Green Talents Alumni Conference 2016

Speech by State Secretary Dr. Georg Schütte in Berlin

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Your Excellencies, Green Talents, researchers, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome and Good evening!


It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this year’s Green Talents award ceremony. It is an honour to reward 25 bright and enthusiastic young people from all over the world with the Green Talents award. This award is a special initiative for the Ministry of Education and Research because it is dedicated to a particular goal which we all share: the goal to achieve a more sustainable and greener future.

I am proud that the BMBF has been hosting the Green Talents competition for already eight years. We strongly believe that bringing together young and dedicated researchers from all over the world is the first and very important step towards a more sustainable future. We are convinced that it is crucial to foster international cooperation in sustainability science in order to jointly address the global challenges the world faces today.

Sustainability science is a truly international topic that German research institutions cannot tackle without outstanding international scientific expertise - Minister Wanka already elaborated on this in the morning. This is why we are proud to enhance research cooperation by granting the Green Talents award on a yearly basis.


This year the Green Talents award has a special thematic focus.   In coordination with the current Year of Science entitled “Seas and Oceans” hosted by the BMBF, we decided that “Seas and Oceans” should also be the motto of this Year’s Green Talents award. We encouraged marine researchers to compete for the award and we have four marine scientists among the 25 awardees. Also this year´s Science Forum had a “marine focus” as we sent the Green Talents on a tour around Northern Germany – the country’s center for marine science. In addition to some other very interesting institutions, the Green Talents had the chance to visit the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research and they even took a cruise on the research vessel “Heincke”.

But why is marine research so important when we speak about sustainability? Why is the BMBF dedicating an entire year to this topic? Well, to put it simply, the protection of the ocean is the basis of a sustainable future – but our oceans are massively endangered!

Three quarters of the oxygen that we need to breathe is produced by algae and plankton. What is more, the ocean‘s fish are a rich source of food. 80% of the planet’s living organisms are in the world oceans and seas.

It was long believed that the ocean’s resources would never be depleted. Our latest research delivers a very different message: the ocean as we know it is under massive threat. The sea level rises; the oceans are too warm, too acidic and they are overfished and polluted.

The oceans and seas are something which we must tackle at international level. That is why the G7 Science Ministers have placed it on their agenda. Since the German G7 Presidency last year, the future of seas and oceans has become a big issue worldwide!

We must now steer a new course towards the sustainable management of our seas and oceans in the same way we vowed to do in the Paris Agreement on climate change. It will take both courage and knowledge to do it.

I would like to mention three critical points:

 We must talk about our weather machine.

Climate is formed over the oceans, and what we experience is weather. Oceans are the key balancing element of our global climate system. Researchers have shown how the ocean climate machine works. They are investigating how it impacts weather events further inland. Extreme weather events and their intensity are on the rise worldwide, affecting more than just the people living along coastlines.

These events are also the consequence of the ocean absorbing more and more carbon dioxide and thus warming up. The acidification of the oceans is increasing steadily; its impact on the ecosystem can already be felt. And this is yet another reason why we must persevere in the implementation of the resolutions adopted in the Paris Agreement on global climate change.

We must put a halt on overfishing.

The overexploitation of the ocean’s resources is at odds with securing what is vital to our existence from that very same source. The exploitation of the oceans‘ resources generates an annual global trade volume of 1.5 trillion dollars – a figure which is set to increase in the future.

The phenomenon of overfishing is a particularly reckless example of this trend. It is economically unwise to deplete global fish stocks. Scientific studies have shown that if we conserve fish stocks now, we will be able to do more fishing in the long term. Despite this, one third of the stocks in the waters of the European Union are still being overfished.

Plastic does not belong on our plates.

It is estimated that between five and 13 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year. It takes more than 400 years for a plastic bottle to break down in the ocean. At that rate, there will soon be more plastic bags than fish in the ocean.

Plastics in the ocean is more than just a problem of waste: tonnes of microplastic particles in cosmetics are rinsed down the bathroom drain into rivers and seas – ultimately landing in the fish on our plates.

The German cosmetic products industry uses 500 tonnes of microplastics every year. Substitute materials have been developed for quite some time and are ready for use. Germany relies on a voluntary commitment of its cosmetics industry, but a ban on microplastics at European level could send a clear signal. Other countries have already chosen to impose such a ban.


The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is determined to provide strong support for marine science in order to solve the challenges that I have just outlined. And we need you, the Green Talents, with your skills and expertise to help achieve this huge goal!

Fortunately, all of you are determined and passionate scientists because this is – in addition to being excellent – a typical trait of a Green Talent. The fact that 145 out of 182 awardees came to Germany to join the Alumni conference clearly shows how much you value the benefits of the Green Talents initiative. I would like to emphasize that the Green Talents award has a concrete impact on sustainability research. Green Talents enable international networks and the annual alumni event promotes mobility and interconnectivity.


Since the start of Green Talents in 2009 we have had applicants from 134 countries and 182 awardees from 51 countries. This year we received 757 entries from 104 countries. Also the regional diversity represented by this year’s awardees is impressive: we have winners from five new countries – Australia, Ethiopia, Ireland, Portugal and Togo.

Another welcome fact is the rising number of applicants from Africa: When Green Talents started in 2009 only 21 talents from Africa applied. In contrast, this year we had 208 applicants from African countries. I assume that SASSCAL and WASCAL - the Service Centres for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Use in Western and in Southern Africa that the BMBF supports – are playing a key role in this positive development.


Direkte Überleitung zur Preisverleihung!

I would now like to honour the next generation of young scientists whose dedicated research on, for example, emerging contaminants in marine waters, research on CO2 capture or research on efficiency enhancement of renewable energy technologies like solar cells, clearly demonstrates that they deserve the title “Green Talent”.

Let me now introduce each of the 25 awardees 2016 and invite you to come to the stage to receive your certificate.

The first representative of this year’s Green Talents cohort assesses large-scale land acquisitions for biofuel in Ghana from a sustainability perspective. It’s a topic that had previously not been explored enough in the interest of improving the lives of people in West Africa. Please welcome Mr. Ahmed Abubakari from Ghana….

Our next awardee has helped to update and strengthen evidence of natural climate variability and possible signs of climate change in Colombia and the Amazon River basin. Her goal is to contribute to the design of adaptation strategies and programs that mitigate the effects of climate change through their orientation towards more sustainable and eco-friendly practices. Please welcome Ms. Alejandra Carmona from Colombia …

According to the next Green Talent 2016, the use of ‘dirty’ chemicals in sustainable feedstock processing is ruining the sustainability of biomass-based processes. So she is working on the integration of green chemistry and the use of more sustainable technologies to upgrade biomass waste. Please welcome our first Green Talent from Portugal, Ms. Ana Morais …

The research focus of the next outstanding researcher is the advanced hydrogenation of silicon solar cells. He is research director of Crystalline Silicon PV Projects at the University of New South Wales in Australia and always looking for international cooperation. Please welcome our first Green Talent from Australia, Mr. Brett Hallam…

Our next winner’s goal is to produce enough energy for daily life in Colombia’s rural communities through sustainable technologies. Please welcome Mr. Carlos Andrés García Velásquez from Colombia…

We learned a lot today about sustainability politics and about the influence it has on achieving the sustainable development goals. Our next awardee is an expert in this field, especially with regard to social equity and equal opportunity. Please welcome Mr. Darnel Harris from Canada…

The research of our next Green Talent is closely related to this year’s motto “Seas and Oceans”. His work is centred on furthering the understanding of the diversity, ecology and distribution of microbial communities in the Arctic Ocean and their responses to the changing conditions. Please welcome Mr. Deo Florence Onda from the Philippines.

Our next awardee is developing new methods to evaluate the environmental, economic and social trade-offs evident in existing environmental policies and in alternative future policy avenues. She actively collaborates with several international research groups, including that of Humboldt University. Please welcome Ms. Elizabeth Law from Australia.

Our next Green Talent believes that an interdisciplinary approach is necessary in order to better address current issues in pollution monitoring. Over the past ten years, she has been developing and using monitoring and detection systems ranging from nanosystems to satellite remote sensing. Please welcome Ms. Emily Elhacham from Israel.

Our next Green Talent is fighting overexploitation of wildlife and, consequently, a worldwide loss of tropical biodiversity. The primary new perspective he is providing to sustainability research is the creation of an innovative, community-based approach to obtain particular reproduction data on wild tropical mammals. This data can be applied in sustainable wildlife management initiatives across the world. Please welcome Mr. Hani El Bizri from Brazil…

Combatting resource scarcity and mitigating the effects of climate change are crucial for sustainable development in Western Africa. This is why I am happy to announce another Green Talent from Africa who is examining land use change and hydrologic processes in river basins in West Africa in order to develop strategies for sustainable natural resource management. Please welcome our first Green Talent from Togo, Mr. Hèou Maléki BADJANA…

The next winner’s research is also related to Seas and Oceans. He is studying novel methods for the detection of heavy metals in water. He developed an artificial micro-fish that can detect the presence of lead and cadmium in water. He won the Falling Walls Lab Singapore for this innovation and will be representing the university this November at the Falling Walls Lab Finale in Berlin. Please welcome Mr. James Guo Sheng Moo from Singapore.

Our next winner currently studies the physicochemical aspects of industrially relevant chemical processes at the University of Birmingham. His research is geared towards developing processes to convert glycerol, which is a by-product of biodiesel, into valuable products. Please welcome Mr. Jesús Esteban Serrano from Spain…

I am now glad to announce our first Green Talent lawyer. At the age of 23 this outstanding young researcher deals with the interconnections between climate change, agriculture and food systems from a legal perspective, focusing on Brazilian agroecological public policies. Please welcome Ms. Marina Demaria Venâncio from Brazil…

Our next Green Talent focuses on evaluating the soil’s natural capital under different land use conditions in humid tropical regions and in small island states. She also predicts future trends for the improvement of sustainable adaptation strategies to climate change. Please welcome Ms. Melissa Atwell from Trinidad and Tobago…

The next Green Talent must have enjoyed this year’s Science Forum, too. In his work he investigates different types of emerging contaminants in the North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. He considers himself a member of the generation that will be responsible for designing and promoting green solutions. Please welcome Mr. Miroslav Brumovsky from the Czech Republic.

The next winner is researching options for using charcoal material as a sustainable power source in African communities. Please welcome Ms. Musaida Mercy Manyuchi from Zimbabwe…

Now I would like to announce another outstanding researcher from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He develops pressure-retarded osmosis membrane technology for seawater desalination, brine disposal and energy recovery. By the way, almost every year there is a Green Talent from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.  Please welcome Mr. She Qianhong (Aussprache: Schö Tschiänhong) from China….

As we have learned today the earth’s marine environments are threatened by climate change, pollution, overexploitation and other challenges. Our next Green Talent investigates diverse perspectives of the ocean and the uses that exist within the community in order to develop methods for influencing the community, for example with techniques like citizen science. Please welcome Ms. Rachel Kelly from Ireland…

The interdisciplinary research of our next Green Talent combines urban sustainability, resource efficiency, cleaner production and eco-innovation. His objective is to create green technologies based on renewable feedstocks, for example empty fruit bunches of oil palm in order to promote more sustainable city life. Utilizing EFB biomass as a feedstock to mass-produce graphene has the potential to solve the waste disposal crisis in countries which grow oil palm including potential revenue benefits. Please welcome Mr. Shamik Chowdhury from India...

Our next Green Talent is using her background in developing polymeric membranes to create a greener means of converting organic wastes into usable, value-added biogases. She is developing sustainable materials and membrane technologies for biogas separation, industrial air purification, haze removal and air quality control. Please welcome Ms. Wai Fen Yong from Malaysia…

The next Green Talent studied at KAIST in South Korea, worked at the National University for Science and Technology in Pakistan and is now working as Assistant Professor at the National University of Science and Technology in Zimbabwe. He uses his knowledge of micro-algal biotechnology to reduce the negative environmental effects of fossil fuel use in industrial processes by developing innovative carbon capture and storage techniques. Please welcome Mr. Wasif Farooq from Pakistan…

Today we have learned a lot about the potential for conflicts while implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. This is exactly where our next winner focuses his research. He investigates the possibility of tourism as a driver of climate-compatible development using Ethiopia as a case study. Please welcome Mr. Wondowossen Anteneh Tegegne from Ethiopia…

Our next winner worked for many years in the area of renewable energy and sustainable power generation. His objective is to build scientific partnerships between Nepal and Germany to share both education and research findings, experiences and ideas. Please welcome Mr. Yam Prasad     Siwakoti from Nepal…

The research of our last Green Talent award winner for today develops bottom-up energy, water and emission inventories aiming to uncover the social and economic driving forces of China’s energy and emission growth. Recently, at the California Institute of Technology, he has been working with a team from NASA’s JET Propulsion Laboratory to trace global mega city carbon emissions by using satellite data. The information will be used to show the carbon emission distribution with high spatial and temporal resolution. This space technology will help the scientific community to better understand the scale of human activity and will provide an alternative source of information in light of the fact that energy statistics are currently reported by governments and are susceptible to manipulation. Please welcome Mr. Liu Zhu from China…