Echoing the UN’s Global Goals Week 2020 taking place 18-26 September, the Tang Prize Foundation and Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University co-hosted the 2020 Tang Prize Masters’ Forum on sustainable development on 21 September at the university’s international conference hall. The event also coincided with the 21st anniversary of the 1999 Jiji earthquake that inflicted serious damage to Taiwan two decades ago. While Dr. Jane Goodall, the latest laureate in Sustainable Development, was unable to travel to Taiwan due to the pandemic, she joined the panelists, students and the virtual audience online to talk about what caused COVID-19 and what we can do to achieve ecological conservation and sustainable development.
In his opening remarks, President of the National Tsing Hua University Hocheng Hong offered his heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Goodall, who received an honorary doctorate from Tsing Hua University, saying that all the faculty members and students took great pride in her contributions to ecosystem conservation and environmental education. Moreover, he quoted the university’s motto, “self-discipline and social commitment,” to explain how Dr. Goodall’s achievement epitomizes the values the university holds dear, that is, to embody the virtue of altruism in order to attain the goal of social sustainability.
To realize sustainable development has become one of the main policies for governments around the world, especially in the wake of many environmental and social problems brought by the overemphasis on economic development, the problems that even began to pose a real threat to the existence of mankind. Therefore, in her speech, Dr. Goodall pointed out several issues we should pay special attention to. First of all, we have to come to terms with the fact that this pandemic is, to some extent, our own making, because we disrespected the natural world. For example, when we destroyed part of the forest, species that normally would not be in touch at all may be forced to contact each other, and “this can create a situation where a pathogen, a virus or a bacteria and so on can spill over, jump, cross the barrier from one species to another,” and could potentially create a new disease. Moreover, when their food supply is depleted by human beings, animals may need to go into cities in search of food, thus being “pushed into closer contact with humans.” For these reasons, it is understandable that many new diseases we have now originated from animals. Secondly, although the pandemic “can affect rich or poor alike, it’s having a more profound effect on the poor.” For instance, many people in Africa rely on “selling what they can each day to buy food.” If a lockdown is imposed, they won’t be able to make a living and could end up starving. Thirdly, “we are in the midst of the sixth great extinction of planet and animal life.” By recklessly burning fossil fuel and producing greenhouse gases, we are making “a blanket around the globe, trapping the heat of the sun, leading to change, disruption in climate patterns everywhere.” These are the grave situations we face today, and we have to think about the consequences we have to bear in the future.
In addition to President of Academia Sinica James C. Liao who served as the moderator of the forum, three previous laureates in Sustainable Development have also provided their insightful observations through pre-recorded speeches.
Former Director of the World Health Organization and 2014 laureate Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, cautioned us to acknowledge the importance of global interdependence and to see protecting our Mother Earth as our collective responsibility. She also referred to the experience of attending the 1979 Davos Economic Forum, narrating how her calls for more focus on the urgency of environmental protection and women’s rights received apathetic responses as most of the other participants thought “such concern was irrelevant for the business community” and it is the government’s job to deal with critical issues, whether they are social, environmental, or cultural. Looking at the dramatic changes unfolding in front of our eyes today, we should be fully aware of how intimately related sustainable development is to every aspect of our life.
Director of the Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions in the Earth Institute at Colombia University and 2018 laureate Dr. James Hansen informed us that “the growth of human-made gases in the air is now ten times faster than has ever occurred on earth.” As a result, “some regions will become uninhabitable,” and the range of pathogens and the threat of infectious diseases will increase. What is more worrying is that “the delayed response of climate means that there is more global warming in the pipeline.”
Edward A. Frieman Endowed Presidential Chair in Climate Sustainability in UC San Diego and 2018 laureate Prof. Veerabhadran Ramanathan noted that what confronts us at the moment is not two separate crises, one environmental and the other social. On the contrary, it is “one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” He further elaborated on this point by drawing our attention to the fact that “more than 50 percent of climate pollution is from the wealthiest 1 billion people.” However, it is the poorest 3 billion whose contribution to the same problem is only 5 percent but who “will suffer the worst consequences of climate disruption.”
The discussion panel also consisted of President of the National Cheng Kung University Huey-Jen Jenny Su and Prof. Chia-Wei Li from the Department of Life Science at National Tsing Hua University. Together, they led a very fruitful discussion about the impact of climate change on our environment and about how the relation between humans and animals will affect the prospect for achieving sustainable development.