Connecting Research and the SDGs: Discussions around the Coffee Table

News
  • 2017/06/28     Dresden, Germany

    Image: Janis Kreiselmeier/UNU-FLORES

    Image: Janis Kreiselmeier/UNU-FLORES

    Cinnamon buns, coffee, and PhD researchers eager to talk – could there be a better setting for interested students from TU Dresden to learn about how local research is connected to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

    In May six PhD researchers of the Joint PhD programme of UNU-FLORES and TU Dresden presented and discussed their work with participants of the Environmental Lecture Series ‘7 Billion Chances’ at TU Dresden. The lecture series is organized by TU Dresden students and members of the Student Environmental Initiative (tuuwi), Janna Rückert and Laura Stüdeman. Breaking out of  the normal frontal lecture format, on May 23 a Science Café gave the opportunity for participants to get into a conversation with researchers of different scientific backgrounds and discuss the various linkages of natural resources to the SDGs and their implications. Each of the five tables covered a research project and one or more SDGs. Participants were free to choose which tables to join. To fuel discussions and to put the Café into Science Café Janna and Laura served coffee and homemade cinnamon buns to all participants.

    Image: Janis Kreiselmeier/UNU-FLORES

    Image: Janis Kreiselmeier/UNU-FLORES

    A Strong Ground for the SDGs

    At two tables it was all about the very ground we live on that too often gets only little attention – soil. Drawing on their research, Parvathy Chandrasekhar and Janis Kreiselmeier led lively discussions around the multitude of functions and ecosystem services that soils provide. Because of these manifold ecosystem services, this resource is linked in many ways directly and indirectly to several of the SDGs. The connection of many SDGs to soils can be a challenge as well as an advantage. Considering each goal separately can lead to conflicts and confusion when implementing policies for land-use. If, for example, we want to end hunger (SDG 2) and cope with climate change, food production needs to be intensified. Depending on which method is used, this in turn can put pressure on the resources water and soil, which are necessary for achieving others goals such as SDG 6 and 15. Policy makers and scientists, therefore, need to look for nexus-oriented solutions that address the growing demand for food while also ensuring sustainable management of our natural resources.

    This topic was also touched on at Sridhar Patra’s table. Sridhar, a researcher in the Soil and Land-Use Management Unit at UNU-FLORES, discussed his work around the impact of soil erosion on soil organic carbon dynamics in agro-ecosystems with participants. Looking at SDG 2, he drew attention to the importance of finding meeting the global food demand under the conditions of a growing population and increasing pressures on resources. Sub-Saharan Africa was given as an example where global change puts particular strain on available resources to feed the population.

    Image: Janis Kreiselmeier/UNU-FLORES

    Image: Janis Kreiselmeier/UNU-FLORES

    How Water Runs Through the SDGs

    Water is vital for life and so it is no surprise that this precious resource was covered at two tables, shedding light on different aspects. A researcher on water quality monitoring, Thuy Nguyen focused on SDG Target 6.3 about improving water quality at her table. She stressed the importance of proper water quality monitoring network design in providing empirical evidence to support decision makers in water management.  To be able to take action we need efficient monitoring to know the status of water and the pollution sources through. Participants in turn shared their experiences with poor water quality from their hometowns. Thuy also provided positive examples where sound scientific evidence served as a background for effective water management policies.

    At his table, Mahesh Jampani pointed out the vital role of acheiving SDG 6 – about water safety and sanitation – for achieving many other goals such as reducing poverty (SDG 1), healthy livelihoods (SDG 3), and developing sustainable cities (SDG 11). It was discussed how wastewater contamination impacts the human health and impairs ecosystems. Many students felt that the lack of effective policies and their implementation in many regions is a major concern for the development agenda. Also, trade-offs in achieving one goal with respect to the other development goals were brought up at this table. However, participants felt that if implemented with a Nexus Approach and dedication by local stakeholders, SDGs might be a chance to bring a great change in both the developing and the developed world.

    Image: Parvathy Chandrasekhar/UNU-FLORES

    Image: Parvathy Chandrasekhar/UNU-FLORES

    Climate Change Connects the Local to the Global

    Climate change (SDG 13) and its impact on the development agenda was the focus of the debate Solomon Gebrechorkos’s table. He explained that for East Africa his research shows that there are already significant changes in minimum and maximum temperatures as well as extreme climate indices. This not only highlights the need to reduce emissions, but also to adapt to changes already happening. Discussing emissions, the group asked themselves how we, as individuals could contribute to SDG 13 by reducing emissions in everyday life. They came up with many practical solutions such as buying energy efficient products, saving electricity, and using public transport. The also noted, however, that climate change is a global problem and in addition to individual efforts, it needs to be a priority on all political agendas worldwide.

    Although from very different professional backgrounds, the participants contributed actively and discussions were both lively and thought-provoking. In the end, one and a half hours passed by too quickly and left everyone with new insights, thoughts, and inspiration to relate their own research to the SDGs.