UNU-IAS Joins Universities in Supporting UN Secretary-General’s Call for a Decade of Action on the SDGs

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  • 2020•07•11     New York

    In an online meeting on 9–10 July 2020, UNU-IAS joined universities from across the globe in discussing support for the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs by 2030. By generating and mobilising knowledge, the world’s leading universities are uniquely positioned to accelerate progress on the SDGs. This role is more important than ever as COVID-19 threatens to reverse decades of progress on sustainable development, with disproportionate impacts on the most vulnerable people.

    The meeting was hosted by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation and Columbia University. It engaged over 200 participants from more than 65 countries, comprising university presidents, chancellors, and vice-chancellors, as well as senior UN leaders.

    The discussion highlighted the commitment of universities to the SDGs, and their role as independent institutions that innovate in the interests of humanity. Universities must shape the future citizens, leaders, and global workforce that will realise the transition to sustainability. In particular, speakers emphasised the role of universities in building more inclusive societies, to ensure that no-one is left behind. It is also critical that universities are connected to the needs of society, finding new ways to mobilise intellectual resources and restructure our institutions to meet the challenges facing humanity.

    UNU-IAS Director Prof. Shinobu Yume Yamaguchi delivered remarks as part of a panel discussion on The Future of Higher Education in the Post-COVID World. She emphasised that as the globe adapts to a “new normal” in living with COVID-19, achieving the SDGs will require renewed efforts at all levels. Higher education will play a critical role in accelerating progress, while it must also come to terms with this new reality.

    In her remarks Prof. Yamaguchi stressed three key messages from UNU-IAS:

    1. 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 siloes. This goes beyond addressing the impacts of the pandemic, to tackle the urgent crises that were already threatening humanity.
    2. “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.
    3. 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 and by mobilising its networks in education, biodiversity, governance, technology and other areas. These include the Promotion of Sustainability in Education and Research Network (ProSPER.Net) and the Satoyama Initiative. This year UNU-IAS is launching the SDGs and University Platform, an innovative new project engaging Japanese universities to incorporate the SDGs in their research and education activities.

    The UNU system is mobilizing experts across our 14 institutes, located in 12 countries, to address the interconnected impacts of COVID-19 and inform policy solutions for sustainable development.

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    Following on from this event, a HESI Roundtable event was held on 15 July 2020 to reflect on the discussions and work towards actionable next steps.