Sustainable Living with Environmental Risks

Managing Environmental Risks and Promoting Sustainability, Scientific Advancement, and Leadership Development

Masanori Kobayashi, Shinji Yoshiura, Takako Sato, and Nobuhiro Kaneko

Abstract As entrenched population growth and industrialization continue to raise demand for natural resources and their exploitation, there is increasing concern over the detrimental impacts on the global environment and humanity. Economic growth was expected to save people from poverty, but conventional economic growth models simply prompted intensive resource use and undermined the basis for livelihoods that are sustainable over the long term. Whilst research and policy measures have articulated environmental risks and key factors of sustainability, compartmentalized approaches have failed to forge a scientific foundation for averting risks and promoting sustainability. Countermeasures to address environmental risks often involve trade-offs weighed against other socio-economic factors. A holistic viewpoint and trans-disciplinary science are therefore needed to foster appropriate decision making and implementation that can ensure optimal risk management and promotion of sustainability. The Leadership Programme in Sustainable Living with Environmental Risk (the SLER programme) spearheaded by Yokohama National University from 2009 to 2014, is one of the programs playing an instrumental role in addressing this need. It provides a platform for strengthening the expertise and skills graduate school students need to become environmental leaders. Moreover, the process of implementing the SLER programme has revealed both the potential and the challenges inherent in developing future environmental leaders to effectively manage environmental risk and promote sustainability.

Keywords Environmental risk • Leadership development • Risk trade-off • Sustainability • Trans-disciplinary science

Introduction: Environmental Risks and Their Implications for Future Sustainability

Economic growth and increased use of resources due to industrialization have raised the pressure on the global environment and serious warnings have been sounded that further pressure could destabilize the Earth's systems and trigger abrupt and irreversible environmental changes (Rockström et al. 2009). The average global surface temperature rose by 0.85 °C over the period 1880–2012, and by 2100 is projected to increase by 2.68–4.8 °C, accompanied by a rise in sea level of up to

0.98 m (IPCC-WGI 2013). The global wild animal population declined by more than 30 % over the period 1970–2010 and the annual economic loss attributable to deforestation and forest degradation could be equal to USD 4.5 trillion (SCBD 2010). Environmental degradation undermines the basis of people's livelihoods and often impoverishes communities. At the same time, poverty drives people to exploit natural resources for their survival and exacerbates environmental degradation in a vicious cycle (Bremner et al. 2010).

In June 2012 global leaders gathered at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro. In the conference's outcome document, entitled “The Future We Want,” they reaffirmed their commitment to promoting sustainable development for our planet and for present and future generations, and to saving the world from poverty and hunger as a matter of urgency (UNGA 2012). In paragraph 259 the document called for countries to strengthen leadership capacity to promote sustainable development and engage citizens and civil society organizations. Among a number of factors enabling sustainable development, the document underlined the importance of supporting educational institutions in (1) conducting research and innovation for sustainable development, and (2) developing high-quality, innovative including the entrepreneurship and professional training required to achieve sustainable development goals.

The Leadership Programme in Sustainable Living with Environmental Risk (the SLER programme) spearheaded by the Yokohama National University Graduate School of Environment and Information Sciences (YNU-GSEIS) is one of a number of programs designed to develop future leaders who will manage risks and promote sustainability. The SLER programme was commenced in 2009 for a 5-year duration with the support of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Japanese Science and Technology Promotion Agency. The Government of Japan lists environmental science as a priority area in research and development, and promotes innovation by consolidating knowledge and revitalizing research and development capabilities at both universities and private corporations (CSTPJ 2010). It is believed that Japan can make an essential contribution toward achieving sustainable development throughout the world by developing future environmental leaders within its higher education system.

This paper is intended to delineate environmental risks to sustainability, and their characteristics and implications, to examine what the SLER programme's pedagogical approaches and newly invented curriculum have achieved in terms of filling the gap in development of future environmental leaders. It is also designed to provide a forward-looking perspective on how universities can enhance the effectiveness of their programs for developing future environmental leaders.

 
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