Institute for Sustainability

IfS Conference 2016

Institute for Sustainability 2016 Annual Conference

Review of our conference on the Sustainable Development Goals.

The 2016 Institute for Sustainability Annual Conference – ‘Sustainable Futures: Research, Policy and Practice’, brought together a range of experts in sustainability and sustainable development from countries in Europe and Asia. Newcastle University researchers presented alongside practitioners in business, industry, NGOs and government.

Held near Newcastle University campus in London, one of the world’s hubs for national and international policy, the conference forged a new way of connecting research to policy. The format, which was mainly discussion based, allowed delegates to deliberate on how academics can inform and influence the often daunting world of policy with the aim of working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals.

UN SDGs
IfS Annual Conference Session 1 Panel.

The Institute for Sustainability Annual Conference showcased sustainability research from Newcastle University to a wide range of stakeholders as well as engaged with key actors and organisations in national and international policy. The Keynote speaker Prof Patrick Paul Walsh, professor of International Development Studies at University College Dublin and Senior Advisor to the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, gave an excellent talk on the need for academic research in meeting the SDGs.

conference 2016
Keynote Speaker Prof Patrick Paul Walsh.

There were many take home messages from the discussion that could be summed up into two main themes: how academics can get involved in the SDGs and how to bring academic research to policy.

Getting academia involved in the SDGs

During the panel discussion at the start, which featured talks from the WWF, Bioregional, International Council for Science and the National Energy Alliance, it was decided that academics have a large role to play in not only measuring progress for the goals, but understanding their interlinkages.

Lucilla Spini from the International Council for Science commented that many researchers and organisations may be ‘unaware that they are actually working on the SDGs', emphasising why it is important to raise awareness about them.

Lucilla Spini, ICSU

Although all countries have signed up to the SDGs, delegates found that there needs to be a drive within and outside of universities to publicise them more widely. For universities it's about promoting the SDGs at all levels and connecting them with research that addresses them.

Ruth Fuller
Dr Ruth Fuller, WWF-UK

How to bring academic research to policy

The final discussion was the pinnacle of the event where speakers from the first session joined with Newcastle University researchers to discuss how academic research could play a greater role in policy for the SDGs.

Delegates agreed that there is no 'one size fits all approach' to engaging with policy and that every country has different mechanisms and opportunities for getting involved, but that it is important to explore all of them. There are knowledge deficits within policy making where academic researchers could have greater input.

The conference concluded that every opportunity for creating new partnerships or collaborations were invaluable for research to policy and that timing was also crucial. This Newcastle University Institute for Sustainability Annual Conference was 'ground breaking' in connecting leading research in sustainability at Newcastle University with international policy, and the Institute for Sustainability will look to build upon these excellent collaborations at present and in the near future.