Singing Strain for the Saxon Switzerland

Wir tanzen labada labada labada (2x) – Durch den ganzen Wald. Hey!

This is a flintstone song according to Mr. Armin Zenker, the jolly forest ranger who served as guide to the CIPSEM EM-42 participants during the hiking tour at the Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland National Park, on 7 May 2019. The participants may forget the name of Armin but not the action song that had everyone clinched to each other’s arms as they dance and sing in circle.

The journey started with the participants taking off from CIPSEM at 8:00 in the morning via a chartered bus with the outside weather recorded at 4 degrees. After an hour, the group reached the National Park Information Center in Bad Schandau and made a stopover for a short briefing and lecture about the preservation and conservation activities being undertaken in the national park by the Saxonian Foundation for Nature and Environment. The center was bustling, with kids having fun playing with interactive facilities showcasing the flora and fauna around the park. This is a proof that the foundation, an independent agency tasked for the park‘s nature conservation and environmental protection, is serious in its environmental education by targeting the school children and youths as heirs of the future. (We will avoid spoilers as much as possible in this blog for the future Environmental Management Course participants to experience on their own, but one must not miss the lynx at the exhibit.)

Owing to its international geographical boundaries, the foundation itself has an interesting structure. With the park lying in both sides of the border between Saxony, Germany and the Czech Republic, the conservation and protection strategies are also shared by both the governments through the foundation. Saxon Switzerland is also known as Bohemian Switzerland or Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland. That is why both countries are represented in the operation of the Saxonian Foundation for Nature and Environment.

Fast forward to the hike, the group entered the park through the crossing point at Sebnitz. At the beginning of the journey, everything was fine walking along the familiar rough road that seemed leading up to the gorges. Until Armin gestured the group to segway in a rustic pathway that criss-crosses the naturally-fallen pine and beech trees caused by strong winds in the past weeks. That was where the struggles began. But the adventure just hyped up because of the not-so-difficult obstacles. In the middle of the journey, the group stopped for lunch. Armin offered a delicious loaf of bread and butter. Ingenious as he is, Armin instructed everyone to unveil twenty pieces of young beech leaves that the participants gathered early on in the journey because it will be used to make a healthy sandwich. Alas! The young beech leaves are edible! Not only that, the young tip of the pine tree leaves are edible, and delicious too.

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After lunch and after making sure that everyone recovered from a slight exhaustion, the group then moved up. Armin showed to the group the popular yet unusual hike destinations such as the „Cathedral“. (This is one of the perks with CIPSEM organizing the hike with a special guide.) And then the never ending poses and picture taking. Up in the gorges, one will not miss being reminded of the familiar scenery from the Lion King movie showing the Pride Rock. The feeling was also the same: pride of conquering the journey and the amazing view.

At the end of the hike, everyone was so thankful for the opportunity of sharing the moment together that they gave their last ounce of energy for another action song in spite the tiresome walk. And so everyone sang and danced again to the tune of:

Für die Erde singen wir, Steine, Pflanzen, Mensch und Tier (2x) – Tiki taka tikata tikata tikata!

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by Mr. Jun Piong (Philippines) and Mr. Marcio Alvarenga (Brazil), EM-42

An amazing visit to the State of the Art – Umweltbundesamt (UBA), Dessau

Indeed… the structure of UBA building was the state of the art!

On February 28, 2019, 22 explorers from 22 different countries reached Dessau – a town at the junction of the rivers Mulde and Elbe in the Bundesland of Saxony-Anhalt. We were all excited for our first over-night stay excursion to UBA, but have never thought to see such a higher environmental standard in construction and operation of a scientific building in a small town – Dessau. Incredible eco-friendly architecture, innovative landscape design, energy efficient structure and a blend of seven families of color, the German Environment Agency (Umweltbundesamt – UBA) in Dessau was undoubtedly an amazing place to explore.

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Just besides the old Wörlitzer Bahnof, one can see a gateway to the a snake shape UBA building on the right side and a stand-alone canteen, a public park, yew sculpture, crossword puzzle, distinct boulders and a fascinating pond with nesting boxes, hotel for insects and home for beautiful ducks, on the left side.

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Before entering to the UBA building, a group photo of the exciting faces was necessary.

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It is very difficult to decide that what was the first attraction for all of us while entering the building auditorium. Was it the beautiful glass shed roof, colorful facades, environmental library, wind node booth or the LCD screen with photovoltaic system dash board. An interesting fact of this auditorium was that anyone could enter into that area without any prior appointment to observe the beauty of the building and gain access to the biggest environmental library of German speaking world.

After exploring these amazing features of the Auditorium, we finally moved towards the conference room for a series of lectures. But wait, an interesting feature yet to be explored here was ‘the LCD screen traces’ left by the visitors, symbolizing the changeable influence on the world. Another eye-catching art!

The two days, full of knowledge exchange covered some thought-provoking themes such as climate change adaptation, water resource management, green economy, energy transition and so on. The day started with a presentation on UBA ‘Who we are and what we do?’ by Mr. Wollmann. It was very interesting to know that UBA is a Germany’s central administrative authority and is the state’s largest scientific agency with over 1,400 employees at 13 different locations. In addition to the scientific work, the agency enforces environmental laws and work for public disclosure and facilitates access to information. It was very impressive to see the many environmental problems UBA manages! The next presentation was by Ms. Schwetje who introduced us with a concept of short-lived climate pollutants and gave an overview of an ongoing initiative of Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) to reduce these pollutants. It was new to most of us that many of our countries are already part of this coalition. At the end of her presentation, she highlighted the resource and climate protection through integrated waste management projects in developing countries, which led to an interactive questions and answers session. Afterwards, we went to the beautiful canteen of UBA to recharge our body and mind. Adaptation to Climate Change, Hazard Prevention and Safety of Installations and Water Resource Management were the post-lunch sessions by Mr. Haße, Mr. Winkelmann-Oei and Mr. Bernd respectively, which provided us a bunch of useful information and potential solutions for our countries. The day did not end here! All of us met for a lovely dinner and chatted extensively on how much we learnt. Next day, we continued our journey of learning more.

How can green economy contribute to sustainable development is a much spoken debate now a days. Mr. Bünger, in his presentation, highlighted the concepts of Green Transformation and Green Skills in context of economy and environment. He also introduced the six green lead markets in Germany and strategies to promote green economy. This important lecture could not have ended without having questions from the participants. When we talk about sustainability, Resource Utilization is an important topic to be discussed. Mr. Nuss highlighted this concept through some global facts and figures. The best part of this presentation was to know about the Material Flow Assessment of the respective countries of all participants. Thanks to Mr. Nuss for bringing up this issue on board. Policy plays an important role in balancing social, environmental and economic activities in order to foster sustainable development. Considering this crucial role of policy making, Ms. Schubert presented the role of UBA as an actor of federal policy for sustainable urban development and share the concept of Tomorrow’s Cities. After having Lunch at UBA canteen, we all gathered for a guided tour of UBA building. I must say that this was the most awaited session of our visit. Thanks to Mr. Bösecke who managed to answer a ton of questions of all participants. Why the small town Dessau was chosen for UBA office was something we all wanted to know. The famous quote of Winston Churchil “we shape our building, and they shape us” is probably the best answer for it. The UBA building is currently situated on a former industrial area of Dessau which was highly contaminated by volatile halogenated and petroleum hydrocarbons. Soil and ground water remediation, ecofriendly construction and liveable working space gives impressive example of possibilities (and challenges) for sustainable urban development. Our excitement did not end here. Mr. Bösecke showed us impressive working environment for employees, green spaces, beautiful plants and trees, and two water basins while walking through communicating staircases and bridges. We were amazed to see that everything in the UBA building had a message to convey. Water ponds helped to reflect sunlight and provide a pleasant acoustic background music. Amorphous green areas with a bed of mineral substrate maintained indoor climate for plant growth whereas flooring of recyclable glass showed the artistic use of waste. The entire building was designed keeping in mind the accessibility. Moreover, the seven colors of facades are also symbolize sky (blue), greenery (shades of green) and old building’s brickwork (purple-red). The use of solar heat collectors, photovoltaic system and the geo thermal heat exchanger along with district heating system was also state of the art.

Last but not the least, the day ended with an energizing presentation by Mr. Werlein on Energy Transition in Germany. It was indeed a wonderful excursion which we will never forget. Special thanks to CIPSEM for organizing such a fun trip filled with knowledge.

by Saba Raffay (Pakistan) and Oleksandra Logunova (Ukraine)

Schönes Wochenende, Leipzig!

As the popular saying goes, “A weekend wasted isn’t a wasted weekend”. That is why some of the CIPSEM Environmental Management 2019 participants did not waste time spending the weekend in Leipzig on 10 March 2019 to watch football and tour around the city. After all, the CIPSEM post-graduate school is not all about studying but getting integrated in the German culture.

Leipzig, also commonly called as “Hypezig” due to its hip urban atmosphere and dynamic lifestyle, is roughly an hour and a half away from the city of Dresden. The beautiful city of Leipzig is famous for many things; notably as the place where renowned composer and musician Johann Sebastian Bach worked, lived, and died, and also where German Chancellor Angela Merkel spent college.

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Leipzig University Alumnus and CIPSEM EM-42 participant Jun Piong (Philippines) toured his co-participants around the city and visited the popular tourist spots such as the Thomaskirche where the remains of J.S. Bach lie, the old town hall in Marktplatz, the dler Passage that houses some of the high-end shops, the Nikolaikirche where Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was baptized and where the Monday Demonstration (and the peaceful revolution in East Germany) started, and the Augustusplatz where the Gewandhaus concert hall, Opera House and Germany’s modern-looking yet second oldest Universität Leipzig can be found. Half of the group continued the tour while the other half went on to watch the football match between RB Leipzig and FC Augsburg, which ended in 0-0 score (entertaining nevertheless).

Of course the experience is not complete without gastronomy. An early beer over breakfast at the students’favorite hangout Spizz Bar and Restaurant, another beer over lunch at young Goethe’s favorite Auerbachskeller, and another set of beer over dinner at the students’ club Moritzbastei capped the whole journey. Did I mention the beer repeatedly? When you are in Germany, you will know why.

Here are some of the impressions from the participants about their experience:

“International city that we discovered and should discover again. The pleasure of traveling is multiplied when you are with friends. Leipzig, city of culture, eccentric people and crazy meetings.” – Hasmik jan, Armenia

“Watching Bundesliga in RB Arena was an adventure for me. It was my second time watching football live in a European stadium after 2005.” – Kamal, Nepal

“Leipzig is such an interesting city, beautifully full of art, international community, and history. Our weekend trip to Leipzig proved me once more that traveling with friends will push you to get a full experience; from trying out new things while discovering the city to laughing all the way back to Dresden.” – Rocio, Mexico

“For me, the most impressive thing in Leipzig was the monument to the battle of the nations. It was really incredible! The other one is the Cat Cafe that is not far from the university. There you could not only eat something but also get to play with cats!” – Sasha, Ukraine

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For future CIPSEM participants: if you find this article, tell us your about travel experience, too, by posting a comment.

And oh, group travel is more fun. And the Schönes Wochende Ticket serves a discounted price for up to five persons and allows the group to free transport privileges and travel flexibility – that is perfect for a weekend getaway.

by Jun Piong (Philippines) et al. 

Back in history with Dresden time machine …

“This fire will return. It will make a large circle and return to devour us”

a citizen, Germany, 1938

Light, red, grey, black.

Again red, grey, black.

Grey and black.

Black and death.

World War II, Dresden, Germany, February 13-15, 1945

3900 tons of high-explosive and fire bombs destroyed over 90% of historic medieval city of Dresden. Thousands of victims disappeared in smoke under the influence of a temperature higher than 1000 °C. During the war, Dresden was a civilian city with no military significance. In the last weeks of the war, the city gave shelter to the thousands of refugees.

Before the war, the former capital of the Kingdom of Saxony was called the “Florence of the Elbe” because of its artistic and architectural wealth. Wars firstly destroy the culture and beauty inside the human beings, and then the next step is the destruction of the external beauty, culture, music, arts, souls. This is what happened in the world during the Second World War.

74 years after the war, the fellows of CIPSEM EM-42 had the opportunity to do a unique journey in the history, experience Dresden of February 1945. The 360° Panorama, created by the artist Yadegar Asisi, takes the visitors of Dresden Panometer back to the past, like a time machine. The day was full of emotions, full of voices, images from the war and we hardly could speak after the visit.

Which military objective justified the hell unleashed on Dresden? Why did they burn its people? If there was no good strategic reason for it, then not even the passage of time can make it right! It was moral bombing that left the humans in a moral dilemma. The questions it poses are as difficult as ever in a world in which civilians continue to suffer in the wars of their autocratic leaders. During the Second World war, some 55 million people dead, some six million Europeans of Jewish faith or background were murdered, a great number of cities in Europe and Germany not more than a desert of rubble. Many survivors remained traumatized, alone and full of fear.

“In its 360° circumference, Yadegar Asisi’s Dresden 1945 Panorama shows a comprehensive circular representation taking account of the many aspects, fates and stories of the bombing raids and extending well beyond the ruined horizon. Yadegar Asisi has created a parabolic work, exemplary for mankind’s history of violence.” (Dr. Gorch Pieken, Scientific Director and Scientific Head of the German Armed Forces’ Museum of Military History in Dresden).

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The visit to the Panometer and the participation in Dresden Human Chain were important for all of us, to learn the other side of the history. We would like to express our gratitude to the organizers and to our Professor of German, Dr. Hendrik Breuls, for this opportunity.

In the end of our visit to Dresden Panometer, I remember the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “War is not an adventure. It is a disease. It is like typhus.” Are we cured from the war disease?

by Ms. Hasmik Barseghyan (Armenia)

The “sweet smelling” odor of the waste water treatment plant …

… an excursion to Stadtentwässerung Dresden.

CIPSEM course participants usually look forward to excursions because they provide more visual and practical learning which goes beyond the theoretical knowledge transfer that happens in the seminar room. However, prior to departure for this excursion to the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), EM-42 participants had mixed feelings as they feared stench from the plant while also excitedly anticipating the adventure of seeing the WWTP function in real time.

It was one of the beautiful days in Dresden with the sun shining brightly and a warm weather. Some participants dressed up in their least favorite clothes while some took “stench mitigation weapons” like tangerine to protect against the anticipated “sweet smelling” odor of the WWTP. On arrival at Stadtentwässerung Dresden, Mr. Sebastian, Public Relations Officer at the facility, highlighted some of the basic rules of the facility like no touching of barriers, no eating and drinking, wash hands at exit, etc. Additionally, it was learnt that this WWTP began its operation in 1910 and sits on 23 hectares of land. More interestingly, sewers used in the last century, dating back to 1888 were on display and are clearly different with open sewer systems whereas the 1900s had closed sewer systems, perhaps this could be described as evolution of the sewers! Interesting points to note, the plant was automated since 100 years ago and the distance of the sewerage is about 1800 km. The WWTP collects about 160000m3 of wastewater per day in addition to rain water because it is a combined system.

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Anaerobic digesters sighted in Stadtentwässerung Dresden, WWTP (photo by Ms. Haili Zhou)

The first step of the facility was shown, that is Neustadter Kanal, where the waste water flows in from the sewerage system of Dresden city. The next step, which is the mechanical treatment involved screening large objects like plastics, tissue towels, etc. in a series rack. At this point, the intensity of the stench was so strong that participants made “eew” sounds, many adopted the weapon of stench mitigation approach, while some covered their nose with one hand and at the same time, took pictures with the other (there was no giving up!). But then, the faeces should not be accused here because as revealed, it is the fats that stink the most! It was really interesting to see the screening bars working and being fully automated, no workers were seen. Furthermore, the channel where dense material such as sand or broken glass settles are removed through suction to prevent wear and tear of mechanical parts of the WWTP and a series of water distribution pumps of varying capacities were also sighted. After that was the primary sedimentation tanks where the suspended materials are removed using gravity. The denser sediments sink while the lighter ones like oils floats on the water. Also, the sludge at bottom of the sedimentation tanks and the floating scum are scraped and pumped into the anaerobic digesters for secondary wastewater treatment.

The next phase of the excursion involved learning about the biological treatment of wastewater through the activated sludge process. The reactors are the first step and here the participants met the Very Important Persons (VIPs) of this process who are also the most hardworking entities. They are called microorganisms! These nice bugs (mostly bacteria) were kept aerated with sufficient oxygen needed to breakdown organic matter (i.e. ammonia) in wastewater to nitrates. This aerobic process called nitrification produces nitrates rich water that could pollute water bodies if discharged without removal of the excess nitrates. Following this step was the denitrification process in which nitrates are reduced to gaseous nitrogen by facultative anaerobes like fungi in anoxic conditions.

From the biological treatment (both aerobic and anaerobic), the treated water is circulated to aeration tanks and then to the clarifier tanks. Remarkably, anaerobic digesters were sighted at a distance in the facility where sludge is channeled for biogas production which feeds into electricity generators. It was very impressive to learn that Stadtentwässerung Dresden generates 80% of its energy demand from renewable resources. Specifically, about 18000 MWh was said to be from the digestion towers. At the final clarifiers, the treated water is discharged into the Elbe river at a rate of 120000 m3 per day where discharging pipe is fitted with turbine that generates about 680 MWh of electricity. The highpoint of the day was the sighting of solar panels in the facility that generates about 160 MWh annually. At this point, participants totally forgot about the oozing stench of fresh wastewater and it was all about different postures for pictures – interessant!

The benefits of a WWTP cannot be overemphasized because, hygiene is very important to every citizen as well as; water resources protection and flood protection. Moreover, discharging untreated waste water into urban lakes or rivers would have detrimental effects, not only on the environment but also on the living organisms. Amidst the fears of odor from the WWTP, the participants gained practical knowledge that could be applied in their home countries. Hence, it was mission accomplished!

The entire EM42-fellows were grateful for the opportunity to visit a WWTP and this appreciation goes to Mr. Sebastian (Stadtentwässerung Dresden), Prof. Dr. P. Krebs (Institute for Urban Water Management, TU-Dresden) Mr. Roman Kiesshauer and all CIPSEM staff team, UNEP, UNESCO & BMU for all the support granted for a successful excursion to the treatment plant. The “sweet smelling odor” was not so bad after all. In fact, it was worth it!

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The excursion guide, Mr. Sebastian (left), Mr. Roman Kiesshauer (back) with EM42-Participants at the Stadtentwässerung Dresden WWTP (photo by Ms. Sreymoch Bun)

by Ms. Iquo Offiong (Nigeria)

We are part of the problem: An excursion journey to waste management facilities

Often, we don’t think about our daily consumption and how much waste we generate nor where or how it will go. As long it’s “NIMBY” meaning Not In My Back Yard. As long as it’s out of our sight, we don’t think it’s a problem or at least not our problem. Unless there’s no waste collectors, then it’ll be a problem. According to the Global Waste Management Conference (2017), we produce approximately 2.12 billion tons of waste each year globally. Have you ever thought of what people do with this waste and where it will go to? What about your waste at your home country?

Based on our recent visits to four waste collection, sorting and recycling facilities in Dresden, it was eye-opening and brought up a realization of the ugly truth. I could tell you that it’s not always a pleasant story of how your waste might go or where it might end up? If you’re lucky, your government takes good care of these issues for you by creating effective approaches and efficient waste management systems. One thing that stood out and we find amazing is the fact that by law, no waste that enters a landfill is not treated. This regulation gives so much benefits to the environment, social well-being and economy, saved the cost from reducing the emission of C02 to the atmosphere and other environmental and social impacts that would result from unsustainable waste management practices.

After the field trip, we have realized the ugly truth. The truth that shall spread out to each individual in the world, especially policymakers and households in developing countries. The realization of how much waste we generate, how much resources and energy is needed and/or used to produce these products, energy, and resources to sort and treat those products when it becomes waste. Waste management operations here in Germany are so advanced and well managed compared to most developing countries. Some facilities may run down a little bit and may not be at their perfect performance and may need to do some renovations, but they do manage to run the system smoothly. I was day-dreaming to see how good it would be to bring these facilities and systems, including all the technologies and equipment to my country. Personally, I feel very guilty of seeing our daily use products laying in the waste collection facilities and its life cycle. Not to mention the danger of chemicals and hazardous waste.

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Biologic-mechanic waste treatment plant

Generally, Germany has strong regulations, law enforcement and implementations regarding waste management systems (waste collection, sorting, treatment, and recycling system). This may be related to the fact that Germany is part of the European Union, therefore, additional rules are needed to oblige to meet the EU standard. I noticed that most cities in Germany, the municipalities managing their own waste rather than depending on private companies. Moreover, there is active public participation from the local government, local people, the church, and other institutions. Despite having strict regulations on waste management, Germany has the available advanced technologies, financial resources, strong commitments, and human resources to make all this possible.

In contrast, everything seems to fail and far from success in the way we manage our waste in developing countries, although there are well-structured regulations and guidelines regarding waste management. It’s hard to pin exactly where or what went wrong. Many people may argue that waste management systems in developing countries failed mainly because of corruption, poverty, weak governance, education, lack of political will, lack of financial support, lack of human resources, or lack of access to advanced technologies. But personally, I think we are lacking of local people initiatives, participation and rightfulness perspective on waste. Waste to us is trash, we don’t see the value of waste nor the benefits of well managed and well treated waste.

An example from recent news in Cambodia that could illustrate how one person (lack of long-term thinking) could dangerously impact public health and the surrounding environment. On 31st January 2019 in Sihanoukville province, Cambodia, the Minister of commerce made a big scene of burning 25 tons of imported white garlic from China that contained high chemical substances (Disulfoton) which is used for insecticide in agriculture. The burning of these illegal toxic products took place at an open-air landfill in Sihanoukville surrounded by many people watching and taking pictures. We are talking about a Ministerial position that is undertaking this action, someone that holds big power, someone that actually could make a change. The purpose of this act of burning those imported chemicals white garlic is to protect public health, but I guess they didn’t think about the impact of burning these products with a normal temperate in an open-air at a dump site. Imagine how much chemical gas was generated and polluted from this unstandardized burning in an open space? What is the social and environmental impact on the nearby community?

To conclude, we (human) have over exploited our natural resources so much by trying to provide products, services, and technologies to meet our lifestyle and demands. We have come closer to the point where any move we make could lead to a point where there’s no return. Our style of living and choices of consumption are the problems. We need to rethink and reassess our taste of styles, our daily choices before we purchase by considering not only the price tag but where they came from, what value did it add to your life, how will it go after a certain period of time. Shall we blame the growing population, the need to meet our basic daily requirement, societies that desire for better lifestyles, innovations that make lives easier? You may not know the exact answer of all these questions, but it’s a good start to become responsible consumers or learn to adapt products life cycle thinking in taking part for our environmental solutions through practicing environmentally friendly behaviors such as support and use of organic products, reuse, recycling, living the minimal lifestyle and think of the products life cycle before purchasing it.

We also would like to show our gratitude and sincere thanks to Dr. rer. nat. Dietmar Lohman and the CIPSEM team for their hard work to make these field trip studies possible and to make sure we maximize our learning opportunity and time here in Dresden. Thank you.

by Ms. Sreymoch Bun (Cambodia) & Ms. Haili Zhou (China)

Welcome to the participants of the EM42!

According to Douglas Adams’ ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, 42 is the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything. As we all are aware, these are challenging times for our planet in terms of sustainable development. Fortunately, today the 42nd (!) UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Postgraduate Course on Environmental Management for Developing Countries has started at TU Dresden. We do not exaggerate when we say that looking at the inquisitive and motivated faces of the newly arrived 21 (coincidentally = 42/2) environmental experts makes us more than confident, that they will find answers – perhaps not to the Life, The Universe, and Everything – but at least to the question of how we can make further progress in sustainable development. 💚🌍💙

Though a sudden and unexpected snowpocalypse caused some adventurous arrival days with plenty canceled, delayed and rescheduled flights, nearly all the participants made it in time to the opening ceremony taking place in the festive hall of the TU Dresden rectorate. After inspiring and motivating speeches, the much appreciated musical entertainment by the string quartet of the Dresden Philharmonic orchestra, and the cheerful reception with lots of chatter and laughter, we are now looking forward to the next six months with the EM42 participants from Armenia, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Mexico, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, Ukraine, and Vietnam!

(Photos: T. Karp)