In an online meeting on 9–10 July 2020, the United Nations University Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS) joined universities from across the globe in discussing support for the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs by 2030.
The meeting — hosted by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation and Columbia University, and attended by more than 200 participants in over 65 countries — highlighted the commitment of universities to the SDGs and their role as independent institutions that innovate in the interest of humanity. Speakers emphasised the role of universities in building more inclusive societies to ensure that no-one is left behind.
As part of a panel discussion on The Future of Higher Education in the Post-COVID World, UNU-IAS Director Prof. Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi delivered remarks focused on three key messages:
- Facing these unprecedented circumstances, we need systems thinking — the ability to analyse complex systems across environmental, social, and economic domains. We can no longer afford to think and act in silos. This goes beyond addressing the impacts of the pandemic to tackle the urgent crises that were already threatening humanity.
- “Building back better” must be an integral part of efforts to create more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive societies. The UN Secretary-General has repeatedly emphasised that while we focus on COVID-19, climate change is approaching a point of no return and requires decisive action. This must be reflected in our response to COVID-19. As governments attempt to balance economic recovery with the need for control measures against COVID-19, greater attention must be paid to long-term environmental perspectives.
- The academic community must play a central role in “building back better” by informing evidence-based policymaking and educating future generations. For example, it must employ interdisciplinary knowledge to justify implementing sustainable land and water management as a means of building resilient communities. We should warn against short-term economic planning that would result in unsustainable land-use change & deforestation.
UNU-IAS is advancing these efforts through policy-oriented research; its networks in education, biodiversity, governance, technology, and other areas; and projects such as the Promotion of Sustainability in Education and Research Network (ProSPER.Net) and the Satoyama Initiative.
More information can be found on the UNU-IAS website.