This past Sunday, GEI held its fourth and final seminar in a series that has spanned the fall semester at Peking University’s Yenching Academy. The seminars’ topics were based around GEI’s four program areas: Energy and Climate Change; Ecosystem Conservation & Community Development; Overseas Investment, Trade and the Environment; and Marine Conservation. Each session featured at least one GEI staff member, but we were fortunate enough to have guest speakers join us for several of the sessions from the International Institute of Green Finance, Shan Shui Conservation Centre, and Oxfam Hong Kong, as well.
While the event was hosted by and targeted primarily at Yenching Academy students, in the end, we had attendees from all regions of the world from a variety of universities across Beijing, coming from a number of educational backgrounds and levels. While some students already had some experience working in or studying environment-related areas, many came to learn about the featured topics for the first time from experts working professionally on a range of environmental issues. Students shared that they were interested in the seminars for their potential to help them to further consider their own future careers in the environmental sector, as well as to meet other students also interested in protecting the natural environment.
Here’s a run-down of the series:
October 27: Climate Change, Energy, and Green Finance: Current Challenges & Opportunities for China Domestically and Abroad
During this opening session of the seminar series, we heard from the International Institute of Green Finance’s Mathias Lund Larsen and GEI’s own Shengnian Xu. During the talk, Shengnian offered some practical examples of how green energy demands and capacity are calculated, while Mathias discussed some of the broader green finance concepts that are most important in the Chinese context.
November 17: Balancing Ecosystem Conservation and Community Development
In our second seminar, we heard from GEI’s Dr. Kui Peng and Shan Shui Conservation Centre’s Xiangying Shi about broadly how ecosystem conservation and sustainable development are mutually achievable, with a focus on the area of Sanjiangyuan, where both organizations have projects. One Yenching student who attended the seminar, Kate Kologrivaya, said afterwards, “I honestly loved all of the seminars, but my favorite was the one about National Parks and conservation areas. Next semester, two of my Yenching classmates and I will go to several National Parks as part of a research trip. We are looking forward to cooperating with GEI based on the interesting experience of this seminar.”
December 1: Going Abroad Better: Environmental and Social Challenges of China’s Overseas Investment and Trade
In the third seminar, we heard from GEI’s Jingwei Zhang and Oxfam Hong Kong’s Kevin May. Reflecting on what he learned during this session, one of the student organizers of the events, Rastraraj Bhandari, said, “Learning about the efforts made alongside the gaps necessary to fill to ensure the sustainability of Chinese overseas investment and trade was a highlight of the lecture series for me. The importance of capacity building, technical assistance and knowledge transfer between China and BRI countries is imperative moving forward.” During the session, Jingwei shared some of the policy aspects associated with China’s overseas investment and trade, while Kevin shared a number of cases of instances working with local partners in areas with Chinese investment. Kevin described the event as “a wonderful initiative bringing students and researchers of very diverse backgrounds and different countries together to discuss and debate the latest environmental issues of China and its impacts overseas.”
December 22: Marine Debris and Ghost Nets: China’s Role in Marine Conservation
In the final Yenching-GEI seminar last Sunday, GEI’s Wang Jing and Liu Cui talked about some of the most pressing issues associated with China’s marine conservation efforts, such as ghost gear and sea turtle protection. At the session, there were a few students who had studied these topics previously, but for most attendees, this was a fascinating introduction to an important area of environmental issues. Wang Jing said, “It was really nice discussing with students. Their questions show that they have great interest in sustainable fishery, marine debris, and ALDFG (Abandoned, Lost, Discarded Fishing Gear).” Wang Jing said that she also appreciated hearing students’ innovative solutions to some of the most serious marine protection issues: “One of their brainstorming ideas included providing an exhibition at the Beijing aquarium, which we can actually share with aquarium personnel for future public education. Other good ideas included working together with fishing net companies to decrease ALDFG and questions about tagging and tracing fishing nets. It was a very good discussion, and I also learned a lot from the students!”
We are very grateful to our hosts and student organizers, Georgie Davie and Rastraraj Bhandari, at Yenching Academy for making this series possible. One of the most rewarding parts of the experience for us at GEI was seeing how curious students were about the contents of each seminar and how eager they were to learn more. While each seminar was originally planned to last 2 hours, each time without fail, students and speakers ended up staying for at least an hour longer to discuss additional questions. After helping to coordinate each of the sessions and speakers, Georgie said, “I liked the diversity of all the sessions and how knowledgeable all the presenters were. Learning about the issue of ghost gear was a first for me, and I also really enjoyed learning about Oxfam’s work across borders from Kevin. The most important things I gained from the seminars were the chance to meet new people and learn about on the ground jobs that people in the environment sector are doing here in Beijing.”
Students shared that they felt that the seminars made their Sunday afternoons more fulfilling and productive; attendance was voluntary, and we were impressed by how focused and interested students were, despite having other school obligations. Kate, one of the Yenching student attendees, shared that one of her biggest takeaways was, “From what I’ve seen during these seminars, people who are involved in environmental work are extremely professional, interesting, intelligent and what is more kind, emotional and inspiring.”
We hope to offer more events like these seminars in the coming semester, so keep an eye out for more information!