Columbia University to offer weeklong energy program in China

Updated: 2015-05-13 11:35

By AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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The China Sustainability Project at Columbia University's Earth Institute is preparing to launch a weeklong program in Beijing to discuss energy and environmental issues, with the goal of connecting students with experts in the United States and China.

Called The Beijing Week on Energy and Environment, Columbia is offering it as a $3,000, non-degree certificate program at the Columbia Global Center in Beijing during the last week of June.

Lectures will be given by Columbia faculty and policymakers, and the class of 40 selected will be able to go on company visits and attend practice labs.

"We try to connect key Chinese stakeholders, such as universities, consultants, think tanks, and local government officials, with a broader community of Columbia University experts and scholars," said André Corrêa d'Almeida, program director and an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

"We are a small team, but we will make the connections and create more specialized teams depending on the topic we are discussing," he said.

The sustainability project was started almost a year ago as an offshoot of the Earth Institute to better connect thinkers and students to discuss ways that China can develop sustainably in the coming years, d'Almeida said. It is not directly funded by Columbia University beyond faculty participation, but the Beijing Week fees help support the program.

D'Almeida said that the program takes advantage of the large number of Chinese students who are interested in China's sustainability efforts and provides them with the opportunity to engage with their country.

"We're trying to develop knowledge that helps engage students and scholars in issues of development in China, particularly with energy and the environment," he said. "Certainly there are many organizations working at this level, but I think what we are distinctive in is how we involve the students, in particular the Chinese student community.

"Many of them are planning to go back to China at the end of their studies, but through this project, they don't have to wait two years to re-engage with their country," he said.

Jonathan Poon, a 27-year-old graduate student at SIPA, is an associate on the sustainability project, which students participate in on an extracurricular basis. Poon is involved with Beijing Energy Week, helping with programming and relaying students' needs. He also coordinates other student participation within the sustainability project.

Poon said he got involved with the project because it gives students a platform to submit views on China's development.

"I'm Chinese, so I care about the development of my own country," he told China Daily. "I have an academic focus on energy, and I understand how important China will be as a game-changer in the energy sector.

"I want China to develop in a way that is sustainable to its economy and its own people," he said. "That's what triggered my interest in participating in this project to come up with a concrete solution, to try to work with policy workers to see what we could do to make China a more sustainable country."

D'Almeida said that in the past year, he has met with municipal officials in Beijing to discuss China's environmental issues further, meetings that came at the behest of the local government, though he declined to provide names of officials. The US State Department also reached out to D'Almeida about the project when a Chinese delegation was in Washington.

"This sustainability project is a contribution towards raising awareness around these issues and coordinating and creating critical mass for the political support that meetings - such as the Paris climate talks - will require, so that we can actually agree on what we want to do for the next 15, 20 years," he said.

"It's part of that broader effort to bring great minds together and pressure, I guess, or inform politicians to make the decisions that they need to make," he said.