad and graduate students and young professionals are given the opportunities to learn development problems and sustainable solutions through interacting with other participants and experts from UNU-IAS in this seminar. The Global Seminar began in Shonan, Kanagawa in 1985. Since then the sessions have been held in different places all over Japan and at Seoul, Korea in 2003. The 36th UNU Global Seminar was held online due to the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

  1. The 36th UNU Global seminar

The theme of the 36th Global Seminar was “Sustainable Solutions for Global Environmental Problems”. Given this theme, 65 students selected from various universities worked as groups to analyze global environmental issues and propose sustainable solutions. Particularly in this seminar, participants focused on the interlinkage of problems related to air, water, and land and addressed those problems through transdisciplinary approaches. The seminar was held for three days, the 10th, 11th, and 22nd of March. Experts’ keynote speeches and group work were held on each day. On the 22nd of March, each group presented the outcome of the group work.

Day 1 (10 March)

The first day started with Professor Yamaguchi’s opening remark. Professor Yamaguchi referred to the UNU SDG-University Platform and emphasized the importance of collaboration among people with different expertise for addressing sustainable development goals and universities’ roles in the collaboration. Following the opening remark, Professor Oki, Senior Vice-rector of UNU gave a keynote speech entitled “Global Water Sustainability”. In the speech, Professor Oki shared lessons learned from experiences in achieving the water-related targets in MDGs and challenges to meet the SDGs. He particularly emphasized that assessing water quality, supporting people who are most left behind and taking virtual water trade into account to measure water access are essential to achieve equal access to quality water effectively and efficiently.In the group work on the first day, at first, members in each group gave self-introduction. Then, the group members were further divided into air, water, and land sub-ground and worked on identifying issues in each sector, analyzing interlinkage of those issues, exploring the solution to those issues, and analyzing stakeholders involved in the solutions. All three Yamaguchi-Takada Lab members belonged to Group C. Hirai joined subgroup C1 working on the air, Saiful joined C2 working on the water, and Jerome joined subgroup C3 working on the land. Subgroup C1 focused on air pollution and acid rain, then analyzed the interrelation between air pollution and pollutant emission from industry, agriculture, transportation, and waste treatment.

Day 2 (11 March)

On the second day, the keynote speech “Climate change and security” was given by Professor Yasuko Kameyama, Director of the Research Center for Social and Environmental Systems at the National Institute for Environmental Studies. Professor Kameyama talked about the relationship between climate change and conflict, and how to deal with conflicts caused by climate change. For example, climate change can cause natural disasters such as droughts, which can lead to conflicts among people who are seeking new settlements and limited resources. Professor Kameyama emphasizes that in order to respond to these issues, it is indispensable to build cooperation between different sectors such as the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Defense. Also, she explained that analyzing issues and solutions through a systematic approach such as categorizing by mitigation, adaptation, and loss/damage is important. 

In the group work on the second day, first, outcomes of each subgroup’s works were shared among the group. Then, each group worked on answering the following questions by integrating the subgroups’ outcomes: 1) how the issues of the three sectors, air, water, and land are interlinked, 2) what can be the solution when the interlinkage was taken into account, and 3) how to engage different stakeholders and 4) what are the roles of SDGs in the solutions.

Off-seminar group work (11-21 March)

After the second day of the seminar, each group was given 10 days to further extend the discussion and propose solutions to the identified global environmental problems. Hirai was selected as the chief coordinator of Group C. He coordinated the group members’ works together with the other six group coordinators. On the 18th, the seminar offered a consultation session with professors and researchers at the UNU-IAS. Through the session, Professor Fukushi gave a lot of informative feedback to Group C’s ideas.

Day 3 (22 March)

On the third day, Alexandros Gasparatos, associate professor of the Center for Future Vision Research at the University of Tokyo gave a keynote speech entitled “Fostering transdisciplinary research in the context of commodity crop expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa”. Professor Alexandros talked about the collaboration with various stakeholders in solving agricultural issues in Africa. He shared the systematic framework for effective collaboration and the challenges in the implementation of the framework in the real project. Particularly, it was emphasized that sharing a common understanding of the final outcomes among stakeholders is important for the success of transdisciplinary approaches in the projects involving various stakeholders.

Following the keynote speech, the group work presentation was conducted. Group A focused on reducing environmental impact from the agricultural sector and proposed a real-time data collection platform as a solution. Group B focused on educating and knowledge suggested QR codes and websites as solutions to raise awareness of SDGs. Group C focused on the interrelation of human society with the air, water sources and forest ecosystem, then proposed the title of 2050 Agenda with seven targets that show guides to achieve environmental problems. In the question and answer session, group C emphasized the importance of innovative economic schemes to balance the idea of ​​capitalism and environmental sounds economic activities.

After the group presentation, Professor Okusako from Waseda University and Professor Sugimura,  Vice President of Sophia University gave comments. Professor Okusako emphasized that every participant will be involved in environmental problems no matter where they live and what field they work for in the future. And he encouraged participants’ future involvement in transdisciplinary approaches to address the environmental challenges. Professor Sugimura shared her own experience of joining the Global seminar when she was a student. Upon the experience, she encouraged participants to build a long-term relationship with the friends they met at this seminar. At the end of the seminar, Professor Yamaguchi gave a closing remark, saying that she hopes that this seminar will be the first step for participants to build a network, and she encouraged students to continue expanding the professional network. With the remark the 36th United Nations University The Global Seminar was closed. Participants received the certificate of completion from Professor Yamaguchi online.

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