New sustainability institute focuses on science and the South

by Soumya Karlamangla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 13 July 2011 13:48 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Science needs to be at the heart of efforts to make better use of the world's limited resources, the Planet Earth Institute says

By Soumya Karlamangla

Science needs to be at the heart of efforts to make better use of the world’s limited resources. Putting it there is the aim of the newly-formed Planet Earth Institute, which held its first annual conference in London last week.

The institute looks a lot like many other groups that are trying to make the world more sustainable - not-for-profit, affiliated with the United Nations, international, concerned with issues of the global South.

Whatever these similarities might be, its leaders want to make clear this isn’t your run-of-the-mill group – not least because a good share of its leadership and financial backing comes from the developing world.

The institute’s president, for instance, is Alvaro Sobrinho, chairman of the institute and president of Angola’s Banco Espirito Santo Angola,

“From its very conception (the institute’s)  had this desire to have science at the heart of what it’s done,” said Paul Younger, president of the institute’s Global Scientific Committee and director of the Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability.

The group that Younger heads, composed of scientists from around the world, aims to analyse and advise on issues involving water, energy, food, waste, transport and gender equality, among others. They met for the first time last week at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London to discuss topics such as the role of the private sector and growth of the green economy.

The Planet Earth Institute was formed by the United Nations following the end of the International Year of Planet Earth, an initiative that began in 2007 to promote strategies that make better use of the world’s limited resources.

 The institute, likewise, wants to foster sustainable development during a time of climate change, urbanisation and an increased risk of natural disasters.

“The Planet Earth Institute shows how science and technology can help make societies around the world safer, healthier, and more prosperous, promoting smart solutions for Earth-related challenges,” its mission statement reads.

Its work will focus on Asia, Africa and Latin America, and be largely funded and run by people from those developing parts of the world, Younger said.

“It’s so difficult for organizations that start in the global North to truly empathize … (with) the majority of the human population of our planet,” he said. “Here we have a global not-for-profit organization that for the first time, to the best of my knowledge, has started out in the southern hemisphere.”

The projects the institute carries out will be a collaboration between the scientists, the United Nations, private contributors and local governments, according to Leonor Sa Machado, an executive board member.

“We are facilitators - what we do is to put things together to implement projects about sustainability around the world,” she said.

Soumya Karlamangla is an AlertNet Climate intern.

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