The degradation of natural resources represents one of the most critical environmental megatrends worldwide and is of great concern to the United Nations and its Member States. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reflects this concern in a wide range of indicators across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Challenges manifest themselves at different levels: e.g., at the local level, nutrients are crucial for soil and land-use management; at the regional level, the safe use of wastewater is key for delivering an appropriate water quantity and quality; and at the global level, climate change requires systems analysis to inform resource management decisions for energy and geo-resources. Focusing on the management of any single resource neglects the close intertwining and mutual dependencies of environmental resources, and thus results in “sectoral silo thinking”: ignoring trade-offs and potential synergies.
The vision and mission of UNU-FLORES, in conjunction with its core functions and key research areas, are adduced from this global context.
UNU-FLORES was established in Dresden, Germany in 2012 with the support of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Ministry for Higher Education, Research and the Arts (SMWK) of the Free State of Saxony, Germany.
Policy Impact: By working at the science-policy interface, UNU-FLORES contributes to the so-called knowledge triangle or third mission, i.e. extending beyond research and teaching to have a policy impact on the UN and its Member States. By combining a science-push and a policy-pull strategy, UNU-FLORES can convey research findings to policymakers (push) and deduct research questions from policy relevance (pull), based on the policy concerns of governments at different levels (national, regional, local, and international). This tactical position enables the Institute to shape policy visions, policy cycles, policy instruments and interventions, and to contribute to agenda setting.
Academic Excellence: A sound process – from the conception of the studies or experiments to be conducted to the generation, analysis, and interpretation of the data, to the preparation of research articles – is crucial for academic excellence. This knowledge creation is achieved through the collaborative efforts of research teams that include strategic partners such as TU Dresden and visiting scholars, the identification of expedient research questions, and the selection of appropriate data and methods.
Capacity Development: The accurate translation of research into practice and subsequent implementation of management strategies at individual, organisational, and institutional levels are crucial in supporting decision making. To advance the resource nexus, stakeholders must be engaged; wicked problems must be faced, and forces must be joined. To that end, a special focus will be set on capacity development for decisionmakers in the Global South.
Postgraduate Teaching: UNU-FLORES offers high-quality training that is both interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary in nature, with a dedicated focus of developing future scientists and leaders of all ages. Interactions with researchers from other disciplines and with stakeholders are key to approaching global challenges. A large percentage of our student intake originate from developing countries, which means that the impact of postgraduate teaching is fully secured and implemented when the students return to their home countries.
Nexus Thinking: The Nexus Approach to the sustainable management of water, soil, waste, energy, and geo-resources – the resource nexus – is based on the insight that focusing on single resources neglects the close intertwining and mutual dependencies of environmental resources. Nexus thinking embedded in inter- and transdisciplinary working is an inherent component of all work at UNU-FLORES in relation to policy impact, academic excellence, capacity development, and postgraduate teaching, thereby complementing the other core functions.
UNU-FLORES research covers topics related to the nexus of the following environmental resources, complemented by data analysis and integrative modelling tools:
This interdisciplinary resource nexus approach also encompasses research programmes on integrated resources management, which shape the selection and combination topics.
All key research areas are closely connected to the overarching priorities of the UN and UNU. Through the involvement of target policymakers, especially from ministries and agencies related to environmental resources during the research design phase, UNU-FLORES will succeed in being policy-relevant.
UNU-FLORES is one of 14 institutes and programmes, located in 12 different countries, which together comprise the United Nations University (UNU)—a global think tank and postgraduate teaching organisation, headquartered in Tokyo.
The mission of UNU is to contribute, through collaborative research and education, to efforts to resolve the pressing global problems of human survival, development and welfare that are the concern of the United Nations, its Peoples and the Member States.
Organisations depend on various forms of capital, namely financial capital, manufactured capital, intellectual capital, human capital, social and relationship capital, and natural capital. These capitals are “stocks of value that are increased, decreased or transformed through the activities and outputs of the organization” (IIRC 2013). To comprehensively capture these “stocks of value”, institutional planning at UNU-FLORES follows this logic:
UNU-FLORES strives to secure a healthy balance of diverse and long-term funds to ensure the sustainability of its operations. For topics related to the science-push strategy, (inter)national calls for submission of research proposals of donors are prospective sources of funding. Regarding topics related to the policy-pull strategy, decisionmakers and their respective funding mechanisms will be targeted. In following the Guidelines on Cooperation between the United Nations and the Business Sector, fundraising options with the business sector shall be explored. A rolling budget supports the agility required by a think tank.
A floating office concept that allows for different working zones will not only encourage collaboration within UNU-FLORES but also result in a better-utilised office space; thus demonstrating higher resource efficiency, both economically and ecologically.
To support research on the resource nexus and to allow an innovation culture, UNU-FLORES is organised into interdisciplinary resource nexus research programmes on integrated resources management. A reputation for academic excellence in the resource nexus research programmes will allow UNU-FLORES to implement a science-push strategy and ensure policy impact through subsequent advocacy-related activities. A flexible structure will foster this innovation culture.
Competency-based recruiting leads to securing the best minds for cutting-edge topics at the forefront of urgent global challenges, and support the think tank function of UNU-FLORES. Synergies with the strategic partner, TU Dresden, are leveraged. For younger scientists, the Institute’s membership to networks such as DRESDEN-concept e.V. opens the opportunity of being appointed a Young Investigator at TU Dresden, and the Visiting Scholar Programme serves as a catalyst for idea generation. A healthy work environment based on trust, transparency, tolerance of failure, and de-escalation, and in accordance with the UNU Policy on Gender Equality, shall guide decision making at UNU-FLORES. Flexible Working Arrangements support our staff members in balancing work life and private life.
Relationships are key for the business model of UNU-FLORES. The Partnerships and Liaison function identifies and engages target audiences and/or clients at the outset of research projects – including private and business sectors. Collaboration within UNU-FLORES is supported by interdisciplinary Resource Nexus Research Programmes and a variety of academic incentives to develop connections – including an engaging Internship Programme and Visiting Scholar Programme. The Advisory Committee is a valuable source of advice on strategic and administrative questions alike. Collaboration within UNU shall be a core pillar for relationships. Collaboration within the UN System is key to operationalise the unique inclusivity of the scientific community. The strategic partnership and scientific collaboration between UNU-FLORES and TU Dresden have also led to an alignment with two local research networks that will prove crucial for joint research proposals PRISMA –Centre for Sustainability Assessment and DRESDEN-concept e.V., which represents nearly 30 research institutions across the Dresden area.
As an institute with a focus on environmental resources, UNU-FLORES closely collaborates with the Greening the Blue initiative of SUN – Sustainable United Nations. UNU-FLORES also demonstrates its commitment to environmental awareness on an everyday office level, by implementing green procurement strategies and through the work of the Institute’s Green Committee. Increased recognition shall be given to energy and waste management, as well as to the impact of air travel in regard to climate change. Missions are completed by video conferences whenever possible, in keeping with the goal of functioning as a carbon-neutral and paperless institute.