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Europe’s Role in the World to Advance Climate Neutrality
26 November 2020

Launch of the European Chair for Sustainable Development and Climate Transition

On 25 November 2020, Sciences Po launched the European Chair for Sustainable Development and Climate Transition. It is the first chair to be co-hosted by our two largest graduate schools: the School of Public Affairs, led by Dean Yann Algan, and the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA), led by Dean Enrico Letta. This Chair would not be possible without the support of its three sponsors: Hermès, HSBC and the European Investment Bank.

Dr Someshwar Dr. Someshwar, who is heading the European Chair for Sustainable Development and Climate Transition at Sciences Po, is a professor at Sciences Po and visiting professor at Columbia University in New York. He will be working closely with Dean Algan and Dean Letta.

This new transdisciplinary Chair, built in alignment with the European Green Deal which prioritizes sustainable development for Europe focusing on climate neutrality, centers on the need for multilateral consensus and the close intertwining of environmental, social and economic policies. The combination of these factors, which are crucial for the success of a socially inclusive climate transition, makes this Chair important to both the School of International Affairs and the School of Public Affairs.

In this interview conducted before the official launch, Dr. Someshwar spoke to us about the Chair’s mission and ambition.

What are the main reasons for the creation of this Chair? 

Dr. Someshwar: Sustainable development is the greatest global public policy challenge of this century. By sustainable development, I mean achieving socially inclusive economic growth that is environmentally durable.

The challenge to bring about development that is sustainable has become even more urgent and immediate in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The global health and economic crisis due to the pandemic has made visible and worsened the tragic social impacts of economic inequality. With the world population at around 7.8 billion and an annual economic product of over $140 trillion, human impact on the environment has reached dangerous levels. Economic activities over the last 150 years have resulted in the emission of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide – the so-called ‘GreenHouse Gases’. The last five years have been the hottest years on record since record-keeping began more than 160 years ago. The ‘climate envelope’ that humanity requires for survival, for peace and for prosperity is changing fast.

On the economic front, income and asset inequalities, within and between countries, are soaring and resulting in dangerous political spillovers. Evidence-based policymaking around the world, including in stable democracies, are challenged by extreme ideologies. Continuing income inequalities are feeding into national anxieties and fears.

The current global context we find ourselves in is one of economic inequality with political ramifications and environmentally unsustainable models of growth. Clearly, this can’t go on. It has to change and for the better. Back in 2015, the leaders of 193 countries, including France, adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development along with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Later the same year, world leaders met again to approve the Paris Climate Agreement to collectively reduce GHG emissions to limit global warming to well below 20 C and a promise to provide resources to developing countries to help with their carbon transition and to better manage the social and economic impacts of climate change.

However, progress has been slow and uneven. And now, the Covid-19 pandemic has potentially dealt a hammer blow to the global aspirations that were modest to begin with. Ambitions of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement are now even more vital, as societies struggle to stop the pandemic and to restart economies.

These are, if you like, the ‘global reasons’ for the chair. I say ‘global’ because there’s an even more local reason, which has to do with Europe!

Why is the positioning of the Chair as the “European Chair for Sustainable Development and Climate Transition” so important?

Dr. Someshwar: Europe is at the forefront globally on social, economic and environmental rights. Social security first arose in Europe. The European Union is widely admired for its sound environmental policies and regulations. European approaches are now widely adopted in other countries, both in the global South and North. And the European Green Deal aims to make Europe climate neutral by 2050.

These are the background conditions impulsing the creation of the Chair. Sustainability should be at the core of all organizations and activities – of government, civil society, and private companies. The mission of Sciences Po’s European Chair for Sustainable Development and Climate Transition is to advance solutions, education and dialogue for the design and practice of policies for sustainable development and climate transition, within and outside of Europe.

The location of the Chair at Sciences Po is also important for another reason. It enables us to draw on the deep expertise that exists here on relevant issues. Several faculty including Richard Balme, Sophie Dubuisson-Quellier, Charlotte Halpern, and Giacomo Parrinello will be serving on the Chair’s Scientific Committee, as well as world renowned experts including Jeffrey Sachs, Laurence Tubiana, Sunita Narain, Julia Marton Lefevre, Rizaldi Boer, Naoko Ishii, Carlos Lopes, and Roberto Lenton, amongst others.

What are the themes of this Chair? What are the issues and challenges the Chair will deal with?

Dr. Someshwar: The following themes illustrate the potential range of trans-disciplinary catalytic efforts that will be promoted by the Chair:

  • Advancing social inclusion and well-being in territories. Popular dissatisfaction spans economic and social dimensions of job uncertainties, taxation, erosion of public services, climate vulnerability, and decline in trust of public institutions amongst others. The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed, at the same time, the startling power of human and social solidarity, cutting across lines of race and class, in bringing succour to the vulnerable and the needy.
  • Attaining climate neutrality by 2050. It requires GHG reductions across economic sub-systems, and of scaling up carbon sink mechanisms and technologies in Europe and other high emitting regions. Place-determined considerations of social value and environmental externality and political governance needs are critical for long-term carbon capture aggregates.
  • Advancing the 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There is no established guidance on good practices on SDG engagement mechanisms on priority setting or budget alignment across the complex terrain of the 17 SDGs at the national and regional levels. Also, what teaching courses are required to advance understanding of the complex challenges by our students?
  • Europe’s role in the world to advance climate neutrality and just transition. The European Green Deal aims to make the continent climate neutral by 2050, and do it in a socially just manner. To be impactful, it requires teaching, training and research on effective international partnerships for a socially inclusive and carbon neutral economic development in key regions of the world (such as China, Japan, India etc.).
  • Partnerships for sustainable infrastructure requires embedding emergent climate change risks and economic behaviour nudges in new partnerships that involve companies, communities, governments and transnational entities, and which actively go beyond current efforts at ‘public-private’ efforts. To be successful, partnerships need to drive infrastructure solutions that simultaneously enhance wellbeing, are socially inclusive, climate neutral, and financially viable.
  • Adaptation to climate change requires anticipating likely social and economic impacts, planning policies and implementing action by governments, civil society, cities and territories, and companies to reduce impacts and to seize likely opportunities. Ensuring success of the One Planet Summit commitments requires developing solutions and training modules on innovative partnerships on climate smart land planning and decarbonizing the economy, and for accelerating green financing at scale.
  • Environmental justice will become an important focus of climate mitigation policies for vulnerable economies and their populations within Europe and internationally. Courses for students and staff of companies and ministries should incorporate understanding of the pathways by which environmental injustice are mitigated, and social and economic inclusions are advanced at home and abroad in a mutually beneficial manner.

What will be the main activities of the Chair?

Dr. Someshwar: The ambition of Sciences Po is to educate and enlighten citizens, create the capacity to transform societies everywhere and change the world. The university’s unique role in France and in Europe, at the crossroads of the public and private sectors as well as civil society, makes Sciences Po the ideal university to house this Chair. The Chair’s activities can be divided into four categories:

  • Teaching: The Chair will help develop Sciences Po’s specialized programs supporting academic excellence for future generations of leaders. There are already multiple ongoing programs at PSIA and EAP covering a range of themes such as environmental policy, international energy, international development, sustainable energy resources, social policy, Sustainable Development Goals, for example. The Chair will help take these efforts further.
  • Training: Working with efforts across Sciences Po, the Chair will help enrich training of civil servants and staff of companies and civil society organizations to enhance capacity to effectively deal with social and environmental challenges to advance European Green Deal aspirations in post-Covid-19 societies.
  • Research: Given the fertile nature of ongoing research at Sciences Po, the Chair will help advance research in complementary themes covering the fundamental issues of securing social inclusion, enhancing environmental sustainability, and achieving economic development.
  • Dialogue and exchange: The Chair will promote dialogue and exchange of strategic and policy recommendations involving the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences between key stakeholders in the neutral setting of Sciences Po, and closely involving partners of the Chair.

The European Chair for Sustainable Development and Climate Transition will catalyze, develop and reinforce programs and projects housed within Sciences Po, with the aim of moving public policy forward and building consensus so that the fight for social inclusion and against climate change can succeed. It is no longer just about “building awareness;” it is about helping advance public policy, with the right incentives and penalties for effective change that leaves no one behind. It is crucial that the transition to a low carbon future is socially inclusive, in Europe and around the world.

Interview by Charlotte Landes for the Sciences Po Editorial Team.

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