The One Skill Needed to Tackle Climate Change

September 19, 2013 by  
Filed under Strategy and Leaders

By Jovin Hurry

Holding Hands 2 by spekulator

Collaboration.

Skilled professionals, key industry practitioners and leading advocates of sustainability from governments, non-profits and private corporations gathered from September 9 to 15, 2013 at the Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Centre in Singapore in several co-located events: the World Engineers Summit (WES), World Federation of Engineers Organisations General Assembly, Build Eco Xpo Asia, and the International Green Building Conference (IGBC).

A running thread among these events was that everyone wanted to be able to work well together to build green communities in response to the climate change consequences. Many distinguished speakers in their individual talks called on the quintessential need to collaborate to address and facilitate required discussions to implement their shared green vision.

In the joint opening ceremony, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, Mr. Teo Chee Hean concluded with, “I hope your meetings and discussions will develop into collaborations that help solve the problems of today, and create a better world for tomorrow.”

In the same vein, Mr. Quek See Tiat, Chairman of the Building and Construction Authority of Singapore said in his opening address, “Climate Change affects everyone on this planet, and to effectively combat its impact on our built environment takes collaborative, multidisciplinary and multinational effort.”

Dr. Bindu Lohani, Vice President, Knowledge Management & Sustainable Development of the Asian Development Bank in the Philippines made the case for thinking and communicating collaboratively across disciplines using the tools of technology. He said we need to engineer for a wider interface with society and move away from silos.

Dr. Roland Busch, Member of Managing Board and CEO, Asia Pacific and Infrastructure & Cities of Siemens AG, argued for more integrative and comprehensive solutions. “We can only move people and goods in cities if we avoid silo thinking, as it all links together.”

Dr. Suzana Kahn-Ribeiro, Green Economy Sub-Secretary of Rio de Janeiro State Secretariat of Environment of Brazil pressed for the need of knowledge translators, those who can help business executives and scientists speak a common language.

In the special WES Sustainability Leadership Forum, we heard the industry specialists close the session reading from the same song sheet. Mr. Francois Guibert, Executive Vice President, Greater China & South Asia Region of STMicroelectronics and Dr. Selda Gunsel, Vice President, Global Commercial Technology at Shell respectively described their wish to see better and open communication across core sectors, and to witness wider collaboration across disciplines, interest groups with more partnerships with the academia.

In the IGBC spotlight plenary, Tan Tian Chong, Group Director, Technology Development Group, Building & Council Authority explained the 3rd Strategic Goal of the Singapore 3rd Green Building Master Plan to be about collaboration and engagement with stakeholders. This becomes important when moving beyond the beaten path of energy efficiency to targeting the tenants for expected behaviour changes.

Arguing the case for green buildings, Jane Henley, CEO of the World Green Building Council in the Q&A came back with force saying, “It’s about creating the demand for green buildings and educating the people. We should communicate what sustainability is about. That’s the trend. That’s the future. From the World Green Building Council’s perspective, we need to expand our thinking and it is all about connecting with people.”

“Environmental problem complexities require broad working with social workers, scientists, engineers from many disciplines to seek solutions,” argued Professor Perry McCarty, Silas Palmer Professor Emeritus, Environmental Engineering & Science, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, USA, in his talk on the educational goals for environmental engineers. The latter must be able to work across sectors and cultures.

Dr. Nick Fleming, Chief Sustainability Officer at Sinclair Knight Merz in Australia brings it a notch higher by going into the details of this much sought-after collaboration principle. In his eye-opening talk on ‘Unleashing Business & Social Value through Sustainable Capital Projects’, he warned us against group-think, un-tested assumptions and losing sight of the bigger picture. In his collaborations, he asks pointed essential questions such as “What would success look like for us?” and “How can we creatively engage?” and “How can we harness our skills to make a difference in this project?”

One cannot help wonder then, if collaboration is one of the wishes asked for from the genie in the bottle, why are we seeing it absent when it is most needed. About 45,000 travelled to the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, the vast majority convinced of the need for a new global agreement on climate change, only to go back home empty-handed.

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, said: “The city of Copenhagen is a crime scene tonight, with the guilty men and women fleeing to the airport. It is now evident that beating global warming will require a radically different model of politics than the one on display here in Copenhagen.” Can we collaborate to the extent of remodelling our political systems?

Professor Tommy Koh, Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Singapore summed it up well during the WES Sustainability Leadership Forum as a moderator. He shared how exhaustive and difficult working together can be. Global negotiations on climate change are on-going. News hover from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, Copenhagen Summit to the Durban Package on an agreement to renew the commitment period with a Green Fund to Paris 2015 for negotiation conclusions.

As we collaborate across sectors, disciplines and cultures in this tragedy of the commons, we have unequal responsibilities and unequal vulnerabilities. Fair burden allocation becomes an extremely difficult and frustrating exercise. Perhaps we should be courageous enough to avoid settling for the lowest common principle and co-ordinate and structure our effort better. We should keep at it. Working together is not only the only way, it is the only way we know that eventually, works.

Image: Holding Hands 2 by spekulator

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