Polluted Bangkok hosts conference on environment

February 25, 2000

University leaders, gathering to thrash out ideas on how to overcome the world's environmental challenges, could hardly have chosen a more apt venue to hold the international conference.

The International Association of University Presidents chose Bangkok, famous for its traffic jams and pollution, to debate how universities could do more to switch on students to the benefits of sustainable development.

More than 60 delegates from 30 countries agreed that universities from the developing world should work more closely with each other and with universities in the developed world to study environmental problems linked to the world's growing urban population.

After four days of talks at Siam University, the delegates finalised the Bangkok 2000 Declaration, promising a higher profile for efforts to confront global, regional and local environmental issues.

Delegates viewed cities as organisms generating liquid, solid and gaseous waste. They concluded that universities had to act as "idea factories" focusing on information, communication and technologies to improve life.

Association president Sven Caspersen, rector of Aalborg University in Denmark, said: "We wanted to make some recommendations to ourselves about how to use the environmental knowledge within universities and make it accessible to those in our surroundings." He said universities should develop links with community groups at local, regional, national and international levels.

University groupings based in Denmark, southern Africa, Thailand and Malaysia are to strengthen ties and conduct more environmental studies and research exchange programmes.

The Danish universities said they were improving their joint environmental studies curriculums, building in overseas trips and developing equal partnerships with universities in the developing world.

So far 100 Danish masters students have carried out projects in cooperating countries, dealing with environmental problem areas including waste management, eco-tourism and cleaning up the paper industry.

Jens Aage Hansen, professor of environmental engineering at Aalborg, who helped draft the Bangkok Declaration, said delegates must tell university boards that more funding is needed for environmental courses and professorships. Universities also need to work to persuade governments to allocate more money to such courses.

Professor Hansen said getting the international university groupings to work more closely together was essential. "It will improve our resource base so that we can better handle environmental issues. The problems of the big cities can only be solved through a combined effort of the entire resource base."

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