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Climate under the spotlight at Duke International Forum 

Senior representatives from Duke Kunshan University’s founding partners were joined by policymakers, industry leaders and technical experts for the 2023 Duke International Forum, an annual meeting of minds focusing this year on climate and sustainability. 

The global event held on Friday at the Duke Kunshan campus pooled expertise in areas such as low-carbon technology, artificial intelligence, ecosystems, green finance and advanced materials to confront the challenges of climate change with solutions-based thinking. 

Among the contributors to the forum — titled “Climate and Sustainability: Green Technology, Policy, Investment & Education” — was a 14-person Duke University delegation led by Vice Provost for Climate and Sustainability Toddi Steelman, who delivered a keynote speech centered on climate resilience. 

Giving the welcoming remarks were Duke Kunshan Chancellor Yaolin Liu, Executive Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee at Wuhan University Zhuanghai Shen, Deputy Director of the Jiangsu Development & Reform Commission Ling Ming, and Party Secretary of the Kunshan Municipal People’s Government Zhou Wei. 

In his opening address, Chancellor Liu said the environment is a top priority for DKU with collaboration key to achieving shared climate goals.

“This year’s theme of the forum is climate and sustainability, with an emphasis on how technology, policy, investment and education can work together towards a more sustainable and environmentally responsible world,” he said.

“It’s critical that we convene to combine our collective knowledge and resources to foster creativity, innovation and practical solutions, and bring together experts and policymakers from a wide range of sectors to mitigate the impacts of climate change and accelerate climate action.”

Steelman and the Duke delegation were in Kunshan as part of a 12-day trip to China and Singapore where they engaged with government officials, university leaders, academic researchers and students on a range of climate issues.

She told the forum it had been “inspiring and humbling” to witness the transformation underway in China in relation to the climate and energy transition as she stressed the key role universities had to play in driving positive change.

“If we as universities do not have the answers, who does? We cannot just talk about problems, we must talk about solutions.”

Steelman warned that “depressing narratives” characterizing climate problems as “too complex” are “self-defeating conditions for action”.

“They make us into victims not agents of change,” she said. “What we need are narratives of hope. They will provide us the motivation to continue to innovate, to strive and to achieve what we know is possible.”

The forum, held regularly at DKU since 2015, featured panel discussions, student presentations, and talks with question-and-answer sessions.

DKU, Wuhan and Duke faculty from academic disciplines such as environmental policy, engineering, applied economics, materials science and business shared their insights. Senior figures from companies including intelligent manufacturing integration solutions provider Foxconn Industrial Internet and Taikang, one of China’s largest insurance and financial services institutions, also made key contributions.

Young scholars shared their research into topics ranging from climate change adaptation for flooding in Colombia to global trends in carbon capture, utilization and storage technology, while students presented the first DKU Sustainability Report.

Highlights from the welcoming remarks

“Reaching carbon neutrality and a carbon peak is a necessary step toward attaining sustainable development. Being one of the top universities in China, Wuhan University actively takes on the social responsibility of supporting the nation’s carbon-related goals.”

Zhuanghai Shen

Executive Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee at Wuhan University

“Duke Kunshan is poised to ascend as a renowned domestic and world-class higher education institution, continuously contributing significantly to Jiangsu’s economic and social development and playing a pivotal role in advancing the integrated development of the Yangtze River Delta.”

Ling Ming

Deputy Director of the Jiangsu Development & Reform Commission

“We are building Kunshan as a model of Chinese-style modernization while integrating carbon peak and carbon neutrality into its economic and social development. We are eager to leverage the insights from the experts and scholars at this forum, and turn our discussions into powerful measures to propel Kunshan’s economic and social development toward a greener horizon.”

Zhou Wei

Party Secretary of the Kunshan Municipal People’s Government

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