To Protect and Advance Global Biodiversity Critical to Asia-Pacific Economies, Worldwide Leaders to Convene for APEC University Leaders' Forum
October 24, 2023

The Nov. 13 forum in San Francisco will feature high-level conversations between CEOs, policy leaders, university presidents and top researchers to drive investment in biodiversity


International environmental leaders will convene at the APEC University Leaders’ Forum on Nov. 13 in San Francisco for “Investing in Tomorrow’s Biodiversity,” a daylong event featuring keynotes and panel discussions about sustaining and strengthening biodiversity amid climate change.

An opportunity for leadership to advance global biodiversity efforts, the APEC University Leaders’ Forum (AULF 2023) will produce new ideas and identify partnerships needed for investing in conservation and restoration of our biodiversity.

Co-sponsored by the University of California, Davis, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Association of Pacific Rim Universities, the event will take place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club on the sidelines of the annual APEC CEO Summit. The Forum will be a catalyst for leading universities of APEC to exchange cutting-edge research innovations and explore collaborative initiatives that will shape strategic investment of biodiversity.

“It’s our responsibility to take action in the face of devastating global biodiversity loss and climate change,” said UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May. “As leaders, we must continue to drive breakthrough scientific research and collaborate on innovative solutions to preserve the health of our planet. By working together, we can mitigate the impact of biodiversity loss and protect our ecosystem for generations to come.”

“Successfully addressing the impacts of climate change requires deep and sustained collaboration to ensure discoveries and knowledge are transformed into solutions, equitable policy, and sustainable practices that will help our global communities adapt,” UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive said. “It is critical that we protect our planet and the incredible biodiversity that it supports. Our future depends on it.”


A Dynamic Program

AULF 2023 will feature two keynote addresses by Food Systems for the Future CEO and Managing Director Ertharin Cousin, who served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, and by California Academy of Sciences Executive Director Scott Sampson. Four panel discussions will showcase expertise from leaders in business, nongovernment organizations, and higher education. The discussions will focus on sustaining the evolving biodiversity landscape, strengthening the resilience of coastal communities, protecting water and investing in economic opportunity, and innovating food systems for the survival of the planet. The event also features remarks by international leaders, including Tan Sri Datuk Rebecca Fatima St Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat and Rocky S. Tuan, Vice-Chancellor and President of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Chair of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities.

Cousin is a globally recognized leader in food security and international development. With a distinguished career that includes serving as the executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme and many other leadership roles, Cousin brings a wealth of expertise and a passionate commitment to addressing global challenges. Her insights on food security, sustainable development, and the pivotal role of education in driving positive change will inspire and enrich the discussions at the forum.

Sampson, a renowned paleontologist who hosted the popular PBS Kids television series “Dinosaur Train,” will bring a wealth of knowledge and passion for science education to the Forum, offering a unique perspective on the intersection of education, sustainability, and the environment.

With a lineup of distinguished speakers and panelists representing a diverse array of academic institutions, government bodies, policy organizations, and industry leaders, AULF 2023 promises to be a dynamic platform for shaping the future of education and research across the globe.


Panel I: Responding to Changing Biodiversity

The opening panel will explore the most pressing challenges and promising solutions for restoring biodiversity in the face of a rapidly changing climate. Panelists will discuss recent advances in genomic technologies, biodiversity assessment tools, conservation approaches, policy advances, and funding mechanisms. Panelists include:

● Digeo Quiroga, Rector, Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador (Moderator)
● Rosie Alegado, Assistant Professor, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Mänoa
● Rahimi Kandahari, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Science, Technology, and Space Affairs, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
● Lauren Ferstandig, Managing Director, NatureVest, The Nature Conservancy
● Carol Folt, President, University of Southern California
● Natalia Ocampo-Penuela, Assistant Professor, Environmental Studies Department, UC Santa Cruz


Panel II: Mitigating Climate Change Impacts on Coastal Communities

The second panel focus on strategies to tackle climate change’s effects on coastal regions and includes:

● Emma Johnston, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Professor, The University of Sydney (moderator)
● Michael Beck, Director, Center for Coastal Climate Resilience, UC Santa Cruz
● Karen Fisher, Associate Professor, Faculty of Science, Environment, The University of Auckland
● Guillermo Franco, Managing Director, Guy Carpenter Co.
● Nuin-Tara Key, Director, North America Public Sector Lead, Climate and Resilience Hub, Willis Towers Watson


Panel III: Optimizing Water Resources for a Sustainable Planet

Water resources and their importance in achieving a sustainable future will take center stage in the first afternoon panel.

● Helene Dillard, Dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis (moderator)
● Benjamin Horton, Director of the Earth Observatory of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
● Charles Iceland, Director, Freshwater Initiatives, World Resources Institute
● Jay Lund, Vice Director, Center for Watershed Sciences, UC Davis
● Maria Angelica Sotomayor, Practice Manager, East Asia and the Pacific Water Global Practice, World Bank


Panel IV: Creating a Sustainable Future through Food Systems Innovation

The final panel will explore sustainable solutions and how we can meet escalating food demand without compromising the well-being of our planet. Panelists include:

● Tamar Haspel, Columnist, The Washington Post (moderator)
● Eduardo Blumwald, Distinguished Professor and Will W. Lester Endowed Chair, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis
● Jack Bobo, Director, Food Systems Institute, University of Nottingham
● Rebecca Chesney, Director of Sustainability Innovation, ISS Gunkenheimer
● Rebecca Shaw, Chief Scientist, World Wildlife Fund

Closing remarks will be provided by Angelo Jimenez, President of the University of the Philippines; John MacMillian, Vice Chancellor for Research at UC Santa Cruz; and Jonna Mazet, Vice-Provost of Grand Challenges at UC Davis.

As universities continue to adapt and evolve in a rapidly changing world, this forum promises to be a crucial platform for fostering global leadership and innovation.

For the latest program and speakers, please visit the event website at


About UC Davis
Ranked as one of the top research universities in the nation, the University of California, Davis is recognized worldwide for how it transforms students’ lives, the impact of its research, the excellence of its academic programs, and its service to the public. With more than 40,000 students enrolled annually in undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs, UC Davis provides the highest quality of education from world-class faculty experts while offering the resources to ensure that students succeed in school and beyond.

A global leader in sustainability and environmental research—on campus, in the classroom, and abroad—UC Davis is a living laboratory dedicated to developing, testing and providing solutions to address the world’s most pressing issues, including in areas related to climate change, biodiversity protection and conservation efforts, human and animal health, sustainable food systems and much more. For the seventh year in a row, UC Davis was ranked first in North America for sustainability in the 2022 GreenMetric rankings.


About UC Santa Cruz
A global research university, UC Santa Cruz, is part of the world’s most celebrated system of public higher education, and stands among the most renowned institutions of higher learning.

Leading at the intersection of innovation and social justice, UC Santa Cruz faculty and students conduct transformative research and scholarship that serves society. Undergraduate students experience a small liberal arts college environment with the depth and rigor of a major research university through the pairing of high-impact research with 10 tight-knit residential colleges – a rare combination among U.S. public universities.

UC Santa Cruz shares the distinction of being the youngest member of the Association of American Universities and one of only eight members that is also a Hispanic-serving institution.


About APRU
As a network of leading universities linking the Americas, Asia, and Australasia, APRU (the Association of Pacific Rim Universities) brings together thought leaders, researchers, and policy-makers to exchange ideas and collaborate on practical solutions to the challenges of the 21st century.

APRU leverages its members’ collective education and research capabilities into the international public policy process. In the post-pandemic era, our strategic priorities focus on:

● providing a neutral platform for high-level policy dialogue,
● exploring innovative solutions for a sustainable future, and
● supporting diversity, inclusion, and minorities.

APRU’s primary activities support these strategic priorities, focusing on critical areas such as biodiversity, disaster risk reduction, women in leadership, indigenous knowledge, global health, sustainable cities, artificial intelligence, waste management, and more.

APRU collaborates with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) on initiatives that aim to solve the challenges of the Asia Pacific. APRU has guest membership status with APEC working groups and participates in a number of high-level discussions to ensure that universities have a voice in shaping policy across the region.

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