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    Future infinite – research meets high-level policy of sustainability and climate change

    By Emma Terama, on 8 July 2014

    Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri (Chair of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)Academic conference dates: 11-12 June 2014
    Venue: Wanha Satama, Helsinki, Finland

    The 16th International Futures Conference organised by Finland Futures Research Centre dealt with the different dimensions of Sustainable Futures in a Changing Climate.

    Sustainable development and climate change operate at all scales ranging from local and regional to global, and require multidisciplinary research and cross-sectoral cooperation. Environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development as well as successful climate change adaptation and mitigation can only be achieved by encouraging knowledge sharing and cooperation between different sectors and decision-makers. Against the backdrop of Rio +20 (2012) and governmental commitments to post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs), this meeting brought together academics and decision-makers for fresh debate on questions of environmental sustainability and social equity.

    The conference exhibited a remarkably high stratum of keynotes, delivered by:

    President Tarja Halonen (Co-chair of UN High-level Panel on Global Sustainability; former President of the Republic of Finland); Pekka Haavisto (Minister for International Development, Finland); Prof Joyeeta Gupta (Professor of environment and development in the global south at the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research of the University of Amsterdam and UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft); Dr Markku Wilenius (Senior Advisor, University of Turku, Finland Futures Research Centre); Dr Ying Chen (Research Fellow at Institute of Urban and Environmental Studies (IUES), Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Deputy Director of CASS Research Center for Sustainable Development (RCSD) and Professor at CASS Graduate School); Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri (Chair of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Director General of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)); Prof Alf Rehn (Chair of Management and Organization at Åbo Akademi University, Finland); Prof Sohail Inayatullah (Tamkang University, Taiwan; Faculty of Arts and Business, the University of the Sunshine Coast; and the Centre of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism, Macquarie University, Sydney).

    In the academic debate, sessions naturally focused on (narrow) individual research topics, however, with the right audience, such as in my session titled WG 10: URBAN SUSTAINABILITY, a lively discussion was initiated after most presentations, and even continued after the talks (presentations available via the conference website). I was able to share thoughts and details of my work with various colleagues, not least with Dr Ying Chen of CASS with whom we immediately identified future collaboration possibilities, as well as having had the opportunity to lunch with Dr Pachauri and his TERI colleague, sampling Finnish delicacies.. most votes being given to the ‘Fazer blue’ chocolate.

    In the more politically driven talks it was striking, how much value could be placed on environmental sustainability and quality. Minister Haavisto (International Development) mentioned how environmental disputes concerning e.g. water play no small role in instigating conflict in Africa. President Halonen commented on an often-heard lamenting about leadership: “It’s right we don’t have strong leaders any more, we have a democratic system!” Some more highlights from the keynotes as captured in my twitter feed (@eterama):

    What made this conference a success was not only the inclusion of high-level policy-makers together with strong academics, it was the well-enabled interactions of the two over a two-day period in a comfortable and engaging setting. What also helped was the rain on the second day, which kept people well indoors and conversing with one another throughout the meal times and breaks! I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Kone Foundation for supporting my attendance and enabling my research in this space.

    Dr Emma Terama, Visiting Research Associate, UCL ISR

    Emma joined UCL in 2011 on an Academy of Finland post-doctoral fellowship. She currently works on a personal Kone Foundation grant investigating sustainable consumption in the urban transition. She uses mathematical and statistical models for population projections, multivariate regression and socio-economic scenarios to combine population trends with environmental impact and climate adaptation and vulnerability. Her background in applied natural and computational sciences allows for an understanding of modelled and real life structures and their causal dependencies (or the lack of). She has a second affiliation with the Finnish Environment Institute as a senior researcher, working on the EU FP7 project IMPRESSIONS: high-end climate scenarios. View Emma’s profile.