A professor from the University of Alberta recently got a taste of international politics after being invited to the United Nations’ Rio+20 conference last month.
After eight years of teaching in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Stephane Evoy became one of 27 professors around the world to moderate pre-conference panels on sustainable solutions to current issues, after which he presented a list of recommendations to conference delegates.
The conference, intended to open a dialogue between countries concerning sustainable environmental development, brought together heads of state, non-governmental organizations and academic delegates. The participants discussed different perspectives on a spectrum of topics, such as poverty and environmental concerns, before closing the conference by signing an accord.
“The reason why I was picked (was) the United Nations wanted to put together a panel of academic professors … to basically moderate discussions that happened online,” Evoy said.
“There were 12,000 people discussing various things about sustainable aspects of the planet. One of the topics was energy, so basically, how are we going to ensure globally that energy supplies are sustainable.”
Evoy was recommended by U of A President Indira Samarasekera, as someone who would do a good job of moderating one of the four-month-long online panels. Because of his background in studying alternative solar energy sources, Evoy was put in charge of the energy forum.
“I do a lot of research in bio-sensors, and over the past year we’ve started a lot of research on solar harvesting — so, new technologies to create very large farms of solar mirrors,” Evoy explained.
“Imagine a football field of mirrors — all of this, concentrating the sun’s energy to a point, and just trying to harvest all that energy (into) electricity, and so on.”
The online forum ran from February through until May, and after it closed Evoy became responsible for narrowing down all the recommendations of the 12,000 participants into 10 sustainable energy recommendations.
The most popular and controversial of Evoy’s 10 recommendations was the abolishment of fossil fuel subsidies — which a majority of the forum participants supported.
“It’s a complicated issue, because if governments (did) that, it means the price of gas at the pump would go from $1.00 to $1.50,” Evoy said.
“Most people can afford $1.50, but you also have to understand that there are countries in the world like Africa, where just to cook their food they need gas … There are regions in the world where keeping the price down is critical for the population.”
After choosing his 10 recommendations, Evoy posted them on a public site where anyone could vote. 70 per cent of the 80,000 people from Canada, America, and the UK who voted supported the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies, while only 30 per cent supported it in Africa and other third-world countries.
Once he had collected his data and condensed it into a report, Evoy presented his recommendations to the heads of state and negotiators at the Rio+20 conference at the end of June.
“I was not there to represent the Canadian government — I was there as a part of a UN team of professors suggesting what should go into the accord (at the end) of the Rio Summit,” Evoy said.
“Some of what we said went into the accord, some of it they decided was too stringent, and sometimes this country or that country doesn’t want to commit.”
Evoy said he recommended Canada begin “weaning” itself off of fossil fuels, using the oil sands an opportunity to do so.
“That was my position when I met with (UN) negotiators,” he said.
“As this went through on the Rio side, eventually it reached Ottawa the day after we presented our recommendations. Stephen Harper made a statement at the House of Commons that said, yeah, Canada is committed to reducing subsidies in the fossil fuel industry.”
The end-of-summit accord was signed on June 22.
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