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Phoebe Koundouri: Alliance of Excellence on Research and Innovation for Aephoria

Phoebe Koundouri is a Professor of Economics at the Athens University of Economics and Business and at the Technical University of Denmark. Her research focuses on sustainable interaction between nature, society, and the economy.

Phoebe is the founder of the Alliance of Excellence for Research and Innovation on Aephoria. Among many other responsibilities, she is a Member of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Academia Europae, and the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) Board.

The National Herald: International organizations and regulators worldwide have reacted to the increased urgency for tackling climate change. What are the current implementation challenges?

Phoebe Koundouri: Huge work is in progress to tackle climate change. There are many laws, standards, and regulations that governments and businesses must follow. 2015 was a landmark year, as in September ‘Agenda 2030’ with the 17 SDGs was co-signed by more than 190 countries, and in December, 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement, a legally binding agreement to limit CO2 emissions and keep the average global temperature increase below +2°C by 2050. In 2019, the European Green Deal (EGD) was introduced, as Europe’s long-term development plan aligned with the 17 SDGs and the Paris Agreement. This alignment has been proven by the Senior Working Group of SDSN for the joint implementation of the EGD and the 17 SDGs.

In Paris, at the Palais des Congrès de Paris, October 17, 2022, Prof. Koundouri giving the opening speech at the Huawei DigitALL Night 2022. Photo: Courtesy of Phoebe Koundouri

In 2020-2021, policies and strategies touching all policy areas of the EGD were published, making the political will of EU leaders to adopt the SDGs, tangible.

Global challenges like COVID-19, the Russian-Ukrainian war, the energy crisis, and the high inflationary pressures have altered the political priorities, thus hindering the implementation of the transition plans, however.

Moreover, overexploitation of natural resources, food shortages, energy security, and pressures on the supply chain, along with the climate crisis comprise a mix of challenges that policymakers must tackle.

The Sustainable Development Reports (SDRs), which I contribute to, provide a global overview of the challenges and progress towards achieving Agenda 2030. The IPCC reports, where I am also involved, propose strategies to overcome the challenges and address climate change effectively.

TNH: What is needed for assessing the footprint of the transformation?

PK: Environmental and Social sustainability cannot exist without economic sustainability.

Any proposed solutions to sustainability-related issues must be holistic, systemic, and interdisciplinary due to their large scale and complexity. Hence, technological innovation plays a crucial role.

The solution pathways must incorporate net-zero CO2 and Circular Economy technologies, nature-based solutions, climate adaptation investments, digitization, promotion of innovation, sustainable finance solutions, and transformation policies. Each country must undertake deep transformations through complementary actions by governments, civil society, scientists, and businesses in line with the Six Transformations proposed by the UN SDSN to make the SDGs more operational.

In New York, during the 77th General Assembly of the United Nations September 18-20, 2022, the SDSN Leadership Council meeting with Laurence Tubiana, CEO, European Climate Foundation; Prof. Phoebe Koundouri, Chair SDSN Global Cliate Hub & Co-chair SDSN Europe and Greece; Enrico Giovannini, Italian Minister of Sustainable Infrastructure and Mobility; Wing Thye Woo, VP for Asia and Head of the Kuala Lumpur Office, SDSN; and Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, SDSN President. Photo: Courtesy of Phoebe Koundouri

The SDRs highlight the areas of progress and regions where more action is needed.

As SDSN Greece, we actively engage in these Reports, where we propose, among others, that the EU should lead worldwide efforts to implement the ‘SDG Stimulus’, support climate justice, and strictly adhere to SDG17 objectives. In AE4RIA, we adopt a systemic approach to facilitate a science-driven and human-centric transformation toward the joint implementation of the SDGs the Paris Agreement, and the EGD. In other words, we develop solutions improving both human and environmental well-being and mobilize policymakers to act for the common good.
TNH: What is the most crucial mobilizer of the sustainability transformation?

PK: A key mobilizer of sustainability transformations is education. Upskilling and reskilling are necessary, because the technological advancement against climate change, biodiversity collapse, and sustainable transition challenges were never so fast.

Innovation is another crucial factor. But it needs substantial financing. The requirements are enormous and are currently unmet.

Further, for research solutions to reach society, a science-policy interface is necessary. Policymakers must work jointly with the so-called Triangle of Knowledge, i.e. academia, research, and the business community so that countries become competitive and innovative. The communication of research solutions to politicians, businesses, financial institutions, NGOs, and civil society is the main mission of the SDSN, which is part of our AE4RIA. Further, the mission of SDSN Global Climate Hub (GCH), which I chair, is to provide science-based recommendations for combating the climate crisis and preventing further deterioration. Its nine units represent the stages that a country should go through to achieve the design and implementation of detailed climate neutrality and climate resilience pathways.

In Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, COP27 November 7-10, 2022, at the UN Climate Change Global Innovation Hub Pavilion: Prof. Phoebe Koundouri with Yehuda Kahane, Chairman and Cofounder, YK Center; Moshe Bareket, Director General of the Israeli
Capital Market Insurance & Savings Authority; Ketan Patel, Chairman, Force for Good; Stefan Brunnhuber, World Academy of Art and Science Trustee, Member of the Club of Rome; and Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, SDSN President. Photo: Courtesy of Phoebe Koundouri

Finally, ‘accelerators’ are required to commercialize laboratory innovations through funding, training, and guidance. I lead the EIT Climate-KIC Hub Greece (EIT_C-KIC), the largest public-private consortium in Europe aimed at accelerating innovation, where we support dozens of start-ups developing decarbonization solutions with EIT_ClimAccelerator, and we support 30-40 start-ups annually, providing innovative solutions for the maritime industry’s transition to sustainability with Maritime ClimAccelerator. Also, with BRIGAID Connect, we help businesses in Europe by offering disaster resilience innovations to better adapt to climate change and connect with end users.

TNH: How exactly can climate catastrophe be averted?

PK: According to IPCC, climate disaster aversion could happen only by keeping global warming below +1.5°C, meaning that emissions must be drastically cut and some carbon from the atmosphere be removed. Just before COP26, the countries’ climate commitments were leading us to a scenario of +3.5 °C, while before COP27, we managed to reduce this to +2.5°C. The main COP27 objective was to accelerate global climate action, scale up the adaptation of vulnerable states, and stimulate financial flows to innovation and ‘clean technologies’ transformations.

In Berlin, at the Springer Nature Office November 30, 2022, for the Springer Nature European Research Advisory Council meeting. Photo: Courtesy of Phoebe Koundouri

Climate change, pandemics, economic recession, and biodiversity collapse are interrelated challenges, which can be addressed only if energy and land use systems are properly regulated. According to the IEA, people’s preferences must shift to clean forms of energy that, are more economical. The FABLE Consortium suggests that by 2050, more areas should be left unexploited to allow natural processes, reproduction, etc. happen without human interference. This would help protect biodiversity, improve global food security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The good news is that knowledge and technology are here. It just needs more engagement and intensification of the global effort.

The SDSN Global and the SDSN Europe, which I co-chair, mobilize and disseminate scientific knowledge across society.

TNH: Your team is currently recognized as one of the largest teams in sustainability research globally and has been selected as the recipient of prestigious competitive research funding.

PK: Indeed, our large interdisciplinary AE4RIA team, with more than 160 collaborating researchers, has produced [substantial] research and policy results. Our team has coordinated over 100 interdisciplinary research projects on sustainable blue growth, the water-food-energy nexus, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and sustainable finance across all five continents focusing on combinations of sustainable development, climate change mitigation and adaptation, behavioral economics and econometrics, the economics of well-being and happiness, the natural resource-food-energy nexus, smart water systems, and ecosystem services. Currently, this is the biggest research project in the world on urban water systems.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, February 13-15, 2023, G-STIC: Global Sustainable Technology & Innovation Community Conference, Prof. Phoebe Koundouri giving a speech at the High-level plenary session, titled ‘Toward an Equitable and Sustainable Future.’ Photo: Courtesy of Phoebe Koundouri
At the Vatican, Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences February 2, 2023, Fraternal Economy of Integral and Sustainable Development workshop – core group. Photo: Courtesy of Phoebe Koundouri

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