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The United Nations University (UNU) is the academic arm of the United Nations. It bridges the academic world and the United Nations system. Its goal is to develop sustainable solutions for current and future problems of humankind in all aspects of life. Through a problem-oriented and interdisciplinary approach it aims at teaching, applied research and education on a global scale. UNU was founded in 1973 as an autonomous organ of the United Nations General Assembly. The University comprises headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, and more than a dozen Institutes and Programmes worldwide.


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Paul William Jorgensen, South Africa: Young scientists bring fresh new approaches


The 24-year-old Paul William Jorgensen is a 2010 winner of the International Green Talents Competition, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and supported by the United Nations University, Bonn. The award is given to outstanding young scientists from around the world, selected for their achievements in the field of sustainability research. Paul earned his Bachelor´s degree (Honours) in Environmental Science in addition to a Bachelor of Social Science in Geography and Economics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. He is finishing his Master´s in Environmental Science at the same university.

What are the biggest sustainability challenges of our time?
Climate change will result in conflicts and shortages around the utilization and ownership of our essential natural resources, such as food and water. Climate change will also create millions of environmental refugees and increased risk and vulnerability to society. This will become the biggest challenge of our time. In South Africa, we face shifting crop patterns, increased risk of drought in areas that traditionally receive high rainfall and a higher chance of floods in areas that are traditionally drier.
What are the biggest challenges that science can help solve in South Africa?
Science needs to provide sustainable answers to our challenges of food, water and energy security. Science also needs to play a role in reducing the poverty gap as well as the inequalities that exist in South African society. South Africa needs to reduce its dependence on coal-based energies and make use of our clear skies and windy coastlines. Science needs to find solutions to better the lives of our large rural population by providing cheap basic essential services. Generally, as natural resources become scarcer, the scientific community will play a more integrated and critical role in decision-making.
How does your research contribute to sustainability?
My research is focused on how development decisions at a local level can be influenced by the natural environment, by exploring the link between ecosystem goods and services (that is the goods and services the environment provides at no cost) and environmental risk and vulnerability. By highlighting the impact of the development to these goods and services and thus the risk to society, better decisions can be made that will promote the conservation of these goods and services for future generations.
How important are young scientists for industry-led Research & Development (R&D)?
Young scientists bring fresh new approaches and therefore should be considered a critical component of R & D in industry. They also secure the sustainability of that industry through young graduate retention. If any industry wants to grow, it has to incorporate a progressive policy towards young scientists.
What are the opportunities for young scientists in your country?
Opportunities are still very limited to those that can afford to attend higher education institutions or to those few who are lucky to receive financial aid from the government. This is another challenge facing South African society, the encouragement and promotion of young scientists. However, there are numerous scholarships aimed specifically at science students who show potential in their fields.  
What is the role of international cooperation in science for sustainability?
International cooperation is crucial for the sustainability agenda to continue to grow. No person or country can achieve their sustainability ideals without some form of assistance from other countries. There is a need for greater knowledge transfer and availability between developed scientific communities/networks and developing/emergent ones and vice versa. There is no doubt that South Africa needs assistance and cooperation from overseas counterparts, but South Africa also has a strong research network which overseas researchers can take advantage of.   
What conditions are essential for international research cooperation?
Progressive government departments, institutes and willing active participants on both sides are needed in order for effective cooperation to occur.
Imagine "Green Talents" in 2050. What do you think will be the focus of their work?
I think their focus will largely be on sustaining green economies, managing environmental refugees, adapting to climate change and inventing innovative solutions to water and energy dilemmas.

Read the full interview and share your thoughts in the comments section.

Interview: Oksana Buranbaeva, UNU-ViE

Jessica Rosenfeld, UNU-ViE, contributed to this article.