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Thomas’ blog on SDG

New colleague – and what a scoop!

SDU has a new pro-rector: Sebastian Mernild, who is a skilled leader, an outstanding researcher and a captivating communicator. Sebastian also has a clear message about sharp rises in sea levels and a clear call to action now to ensure sustainable development.

By Thomas Buchvald Vind, 10/21/2020

Welcome to Sebastian!

1 October 2020 was an important day at SDU. It was PhD, Sc. D. and Professor Sebastian Mernild’s first day as SDU’s new pro-rector. As a close management colleague of Sebastian in SDU’s rectorate, three characteristics in particular have struck me about him: skilled leader, outstanding researcher and captivating communicator.

As Pro-rector of SDU, Sebastian builds on his solid foundation as a skilled leader – not least as an international environment leader, ranging from managerial responsibility for some of the world’s most talented researchers in the field of climate change to serving as an officer during deployments to Kosovo and Afghanistan.

Sebastian is known in the general public and in the academic world as an outstanding climate researcher and an important voice in the international climate debate. Not least as the lead author of the UN’s forthcoming climate report in 2021.

On top of that, Sebastian is a captivating communicator. In 2018, the Danish Broadcasting Corporation rewarded Sebastian with the Rosenkjær Prize, which is awarded to a cultural or scientific person who has been able to disseminate complicated material and knowledge to a wider audience in an easy-to-understand and vivid form.

Personally, I am glad that Sebastian has joined SDU’s management, and that his strong international and research perspective allows him to take SDU further as a university. I am especially excited that Sebastian can contribute to the University’s sustainable development efforts with great effect and skill.

Climate change in the long run

In fact, Sebastian jumped the gun as pro-rector when, on the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals on 25 September 2020, he delivered a keynote address entitled: SDG no. 13 (climate action) – and the need for action now!

I listened with interest to Sebastian’s presentation on the consequences of climate change and the need for climate adaptation, which calls for political will and action now. In particular, I noticed two points.

Firstly, the global average temperature has risen during and since the last Ice Age (22,000 years ago), but the most significant increase in the shortest time has occurred within the last 140 years with an increase of 1.2 degrees Celsius. The very sharp increase starts with the industrialisation in the 1880s and has been further intensified in the last 50 years, where the average temperature alone has risen by almost 1 degree Celsius.

Global temperature since the last ice age

Secondly, the forecasts indicate that by the year 2350 – that is, 230 years from now – the global sea level will probably have risen by 1.5 metres because 20 % of Greenland’s inland will have melted by then. That is, provided we continue the business-as-usual scenario of globally sending carbon emissions into the atmosphere. In addition, further melting of the ice cap in Antarctica and of the many smaller global glaciers may contribute to several metres of sea level rise. By comparison, during the last interglacial period (the Eemian interglacial period, 130,000-115,000 years ago), global sea levels were 6-9 m higher than today under almost the same climatic conditions as those we see today.

The points from Sebastian’s address made me wonder: How much is 1.5 metres and 6-9 metres actually? I myself am 2 metres tall, and 1.5 metres corresponds to approximately the distance between my heart and my foot. 6-9 metres corresponds to 3-4 times my own height and almost exceeds the height of my house. Still, what do I care about the sea levels in 2350? After all, I’ll be long dead by then.

But I DO care! Sustainable development is precisely about viewing life on the planet in a very long time frame. Our actions today create the basis of life for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren and the many generations to come.

Thanks to Sebastian for disseminating his climate research and for demonstrating the need for facts and science in the climate debate. Not least his call to act now to counter temperature rises that are claiming the lives of future generations on land.

Sustainability at SDU

But what exactly does ‘action now’ entail when talking about sustainable development at a university?

‘Action now’ at SDU is a matter of looking at the way we run the University. We’ve certainly got a long way to go. I have just approved the installation of additional solar power cells at SDU. They will allow us to cover an even larger part of our electricity consumption with solar energy, thereby reducing our CO2 emissions. The Executive Board has also decided to introduce climate accounts at SDU to gain knowledge about the University’s carbon footprint, from the operation of buildings to transport. And finally, as a spin-off of SDU’s 2019 SDG Forum, we have developed an initiative on green transport, which has received enthusiastic support from SDU’s students and employees. Specifically, in the coming months we will be rolling out a number of initiatives that can nudge all of us to choose more sustainable transport. I shall revert to this at a later date.

However, ‘action now’ at a university is also about making scientific analyses and results available to decision-makers – just as Sebastian does as a climate researcher. We must hope that the results of research in the long run form a sufficient basis for the global community to make decisions and take action. A university acts by researching and disseminating knowledge, while politicians make decisions based on that research. With Sebastian aboard the team, SDU has gained a skilled leader, an outstanding researcher and a captivating communicator who will help us to promote SDU’s work with sustainable development in research and education in the years to come.

Whether the University’s initiatives and a change in behaviour at SDU will have a concrete measurable effect on the sea levels in 2350, I couldn’t say. But the more we all – and not just at SDU – change our behaviour, the more we are all pulling in the right direction.

Once again: Welcome, Sebastian! And welcome to the future generations!

Editing was completed: 21.10.2020