Royal Guest Professor, Susan Baker returns from the “Faith in the Future” environmental symposium on Global sustainability at the Royal Palace of Stockholm
2 April 2012
Susan Baker, who has a Royal Appointment as King Carl XVI Gustaf Professor in Environmental Science, one of 14 Royal Guest Professors worldwide that have been appointed to the Swedish King, has just returned to the UK after attending the “Faith in the Future” environmental symposium on global sustainability at the Royal Palace of Stockholm on 22 March.
In recognition of King Carl XVI Gustaf’s 50th birthday, a fund was created in his honour to finance international guest professors within the field of environmental sciences. These researchers have recently participated in the symposium, along with around a hundred leading figures within research, industry and politics. This was the first time the 14 Royal Environmental Professors have come together, and the aim was to provide visions for the future and to show how knowledge contributes towards a more sustainable society.
The symposium was part of the official national commemoration of the first UN Conference on the Environment, 1972 in Stockholm, and was arranged together with the Swedish scientific academies with specialist knowledge in the environmental area.
Professor Baker is the first woman to receive this prestigious professorship and her research is about the governance of sustainable development in the context of global environmental change. She is concerned that the urgency of the problem of global environmental change may see us act without thinking of the long term consequences and their impact upon the promotion of sustainable development.
Interview with Susan Baker
With a hammer in your hand every problem you see is a nail
Professor Susan Baker's research is about the governance of sustainable development in the context of global environmental change. She sees many barriers that need to be to overcome, emphasizing the call for more knowledge of the social aspects of global environmental change and especially the dynamics of the relationship between the natural system and the social world. Susan Baker wants to take the discussion forward on the concept of resilience, a system’s ability to cope with change. She argues that the world is far more complex than that: “There are lots of social systems that are resilient but not environmentally friendly, and resilient environments do not necessarily promote social justice. Our task is to find how best to govern our future in ways that support both ecological resilience and social equity in the context of sustainable development."
“There are no easy ways forward”, she continues, “but our first step is to take a deep look at our relationship with nature. If we open our minds we will become far more humble and thus more willing to admit that we are making mistakes”.
Professor Baker is concerned that the urgency of the problem of global environmental change may see us act without thinking of the long- term consequences and their impact upon the promotion of sustainable development. “What we don’t want”, she says “is to create more problems for future generations”.
She also wants to think positively and practically about ‘sustainable development’. “Actually, I don’t know what sustainable development is”, she says, “because like all broad-brush political concepts, its meaning is formed in practice”. To make sure we have the right set of tools to support that practice, we need to start thinking differently. Susan Baker calls for a new way of thinking: “If you have a hammer in your hand, every problem you see is a nail. When addressing global environment challenges this means that we tend to do what we can do, rather than what we should do. If we start thinking in new ways about what we should do, then we can start to think about how to make that happen.”
“Our governance ‘toolbox’ currently contains regulatory and market instruments and uses participatory processes, and they function differently on different spatial and temporal scales. We need to start thinking about how to combine these tools to support our sustainable future. How do we make a smart, multi-model governance mix? What new tools do we need?”
More about the King Carl XVI Gustaf 50th Anniversary Fund for Science, Technology and Environment
The King Carl XVI Gustaf 50th Anniversary Fund for Science, Technology and Environment was founded in 1996 to celebrate His Majesty’s 50th birthday. The four original founders were the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA), the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA), the Royal Swedish Academy of Agricultural Sciences (KSLA) and the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise (Svenskt Näringsliv, then Sveriges Industriförbund). The purpose was to promote research, technological development and enterprise that would contribute to the sustainable use of natural resources and the maintenance of biodiversity. The Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research, MISTRA, and the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education, STINT, also decided to contribute to honouring His Majesty on his birthday by funding one international guest professor per year for five years. This programme was prolonged for another five years and has subsequently received financial support directly from the King Carl XVI Gustaf 50th Anniversary Fund.
The Royal Guest Professorship has become a very important way to promote high-quality research across the broad spectrum of the environmental sciences, in both their social and their natural-scientific aspects. The purpose of the Professorship is to create links between Swedish centres of higher learning and distinguished foreign researchers able to contribute to the renewal of Swedish environmental sciences. The Guest Professor have to bring a unique addition of competence to the Swedish host institution and also be able to contribute to the development of environmental research in Sweden. . ‘Environmental sciences’ is interpreted broadly to include research in technology, in the natural and the social sciences and in the humanities. The Guest Professor is expected to combine a high level of scientific competence with a trans-disciplinary approach. The holder of the Professorship is appointed by the governing body of the 50th Anniversary Fund, after a preparation process in a working committee with external experts.
Professor Susan Baker, Professor of Environmental Social Science, Cardiff University, UK
Royal Guest Professorship: 2003/2004 at Umeå University