Lausanne, 17 December 2012 Prof. Christian Ludwig, scientific co-chairman of the World Resources Forum, is very pleased with the outcomes of WRF 2012, held in Beijing, and looks already forward to supporting the scientific process of the next conference.
“WRF 2012 has opened doors to key governmental persons and organisations”, he says, “It became evident that many of the problems we cannot solve at the end-of-the-pipe and that we need a new and more integrated approach. The new branding “WRF” has clearly influenced the content of the conference. The focus shifted from recycling towards resources management and the political aspects gained in importance.”
Prof. Christian Ludwig (born in Bern, Switzerland, 1963) is head of research group at Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) and professor at École Polytechnique Fédéral de Lausanne (EPFL). Read the complete interview with him here:
WRF: What is your relationship to WRF?
Prof. Ludwig: WRF grew out of the R-conferences series which was established by Empa back in 1993. In 1999 I joined the scientific committee and later I was involved in the organisation of the follow-up conferences in different functions. In 2011 I was then elected as the scientific chairman of the WRF conference and this year I have supported the WRF conference in Beijing as scientific co-chairman.
WRF: What are the duties of the scientific chairman?
Prof. Ludwig: A major issue of a conference is its scientific quality. Traditionally, we have scientific contributions from the conference attendees. The scientific chairman is responsible for the evaluation of the submitted abstracts. He decides about necessary improvements, suitability for poster and oral presentation, or their rejection.
WRF: There are hundreds of abstracts to be evaluated, are you reading and evaluating all the abstracts yourself?
Prof. Ludwig: Indeed I am reading all abstracts to come up with my own opinion. However, it is important to have several independent opinions from different reviewers who are evaluating the abstracts. Normally, every abstract has been evaluated by three independent experts.
WRF: How are you selecting the reviewers?
Prof. Ludwig: The scientific chairman is president of the scientific expert committee and most of the reviewers are chosen from this committee. The selection of reviewers is difficult. The expert committee brings experts together with different professional background. Therefore, the appreciation of the abstracts is sometimes influenced by the professional background of the reviewers.
WRF: In this context it may be likely that reviewers have sometimes different opinions. How are you dealing with this particular problem?
Prof. Ludwig: Indeed the format of this conference increases the chance to obtain different reviewer opinions. Therefore, it is most valuable that our reviewers have been selected over several years and that they have been trained in preparatory meetings which took place at Empa in St. Gallen. However, contradictory evaluations cannot be avoided. In such cases it is most important to give the authors a feedback which will help them to find an adequate way to present their findings for this very interdisciplinary audience.
WRF: The WRF gives a lot of space to plenary lectures and in the past years extraordinary personalities contributed to the success of the plenaries. What do you think about these high profile speakers?
Prof. Ludwig: Indeed the plenary lectures with CEO’s from large companies, high level authorities and ministries or researchers with outstanding reputation increased the quality and contributed to the strong profile of the WRF conference. These key presentations are on invitation only. In the selection process the scientific chairman pays only an advising role. The organising committee who has also the financial risk is making the final decision.
WRF: Which is the most challenging duty of the scientific chairman?
Prof. Ludwig: Certainly it is the compilation and finalisation of the program. Time and space for regular sessions, plenaries, and workshops need to be allocated in a reasonable manner considering the content of all these activities. Often last minute changes are made, for example a workshop will not take place or more time for it is requested. Registrations are canceled if attendees fail to get the funding for travelling or for other reasons. Such open slots should be avoided whenever possible.
WRF: Looking back with your own an experience of more than 13 years R-conference and WRF history how was the event in Beijing this year?
Prof. Ludwig: WRF 2012 was of course an outstanding event. With more than 700 participants coming from all over the world it obtained high international recognition.
WRF: WRF is developing a clear profile for its events including politicians, authorities, economy, practitioners, engineers and scientists. Has WRF 2012 fulfilled your expectations?
Prof. Ludwig: Yes, absolutely. We have to consider that the profiles of the different events are depending on different factors. The bi-annual flagship events in Davos (2009, 2011, 2013 etc.) are directly organized by WRF whereas the events in between are hosted by other organisations. Exchange between Switzerland and organisations in Asia is challenging and common goals and values need to be developed together. This takes a lot of time. Friendships evolve over years and many exchange visits are necessary. I am very happy that WRF 2012 opened doors to key governmental persons and organisations. We certainly benefited from the relationships that were established during the R’05 conference which took also place in Beijing. We will further collaborate with our Chinese friends in the future and work towards the goals set by the WRF Association.
WRF: How do you judge the quality of WRF 2012 in comparison to R’05?
Prof. Ludwig: It became evident that many of the problems we cannot solve at the end-of-the-pipe and that we need a new and a more integrated approach. The new branding “WRF” has clearly influenced the content of the conference. The focus shifted from recycling towards resources management and the political aspects gained in importance. Besides the new and different focus of the conference, the quality of the scientific contributions was considerably improved since 2005. This was especially the case for the many Chinese contributions.
WRF: What’s your explanation for this quality improvement?
Prof. Ludwig: There are different important factors. The Chinese boom and prosperity has also left its traces in research. Modern institutes were built in the last years which have adopted western standards. China makes fast and big steps ahead. The quality of research has improved and the exchange in English, especially with the younger generation, is easier than just a few years ago. WRF has further supported the local organisation committee with their long term experience. It was one of the reasons, why I have accepted to serve as scientific co-chairman. It was important to do some knowledge transfer to adopt WRF scientific quality standards. It was a great experience for me when I have been invited last summer to Beijing where we worked on the program together with the Chinese team around Prof. Suojiang Zhang.
WRF: You mentioned that the focus changed from end-of-the pipe to an integrated perspective. How has this been implemented at WRF 2012?
Prof. Ludwig: If we talk about resources today, politicians think immediately of energy. And when it gets to environmental concerns in the energy sector greenhouse gases are in the focus. This perspective is a most dangerous one, as it neglects important relationships and many other factors. We have to avoid that by solving one problem we invent new and perhaps even more severe ones. However, not acting is definitively also wrong. In this difficult context WRF should be the ideal platform for this discussion. At WRF 2012 we were very open in discussing a large variety of issues in the workshops and in the plenary presentations. Further, 12 session topics have been chosen for the regular presentations.
WRF: As scientific co-chairman you were invited to present your personal selection of highlights in the final plenary of the conference. How have you made your selection?
Prof. Ludwig: I tried to attend as many different sessions as possible and selected 7 personal highlights which I have shortly presented in the final plenary lecture. My presentation with the selections you find on the WRF website. The examples indicate that the energy related issues were very dominant in the discussions. There is a strong wish of our society to obtain cheap and infinite energy services provided with low emission technologies. Hope is expected from new renewable energies, such as wind power or efficient use of bioenergy (Sam Pickard). However, it seems that both pathways suffer from missing resources. Wind turbines need rare elements which seem to limit the theoretical potential of wind energy (Komal Habib). However, clever models allow better predicting wind situations (Shemaiah Weekes). Improved nanotechnologies may allow the development of future power generators for small mobile equipment (Zhong Lin Wang) or new materials may be relevant to increase the efficiency of energy technologies (Chang-Jun Liu).
WRF: You have also selected a presentation by Helmut Langer as a highlight, why?
Prof. Ludwig: Mr. Langer presented in the session on “Alternative Business Models and Socio-Economic Issues”. His presentation may also have fitted in the “Policy and Education” session. He is a professional designer who is able to address the scientific messages in strong and simple pictures which can be understood by everyone. He shared some of them with us. For me this was also a cultural enrichment of the conference.
WRF: One session was about “Food and Biomass”, however, the contributions that were dealing with food were not many. Should we omit such sessions in the future?
Prof. Ludwig: Indeed this topic was not well represented. The energy recovery from residues was discussed in other session, however, in my opinion WRF has to think about how to better address this topic. Food production can strongly interfere with extensive agriculture to produce biofules. Further, agriculture itself is a resource intensive industry. WRF could be the ideal platform for this debate in the future.
WRF: What are your next plans?
Prof. Ludwig: I am looking forward to celebrating Christmas and to have some relaxing days with my family. This was a very intensive year and my wife is sometimes not so sure if I have ever heard something about sustainable resource management. Anyway, I am already looking forward to the next WRF conference which will be held in Davos October 6-9, 2013.
WRF: We are counting on the support of Professor Ludwig in 2013 and thank him for the interview and his ongoing support for WRF.