Steiner, Achim - United Nations Environment Programme
2013-03-11 5:10 PM
Ann Arbor, MI - University of Michigan - Rackham Graduate School Auditorium
Achim Steiner is Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.
Environmentalism in the 21st century is being defined both by the legacy of a social movement it gave rise to during the latter half of the 20th century, as it is by the constantly evolving frontiers of scientific knowledge about our planet and the escalating anthropogenic impact of now 7 billion people. Taking the notion of 'living in the anthropocene' as an inflection point, the lecture explores the track record of modern environmentalism in shaping an agenda that has been characterised both as disruptive and anti-development or conversely as catalytic and fundamental to rethinking our economic and development paradigms in terms of the imperative of sustainability. Rooted in a tradition of critiquing past development choices, environmentalism has increasingly emerged as a science and empirically based provider of analysis and risk assessment as to the environmental change phenomena occurring in our atmosphere and biosphere. The need for moving beyond questioning to providing answers and alternatives has meant that the 'environmentalism of the 21st century' must itself confront significant drivers of change. By drawing on 'lessons learnt' and exploring the implications of some of the most recent concepts shaping the environmental discourse of today – such as planetary boundaries, decoupling, the green economy, natural capital, tipping points and irreversible change, intergenerational equity and environmental rights – the lecture will reflect on some of the key reference points which will define the strategic directions for an evolving 'environmentalism in the 21st century'. Change has become an imperative - the question is whether this environmentalism can move beyond the planetary perspective to incorporate the social and economic realities that motivate the choices people make about the future.