SDG Conference Bergen 2024

Sustainability in focus: Should researchers be activists?

«We are well aware that a significant change is necessary. We have the knowledge that is needed. Now we must figure out what to do,» professor Håvard Haarstad at UiB says. The seventh SDG Conference in Bergen will be held from 7.-9. February. We ask: What should be the role of universities?

Fokus i bildet er på en lyspære, men man aner at bak foregår det en konferanse
The SDG Conference in Bergen 2024 is free and digital.
Silje Katrine Robinson / UiB

Main content

The 7th SDG Conference in Bergen will be 7.-9. February 2024. This year's conference is about the role of universities in transformative change.

See the full programme for the conference here.

«This year's SDG conference in Bergen aims to explore and articulate the many roles that universities can and should have in transformative processes. We will examine promising collaboration patterns between universities and various actors, including civil society, and how to incorporate more perspectives, insights, and wisdom into innovative solutions,» says professor Erik Knain at the University of Oslo, who is head of the conference's programme committee.

Researcher Initiative

It was on 1. January 2016 that the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) officially came into effect, and it is these goals that are the basis of this conference. Back then leaders across the world committed their countries to do what they could in the next 15 years to eradicate poverty, combat inequality, and halt climate change. The Sustainable Development Goals consist of 17 goals and 169 sub-goals, aiming to provide a common global direction for countries, businesses, and civil society.

Just a year later, in 2017, some researchers at the University of Bergen gathered for a joint local workshop. They asked, «How can the university contribute to achieving these goals?» and «How can we be a critical arena?». In 2018, the concept expanded into a major conference, and since then, it has become digital, national, and open to an international audience. Last year, more than 1500 people from around the world attended the conference.

«Should researchers go further?»

«We are well aware that significant change is necessary. We have the knowledge that is needed. Now we must figure out what to do, and it should be all hands on deck,» says Håvard Haarstad, professor of human geography and head of the Centre for Climate and Energy Transformation (CET).

Haarstad, a member of the national programme committee for the conference, believes it is essential to consider the role of universities concerning the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals take into account that eradicating poverty must be linked to strategies for economic growth. The goals also address various social needs such as education, health, social protection, job opportunities, while simultaneously preserving climate and nature.

«Research has been crucial in bringing about facts and initiating public debates about climate and nature crises. Should researchers now go further? Many believe we now should take on a more active role. And these are among the questions we will discuss at the SDG Conference,» Haarstad says.

Deep-sea mining on the agenda

The SDG Conference in Bergen opens at 9 am on Wednesday, 7. February, with a panel discussion on public-private collaboration and deep-sea mining as a case.

«The background for the debate is the recent events in Norway related to deep-sea mining. The crucial decision came on January 9th when a large majority in the Norwegian Parliament voted to allow such mining. This has put Norwegian politicians against the authorities in a highly polarized debate,» says Dorothy Dankel, senior researcher at Sintef Ocean and associate professor at UiB.

Dankel will moderate the debate, which will include both researchers and industry representatives. The debate will be streamed, but it is also possible to attend it in person at Storsalen in Nygårdsgaten 5.

«Norway is the world's first country to open up for mining on the continental shelf. The government helps finance research and innovation in the deep sea, which will be actively used by the industry. So, it is relevant for us to critically reflect on public-private partnerships in light of sustainability and responsible research and innovation,» Dankel says.

There will be a «watch party»

All participants registered for the conference have the opportunity to watch the documentary «Deep Rising» on the conference platform. The film is about deep-sea mining. 

The conference is mainly digital, but the Sustainability Pilots and the Center for Climate and Energy Transformation (CET) are organizing a «watch party» in the old canteen on the fourth floor of Christies gate 18 for all that are interested. The doors will be open throughout the conference, and one can come and go as one pleases. There will be coffee and snacks.

The SDG Conference in Bergen is a free conference organized by the University of Bergen, the University of Oslo, NTNU, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, NMBU, Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Universities Norway, and The National Union of Students in Norway.

Sign up for this year's sustainability conference here.