Global Cooperation for the Environment: Policy, Technology, and Action
To celebrate 50 years since the founding of Earth Day, the Wilson Center invites you to join us for a reflection on global cooperation for the environment through the lens of policy, technology, and action. The world has changed from the first Earth Day, with landmark wins balanced by new challenges—ocean plastics, climate change, water insecurity—affecting environmental policy and action.
This is an opportunity for a global call to action, working across silos. Interdisciplinary collaboration and multi-sector partnerships can help us leverage science and technology to play a critical role in shaping the design and execution of public policy. In partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Commons and the Earth Optimism Summit and leveraging initiatives such as the Wilson Center's collaboration around Earth Challenge 2020, we aim to elevate solutions-based, integrated approaches to tackling today's toughest environmental challenges. The result can be a more inclusive, resilient, and ultimately healthy environment and society.
About the Event
9:00 a.m. Opening Remarks
- The Honorable Jane Harman, President, Director & CEO, The Wilson Center
- Ruth Anna Stolk, Executive Director, Smithsonian Conservation Commons
9:30 a.m. Applying Innovation to Environmental Action
The last fifty years have shown remarkable momentum in the environmental movement, not only in informing local action but a global scientific push that has left its mark on policy. Nevertheless, the challenges facing Earth's environment continue to mount. What are some of the existing efforts between scientists, innovators, researchers, and decision-makers being used to understand complex environmental problems and inform action?
- Maisa Rojas, PhD, Associate Professor, Universidad de Chile, Chair of the Scientific Committee for COP25
- Shanna McClain, PhD, Program Lead for Risk Reduction & Resilience at NASA and Partnerships Manager for Earth Sciences Division
- Winnie Lau, PhD, Senior Officer, Preventing Ocean Plastics, The Pew Charitable Trusts
- Moderator: Mike Sfraga, PhD, Director, Global Risk and Resilience Program, The Wilson Center
10:30 a.m. Looking Forward to 2070: The Future of Cooperation for the Environment
Even as we work to address today's environmental challenges, we must anticipate the hurdles ahead. What are the problems that will mark the next 50 years of celebrating Earth Day? This is not just a matter of understanding what will shape our environment, but how we are preparing ourselves (or need to prepare ourselves) on a global scale through technology, policy, and action.
- David Kline, PhD, Coral Reef Ecologist, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
- Edan Dionne, VP, Environmental, Energy & Chemical Management Programs Corporate Environmental Affairs, IBM
- Aaron Salzberg, PhD, Director, The Water Institute, University of North Carolina; Global Fellow, Wilson Center
- Moderator: Anne Bowser, PhD, Director of Innovation, The Wilson Center
11:30 a.m. Call to Action:
- Denis Hayes, President & CEO, Bullitt Foundation, Founder, Earth Day Network
Speaker Quotes: Applying Innovation to Environmental Action
Ruth Anna Stolk
“[We] got a group of scientists together to talk about the future of our field work and how we could build better synergy with communities and with one another. And a number of the scientists pushed back on us and said, ‘We’re at the point where our work isn’t going to mean anything if we don’t change human attitudes towards nature.’”
“In this moment of fear and doubt, Earth Optimism is all the more important. We’re doing that as it relates to the pandemic we are facing now. We have to focus on what’s working, and we have to replicate what’s working, and we have to take the same approach to nature, to conserving our nature and cultural heritage. So, that’s what Earth Optimism is all about."
“Parachuting and getting the work done and publishing the data is only a very small piece of the story. And I think that where we’re going is a lot more community-oriented, much more integrated.”
“The way we do science is through transparently sharing data, making our methods clear and open—that’s very important—and that’s how we do science in whatever field of science you come from. But it is so evident now that this is really critical to solve this pandemic.”
“Climate change…cannot be addressed just by a climatologist or an economist or a sociologist, etc. And even in the climate or the earth sciences, there are many different disciplines that need to understand and fully comprehend the magnitude of the problem."
“I was interested to find that at NASA, we weren’t really integrating the human dimension into this concept of seeing Earth as a system. And, of course, if we’re talking about fragility, crisis, conflict, a lot of this happens because of the nexus between the human and environmental dimensions.”
“A lot of the approaches that NASA use are often those of many scientists, where we’ve got somebody in a lab creating something, trying to see how innovative and how far we can go, which is desperately needed. But on the other hand, I want to know what it’s going to do to help people on the ground, facing real world problems and looking for future ways of preventing or mitigating some of the crisis situations that we see.”
“NASA does amazing work, and we have incredible scientists, but we’re only part of the solution…We need to take interdisciplinary approaches.”
“The evolution for us is also about becoming more interdisciplinary and breaking out of seeing water and food security or disasters as independent program areas, but instead, part of a larger discussion of how these all come together and influence the situations that we live in and face today.”
“There’s been a constant drum beat of scientific and news articles telling us yet another new shocking fact: plastic has been found in the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench; whales and dolphins are washing up dead on shores around the world with dozens and dozens of plastic bags in their stomachs; and microplastic fibers have even been found now in our drinking water. So, the news is sobering and more and more urgent each day.”
“There is no single solution that can solve this problem. It will require a global concerted approach. The good news though is that there is a scenario whereby a credible pathway exists towards stopping plastic from getting into the ocean in the first place. But I’ll be honest with you, this path will not be an easy one, but it does exist.”
“With a credible pathway and a map of government efforts in hand, we have begun putting together the global roadmap. We are working with the many partners from both analyses as well as some new ones to devise this plan. We aim to share this global roadmap with the world in June and hope that it will catalyze the ambition and actions needed. And I hope that at another Earth Day celebration in the near future I can come back to tell you that we are well on our way.”
“We know that there are a lot of stakeholders, partners, organizations, who understand and recognize that this is an important environmental problem, and that it isn’t going to go away, even though right now our attention is on the pandemic…Once we get back to normal, this problem will still be there.”
Earth Optimism Summit
This event is in partnership with the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism Summit 2020 on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day to share solutions, expertise, examples of positive conservation action. The Wilson Center joins hundreds of sister events happening throughout 2020 that will take this action-oriented narrative global and demonstrate that change is possible.
Earth Challenge 2020
Earth Challenge 2020 is the world’s largest ever coordinated citizen science campaign. The initiative integrates existing citizen science projects and builds capacity for new ones — all to grow citizen science worldwide. Using mobile technology and open citizen science data, Earth Challenge 2020 empowers people around the world to monitor and mitigate threats to environmental and human health in their communities. Download the Earth Challenge 2020 app today to get involved.
Shanna N. McClain
Director of the Water Institute at the University of North Carolina
Science and Technology Innovation Program
The Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP) serves as the bridge between technologists, policymakers, industry, and global stakeholders. Read more
Environmental Change and Security Program
The Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP) explores the connections between environmental change, health, and population dynamics and their links to conflict, human insecurity, and foreign policy. Read more
Latin America Program
The Wilson Center’s prestigious Latin America Program provides non-partisan expertise to a broad community of decision makers in the United States and Latin America on critical policy issues facing the Hemisphere. The Program provides insightful and actionable research for policymakers, private sector leaders, journalists, and public intellectuals in the United States and Latin America. To bridge the gap between scholarship and policy action, it fosters new inquiry, sponsors high-level public and private meetings among multiple stakeholders, and explores policy options to improve outcomes for citizens throughout the Americas. Drawing on the Wilson Center’s strength as the nation’s key non-partisan policy forum, the Program serves as a trusted source of analysis and a vital point of contact between the worlds of scholarship and action. Read more
China Environment Forum
Since 1997, the China Environment Forum's mission has been to forge U.S.-China cooperation on energy, environment, and sustainable development challenges. We play a unique nonpartisan role in creating multi-stakeholder dialogues around these issues. Read more
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