• MIT Professor John Heywood, director of the Sloan Automotive Laboratory, far right, makes a point at the Alliance for Global Sustainability gathering on March 21 while panel members Leena Srivastava, executive director of The Energy and Resources Institute, India, and Professor David Marks, director of MIT's Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, look on.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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Leaders meet at MIT to tackle world energy woes

The prosperous nations of the world must work with developing countries to find innovative ways of providing electricity--not from fossil fuels but from renewable resources, keynote speaker R.K. Pachauri told a recent meeting of the Alliance for Global Sustainability.

Almost 2 billion people worldwide have no electricity in their homes, said Pachauri, director general of The Energy and Resources Institute, India, and chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Some 250 leaders from academia, industry, government and nongovernment organizations addressed the challenges of identifying and implementing sustainable-development strategies worldwide at the meeting of the alliance held at MIT March 20-23.

The AGS, currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, is a collaborative research program whose member institutions are MIT, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology-Z̹rich, the University of Tokyo and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.

The AGS launched a new initiative on sustainable energy at the meeting, "Near-Term Pathways to a Sustainable Energy Future." Its goal is to identify steps that can be taken now to move the world toward sustainable energy technologies, infrastructures and markets in the future.

AGS research to that end will focus on specific sectors, notably transportation and electric power, but will also have a regional focus. Presentations at the meeting demonstrated that energy-related needs and opportunities vary widely from place to place, and approaches must be designed to suit the local context. India, for example, aims to reach "developed country" status by 2020, while Africa must struggle with poverty, land degradation and an HIV/AIDS pandemic along its path to sustainability.

Developed nations must actively partner with the developing world because "the conditions for a repeat of the economic history of the north are just not available to the societies of the south," Pachauri said.

He described the interrelated problems of food security, sustainable energy, and climate change and posed the following challenge to the AGS: "As an alliance of developed country institutions, [the AGS] has an enormous opportunity and responsibility to inform the public and decision makers in the developed world both on the serious nature of problems���in the developing world and their likely solutions."

The AGS meeting also served as a platform for a major policy announcement by Lars G. Josefsson, president and CEO of Vattenfall AB, a large European energy conglomerate. To "get things going," he called for setting the "correct" price on emissions--a price that should be global and established by market forces.

"I would like to call on all company executives, but primarily those on both sides of the Atlantic, to work for a global emissions trading system," he said. "Now it is really time for us from the business community to take a leading role and interact with governments and NGOs to design the rules and regulations, not just protect our short-sighted business interests."

Asked for his views on the impact of the AGS, Professor Charles M. Vest, MIT president emeritus and one of the founding presidents of the alliance, said that the international collaboration made possible by the AGS has been a "life-changing" experience for many of MIT's faculty and students. Since it was established 10 years ago, the AGS has "transformed" MIT, driving the formation of environmental programs and a large community of committed students.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 6, 2005 (download PDF).

Topics: Energy, Environment, Global, Special events and guest speakers


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