UN Academic Impact & how universities can address global challenges

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United Nations Academic Impact and the role of universities in addressing global challenges: Oceans, climate, food systems, and biodiversity

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A conversation with UN Academic Impact chief, Mr Ramu Damodaran

Panel discussion with Prof Tasman Crowe (Biology and Environmental Science and Director, UCD Earth Institute), Dr Andrew Jackson (Sutherland School of Law), Prof Dolores O’Riordan (Vice President for Global Engagement and director, UCD Institute for Food and Health), Prof Emma Teeling (Biology and Environmental Science and University College Dublin on four major topics: oceans, climate, food systems, and biodiversity.

To mark UCD joining United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), UCD Earth Institute is hosting this discussion of the role of universities to address urgent global challenges through teaching and research. While action is needed at local level, partnership and collaboration at a global and regional level is also crucial. United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) is an initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in supporting and contributing to the realisation of UN goals and mandates, including the promotion and protection of human rights, access to education, sustainability and conflict resolution. The ten principles of UNAI are 1. Addressing Poverty, 2. Capacity Building in higher education systems, 3. Education for All, 4. Global Citizenship, 5. Access to Higher Education, 6. Human Rights, 7. Intercultural Dialogue, 8. Peace and Conflict Resolution, 9. Sustainability, 10. United Nations Charter.

Prof Orla Feely (Vice President for Research, Innovation and Impact, UCD) will open the event and welcome Mr Ramu Damodaran, chief of UN Academic Impact. Prof Patrick Paul Walsh (UCD School of Politics and International Relations) will outline UCD’s progress to align with UN and UNAI principles to date and then introduce Ramu Damodaran who will outline the mission of UNAI, the benefits of membership and how researchers can play an active role in the organisation. This will be followed by a panel discussion with the four UCD academics listed above, who will each speak to their area of expertise: climate, oceans, biodiversity and food systems. These are four important foci for UN dialogues and conferences in the coming year. Panellists will outline their research in the context of the global challenges in this area. Ramu and the panel will discuss science policy interface and the routes within the UN system for researchers and HEI’s to make an impact.

Panel Biographies and Statements

Professor Tasman Crowe is Director of the Earth Institute at University College Dublin and co-director of a new interdisciplinary BSc in Sustainability. His research characterises individual and combined impacts of multiple stressors on marine benthic ecosystems. He has also worked on biomonitoring, eco-engineering, invasive species, marine protected areas and the cultural value of ecosystems. He has collaborated widely, with leading roles in EU projects VECTORS (FP7) and Ecostructure (Interreg) and is coordinating the Land2Sea project (Belmont-Biodiversa). He has published 100+ papers and book chapters and co-edited Marine ecosystems: human impacts on biodiversity, functioning and services. He is on the editorial board of CUP’s Ecology, Biodiversity and Conservation Series and Ireland’s National Biodiversity Forum and was co-chair of the European Marine Board working group on ocean observation. He was President of the European Marine Biology Symposium 2016-2019 and recently chaired an MPA Advisory Group established by the Irish government to provide advice and recommendations on the expansion of Ireland’s network of Marine Protected Areas.

Professor Crowe's Positioning Statement:

Professor Tasman Crowe will speak about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), outlining the conclusions and recommendations of the advisory group he chaired in 2019-20 and its report to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage on the expansion of Ireland’s network of MPAs. He will comment on some key ecological principles in the design of MPA networks and emphasise the value of stakeholder engagement in their development and implementation. Effective conservation and management of the marine environment requires collaboration and coordination at local, national and international level. The UN has a critical role to play in bringing together evidence and perspectives from around the world to develop common frameworks, targets and guidance and to establish worldwide agreements.

Dr. Andrew Jackson is Assistant Professor of Environmental Law at University College Dublin, with broad research interests at international, EU and Irish levels. As a solicitor, Andrew has been involved in public interest environmental litigation for many years, including before the Irish, English and EU courts. Andrew acted for the successful litigant in Climate Case Ireland before the Supreme Court of Ireland in 2020, having identified the idea for the case through his research. He also recently contributed a chapter to a new edited collection on national framework climate legislation. Andrew's previous roles include working for the international law firm Slaughter and May in London and Paris, for the UK government's Department for Environment (Defra), and as in-house lawyer for a leading environmental NGO in Ireland. He holds degrees in law from the universities of Oxford (BA) and Cambridge (LLM), an MSc in biodiversity and conservation from Trinity College Dublin (TCD), and a PhD, also from TCD.

Dr. Jackson's Positioning Statement:

Later this year, at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change's COP26 in Glasgow, the UN aims to "unite the world to tackle climate change". In parallel, the wave of climate change litigation continues to grow in strength globally, pressing for transformative change. Based on his research regarding how best to use the law to secure more ambitious climate action, in 2017 Dr. Andrew Jackson instigated a legal action known as Climate Case Ireland, brought by the NGO Friends of the Irish Environment. The case was an international frontrunner, becoming only the second in the world to successfully challenge a government’s overall mitigation ambition when the case succeeded before Ireland's Supreme Court in 2020. The Supreme Court’s judgment was variously described as “a watershed moment” (David Kenny, TheJournal.ie, 1 August 2020), “seismic” (Editorial, Irish Examiner, 5 August 2020), and “a turning-point for climate governance in Ireland” (Áine Ryall, Irish Times, 7 August 2020). In addition to helping to strengthen and diversify Ireland's climate movement (with >20,000 members of the public having signed in support of the case), Climate Case Ireland catalyzed important legal and policy reforms. In late 2018 the Government agreed to develop a new climate plan to replace the plan that was under challenge in Climate Case Ireland. This new plan became the Climate Action Plan 2019, under which the Government proposed far-reaching amendments to Ireland’s national climate law. Climate Case Ireland was said to be “chief among motives” for the urgent development of this new plan (Brendan Slattery, Irish Independent, 20 September 2019), leading directly to significant improvements in Ireland’s climate legislation and governance. Even though the legal proceedings have concluded, Climate Case Ireland continues to influence climate policy at home and abroad. Most recently, last month the Supreme Court of Ireland's judgment was cited by Germany's highest court in its own landmark climate decision.

Professor Dolores O'Riordan completed a BSc and a PhD in Food Protein Chemistry. Following time as a research fellow at UCC and Cornell University she moved to commercial food research. She joined UCD and is now a Full Professor of Food Science. Her research focuses on the physico-chemical properties of food ingredients and food structures that enhance health benefits. She has secured substantial research funding (~€40million) to conduct research in this area. She is currently the Director of UCD’s Institute of Food and Health. In her role as the University’s Vice-President for Global Engagement she is a member of the University’s Senior Management Team. She has created active global partnerships at University level, around sustainable healthy food in the USA, MENA, and China. She holds appointments on several national and European committees/boards.

Professor O'Riordan's Positioning Statement:

A Sustainable Food Systems approach is a holistic view of the food chain. It encompasses activities of all the actors involved in the production, processing, distribution and consumption of food, while considering the implications of food waste during each stage. Food systems are expected to provide food security and nutrition for a world population which is projected to grow to nearly 10 billion by 2050. Food systems are also central to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of households around the world. Arguably all of the sustainable development goals are dependent on the provision of healthier, more sustainable and equitable food systems globally. The ultimate goal of the food systems approach is to ensure food and nutrition security on the planet, with healthy diets for all in society at the core of its activities. Collaborative partnerships between leading global researchers in the field, will have an important role to play in providing the scientific data to underpin global policies to shape future food systems. This food system approach to policy setting is essential to guide the economic, social and environmental base to provide healthy sustainable and appealing diets for all.

Professor Emma Teeling is an international leader in the cross-cutting fields of mammalian phylogenetics and comparative genomics, with particular expertise in bat biology. She established the Laboratory of Molecular Evolution and Mammalian Phylogenetics in 2005, is a Founding Director of the genome consortium Bat1K and the Head of Zoology, UCD (2018-present). Her integrative research in the fields of zoology, phylogenetics and genomics aims to uncover the genetic signatures of survival that enables species to adapt to an ever-changing environment. She has been awarded >€6.4M in research funding since 2005, including prestigious personal grants- European Research Council (ERC) Starting grant (2013-2018), a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), President of Ireland Young Researcher Award (2006-2012), an Irish Research Council (IRC) Laureate Award (2018-2022), and an SFI Future Frontiers Award (2020-2025). Her record of leadership and research excellence is demonstrated by her publication record of >114 internationally peer-reviewed papers, 6 book chapters, 4 invited subject reviews. A number of these publications have over-turned conventional paradigms in mammalian biology and therefore have been published in high profile journals such as Nature (n=4), Science (n=4), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (n=3), Nature Communications (n=2), Nature Ecology and Evolution (n=2), Science Advances (n=2). Her high standing in the international community is highlighted by a total citation record of 10,8485 prestigious international keynote lectures and invited public presentations (e.g. TED talk; ~ 556,358 views; EU Parliament; World Economic Forum, Davos; BBC’s Science Club with Dara Ó Briain); nomination to prestigious academic boards and institutes (e.g. Irish Research Council Board, 2015; Member of Royal Irish Academy, 2016) and she has been awarded Chevalier des Palmes Académiques, 2017 by the French Government for her research.

Professor Teeling's Positioning Statement:

We are currently living through a global wave of human driven biodiversity loss, ranging from entire species to local populations, all declining at unprecedented and underappreciated rates. Much still remains to be known about this “anthropocene defaunation” which stems from our lack of knowledge about current and past biodiversity, species abundance, and ecosystem interactions. Despite multiple warnings and predictions we cannot as of yet, accurately estimate the changes in biodiversity nor the consequences for ecosystem functioning, as we lack the basic baseline data needed on species’ diversity, abundance, adaptation, interactions and resilience to change. Genomics is a powerful tool for documenting biodiversity among and within species. Genomic data can catalogue the genetic makeup of individuals and monitor the genetic health of populations and ecosystems. It can be used to identify both diversity loss and the loss of genetic resilience within populations and can assess the impact of anthropogenetic pressures on the natural world. Therefore, sequencing the genomes of all living species can enable some of the greatest insights into the biodiversity and survivability of life on this planet, in light of current and future human driven changes.

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Organiser UCD Earth Institute

Organiser of UN Academic Impact & how universities can address global challenges

Research for a sustainable future

UCD Earth Institute fosters multidisciplinary research and works with stakeholders to address global, regional and national environmental challenges.

Based in University College Dublin, the Institute has over 100 members and 150 associate members, drawn from disciplines including agriculture, archaeology, architecture, biology, business, chemistry, computer science, earth science, English, economics, engineering, geography, landscape architecture, law, mathematics, planning, policy and many others.

We are home to state-of-the-art research laboratories in the UCD O'Brien Centre for Science and is a focal point for UCD's environmental research.

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