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Researchers discussed sustainability goal challenges

In the beginning of May 2021 the first of six workshops was arranged on how the Strategic Research Areas can meet the challenges surrounding the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. The theme was "Policy and international research development" and how research ideas are developed and influenced by sustainability goals.

57 researchers, doctoral students and administrators from several different departments participated in the workshop which began with a lecture by Rickard Eksten, Universities in South Sweden´s representative in Brussels. He talked about the sustainability goals in relation to EU research policy and the research initiative Horizon Europe. He was followed by Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research, Sustainability and Campus Development Per Mickwitz, who talked about why sustainable development is dependent on research-based science.

The participants were divided into different groups to discuss how their research has been affected by the increased focus on the sustainable development goals (SDG´s) so far, and how they believe that the SDG´s will affect their future research. The aim was to encourage the participants to exchange ideas and possibly open up for future collaborations.

Many of the participants were open about not having thought about how they could link their research to the SDG´s, something they believed is due to their research not being directly related to sustainability issues. However, the participants agreed that there are indirect links, even for basic research with no immediate application.  The increased number of grants and improved conditions for research relating to sustainable development has also more or less forced the researchers to reflect on the sustainability impact of their research.

However, both gaining understanding of complex sustainability issues, and being able to put your own research into a larger perspective so that it addresses the challenges of sustainable development, is not done overnight. The participants agreed that interdisciplinary collaborations are of the outmost importance to shed light on the SDG´s, but that it takes time for such collaborations to become fully productive. One of the participants with more than 10 years’ experience of interdisciplinary work, said that it is only now that they are starting to see some scientific results. Considering the time needed to develop interdisciplinary capacity for sustainability research, workshop participants concluded that it is very important for senior researchers and graduate schools  to encourage and support younger researchers and doctoral students to develop their own research interests, as well as initiate interdisciplinary collaborations.

Regarding the impact of the SDG´s on future research conditions, the participants also believe that it will become even more important to weight in, for example, materials, methods and travels in the sustainability impact of their research. Flying from Lund to Stockholm for a conference for example, will be considered unreasonable. The participants believe that there should be a comprehensive body that formulates rules on how to work sustainably and makes sure that thy are enforced.

Other proposals were interdisciplinary graduate schools, expanding SRA activities, and various collaboration initiatives. Finally, the participants discussed the increased need of research coordinators to help coordinate larger applications, and that the sustainability dimension should be prioritised in university support functions. Otherwise, there is a risk that the SRA´s that lack a good understanding of application procedures - or that are less aware of how their research is linked to sustainability impacts and societal relevance - will fall behind.

The workshop was arranged by the Strategic Research Areas BECC, MERGE and LUCC in collaboration with Sustainability Forum.