Pontifical Academy of Sciences plans for a sustainable future
By Mario Galgano & Linda Bordoni
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican this week hosted two conferences aimed at proposing and discussing solutions to save the planet and its inhabitants from environmental degradation and its effects.
The first event was dedicated to oceans and to the protection of people who live in coastal areas and whose livelihoods depend on fishing, while the second one focused on the need to build sustainable cities as urbanization is destined to grow.
The President of the Academy, the agricultural scientist Joachim von Braun, spoke to Vatican Radio about the busy week at the Academy’s “Casina Pio IV” in the Vatican Gardens, and about the urgent need to plan for the future and invest in science to save the world.
Health of seas and oceans
The first of the two conferences organized this week was entitled “Health of the seas and oceans and their role in the present and future of humanity.”
Professor von Braun explained it stemmed from the collaboration between the Pontifical Academy and the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn in Naples, a leading ocean research institute.
During that event, which took place on 8 June, “together with the Naples-based institution, we prepared the scientific community for the United Nations Oceans Summit which will take place later this month,” he said.
The main focus of the conference was on how best to protect the ocean thanks to suitable measures to curb over-fishing, get rid of pollution, “especially plastic and microplastic pollution,” and also the culture of peoples who live in coastal areas: the communities who need to be protected.
The Professor said one major focus of the conference was rooted in the teachings of Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si: “Caring for life in the ocean and caring for people related to the ocean.”
Promising to follow up on this activity in the future, in fact, a science agenda which was developed at the conference, will require further follow-up activities.
Reconstructing the Future for People and Planet
A second conference in the Vatican entitled “Reconstructing the Future for People and Planet took place on 9-10 June.
This conference, Professor von Braun explained, was organized with a new organization called "Bauhaus Earth" and had a focus on the future of urban areas and cities.
“Cities grow very fast and the living environment, especially for poor people who live in slums, is very unhealthy,” he said.
Sustainability, beauty, inclusiveness
He noted that in the conclusive speech Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher underscored the need for sustainability, beauty and inclusiveness in all plans and projects to build urban realities for the future.
The conference was opened by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, whom, Professor Von Braun said, is a great supporter of the initiative to make the construction sector sustainable.
The construction sector is a major polluter in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Actually, it is one of the leading polluters that needs to change and can change.
He explained that beautiful examples were upheld during the event in which alternative materials and methods for construction were illustrated.
“Constructing with wood, with clay, with bamboo, with paper,” he said, noting that construction materials need to change as does the design of houses and buildings.
“The design of cities needs to change and can change,” he added.
Von Braun explained that the workshop resulted in an agenda that foresees the development of all issues tackled in view of building a sustainable future.
“It is a very long-term agenda. Reconstructing the future for people and planet needs to go on for the coming decades,” he underscored, noting that urbanization is destined to increase.
That he said, is estimated to be the number at which the world population will probably stabilize. However, “the urban population, which is currently about 4 billion people, will certainly become much bigger.”
“Probably 7 billion out of 10 billion people will live at the end of the century in cities,” he said.