This early in your role, what are the pressing issues that you are planning to confront?
Xiaomeng: The institute has been doing very solid research on risks in terms of natural hazards leading to disasters, or rather manmade disasters and climate change as well as environmentally induced migration. The next step would be really to see how you can put all these different areas together, like puzzle pieces. I also have some new ideas, and, because of the Corona crisis, I have realised that now is the time to really think differently. Over the past years we’ve been focusing on risk research, looking at vulnerabilities, exposure and coping capacities, but it's simply not enough. These are typically the symptoms, especially visible in the Global South. But most of the root causes arise in the Global North. It's time now to look at Global North, at consumption patterns, lifestyle, resource and energy utilisation.
It’s hard to change, especially models that are so ingrained…
Xiaomeng: We have the knowledge, technology and wealth to tackle all the World’s problems, but we aren’t doing it. The reason is that we’ve been thinking in the same pattern and speaking the same dominant language, which focuses on economic growth, thinking that this equals progress, but that’s not the truth. It’s only a matter of redistribution, addressing inequality for instance. In the meantime, we also need to tackle the root causes of the whole risk and vulnerability domain. Human wellbeing exists beyond GDP. Wellbeing doesn't mean that you are rich. You can be satisfied if you can meet basic needs, like access to clean water or health care. We need to look at the world from a different angle and see how we can develop a second narrative at least, which becomes as strong as the GDP language. The question is: how can we create much more wellbeing, without the exponential economic growth? Scientifically speaking, we’ve been doing so much excellent research but there’s a lot of potential to create more visibility. We need to translate these authentic results into languages which can be understood by the common public and policy makers. UNU was created to serve as a think tank for the UN system and for national governments, it's a unique selling point which differentiates us from traditional academic institutions, by translating policy-relevant research into appropriate applications that are serving local communities at the grass-root level.