Opening Remarks by Ms. Beate Trankmann at the Tsinghua University Global Summer School 2021

Posted June 28, 2021

Ms. Beate Trankmann gave opening remarks at the Tsinghua Summer School 2021.

Good morning and good evening to all of you joining from all around the world. Welcome to Tsinghua University’s Global Summer School.

I am delighted to be with you as you start your courses! And it is wonderful to see the tradition of the Summer School being kept in the midst of a global pandemic, with the power of technology helping to bring us all together for this fantastic online learning opportunity.

Before we get started, I want to test your knowledge on sustainable development with a question that comes from a quiz game that we developed at UNDP China called Sustainable Development Geek. It’s a great game with loads of information and you can download all the questions directly from our website.

Please reflect on the question and time permitting I will give you the answer at the end of my remarks. So here is the question: What do you think can be found more of in our oceans by weight? Fish or Plastic? 

We live in challenging times. Our world today faces three major crises. COVID-19, a global health emergency – with new variants and surges continuing to threaten lives and livelihoods. Almost 400 million jobs may be lost globally in the economic fallout, with young people hardest hit… Next, a climate emergency, which deepened last year, despite a temporary drop in emissions during the lockdowns. We are now headed for a catastrophic 3-degree Celsius temperature rise by 2050 – double the Paris target. And, by the same year, the ongoing biodiversity emergency may wipe out one million animal and plant species through mass extinction – in fact the current rate of global species extinction is tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the last 10 million years.

But as Albert Einstein said, who is perhaps still the most important innovator of all time: “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” As we recover from COVID-19, we have the opportunity to emerge more resilient and sustainable as a society, but this will require tackling the deep vulnerabilities and inequalities that the pandemic revealed and resetting our relationship with nature.

‘Business as usual’ is no longer an option.  This is our chance to do things differently. The wellbeing of our planet, and each other, must be front and centre in every decision we make; from the types of transport we take, to the kinds of products we design.

Faced with this challenge, young bright minds like you all are our greatest hope. You are better educated than any generation before – tech savvy, unconventional thinkers, with the energy and creativity to drive innovation. Your choices and your ideas will decide our collective future.

That is why I am thrilled that so many of you have signed up for Tsinghua’s summer school. The theme of this year’s summer school, ‘Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals’ is a timely one and part of Tsinghua’s impressive commitment to the SDGs running literally thousands of SDG courses and research projects.  Innovation is crucial to the achievement of the SDGs, to end poverty, reduce inequality and protect our planet by 2030.

From digital healthcare, to disaster recovery; to monitoring climate and biodiversity, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies are powerful tools that transform our world and can help tackle global challenges. Yet, they can also widen divides and create new inequalities, unless created for the benefit of everyone. Data protection issues can also be a challenge. By designing technologies to support vulnerable people and places, you can help build a world that includes and sustains everyone.

At UNDP, we support innovation for the global goals in various ways – from guiding inclusive policy innovations, to encouraging sustainable urbanization with green technology. Last year, we worked with Tsinghua University to launch an international forum sparking a global conversation on international AI cooperation and governance.

Today I am happy to announce that we are kicking off another UNDP-Tsinghua initiative to explore innovative solutions for achieving the SDGs.

The U&AI Youth AI4SDGs Bootcamp is a 6-month learning journey targeted at young talents just like yourselves. Through training from leading experts around the world, you will learn how to harness AI technologies to tackle real-world development challenges. I want to take this opportunity to invite all of you to apply and pursue the chance to test-drive your ideas and gain access to a global platform that can help you turn them into reality.

Let me close by thanking Tsinghua for supporting global governance and cooperation in AI, as well as educating so many young people over more than a century. We wish Tsinghua a very happy 110th birthday and hope you continue to be a source of knowledge, collaboration and innovation in future!

Before I go and as promised, I will quickly share the answer of my earlier question. Currently, there are still more fish in the ocean, but if trends continue, by 2025 there will be about one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish in the ocean. By 2050 there will be, by weight, more plastic than fish in the oceans.

With that, let me wish you a wonderful inspiring and productive summer school. The world counts on your ingenuity and creativity as the future generation of leaders to make the SDGs a reality everywhere for everyone! Good luck and enjoy!