International ECPD Institute's director Janez Podobnik took part on the panel 'Sustainable Development & Paradigm Change for Knowledge Society'. The following round table discussion was moderated by dr Matjaž Mulej and prof. Peter Raspor. The Institute publishes the address of Janez Podobnik:

Sustainable Development & Paradigm change for Knowledge Society

Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all I would like to say I am honored to have been invited to this forum. It is the gatherings like this, that give each one of us new ideas and widen our scope of knowledge.
Today I will be talking about sustainable development. More precisely ''Sustainable development & paradigm change for knowledge society''.

It is not easy to find a suitable definition for sustainable development. Especially if we look at it in a wider sense: sustainability that changes the functioning of a society.

If we look at sustainable development policies from a technological point of view, the answer is easy: new energy sources – hydro, solar, wind power, recycling technologies – waste recycling, biofuels, and energy efficiency – energy efficient buildings and home appliances. The consensus is not difficult to find.

However a more sociological look at the matter can complicate things quite dramatically. People look at society and social processes differently. The differences are especially visible when one speaks about social changes, creation of a ''new society''. In Europe, some see solutions in great ideological projects from the first decades of the 20th century; some see future in different future utopian solutions.

I believe sustainable development must be more realistic. We are faced with specific problems – a global economic and environmental crisis - and need to solve them with the tools that are currently available, and European countries have many of them. There is no need to invent new tools. Our tools are a democratic pluralistic political system, a free-market economy, a European social welfare system and the European technology and knowledge tradition.

In order to create a new European knowledge society, we need to put these elements together in a right way. Europe can only sustain its democratic system and social welfare if it maintains the strength of the economic foundations. And this is where knowledge comes into play. Without knowledge, the economic base collapses and so can the social and consequently political system.

We can create a new European knowledge society for the future, using various means. If I start with the tertiary education: Europe has already implemented the Bologna reform and has the legislative support in the Lisbon treaty agenda to further strengthen not only knowledge based competition but also cooperation. More funding needs to be ensured for tertiary education – a good solution could be enhancing the already existing public-private partnerships. Europe’s big advantage for the tertiary education could be the already established trans-national cooperation of Universities, science institutes and other institutions of higher education. And in the global sense, the European universities need to use their reputation and together with national governments’ help attract top students from other non-European countries. And finally, these principles of cooperation need to be extended to lower education levels.

The other area important for knowledge creation is the economy. European countries already have an established area of economic freedom and entrepreneurship. But the conditions can be further improved. First of all, Europe needs to reduce the bureaucratic burdens on the economy – on European, national and regional levels. Innovation can only be born in an environment that is open and ready to adapt to changes. And a country or a region can only have success when it finds its advantages and appropriately adapts its policies. There is no single success formula how to create a knowledge economy. Each European political elites (national, regional or local) needs to 1. Find its strengths 2. Focus its activities on a specific area and 3. Keep its activities transparent and simple.

Since such changes can often easier be done on a lower level, it is here, where I see opportunities for regions and local communities. Europe already has many cases of regions that are using policies to attract, keep knowledge and use it for future development. Exchange of good practices – which is I believe also one of the advantages of this forum - can help others to do the same and at the end contribute to a brighter European future.

Ladies and gentlemen,

If Europe wants to create new sustainable policies and solutions it needs knowledge. Sustainable development uses knowledge in two ways: 1. it uses the ‘old’, forgotten knowledge of our ancestors and 2. It uses the new knowledge of modern science. And when it comes to environment – it is this knowledge that allows us to see the problems in new ways and to solve them in a way that ensures the quality of life and the quality of our natural habitats.

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Program of the Conference

15 - 16 October 2020