Commit to Disaster Prevention, Tang Prize Laureates Petition the World

  • Tang Prize Laureates
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As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to sweep the globe, the world’s unemployment rate skyrocketed, tipping the international economy into recession. On top of that, worries about the impact of climate change and questions concerning the sustainable development of human civilization persist. When everything seems to grind to a halt, we are faced with unprecedented disorder and uncertainty, wondering how to mitigate the damages and ease the crises this outbreak has brought about. With great foresight and a clear vision, several Tang Prize laureates provided their valuable advice on issues such as sustainable development, the connection between science and policy, climate change and public heath, giving us a ray of hope to lead us out of the current dire situation.


“7 Actions World Leaders Should Take—Gro Harlem Brundtland”


Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), three-time prime minister of Norway, and 2014 Tang Prize laureate in Sustainable Development, is a world-renowned specialist in public health. Also known as the godmother of sustainable development, she is well aware of the fact that viruses do not recognize borders. Therefore, when heading the WHO during the SARS outbreak, despite some dissenting voices, she insisted on sending experts to Taiwan to help contain the spread of the disease.


Currently, she serves as the co-chair of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board (GPMB), which issued its annual report titled “A World at Risk” last September, alerting us to the fact that “outbreaks have been on the rise for the past several decades and the spectre of a global health emergency looms large.” Moreover, “if it is true to say ‘what’s past is prologue,’ then there is a very real threat of a rapidly moving, highly lethal pandemic of a respiratory pathogen killing 50 to 80 million people and wiping out nearly 5% of the world’s economy. A global pandemic on that scale would be catastrophic, creating widespread havoc, instability and insecurity.”


The executive summary of the report enumerates 7 actions for the international community to carry out, so that leaders of every country will be able to protect their citizens in case an outbreak starts to spiral out of control. These include “heads of government must commit and invest,” “countries and regional organizations must lead by example,” “all countries must build strong systems,” “countries, donors and multilateral institutions must be prepared for the worst,” “financing institutions must link preparedness with economic risk planning,” “development assistance funders must create incentives and increase funding for preparedness,” and “the United Nations must strengthen coordination mechanisms.”


The entire report is available at


“Science and Policy Go Hand in Hand to Win the War Againt a Pandemic—Tasuku Honjo.”


Prof. Tasuku Honjo, acclaimed Japanese immunoligst who won the 2018 Nobel Prize and the 2014 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science, told Nikkei Asian Review that fighting a pandemic was like figting a war and suggested that closer ties be estabisehd between science and policy.  


“You need to take control of social systems in an emergency and respond with firm authority. Experts need to make policy recommendations before disaster hits, and the government needs to put them into action,” Prof. Honjo remarked. He also thinks there should be a Japansese version of America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevetion to monitor the situation and handle public health crises efficiently. He especially singled out Taiwan’s response as a good example to Japan, noting that every citizen in Taiwan has “a unique ID number that’s also linked to their medical information,” which makes it easier to implement relevant policy.


Answering the question about why advances in modern medicine cannot guarantee complete eradiction of infectious diseases, Prof. Honjo explained that “medicine has evolved dramatically even compared with 20 years ago, but every virus requires a new response. Physics and chemistry have established principles, but biology is a science that’s still developing, and there’s so much we still don’t know.” That is why “one novel virus can turn the world one its head.” What’s equally important is that “research into infectious diseases needs to go hand in hand with immunology. There is no point in looking only at the virus, and we need to know how people battling the virus respond to it.”  


In terms of how to alleviate the impact of the pandemic, Prof. Honjo mentioned that it was crucial to “get infections under control” and to “avoid a surge in patients and a resulting collapse of the health care system.” At the same time, we need an effective treatment, “so we should take advantage of research from China and actively use medications that are recommended for use with the virus.” In addition, “the government should take extralegal measures to have insurance cover such treatments.”


To read the original interview, please go to:


“A Word That Can Get Us through the Viral Storm—Albie Sachs”


Dr. Albie Sachs, former justice on South Africa's Constitutional Court and inaugural Tang Prize laureate in Rule of Law, spent most of his life fighting apartheid and the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Offering the world some words of wisdom and comfort at this critical juncture, he believes that to develop mutual trust between people will pave the way for our ultimate triumph.


In response to the Tang Prize Foundation’s invitation to give some advice on how to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, Dr. Sachs send us his answer to the question posed to him by the Latitudes Art Fair in South Africa. Confident that his home country has a lot to offer to the world, he observed:


“In responding to the corona virus today we have clear, decisive and compassionate leadership. We have international experience to guide us. And above all, if early indications are anything to go by, there are multitudes upon multitudes of thoughtful and caring South Africans from all walks of life who fully accept the need to keep apart in order to stand together.


South Africa gave the bitter words concentration camps and apartheid to the world. Today we offer to humanity the healing word Ubuntu, human interdependence. We will get through this disaster, and because of our thoughtfulness, generosity, and, yes, our idealism, we the people will emerge—wounded but stronger." 


For the full text of Dr. Sach's answer, please see:


“Corona Experience Will Help Us Save Our World—James Hansen”


Esteemed climate scientist and 2018 Tang Prize laureate in Sustainable Development Dr. James Hansen led the pack in warning us about global warming 30 years ago. In an email sent to the Tang Prize Foundation, he pointed out that the shock we have been feeling during this pandemic actually implies to us “the importance of early intervention,” of taking mitigation measures to reduce “the amplitude of the peak impact.”


He elaborated that “with the virus the delay time is of order weeks; with climate change the delay is of order generations. In both cases, by the time the effects become obvious, there is a much larger response ‘in the pipeline.’”


As for how to solve climate change, Dr. Hansen cautioned against “saying that we must stop emissions in 7 years (or some other number) or the climate system will run disastrously out of control.” That, he asserted, is “wrong science.” Rather than put young people under mounting pressure, the international community should work together to combat climate problems.  


Now he is immersed in writing his second book, Sophie’s Planet, which is expected come out later this year. Naming the book after his granddaughter, he hopes to communicate what he learned from studying science and the climate and to “describe the policies that are needed to assure a bright future for young people and nature,” Dr. Hansen told us in the email.  


“What Coivd-19 Teaches Us About Social Justice and Climate Change—Veerabhadran Ramanathan”


Prof. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, 2018 Tang Prize laureate in Sustainable Development and a member of the Council of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, was the first to discover that CFCs, widely used as refrigerants, are non-CO2 super greenhouse gases, which led to international efforts to implement regulatory changes. In addition, he has been engaging Pope Francis in the appeal for more attention to climate change, global warming and the poorest 3 billion people in the world whose wellbeing is at risk because of climate disruptions.


Linking Covid-19 to social justice and climate change, Prof. Ramanathan noted in an email to the Tang Prize Foundation that low-income countries could be the next to suffer destructive effects produced by the coronavirus outbreak. “It is clear physical-distancing (US calls it social distancing) is key to mitigating COVID transmission. This is possible for wealthy people like us; but how about the billions who live in slums, tiny apartments? If they cannot maintain distance and cannot afford masks etc., they will transmit the disease to the rest of the world.”


Another issue we can’t afford to ignore is how global warming and climate change can encourage the spread of various diseases. Therefore, instead of “pointing fingers at each other,” we need international coordination to tackle this global disaster. Moreover, he urged the world to reduce the emissions of not only CO2 but also the so-called “super-pollutants,” such as black carbon, tropospheric ozone and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). “Speed must become the key measure of all climate mitigation strategies,” he asserted in an op-ed published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, adding that “speedy deployment of mitigation actions and technologies” is required lest we reach climate “tipping points.”


For the entire op-ed Prof. Ramanathan co-authored with Prof. Molina and Mr. Zaelke, please go to:


These Tang Prize laureates, with their expert guidance and profound insight, reminded us of the importance of integrating plans for sustainable development into inter-governmental, environmental strategies, of disaster prevention and of the symbiotic relationship between mankind and nature. 


Established by Dr. Samuel Yin in December 2012 and awarded annually, the Tang Prize consists of four award categories, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology and Rule of Law, all of which concern the most urgent issues human beings are confronted with in the 21st century. 2020 will see the fourth round of Tang Prize laureates announced on 4 consecutive days, from June 18 to 21. Winners will receive NT$40 million in prize money, a NT$10 million grant, a diploma and a medal made of 99.99% gold and designed by Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa.