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AGS annual meeting focuses on developing countries

The Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS) focused on working with governments and residents of developing countries at its annual meeting on January 21-24 in Z������rich. President Charles M. Vest led an MIT delegation of 47 faculty and visiting scholars and 31 students.

The AGS is a partnership of three universities -- MIT, the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology and the University of Tokyo -- created in 1994 as a strategic approach to the problems of global sustainability. In his opening remarks, Dr. Vest noted that the AGS "is still a young organization, but its growing influence and value [were] amply illustrated at this year's meeting by the participation of so many distinguished scholars and business leaders from around the globe."

In looking at building relationships with developing countries, the AGS focused on the rapidly developing "megacities" of the southern hemisphere. Rajandra Pachauri, director of the Tata Energy Research Institute in New Dehli, warned that the transfer of knowledge, not simply the formulation of models based on the North's ideals for the South, will be the key to successful interaction.

"The critical input that would need to be provided in this context is knowledge, which means that knowledge management should be the essential ingredient of international partnerships between the North and South in the future," said Dr. Pachauri.

Professor Akin L. Mabogunje, executive chairman of the Development Policy Centre in Ibadan, Nigeria, opened discussions on Africa. "Institutional reforms are��������������������������� critical if 'sustainability' is to become an aspect of urban development in these countries," he said. "The empowerment of urban authorities and all that this entails in institutional capacity-building are a critical prerequisite for promoting sustainable development of municipalities in developing countries."

His comments on urbanization explained that over-centralization has bred alienation and indifference on the part of the majority of city residents to environmental conditions in cities.

Swiss industrialist Stephen Schmidheiny, chairman of the AGS International Advisory Board (IAB), said he believes the AGS can play an important role in building relationships with developing countries.

"The global market offers the developing world opportunities through the pursuit of sustainable development," he said. In order for companies in developing countries to export to the industrial world, Mr. Schmidheiny said, they must "not only be eco-efficient but must be seen to be eco-efficient and environmentally benign."

In addition to hearing progress reports on its first set of major AGS projects launched in 1997, the IAB approved funding for an additional 16 projects, bringing the total number of AGS projects to 37.

Several members participated in a panel discussion on the relevance of research and educational partnership between industrialized and developing countries. In developing countries, there is a fear of growing disparity in globalization. To allay this fear, developing countries must be included in discussions and decisions regarding their own sustainable development, members said. Partnerships must be global, expanded to specifically include partners from the southern hemisphere.

Because there are inherently different needs and curiosities, there must be a multidirectional exchange of information. The AGS must work with the developing world to find a balance in values, traditions and culture, said G���ran Lindahl, president and CEO of Asea Brown Boveri Ltd. and an IAB member.

Regarding the relevance of scientific research, Paul Egger of DEZA in Switzerland emphasized that key stakeholders should be involved in research planning, saying "scientific excellence must be linked to social awareness."

In a special Students' Challenge to the AGS leadership, six students from each of the three universities presented their view of AGS today, their vision for the future, and recommended paths for achieving those goals. Some of their suggestions that will likely be implemented are that AGS funds be earmarked for developing educational materials, that project leaders be encouraged to work with stakeholders and local populations when defining their research, and that the AGS expand its outreach activities in developing countries.

In another session chaired by Institute Professor Mario Molina, representatives from the three AGS member institutions shared their impressions of the Kyoto negotiations on global climate change and the need for further action to more fully address the climate issue. Professor Ronald Prinn of MIT said the need for further action included an enhanced research program, assistance to developing countries and enhanced technical options.

The meeting was attended by 350 people, about 100 more than last year's gathering. Professor David H. Marks, MIT's AGS coordinator and director of the Center for Environmental Initiatives, said the enthusiastic response of the faculty and students at the three partner universities is a clear indication of progress and intellectual importance of the challenge of sustainability.

The next annual meeting will be hosted by the University of Tokyo in 1999.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 11, 1998.

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