Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, former vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a world-renown scholar who has been involved in many policy making processes, has visited Taiwan on many occasions to provide his specialist advice on how to achieve sustainability. Praising the Tang Prize for its equal emphasis on the fields of science and the humanities, Prof. Munasinghe pointed out that “humanity” is the central issue we have to address in our pursuit of sustainable energy sources. An education in the humanities is as important as an advancement in technology because together they hold the key to successful energy transitions.
Founder and the current Chairman of the Munasinghe Institute of Development (MIND), Chairman of the Presidential Expert Committee on Sustainable Sri Lanka 2030 and an honorary senior advisor to the government of Sri Lanka since 1980, Prof. Munasinghe started his job in the IPCC in 1988, working on how to combat anthropogenic climate change. The IPCC was jointly awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former American Vice President Al Gore, “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change,” according to the citation from the Nobel Committee.
On October 21, Prof. Munasinghe took a trip to the Tang Prize Foundation, accompanied by Prof. Teng-Tsai Tu, president of the Ecological Development Union Asia and professor in the Graduate Institute of International Business of the National Taipei University. They held discussions with the CEO of the Foundation, Dr. Jenn-Chuan Chern, on a wide range of subjects including sustainable development as well as the importance of studying the humanities and of shouldering our social responsibilities.
The Tang Prize was founded with the aim of tackling issues mankind living in the 21st century is confronted with. Its four award categories encompass research efforts made in the areas of both general science and social sciences. Prof. Munasinghe extolled the Tang Prize for emblematizing the Asian philosophy of tolerance and harmony and for stressing both the innovativeness and the applicability of its winners’ works, noting that the social and moral obligations each scientific achievement should fulfil cannot be ignored. By encouraging elite scholars and scientists to bring their knowledge out of the ivory tower of academia and introduce it to the real world, the Tang Prize made it possible for theories, research findings and government policies to create actual impact on this world, raised people’s awareness about many of the crucial issues, and put human society on the right track to sustainable development.
At the time when reducing carbon emissions and mitigating global warming have become a global mission, Prof. Munasinghe expressed his confidence in Taiwan’s outstanding talent and state-of-the-art technology which will help this island play its vital role as a global coordinator. In the “International Summit on Sustainable Energy,” organized by the United Daily News Group’s Vision Project and held on October 22, Prof. Munasinghe delivered a keynote speech on “Sustainable Energy Development,” in which he informed us that our financial and economic strategies should be based on the efficient use of economic assets, such as capital, labor and land. Moreover, the environment and natural resources should be taken into consideration when we use these assets. He suggested that every country make their energy policy part of the national agenda and strive to foster long-term development through transdisciplinary collaboration. While it is not feasible to change their energy policy every couple of years, governments around the world should establish effective communication with their citizens to help them understand the risks improper harnessing and consumption of energy could incur. It would not cut the mustard to simply denounce nuclear power or fossil fuels. What is really helpful is to educate the general public about the potential, serious consequences so as to facilitate cooperation between government and civil society.
Besides the full integration within three main dimensions to sustainable development, namely “economic growth,” “social justice,” and “environmental protection,” Prof. Munasinghe also drew our attention to the determining factor in how we should respond to this ecological challenge: the choices human beings make. In other words, our “moral values” serve as an important signpost on our road to finding an ecological balance. Only when society as a whole arrives at a consensus of opinions can right decisions be made, reasonable charges on sustainable energy be levied, and polices on a carbon tax or an eco-tax be formulated. Electricity prices should be both affordable and an accurate reflection of one’s electricity consumption. Government should help transform the heavy industry by offering these companies professional training and drawing up a blueprint for their technological progress so that the public and private sectors can work hand in hand toward the realization of a sustainable world.