Interviews TOP

no.015 [Nov. 2010]
Jusen ASUKA (Director, IGES Climate Change Group)
no.014 [Aug. 2010]
Magnus BENGTSSON (Director, IGES Sustainable Consumption and Production Group)
no.013 [Feb. 2010]
Masanori KOBAYASHI (Coordinator, IGES Programme Management Office)
no.012 [Sep. 2009]
Charmine KODA (Journalist & IGES Board Director)
no.011 [Feb. 2009]
Peter KING (Senior Policy Advisor, IGES Bangkok Office)
no.010 [Nov. 2008]
Rajendra PACHAURI (Director-General, TERI) & Dr. Rabinder MALIK (Coordinator, TERI-Japan)
no.009 [Aug. 2008]
Hideaki KOYANAGI (Director, IGES Beijing Office)
no.008 [Feb.2008]
Taka HIRAISHI (Member of the Board of Directors & Senior Consultant, IGES)
no.007 [Jul.2007]
(Chair of the Board of Directors, IGES)
no.006 [Mar.2007]
(Policy Researcher, IGES)
no.005 [Jul.2006]
ANCHA Srinivasan
(Principal Research Fellow, IGES)
no.004 [Mar.2006]
(Policy Researcher, IGES)
no.003 [Nov.2005]
(Policy Researcher, IGES)
no.002 [Jun.2005]
(Policy Researcher, IGES)
(Former Chair of the Board of Directors, IGES)

E-alert Interviews (February 2009)
On Values and Attitudes of Researchers

Dr. Peter King
Senior Policy Advisor, IGES Bangkok Office

Graduating from Melbourne University (B. Ag. Sc.) in 1970, Dr. King joined the Soil Conservation Authority of Victoria. In 1977 he graduated with M. Env. Sc from Monash University. He was a Research Fellow in the Environment and Policy Institute, East West Center, Hawaii from 1981-82. From 1982-1990, his consulting companies, Terra Firma Environmental Consultants and ACIL Australia, worked on environmental issues throughout Asia and the Pacific. In 1991, he started work with ADB as an Environment Specialist and in 1998, he was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy (Environmental Science) degree from Murdoch University in Perth. Dr. King became Senior Policy Advisor for IGES in 2005, and he has been leading IGES Bangkok Office since then. He is also active as an environmental consultant.

Over 40 Years' Experience in the Field of Environment
---- You have been involved in a wide range of environmental fields over the years. Please tell us a little about your background.


I have been an avid environmentalist since my undergraduate days and it has remained an abiding passion for more than 40 years. On graduating from Melbourne University (B. Ag. Sc.) in 1970, I was employed by the Soil Conservation Authority of Victoria, where I worked on soil erosion control, watershed management, and land capability assessment. I was then invited to take up a Research Fellowship in the Environment and Policy Institute, East West Center, Hawaii.

In 1982, I established my own company, Terra Firma Environmental Consultants, specialising in environmental impact assessment. This company was subsequently merged with ACIL Australia, Australia's largest agriculture and natural resources management consultancy. As one of six owners of the firm and Director of Overseas Development, I was responsible for strategic planning, marketing, and project design and supervision for environmental, natural resources, and agricultural development projects throughout Asia and the Pacific. At various times, I also acted as a Project Leader in developing countries, or an environment specialist for short-term inputs.

In the field, Timor Leste.
I started work with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 1991 as an Environment Specialist, where I first met Mr. Hideyuki Mori, currently the Vice President of IGES. Throughout Asia and the Pacific, I established a sound reputation as ADB's leading natural resources management ("green") expert, involved in some of the region's most innovative projects. Some of the projects included (i) Indonesia - Coral Reef Rehabilitation and Management; (ii) China - West Henan Agriculture Development; (iii) China - PRC/Global Environment Facility (GEF) Partnership on Land Degradation; (iv) China - Strategic Options for the Water Sector; and (v) China - Comprehensive Toxic and Hazardous Chemicals Transport Management Plan in the Huang Pu River Basin. In total, I had personal responsibility for over 50 loan and technical assistance projects in ADB. In 2001, I was appointed Manager, and subsequently Director of Pacific Operations at the ADB. Before retirement in 2005, I was appointed Advisor to the Director General, Regional and Sustainable Development Department, primarily responsible for the Asian Environment Outlook 2005: Corporate Responsibility for Environmental Performance in Asia and the Pacific.

Support for a Wide Range of IGES Research Activities from Bangkok Office
---- Would you tell us the main research activities at IGES Bangkok Office?

Collaboration with International Organisations

Launch of GEO-4, Bangkok.
The Bangkok Office is involved in several activities, of which the largest has been working with the ADB's Environment Operations Center on the Greater Mekong Subregion's Core Environment Program. The main role for IGES on this project has been to provide capacity building on integrating sustainable development planning and environmental performance assessment. This experience led to IGES being selected to provide the Secretariat for the Sustainable Development Planning Network for Asia-Pacific (SDplanNet-Asia & Pacific), an international network of sustainable development practitioners. IGES is also providing my services to the Mekong River Commission's work on environmental criteria for sustainable hydropower development and the United Nations Development Programme involvement in the GEF-funded International Waters Learning Exchange and Resources Network (IW:LEARN) contribution to the Coral Triangle Initiative. Another major role has been my input to global and regional environmental reports, such as UNEP's Global Environment Outlook and ESCAP's State of Environment Reports for Asia and the Pacific. As Bangkok is the regional centre of many UN and other agencies, the Bangkok Office also promotes IGES and its ongoing research activities, thus ensuring that IGES capabilities are widely known in the region.

---- As a senior policy advisor, how do you interact with IGES research activities?

Contribution to Quality Improvement of Research

Launch of IGES White Paper, Yokahama, Japan.
As part of my terms of reference, I provide ongoing assistance to a wide range of headquarter's publications, projects and activities, such as the White Paper which IGES publishes based on its research outcomes, Research on Innovative and Strategic Policy Options (RISPO), Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), Asia-Pacific Forum for Environment and Development (APFED), and others. The principal contributions that I have made include advice to younger researchers on research methodologies, problem definition, literature reviews, quality control, sources of data, and dissemination of results. I also assist in the definition of each research phase, identification of sources of external financing, and in marketing IGES services to organisations in the region and beyond.

Message to Environmental Researchers
---- From your wide experience, what do you think are the crucial values and attitudes that researchers should have?

Healthy skepticism - In submissions to the US Senate, some 650 eminent scientists have expressed serious skepticism over the consensus view of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its Fourth Assessment Report which states that a human contribution to climate change is unequivocal. Rather than throwing up our hands in horror at these "renegade' scientists, they should be applauded. All science advances by maintaining a healthy skepticism about current beliefs and theories. Perhaps the human contribution to climate change is not as large as previously thought, and the policy implications of such a finding are then massive. If climate change is occurring primarily due to natural phenomena (sun spot activity, natural temperature cycles, or increased water vapor in the atmosphere) or other reasons, then the costs of choosing certain policy options need to be re-oriented towards "no-regrets" options. Maintaining a willingness to suspend judgement and to listen to all views is, in my opinion, the hallmark of all brilliant scientists. IGES researchers are well advised to keep an open mind and constantly re-examine inherited wisdom and consensus beliefs. Always beware of "group-think" and be willing to be unpopular because of the views you hold which are different from the majority of your peers.

Thinking outside the box - When I started my doctoral thesis on integrated economic and environmental planning in Asia-Pacific, I thought I was a traditional environmental scientist working within the traditions of the physical sciences. My PhD supervisor rocked my comfortable thinking by telling me that my research demanded application of the social science techniques of case studies, pattern matching, and text analysis. As I knew nothing about these techniques, I had to read widely beyond my normal range of science journals and books and in the process discovered a whole new world of knowledge. In the domain of environmental knowledge, we soon learn that everything is connected to everything else and the difficulty lies in slicing this knowledge into practical "chunks" that allow meaningful analysis. In IGES, as an environmental policy think tank, we need to constantly think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions to real world problems. The best way that I know of to stimulate thinking outside the box is to read literature in fields completely remote from your basic training. If you are trained as an economist, read literature about quantum physics and string theory. If you are a physicist by training, read about poverty analysis and social justice. If I had my time over again, I would study the linkages between mass psychology and changing behaviour, so I could be more effective than advertising agencies in changing consumer behaviour. The policy advice we provide to decision makers will be enhanced by a broad knowledge rather than narrow thinking.

Maintaining optimism - It is very easy to fall into a pessimistic or cynical mode of thinking when we confront the enormous dimensions of the global and local environmental problems that we are trying to address in IGES. There have been times that I have been tempted to give up and just change my career and make a lot of money. However, having been involved in a wide range of environmental endeavors for more than 40 years, from student activism, to government service, political campaigns, international institutions, the private sector, and research, I somehow manage to "retain the rage." I feel as passionately about environmental issues today as I did when I helped save the Little Desert in Australia as a student activist. My twin daughters joke about their father trying to save the world "one report at a time" and in some ways they are correct. But I believe that one report at a time approach is gradually having an impact and every day we are a step closer to changing mindsets and a vision of a sustainable future. It is not time to give up yet!

Towards a Sustainable Future
---- Lastly, what is your next endeavour in environmental research? What topics do you want to pursue?

I think we are beginning to glimpse the elements of a sustainable future, although they are like pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle at present. I want to know how to put all the pieces together as quickly as possible. Where does nanotechnology fit into dematerialisation?
Where do genetically modified organisms fit into food security? Where do breakthroughs in material science fit into increasing the efficiency of solar panels? How can capture and conversion of carbon dioxide fit into providing substitutes for oil? How can we ensure that there is enough space and suitable habitats for all the species that share this planet with us? How can we redesign cities so that they are vibrant, livable and walkable? What kinds of policies are needed to have all the technological advances headed towards a convergent sustainability? How can human behaviour shift towards a search for qualitative goals (like peace and serenity) and away from consumption of meaningless stuff, once our basic needs are satisfied? Can people be educated to behave in private in a way that is compatible with social goals? How much time do we have left before we cross an irreversible threshold and how do we know how close we are to that precipice, beyond which the world becomes a scary place? How do we reach politicians and other decision makers and convince them to change, without being accused as doomsayers? I feel excited that we are close to finding answers to many of these questions, but simultaneously frightened that we may already have run out of time.

---- Thank you very much.

Interviewers: Eiko Kitamura (Information Dissemination and Outreach Programme)

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