Strengthening the science-policy nexus at the United Nations
The University of Bergen visited the High-level Political Forum to strengthen the science policy advice in the approaches to and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We recount the proceedings from two hectic weeks in seven brief chapters.
CHAPTER 1: A NEW ERA
At this year's High-level Political Forum (HLPF) between 8-18 July the University of Bergen (UiB) was present with a five person delegation – four researchers and one communications adviser. The group was active in side events and numerous formal and informal events and meetings on the sidelines of HLPF, as well as taking part in the plenary sessions as delegates, observers and commentators.
“Last year Vice-Rector Annelin Eriksen and I were part of the official Norwegian delegation organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on behalf of the national university network for the 2030 Agenda. This task rotates among the five participating universities. This year the University of Bergen brought forward initiatives with partners and also was invited to several side events, so we sent our own small delegation, with members who complemented each other perfectly on the SDGs discussed at this year's HLPF – in particular SDG4 on education, SDG13 on climate action and SDG17 on partnerships,” Professor Edvard Hviding said as leader of the UiB delegation. He is also the Director for the university's SDG Bergen Science Advice.
For this year's HLPF, Hviding was accredited by the Pacific island state of Palau with which he works closely at the UN, whereas other members of the University of Bergen delegation were accredited via the International Association of Universities (IAU), a global higher education network with more than 650 members from 120 countries, co-located with UNESCO in Paris.
“Our delegation soon picked up on the catchphrase ‘science is not negotiable’, as it perfectly symbolised the growing presence of the academic community at HLPF,” says Hviding, who provides running commentary throughout the following chapters.
CHAPTER 2: EDUCATION FOR ALL
The first event to feature a University of Bergen representative as speaker was the Wednesday 10 July workshop Inspire.Change.Together., co-organised by the International Association of Universities (IAU) with other global university networks. Associate Professor Tor Halvorsen was one of the key speakers in the event, where he spoke on the transformations necessary in higher education to successfully engage with the 2030 Agenda.
“We need to combine disciplines, work across disciplines and create new disciplines to capture the new wholeness the SDGs have created,” said Dr. Halvorsen in his rousing speech to a packed conference room in the UN building, pointing to Norway's example of the university sector working together in a national 2030 Agenda committee to provide best practice in higher education.
“Dr. Halvorsen's efforts at the IAU workshop were an excellent start to our ambitions for science advice at HLPF. It conveyed very well our close relations with IAU, where we are leaders of its SDG14 Team on ocean science and education,” comments Edvard Hviding, who looks forward to building on these HLPF 2019 experiences for future side events, workshops and other activities to engage with IAU on the 2030 Agenda.
In that regard Hviding also worked closely with IAU's Secretary-General Dr. Hilligje van’t Land towards the UN system to secure a consultative stakeholder space for IAU at next year's HLPF, for direct participation in plenary debates.
CHAPTER 3: CLIMATE ACTION
Another major day for the University of Bergen was on Friday 12 July, with no less than three climate change related events of special interest to our climate researchers Tore Furevik and Kikki Kleiven from the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research.
Professor Furevik and Dr. Kleiven were present during the plenary discussion of SDG13, Climate Action, and were both excited but also cautious after the debate.
“It was good to see all UN member states discuss climate action at HLPF,” they said, “and understanding the need for less talk and more action. Solving the climate issue is key to all the SDGs.”
“Bringing the director of the Bjerknes Centre and our award-winning climate research communicator to HLPF was truly important with SDG13 on climate action having such a central place in the debates,” comments Edvard Hviding, “being present first hand at the plenary discussions among UN member states and major stakeholders, they will now take back to Bergen's climate research community vital information on key guiding and advisory processes for SDG13 at the UN. This is something UiB will bring forwards to the COP25 negotiations in Chile later this year.”
CHAPTER 4: PARTNERSHIPS FOR CLIMATE ACTION
On Friday 12 July, the University of Bergen co-organised the HLPF side event Partnerships for Climate Action: the Science-Policy Nexus with the Permanent Missions of Norway, Fiji, St. Lucia and Palau to the United Nations. The side event was hosted by Norway’s Mission, included all four ambassadors of the co-hosting states, and was moderated by Edvard Hviding.
The event focussed on how local knowledge and global science can combine to strengthen the science-policy nexus in decision-making processes, both on a national level and in the UN and other international bodies. Taking its cue from the HLPF catchphrase “science is not negotiable” and focussing on partnerships, it was a lively and result-oriented debate.
Fiji's Ambassador Satyendra Prasad set the tone: “The substantial point of partnerships is that they must speak over a long term frame,” before continuing, “climate change is bigger than all of us and if we can bring together the slices of information that we have, we can all achieve more together.”
The perfect closing of the event was when UN DESA's Chief of the Policy & Analysis Branch, Dr. Shantanu Mukherjee, sounded a word of caution to raise awareness: “Science is not negotiable, but it can be ignored.”
“It is hard to overstate the impact of this side event,” comments Edvard Hviding, “rarely have I witnessed such a combination of personal experience and diplomatic knowledge flowing from the ambassadors in close dialogue with scientific knowledge. This event truly managed to show how science, diplomacy and policy can only work together by integration of local knowledge.”
CHAPTER 5: OFFERING INNOVATIVE CLIMATE EDUCATION
At the exact same time on Friday 12 July, Dr. Kikki Kleiven was in action at the side event Research & Innovation 4 Climate Action, co-organised by United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) and the University of the West Indies (UWI), a regular partner of the University of Bergen both directly and via the International Association of Universities (IAU). She spoke on how to create the climate education and climate leaders of the future.
“As a representative of the combined climate and ocean sciences at the University of Bergen, I felt privileged to talk at this side event,” said Dr. Kleiven about yet another fully-packed event during HLPF, “and it felt important to show how we are innovating in climate education at the university with our unique SDG13 course.”
The University of the West Indies is the IAU SDG13 Team leader and the University of Bergen is one of the SDG13 team members. Likewise, UiB is IAU SDG14 Team leader with UWI as one of the team members, both institutions thereby complementing each other’s scientific and geographical knowledge to create better research and education throughout these teams.
“Owing to tight schedules, there was no way of avoiding the clash in time between our side events with Norway and UN DESA-UWI, so we were glad Dr. Kleiven could make it on short notice. As usual, she performed in style, combining her science and her communication skills,” comments Edvard Hviding, “and I am not surprised that she got the bulk of questions in the Q&A section of the side event. This promises well for our future partnerships with UWI.
In the margins of HLPF, there was a meeting between communications advisers from the two universities to bolster collaboration also on an administrative level and to promote SDG-related initiatives across UWI and UiB – in particular with regards to SDG13, SDG14 and SDG17.
CHAPTER 6: SAVE OUR OCEAN
On UN Day – 24 October 2018, the University of Bergen was announced as the official SDG14, Life Below Water, Hub for United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI).
On the sidelines of HLPF, communications adviser Sverre Ole Drønen met with UNAI's La Neice Collins and Bo Li to discuss future collaborations to promote best practice in ocean-related education in keeping with SDG14.
“We had already collaborated on videos for World Oceans Day in June to show the unique SDG14 course at the University of Bergen. In the meeting we agreed to build on this by the university providing examples of best practice including our planned participation with science content for tall ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl's circumnavigation of the globe,” said Drønen after the meeting.
UNAI is also considering how to mark the one-year anniversary of the UNAI SDG Hub announcement on 24 October 2019 – UN Day, and is hoping to get several of the Hub institutions on board for future events as co-organisers.
“The UNAI meeting shows the breadth and scope of the UiB delegation's work at HLPF. It is extremely important to build on our long-term partnerships and we are particularly pleased to see the evolution of our dialogue on best practice with UNAI,” comments Edvard Hviding.
CHAPTER 7: OUR COMMON FUTURE
Looking back at the many University of Bergen highlights during HLPF 2019, Edvard Hviding believes that although all are essential for future work in the fields of science advice and science diplomacy, one stands out: the side event co-organised with the four UN missions. (The above photo shows Hviding and Norway's Ambassador Mona Juul after the side event.)
“The more I think of the debate in this side event on partnerships for climate action, the more it captures what we are doing and why we were present with a five-person delegation at the UN for HLPF,” says Hviding, who as an anthropologist has experienced climate change in the Pacific at first hand and how this is affecting the everyday lives of the peoples of the region.
“Clearly very few question science, but as was pointed out – science can be ignored. Our job is to vigilantly defend our corner and to push curiosity-driven research and knowledge-based wisdom to the core of decision-making processes. There is no time for complacency,” says the anthropologist.
He believes the use of science in partnership with local tradition is key and hopes to see more Western countries, including his native Norway, engage in the climate issues already engulfing the Pacific and that eventually will have a global knock-on effect.
“That universities can, and should, play a key role in informing debates like these at UN level and regionally, was clear from our combined experiences at this year's HLPF,” says Hviding, who on 15 July spoke on behalf of universities at a special Norway-Pacific Islands high-level side event on ocean development, which included such panellists as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson, and Norway’s Minister for International Development Dag Inge Ulstein.
“I believe that the University of Bergen through our close work with several missions to the UN, our Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education and Research, the International Association of Universities and a number of partner universities has taken decisive steps towards forging alliances that place knowledge at the heart of policy and that we can educate future scientists and future leaders who put global issues up front,” says Edvard Hviding who is already planning to participate in a number of events to follow up on the achievements of HLPF 2019 – and already is thinking about how to forge partnerships to make HLPF 2020 even more science-oriented.