By Julie Franck (@JulieFranck1)

PHOTO 1Group photo /Photograph by Nick Skenderian

Two weeks ago, the MSc Global Health class of 2016 had the opportunity to attend the Sustainability Science Congress 2014 hosted by the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU). The conference, which was a follow-up from the Climate Congress held in 2009 during the COP-15, took place over three days in the Radisson Blu Falconer Conference Center in Copenhagen, and hosted nearly 140 speakers from various disciplines discussing climate change and sustainability.

It was an incredible experience for us students to participate in the debate on climate change with the big players in the game. One way we were able to participate was through the use of technology and social media at the conference. Attendees were encouraged to use Twitter to share their thoughts, and all tweets with the hashtag #iaru2014 were displayed on the big screen in the main conference hall, which gave us the opportunity to follow the thoughts of fellow tweeters.

PHOTO 2-1 Top 50 buzzwords from the first day of the IARU conference /Photo by Martin Jung

The aim of the conference was to focus on research related to climate change and sustainability challenges, and to bring together prominent speakers from science, business and policy to discuss solutions together and create an open dialogue between different fields. With topics varying from health and education to governance and social equity, and with speakers such as Johan Rockström, director of the Stockholm Resilience center, discussing the need for science to operate within planetary boundaries, and Peter Bakker, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, addressing the role of businesses in the search for solutions in sustainable development, to mention a few, the interaction between the fields became very apparent.

Given the choice to attend different talks within the conference, and the wide variety of backgrounds we come from, it was fascinating to follow the interests of the Global Health students on Twitter. Below you can see examples of this.

PHOTO 4Global Health students tweeting from the conference /By Frederik Felding, Daniel Jeannetot and Sinéad O’Ferrall

In my personal opinion, one of the most interesting and attention-grabbing talks was given by Dr. Adil Najam, professor of International Relations and Earth & Environment Studies at Boston University. He had a very unique take on the climate change debate, in which he highlighted the need for a collective effort and the benefits of looking at the planet as a united entity. He asked the audience to think of the world as one big country – “it would be a Third World Country,” he said, as this view of the world forces people to acknowledge the massive inequalities and growing need for cooperation between different parts of the globe. He argued that, in order to fight the threats faced by our planet, we have to make the environment our own. To me, Najam’s way of addressing climate change as a global issue, was an eye-opener, in the sense that the problem does not just lie with the scientists and the politicians – we, you and me, are all in this together, and policies implemented in one corner of the globe may very well have impacts in another. Only by looking at climate change as one common problem faced by the whole world, will we be able to tackle it.

Throughout the conference, there was an overall consensus that climate change is very real, and sustainability should be a key driver of global development. According to the scientific representatives at the conference, we have enough evidence to know what is happening, how it is happening, and, more or less, what the implications will be. According to Dr. Najam “We now have the ability, both scientifically and financially, to think about a future that we haven’t thought of before.” In other words, the scientific debate about whether or not climate change is happening is officially over, and the next steps now lie on the shoulders of policy-makers and businesses. The IARU 2014 conference was an attempt to bring together different players and open up for the collaboration between them, and the resounding conclusion from the three days was: we need to work together to save our planet!

PHOTO 5Who are the politicians looking up to? From the talk by Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre /Photograph by Julie Franck

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