Need for a broader debate about radical change

For three days, people from more than 100 countries have contributed to the discussion about the sustainable development goals. But the program leaders of the digital conference asks if the debate is broad and radical enough.

Bilde fra konferansen.
DEBATE: Beate Sjåfjell, Idar Kreutzer discussing sustainability with Mette Grangaard Lund (on screen). Moderator Sofie Høgestøl. Foto/ill.: Silje Katrine Robinson.
Silje Katrine Robinson.

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The theme of the conference was "A just transformation to a sustainable future", which fits perfectly with the global scope of the conference: More than 1700 participants from 117 countries had signed up for the all-digital event. 

- We need all persepectives 

The first keynote speaker of the conference, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Harvard Kennedy School and Holberg Prize Laureate Sheila Jasanoff, pointed out that we need to bring together the perspectives of both barefooted villagers in the developing world and decision makers of the global elite:   

- The challenge of sustainable development that leaves no one behind is to find ways of bringing these bare feet of experience into conversation with the high citadels of high-tech and sustainable goals and their matrix, says Jasanoff.  

Academic community key factor 

Taking into account the often unforeseen and less discussed negative impact of transition to a more sustainable future has also been an important question during the conference.  

- We need to ensure that solving one challenge to sustainable development doesn’t create more challenges in the form of social conflicts and environmental degradation, says former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of the UNDP, Helen Clark.  

She sees universities and the global academic community as a key factor to overcome these obstacles, and collaborate across disciplines. And Clark’s vision ends on a positive note:  

- Just as humanity has created many of the challenges we face today, so I believe that we have it within our power and resources to find the answers. If we have the will to do so! 

No magic recipe for sustainbilty 

The two Norwegian scholars Beate Sjåfjell and Eivind Engebretsen, both professors of the University of Oslo have led the programme committee of this year’s sixth annual SDG Conference Bergen. They particularly remark the importance of how and with whom we discuss a just transformation to a sustainable future.  

- One of the things that has made the most impression on me during this conference was to hear Environmental Rights Activist and Founder of Fridays For Future Uganda, Hilde Nakabuye, talk about her own experiences and how they work with the local communities. One of the things we in academia can take with us further is that we have to talk to people outside our world as well: local people, businesses and politicians. We have to get involved in the communities we are part of. No one has a magic recipe for sustainability, and therefore we must talk together and create knowledge. For far too long, the sustainability discussion has been dominated by western voices, says Beate Sjåfjell. 

How radical do we have to be? 

Her colleague, Eivind Engebretsen, adds that we need to ask ourselves if we ask the right questions:  

- One of the questions that I think runs through the entire program is how radical does the shift have to be? Do the sustainable development goals provide what we need? Are they radical enough for what we need to create a sustainable world? Thursday we heard it in relation to power and sustainability, and Friday we heard it in relation to business. Some say that sustainability is perhaps the best framework we have, and if understood broadly it is a useful tool. At the same time, the sustainability goals to a large extent reflect the dominant societal model, the neoliberal system, Engebretsen says, and points out that we must ask ourselves whether we are going into the question thoroughly enough. 

- Einstein said that you cannot change the world within the same thought system that has created the problem. A much more fundamental change is required. We have to shake the very foundations of the existing social model.