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Experts Discuss Adapting to Climate Change and Sustainability at Salata Institute Discussion

Harvard's Center for Government and International Studies South is located at 1730 Cambridge St.
Harvard's Center for Government and International Studies South is located at 1730 Cambridge St. By Santiago A. Saldivar
By Anna Feng and Katie B. Tian, Contributing Writers

Cornell applied economics professor Prabhu L. Pingali and Nigerian Conservation Foundation director Joseph D. Onoja discussed climate sustainability at the Center for Government and International Studies South Tuesday.

The event was organized by the Harvard Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability’s research clusters on South Asia and the Gulf of Guinea. It featured lectures by Pingali and Onoja as well as a panel discussion.

Pingali specifically sought to explore methods that achieve both zero hunger and zero emissions. He emphasized the Asian continent’s role in this conversation, as home to over half of the world’s hungry and over half of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Asia is still home to the largest number of hungry people,” Pingali said. “Not so much in proportion but certainly in terms of absolute numbers.”

Pingali further specified that livestock and rice cultivation are Asia’s two biggest emitters, as well as significant staples of the country’s economy. He suggested interventions to reduce emissions and hunger tradeoff in Asia, including sex-selecting for the gender of cattle based on desired dairy or meat production, zero tillage, and efficient agriculture maximizing income per unit of land.

Despite the solutions being proposed and developed, Pingali believes the lack of implementation stems from specific bureaucratic challenges. He emphasized the importance of distinct, targeted interventions, explaining that this issue cannot be resolved through a global solution and instead must be addressed at a local level.

“Local governments haven’t been strong enough in saying what we want,” Pingali said. “India is such a big country, but if I put out a case that this is what’s happening in India, it seems like one case study. The magnitudes are not corrected for, that’s why we’re running into this global versus local issue.”

Pingali concluded his talk by stressing the importance of listening to the voices of those affected.

“Being inclusive of these, of the community we’re working with, actually helps us design better programs,” Pingali said.

Onoja took the stage to speak on recalibrating sustainability in Nigeria. He introduced the issue of coastal erosion and flooding as a result of climate change, detailing its detrimental impacts on the lifestyle of residents in coastal areas.

“Now forget about politics, ethnicity, and the religious components of it,” Onoja said. “Underneath all of these are the issues of climate change because their livelihoods are being threatened.”

Onoja agreed with Pingali that there is no one-size-fits-all solution; instead, he said, it is best to focus on an aggregation of solutions from different perspectives. However, he added there is a problem in how money is being allocated.

“Billions of dollars aren’t trickling down to where the action should be,” Onoja said. “Billions of dollars are going to consultants, and sometimes you don’t need so much of that money to get down before you start seeing action.”

Onoja emphasized that local solutions are often overlooked in global discussions but are crucial for addressing the needs of communities, especially in the Global South. Onoja suggested flipping the current model because he believes “the community’s voice needs to be heard.”

Onoja concluded by calling on the audience to reflect on what solutions they can bring to the table, and emphasized the urgency of the issue.

“We’ve had over 9,000 people who have been killed and over 100 displaced from destruction,” Onoja said. “It’s going on even as I speak to you.”

Correction: November 25, 2023

A previous version of this article misidentified the Harvard Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability’s research clusters on South Asia and the Gulf of Guinea.

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