The chair recognizes the ambassador from the University of Pennsylvania.
Penn President Amy Gutmann joined 24 other university presidents from around the globe at the third annual United Nations Global Colloquium of University Presidents, held yesterday at New York University, to discuss climate change.
The presidents debated the role that higher education can play in ameliorating problems like global warming and in promoting sustainability through teaching and research.
The goal of the colloquium is to provide practical advice for the United Nations to use in its own environmental efforts.
Sustainability is a special issue for universities for several reasons, Gutmann said:
"One, it's both urgent and long term; two, it's intellectually complex, calling on many many disciplines; and three, . because we ourselves need to show that we can put the results of our research and education into practice," she said.
Only five of the represented universities were American, and the colloquium's heavy international presence provided a wide range of perspectives.
For instance, Indian universities said their government has mandated a required course on sustainability and climate change for students, and in African countries, where consequences of climate change will be most immediate and most severe, the focus has been on issues of land use, water and deforestation.
"Everybody around the table was eager to have more collaborative efforts," Gutmann said. "None of us as universities, even a university as large as Penn, can have all the expertise on our own faculty or know all the best practices."
Each university also sent a scholar to the conference to participate in a discussion on "Setting the Post-Kyoto Agenda for Climate Policy." Gutmann chose to bring Wharton professor Eric Orts, who specializes in issues of environmental law and policy.
Also present at the colloquium were current UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and former President Bill Clinton, who addressed the group yesterday over lunch.
The problem of sustainability has sparked interest throughout higher education, leading to the drafting of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, a document that 425 presidents, including Gutmann, have signed.
Higher education is "one of the credible voices of expertise in our society," said Debra Rowe, president of the US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development. "It brings the science not only to the students but to the public and the policy makers."
Sustainability is showing up on college campuses in the form of courses, research agendas, community partnerships, buildings and facilities, and in some cases even explicitly in college mission statements, Rowe said.
"There's almost no other issue around which that level of intense interest and commitment exists today," Gutmann said.
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