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In celebration of excellence – United Nations 75th anniversary – Climate Change Symposium 2020

Postgrad student Julie Meates organised a Climate Change Symposium from 9 – 11 March 2020, gathering students, academics, national and international experts together to discuss the challenges and potential solutions to the climate crisis. Read Julie’s summary of the Symposium below: 

2020 was a year with many challenges – let us acknowledge those who constantly seek to make the world and university a better place.

Marc Dalder, a Senior Political Reporter, states that NZ may be excluded from climate leaders’ summit, over concerns about the country’s inaction on climate change. New Zealand has seen the second-greatest increase in emissions (in percentage terms) among Annex I countries, he reports (Newsroom, November 2020). Will the government’s climate emergency declaration change that?

Before COVID-19 changed the landscape of the world, a group of enlightened and inspiring university academics, as well as post-graduate students, and international and national speakers tried to pre-empt this narrative and work on climate change and balance with a three day event in March 2020. A two-pronged approach was chosen to both honour and thank those lecturers and students who bring a climate change of kindness and manaakitanga to the university culture and environment. We also addressed the alarming statistics and looked at working collaboratively to find global solutions as requested by UN Secretary-General António Guterres to mark the United Nations 75th Anniversary to the climate crisis.

Day 1

With a heartening beginning and mihi whakatau and waiata, the Climate Change Symposium was opened with the goal and dream in mind to create a well world through global conversation. Esteemed kaumatua and Te Akatoki laid the kaupapa.

Above: Sir Mark Solomon with Te Akatoki in background

Sir Mark Solomon reminded us of the effect of climate change and Aotearoa. Post-graduate students from the environmental health post-graduate programme highlighted the effect of temperature rise. We noted that while we couldn’t change the culture of cars and flights we could raise awareness of the inextricable link between our gadget culture and the amount of fossil fuels it takes – 240 kgs to produce one computer monitor, according to Kumar, 2017. Little did we know of the pandemic to come. 

Above: Fr Arsène Kapya and Lema Shamamba

Two amazing speakers from the DRC Congo – Fr Arsene Kapya and Lema Shamamba, a climate change refugee, recounted the Congo Crisis and exploitation of the Congolese minerals. These are used for our cell phones and other digital devices, and deforestation of the second-largest rainforest in the world contribute significantly to  global warming. Lema Shamamba features in the book ‘Women Kind- New Zealand Women Making a Difference’, along with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. A segment of the 2018 Nobel Peace laureate, Dr. Denis Mukwege, was read out to the audience addressing the human cost, urging us to put an end to the suffering for the conflict minerals for our cell phones and electric cars.

Above: Panel Chair Dr Jeremy Moses and panel speakers Professor Neil Boister, Professor Karen Scott and Professor Bronwyn Hayward

An expert panel, chaired by Dr. Jeremy Moses concluded Day 1 with brief solutions to huge problems.  The panel was led by Professor Neil Boister, Head of Law School, who addressed climate change and Congo Crisis and International law. He was acknowledged, in absentia at the climate change awards the following evening. He was followed by Professor Karen Scott who gave us a professional perspective on Paris Agreement and Climate Change. Professor Bronwyn Hayward, served as the coordinating lead author for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and in 2019 was acknowledged by Kiwi Bank New Zealander of the Year – Local Hero for research on climate change and work with the IPCC, concluded the panel.

Day 2

Above: MC Glen Osborne, Dr Jarrod Gilbert, Professor Sonia Mazey, Professor Ekant Veer,  Professor Angus Macfarlane, and MC Te Hurinui Clarke with guitar

Day 2 addressed health and wellbeing in the modern world and the impact of digital technology. This evening’s MC was Glen Osbourne, New Zealand television presenter, a former New Zealand All Black and presently representing New Zealand as a police constable. Dr. Jarrod Gilbert, who has extensive research in the areas of crime and justice, addressed the issue of gangs and cyberbullying. Professor Ekant Veer, Associate Dean of Postgraduate Research, and a multi-award-winning teacher and researcher, addressed ‘Staying Healthy in a Digitally Connected World’. There is an ongoing tension between being digitally connected to the world and the stresses that being ‘always on’ has on our physical and mental wellbeing. In this talk, Professor Veer presented research that shows some of the consequences for people immersed in digital worlds and constantly connected. He concluded by providing some solutions that enable people to be both digitally connected and ‘well’. Professor Ekant Veer was further acknowledged by PVC – College of Business and Law Professor Sonia Mazey for his approach to education and learning.

Above: Dr. Ben Wamamil, Dr Suvojit Bandopadhyaya, Dr. Olatz.Lopez-Fernandez, Dr Daria Kuss, Dr Nicholas Kadaras and Dr Mary Redmayne 

Dr. Ben Wamamil, a Ph.D. student from Kenya addressed Climate change: Impact of social media and increase in vaping. Dr Suvojit Bandopadhyaya, a Ph.D. student from India, spoke of Climate change and the Impact of social media and terrorism. Dr. Olatz.Lopez-Fernandez presented on Addiction, Dr. Daria Kuss from Nottingham Trent University addressed Gaming Addictions while Dr. Nicholas Kardaras from Harvard University talked of Glow Kids and mental health.The keynote speaker was Dr Mary Redmayne from Victoria University and Monash University, who presented on:  Screen use affecting health. What can we do about it? Raising healthy children in the screen age.

Jason Gunn has taken aim at “cruel” comments from online “bullies” in an emotionally charged video on his Facebook page with commentary from Professor Ursula Cheer, Dean of the UC Law School.

Below: Professor Ursula Cheer and Dr Chris North 

Dr. Chris North, Associate Deputy Head of School gave a heartening solution to an epidemic problem. Balance in education and society in the digital age. Wellness in the Modern World: How to get Life Balance and Disconnect to reconnect. The intersection between humans and the environment, in terms of learning and quality experiences, but also in promoting environmental sustainability: Outdoors and Environmental education. UC Outdoor Education Informed by experiential education approaches. Let’s Get Physical.

The evening was interwoven with manaakitanga and kindness awards. Associate Professor Beverley Lord was presented an award for contribution to post graduate women by her Head of Department on behalf of Post graduate women. The Student Volunteer Army was acknowledged for volunteerism and received a donation presented by Vanessa Cole from Dancing with the Stars. Danielle Robb was acknowledged in absentia for volunteerism for UC netball.  The grand finale was Manaakitanga Award to Professor Angus Macfarlane by Professor Letitia Fickel Acting Pro-Vice-Chancellor Education, Health & Human Development. With special thanks to Te Hurinui Clark for his contribution.

Day 3

Day 3 concluded with inspiring presentations from the school of Physical and Chemical Sciences. Professor Brent Robinson addressed electronic waste-highlighting the environmental contaminants and the effect of our food and water. Electronic waste increased from an estimated 20-25 million tonnes per year to 50 million tonnes from 2009 to 2018. Professor Ian Shaw addressed residues in our food and human health effects, and Maria Jesus Gutirrez-Gines from ESR looked at the water, bio-waste and the circular economy, and climate change. Helena Ruffle, a Ph.D. student gave an interesting presentation on the effect of microplastics, plastics, and waste. The evening concluded with Yulinda, a Ph.D. student and sociologist who addressed indigenous knowledge and values, and food security in rural development.

A closing address from Dr. Kate Dewes and Commander Robert Green from the Disarmament and Security Centre concluded the Well World Climate change symposium.

Thanks also to all the volunteer post graduate students and UCSA caterers who helped make a successful event.

A follow up event took place on 31 September 2020 at Isaac Theatre Royal.