IUCN at 60 finally crosses the ‘Other Digital Divide’…

iucn.org

iucn.org

This news just came in, from IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature:
“Gland, Switzerland, 29 January 2009 (IUCN) – The world’s oldest and largest environmental organization is launching a new opinion page on its website, starting today with an article on President Obama written by IUCN’s President, Mr. Ashok Khosla.”

The press release quoted Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of IUCN as saying: “Because we are a science-based organization and because we are also a membership organization, we tend to avoid controversies. While we, as an organization, will maintain our scientific rigor and strict neutrality in defending nature conservation, we wanted to provide our experts and members a space to freely express themselves, get feedback from a wide audience and generate informed debates around the big issues of our time.”

Intrigued, I quickly looked up the new Opinion page, and found this welcome note from Mario Laguë, its Head of Global Communications: “IUCN is an organization that built its enviable reputation on science and on the contributions of all its members. This combination of the need for both accuracy and democratic legitimacy can at times slow down our capacity to react to current events or to express opinions that are not ‘official positions’. While it is clear that the views expressed on this page are not necessarily those of IUCN, we expect them to be in accordance with its vision of ‘a just world that values and conserves nature’.

This isn't quite what IUCN would approve, but still an interesting idea...

Not quite what IUCN would approve, but still an interesting idea...

This is what I would call cautious engagement, but it’s certainly a welcome move. The first contribution to the Opinions page is an article by Dr Ashok Khosla, President of IUCN, titled ‘A new President for the United States: We have a dream’. In his characteristic analytical and perceptive style, Ashok sums up the promise the new US administration holds for pursuing the conservation agenda worldwide.

The opinions page allows comments by readers — moderated, and limited to 300 characters per comment, just enough to make a point briefly. Two days after the Khosla essay was posted online, it had attracted four comments…or at least that many were approved by people at IUCN headquarters who review comments.

Beyond these specifics, the launch of an interactive opinions page marks a new era for IUCN which brings together over 1,000 governments, state agencies and non-governmental organisations committed to preserving life on Earth. It signifies that the alliance as a whole is finally crossing what I have called the ‘Other Digital Divide’ — the one that separates the Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants.

I’m delighted to see IUCN belatedly crossing this divide, which I’ve been advocating for some time. In September 2007, participating in IUCN’s Fourth Asian Conservation Forum in Kathmandu, Nepal, I argued that scientific merit and rational (and often very articulate) reasoning alone won’t win them enough new converts to achieve significant changes in lifestyles, attitudes and practices needed to change business as usual.

I said: “To be heard and heeded in the real world outside the charmed development and conservation circles, we need to employ a multitude of platforms, media and ICT tools.”

I added: “IUCN and other conservationists, with their rigorous scientific analysis expressed in technical papers, print publications and the occasional op ed article in broadsheet newspapers, have to navigate in this whirlpool (of new media) — and it’s not easy. But their choice is between engagement and marginalisation. The planet cannot afford the latter.

“I’m not suggesting that conservation scientists and organisations must drop their traditional advocacy methods and rush to embrace the new ICT tools. But they need to survey the new media landscape with an open mind and identify opportunities to join the myriad global conversations.”

It takes time to turn around a large ship like IUCN, but they have been trying. For example, in September 2008, days before its World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain, IUCN launched its own YouTube channel to share its videos online. Four months later, viewing numbers for the three dozen short videos posted are still in double digits, but a start has been made.

So it’s good to have the grand old lady of global conservation enter the endlessly chatty, cacophonic world of web 2.0. Let’s hope she won’t remain too aloof or elite (what I call the ‘broadsheet newspaper mentality’ when much of the world has gone tabloid or ‘compact’), or try to be too prim and proper in expressing her own views. The conversations online tend to evolve fast, and can sometimes be rough, spontaneous or unpredictable. Excessive moderating can leave out the passion and rhetoric that drive some discussions – sanitising is not recommended except to avoid libel and slander. These attributes can be very disconcerting to well-established organisations that have so far carefully managed their corporate communications. Engaging new media requires losing a good part of that control.

But as our friends in Gland have now recognised, it’s no longer a choice – but an imperative.

September 2007 blog post: Crossing the Other Digital Divide – Challenge to Conservation Community

August 2008 blog post: Wanted: Development 2.0 to catch up with web 2.0!

Calling Hydrocarbons Anonymous: Admitting my oil addiction…

Living with climate change

On the set of Sri Lanka 2048: Living with climate change

I have finally done it…and not a moment too soon!

There I was, moderating an hour-long TV debate on Saturday evening prime time television on Sri Lanka’s premier English language Channel One MTV. Our topic for this edition of Sri Lanka 2048 was living with climate change. After exploring its many facets, I was beginning to wind up.

But not before underlining the need for us to take personal responsibility for changing our lifestyles whose cumulative impact on the planet is significant.

The philosophical and political debates over climate change will continue for a long time, I said. Meanwhile, we have to live with climate change impacts that are already happening…and change how we use energy and resources so that we don’t make matters any worse.

This means we must consume less, share more, live simply and pursue smart solutions through green technologies. Of course, at the basis of all this is finding meaningful, practical ways of kicking our addiction to oil.

That’s when I put my hand up and admitted, on air, my own substance addiction: I am hooked on hydrocarbons, a.k.a. petroleum. I’m struggling to break free from it, but it’s not easy.

Of course, my individual addiction pales into insignificance when we look at how entire industries, sectors and countries are addicted to oil and stubbornly insist on continuing the status quo. But we must be the change we seek, so it’s never too late for me to work on my oil problem. When enough of us individuals do, countries and economies will follow.

But people with addictions often need expert guidance, as well as to keep the company of fellow addicts who are similarly trying to kick the habit. That’s why those having drinking problems find help in Alcoholics Anonymous.

We oil addicts could do with some organised help — environmental activist groups, please note. And Sir Arthur C Clarke has already suggested the perfect name for such a movement: Hydrocarbons Anonymous. Read his 2004 essay on Hydrocarbons Anonymous.

* * * * *

Race Against Time

Nalaka Gunawardene moderates Sri Lanka 2048: Race Against Time

Here’s what the promotional blurb for last weekend’s show said:

Sri Lanka 2048 looks at living with climate change: how challenges can become opportunities

Climate change is no longer a theory; it’s already happening. What awaits Sri Lanka – and how best can we adapt to live with extreme weather events, disrupted rainfall, sea level rise and other projected impacts? How can Sri Lanka play a meaningful role in mitigating further damage to the world’s climate?

These and related questions will be raised in this week’s Sri Lanka 2048, the series of TV debates exploring Sri Lanka’s prospects for a sustainable future in the Twenty First Century. The one-hour debate, in English, will be shown on Channel One MTV from 8 to 9 pm on Saturday, 26 July 2008.

Titled Race Against Time, this week’s debate brings together concerned Sri Lankans from academic, corporate, civil society and government backgrounds to discuss the many challenges of living with climate change. The debate looks at aspects such as promoting renewable energy to reduce our carbon emissions, and emerging opportunities for individuals, communities and businesses to adopt low carbon lifestyles and practices.

This week’s panel comprises: Dr. W. L. Sumathipala Director, National Ozone Unit, Ministry of Environment & Natural Resources; Dr. Suren Batagoda, CEO, Sri Lanka Carbon Fund; Dr Ray Wijewardene, Eminent engineer and specialist in renewable energies; and Darshani de Silva, Environmental Specialist, World Bank Office in Colombo. The debate is moderated by TVE Asia Pacific’s Director Nalaka Gunawardene.

The debate also seeks answers to questions such as: What niche can Sri Lanka occupy in the fast-growing global carbon market? How much money can we make from this market? What is the role of the recently established Sri Lanka Carbon Fund? Is the Clean Development Mechanism the right way forward?

The debate concludes with the recognition that climate Change is not just an environmental concern, but also has economic, social, political and security implications. While the philosophical and political debates over climate change will continue for a long time, everyone has to learn fast to live with it. This calls for consuming less, sharing more, living simply and pursuing smart solutions that reduce carbon emissions without compromising the quality of living.

Sri Lanka 2048 debates are co-produced by TVE Asia Pacific, an educational media foundation, and IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in partnership with MTV Channel (Private) Limited. This editorially independent TV series is supported under the Raising Environmental Consciousness in Society (RECS) project, sponsored by the Government of the Netherlands.

Sri Lanka 2048

Sri Lanka 2048

Photos by Amal Samaraweera, TVE Asia Pacific

Sri Lanka 2048: Business As Unusual

Sri Lanka 2048 - Nalaka Gunawardene moderating

Sri Lanka 2048 - Nalaka Gunawardene moderating

When our Sri Lanka 2048 TV debate series started a few weeks ago, I had no idea that I’d be hosting some programmes. But through an interesting turn of events, I’ve ended up doing just that.

The series, which TVE Asia Pacific is co-producing with IUCN and MTV Channel (Pvt) Limited — Sri Lanka’s ratings leading TV broadcaster — has been going out once every week from 22 May 2008. As I wrote at the time the series started, most programmes (8 out of 10) were hosted by Sirasa TV’s versatile and dynamic presenter Kingsly Rathnayaka.

Our plan was to do two shows in English, exploring the topics living with climate change and the nexus between business and the environment. We were still searching for a presenter for these two even as we produced and aired the Sinhala programmes.

In the end, the channel management as well as our production team all suggested for me to take it on. I’ve been hosting quiz shows on TV since 1990, and have been a regular ‘TV pundit’ on a broad range of development, science and technology issues for at least a decade. I’ve also been doing a fair amount of moderating sessions and panels at international conferences. Hosting Sri Lanka 2048 challenged me to combine all these skills — and to be informed, interested and curious about our topics under discussion.

I enjoyed being the ‘skeptical inquirer’, a role I’ve had fun playing for long years as a development journalist. Our viewers can judge how well I fared. My aim was to keep the panel and audience focused, engaged and moving ahead. My style is slower and more reflective than Kingsly’s fast-paced, chatty one. Direct comparisons would be unfair and unrealistic since we are very different personalities.

But I’m enormously grateful to the younger, more experienced Kingsly for his advice and guidance in preparing for my new role. The TV camera is ruthless in capturing and sometimes magnifying even minor idiosyncrasies in presenters. It has as much to do with style as with substance. Hope I made the grade…

Sri Lanka 2048 series branding

Sri Lanka 2048 series branding

Here’s the promotional blurb for this weekend’s show, titled Business As Unusual (yes, I borrowed the apt title from our sorely missed inspiration Anita Roddick). It was broadcast on Channel One MTV, the English language channel of Sri Lanka’s Maharaja broadcasting group.

Sri Lanka 2048 looks at Business As Unusual: How can companies do well while doing good?

The private sector is acknowledged as the engine of our economic growth. But how long can this ‘engine’ keep running without addressing its many impacts on society and the natural environment? With public concerns rising everywhere for a cleaner and safer environment, how best can businesses respond to the environmental challenges — and find new opportunities to grow and innovate?

These and related questions will be raised in this week’s Sri Lanka 2048, the series of TV debates exploring Sri Lanka’s prospects for a sustainable future in the Twenty First Century. The one-hour debate, this time in English, will be shown on Channel One MTV from 8 to 9 pm on Saturday, 19 July 2008.

Titled Business As Unusual, this week’s debate brings together concerned Sri Lankans from academic, corporate, civil society and government backgrounds to discuss what choices, decisions and tradeoffs need to be made for businesses to become environmentally responsible — and still remain profitable. Increasingly, there are examples of smart companies achieving this balance.

This week’s panel comprises (seated left to right in the photo below): Professor Sarath W Kotagama, Professor of Environment Science, University of Colombo; Renton de Alwis, Chairman, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority; Dilhan C Fernando, Marketing Director, MJF Group; and Jeevani Siriwardena, Director – Product Management, Sri Lanka Export Development Board.

Sri Lanka 2048 panel on business and environment broadcast on 19 July 2008

Sri Lanka 2048 panel on business and environment broadcast on 19 July 2008

The wide ranging discussion — looking at both domestic and international markets, and covering a range of industries — notes that many companies already address not just financial but also social and environmental bottomlines. Adopting cleaner production practices have helped increase profits through being thrifty with resources and careful with waste.

The debate also looks at the findings of a survey that IUCN and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce carried out last year of 45 companies on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies and practices. It revealed that a significant number of companies are actively applying CSR principles, with slightly over half (53%) already having environmental components in their CSR (known as CSER). The survey also found that local companies were stronger on CSR/CSER than the local operations of multinational companies.

As some panelists and audience members argue, embracing sound environmental practices goes well beyond CSR. With rising consumer awareness and greater scrutiny of how companies source materials and energy, ‘going green’ has become an integral part of responsible corporate citizens.

Sri Lanka 2048 debates are co-produced by TVE Asia Pacific, an educational media foundation, and IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, in partnership with MTV Channel (Private) Limited. This editorially independent TV series is supported under the Raising Environmental Consciousness in Society (RECS) project, sponsored by the Government of the Netherlands.

Sri Lanka 2048 - Nalaka briefing audience just before recording starts...

Sri Lanka 2048 - Nalaka briefing audience just before recording starts...

Wherever you are, Anita, I hope you were watching our show tonight — and hopefully nodding… When you insisted that businesses must care for community and the environment, you were so ahead of the pack. We’re still struggling to catch up.

Nalaka with panelist Jeevani Siriwardena

On the set of Sri Lanka 2048: Nalaka with panelist Jeevani Siriwardena

Photos by Amal Samaraweera, TVE Asia Pacific

Sri Lanka 2048: Talking today for a better tomorrow!

Sri Lanka 2048 - TV Debate series on sustainable futures for Sri Lanka

I’m just coming up for fresh air after two hectic weeks – this blog was silent during that time as I was deep immersed in doing something new and interesting.

With my team at TVE Asia Pacific, I’m involved in producing a new TV series started airing on May 22 on Sri Lanka’s ratings-leading, privately-owned, most popular channel, Sirasa TV.

Named Sri Lanka 2048, it is an innovative series of one-hour television debates that explore prospects for a sustainable future for Sri Lanka in the Twenty First Century.

Each debate will involves -– as panel and studio audience -– over two dozen Sri Lankans from academic, civil society, corporate and government backgrounds. They are recorded ‘as live’ and broadcast every Thursday at 10.45 pm, which, in Sri Lankan TV viewing patterns, is the favoured time for serious current affairs and political programmes.

The debates are being co-produced by TVE Asia Pacific, the educational media foundation that I head, in partnership with IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and MTV Channel (Private) Limited, which runs a bevy of radio and TV channels including Sirasa TV and Channel One MTV.

The editorially independent series will accommodate a broad spectrum of expertise and opinion.
The debates are based on topics such as managing our waste, reducing air pollution, protecting biodiversity on land and in the seas, and buffering communities from disasters. Two debates in English will look at the nexus between business and the environment, and coping with climate change.

Read detailed news story on TVEAP website
Read series line up and broadcast schedule

Sri Lanka 2048 image montage by The Nation newspaper

The series is based on the overall premise that Sri Lanka has abundant land and ocean resources that can be used to build such a future -– but it faces many challenges in taking the right action at the right time. We believe that public discussion and debate on issues, choices and alternatives is an essential part of this process. Read more on why this series.

Why 2048? For one thing, it’s the year Sri Lanka will mark 100 years of political independence. Being 40 years in the future, the year lies slightly more than a generation ahead, allowing ample time and opportunity to resolve deep-rooted problems of balancing development with conservation.

Sri Lanka 2048 follows an informal, talk show format that allows ample interaction between the panel and empowered audience. Although they take place within a clearly defined scope that enables some focus, all debates are unscripted.

Our amiable moderator Kingsly Rathnayaka (centre in the photo montage above), one of the most versatile presenters on Sri Lankan television today, keeps the panel and audience engaged. By design, we ask more questions than we are able to answer in a television hour (48 mins). But then, we don’t expect to resolve these burning issues in that time – all we can hope to do is to stretch the limits of public discussion.

Logistics and studio size limit the number of our audience to a two dozen. We’ve tried hard to ensure a good mix among them, drawn from all walks of life. To bring in additional voices and perspectives, we insert into each debate 2 or 3 short video reports produced in advance. These highlight solutions to environment or development problems that have been tried out by individuals, communities, NGOs, government agencies or private companies. Played at key points during debates, these help steer discussion in a particular direction.

Sri Lanka 2048 by TVE Asia Pacific

We are already receiving favourable media reviews and coverage. Here are some that appeared in English language newspapers (more have come up in Sinhala newspapers, the language in which most of this series is produced and broadcast):
The Morning Leader, 28 May 2008: Timely action to sustain Sri Lanka’s development

The Sunday Times, 18 May 2008: TV Debate series to create a sustainable future
The Nation, 1 June 2008: Pick the best at Sri Lanka 2048

Sri Lanka 2048 is the culmination of months of research, development and pre-production work carried out by TVE Asia Pacific’s production team in collaboration with IUCN Sri Lanka. Our preparatory work involved consultations with dozens of experts, activists, officials, entrepreneurs – and their various organisations or companies. We synthesize and package their information, opinions and experiences with the dynamic and creative production team at MTV Channel (Pvt) Limited.

The inspiration for this series came from my mentor Sir Arthur C Clarke, with whom I wrote an essay 10 years ago that outlined his personal vision for his adopted country in 2048. The celebrated futurist that he was, Sir Arthur often said that there is a range of possible futures, and our actions – and inaction – determine what kind of future actually happens. Desirable futures don’t just happen; they need to be worked on.

Sri Lanka 2048 is an attempt to discuss how Sri Lankans can pursue economic prosperity without trading off their good health, natural wealth and public order. This is not a series preaching narrowly focused green messages to a middle class audience. We want to rise above and beyond the shrill of green activists, and engage in informed, wide ranging discussions on the tight-rope balancing act that emerging economies like Sri Lanka have to perform between short term economic growth and long term health of people and ecosystems.

Contrary to popular perception, ‘sustainable development’ is not some utopian or technical ideal of environmental activists. It’s about creating a liveable society here and today – where everyone has an acceptable quality of life, ample opportunities to learn and earn, and the freedom to pursue their own dreams.

Doing good television takes a good deal of time, effort and money. This TV series is supported under the Raising Environmental Consciousness in Society (RECS) project of IUCN Sri Lanka, which is funded by the Government of the Netherlands. But neither is responsible for editorial content or analysis, which rests on my shoulders as the executive producer of the series.

And I, in turn, stand on the shoulders of dedicated, hard working production teams drawn from TVE Asia Pacific and MTV Channel (Pvt) Limited. Doing good television is all team work.
Sri Lanka 2048 - Fisheries panel at Sirasa Studio - Photo by TVEAP

All photos courtesy TVE Asia Pacific