Ohio State Economists Discuss Sustainable Development at Discovery Themes Lecture/COMPAS Conference

Left to right: Michael Neblo, Ian Sheldon, Jeffrey Sachs, Elena Irwin

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Countries worldwide need to collaborate to solve sustainable development challenges, yet each nation’s unique development experience needs to be taken into consideration and feature solutions from both the private and public sectors, according to economists from Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).

Elena Irwin, an environmental and urban economics professor in the college’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics (AEDE), said policymakers worldwide need to properly analyze the trade-offs and synergies of the international benchmarks known as the Sustainable Development Goals during the current process of negotiation by the United Nations system.

Irwin spoke during the Ohio State University Provost’s Discovery Themes Lecturer Program and COMPAS (Conversations on Morality, Politics, and Society) conference last week (April 4).

“There is a need to look for both top-down and bottom-up solutions through social entrepreneurship and public-private partnerships when meeting the diverse sustainable development needs of the world’s varied nations,” she said. “However, policymakers need to take note of the economic obstacles inherent in valuing ecosystem services and the need to recognize that so many of the problems that the goals will aim to address deal with environmental systems that operate outside of the private marketplace.”

The COMPAS conference is offered by Ohio State’s Center for Ethics and Human Values and aims to demonstrate how the university’s comprehensive intellectual resources can be aligned along their ethical dimension in order to help solve serious issues confronting society.

Irwin is one of two CFAES economists who spoke during a conference panel discussion with Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia.  

Ian Sheldon, an AEDE professor and Ohio State's Andersons Professor of International Trade, also participated in the panel discussion. Sheldon focused on the increasing share of the agricultural production market that is occupied by the developing world, including China, Indonesia, Brazil and India, and questioned whether these countries would be able to meet the world’s food needs in a sustainable way.

Sheldon reflected on the growing biofuels market and the strong connection between food and fuel prices. He also examined the role of trade policy and food prices, noting that “some developing countries have used trade policies to combat high food prices.”

In noting the “world’s connectedness, yet high levels of income disparity,” Sheldon questioned “how in adapting to climate change can we enact policies that take into consideration each country’s unique level of development?”

The panel discussion followed a keynote address by Sachs, titled “The Age of Sustainable Development.”

He focused on the “unprecedented and extraordinary” growing interdependence and interconnectedness of the world’s population, noting that “sustainable development will be the theme of the lives of this generation and the generations to follow.”

Sachs is special adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals and is director of the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He is co-founder and Chief Strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, and is director of the Millennium Villages Project.

Before the event, Sachs spent time discussing sustainable development with undergraduate students majoring in Environment, Economy, Development, and Sustainability, which is a joint program from AEDE and the college’s School of Environment and Natural Resources. The gathering was the only small student discussion that was held during his visit. The meeting was moderated by Tim Haab, an AEDE professor and department chair.

Click here to watch the full presentation from Sachs and the panel discussion with Irwin and Sheldon.


CFAES News Team