A focus on sustainability and transformation
Can technology solve Earth's need for transformation? This was the major question at the SDG Bergen panel debate during the Arendalsuka 2019 festival.
Rector Dag Rune Olsen from the University of Bergen welcomed the panellists and audience, filling a packed main deck on board the tall ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl at annual national event Arendalsuka. He then handed the microphone to moderator Ole Øvretveit from Arctic Frontiers, who introduced an all-women panel from industry, innovation and academia to give their unique perspectives on how technology both can help and hinder the ongoing transformation to global sustainability in conjunction with the 2030 Agenda agreed upon by the UN member states, and which includes the global Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs.
Preparing for SDG Conference Bergen 2020
The topic was chosen to highlight the subject for the third National SDG Conference Bergen – Action/Inaction: Technologies and Partnerships – taking place in Bergen in February 2020, where the university sector meets representatives from politics, diplomacy, civil society, industry and other SDG-interested parties. The conference aims to promote critical debate and challenge stereotypes in the 2030 Agenda as well as stimulating partnerships across sectors and disciplines.
In parts of society the debate on our shared global challenges is infused with a strong belief in technology as the driving force in the 2030 Agenda. The panel questioned this technology optimism.
Asking critical questions
The SDGs are mentioned in speeches, plans and annual reports, but are we losing sight of the Agenda's true goals? Is the debate on sustainable technology turning into shadowboxing displacing debate on the desperate need for transformation? How will society have to change to achieve the global goals?
Global leader for ocean industries at DNB Bank ASA Kristin Holth, started by pointing out that the winners of tomorrow are those integrating sustainability in their business model.
”Sustainability needs to be a strategic goal. We view partnerships across industries, in product development and in the evolution of ecosystems,” said Holth and pointed to the link between innovation and conscious capital as crucial for a green transition.
Mathematics Professor Inga Berre from the University of Bergen, who has done research on geothermal energy, elaborated on this by pointing to the need for direct dialogue between research and industry.
”We must leave behind the national perspective and focus on the global. Technology has played a vital part in the reduction of poverty and child mortality, increasing access to electricity to mention some obvious examples. Technology has been part of a development where many are better off, but it has also caused many problems yet is also part of creating solutions for the future,” said Berre, ”however, to reach the good solutions this technology needs to be on the right hands.”
Committment to pay remains a challenge
CEO Hege Økland at NCE Maritime CleanTech, a world-leading cluster in sustainable marine solutions, pointed to the work that still needs to be done to secure a global green deal.
“The biggest challenge is not the technology itself, but the willingness for people to pay for this technology,” said Økland, who mentioned electric ferries as an example of a new, green transport solution and part of the transition to a more sustainable economic model.
Anthropologist and researcher at Vestlandsforskning Ragnhild Freng Dale, who holds a PhD from Cambridge University, has combined research, activism and work in the arts to promote the transition to a global sustainable economy.
“Clear and present values must be set through the SDGs. Politically, this is challenging,” said Freng Dale in her address to the audience whilst pointing to important challenges, “transformation measures must be seen as fair or else these will be met with protests.”
She pointed to the debates on tolls and land-based wind turbines as examples of how hard these priorities will be in the years ahead.
Both ecologically and economically sustainable
Business developer Hege Hammersland-White at Scantrol Deep Vision AS, which develops green solutions for offshore, fisheries and marine research, was the final panellist to speak and represented the small and medium-sized businesses and who experience the increased demands for a green deal daily from their customers.
“I know the everyday sustainability demands of our customers, from the top political level all the way down to what our customers are willing to pay for green solutions,” she said before asking how this technology can be developed to be more sustainable – both ecologically and economically.
After this the main deck of the tall ship was opened for debate, where a number of subjects from so-called green-washing via the challenges of increasing political populism to the contradictions inherent within and between the 17 SDGs and their subgoals was discussed.
“We are struggling to adapt from the industrial era when it comes to financing clean energy. But there is hope with the transition we see in the improved access to funding for green energy,” said Inga Berre.
Talkin, 'bout a (r)evolution
“It's almost a revolution, or at least an evolution, in the attention to and innovation in a shift to a green economy. However, we still have a long way to go,” said Kristin Holth, “and this is why it's important to look at how we are financing green industries to create a win for the environment.”
Production of goods and produce closer to consumers is one possible contributor, leading to lower carbon emissions and food waste.
Professor Inga Berre also pointed to other encouraging signs, such as how industry is evolving from sustainability to directly addressing the SDGs.
“Businesses are moving from having a strategy on sustainability to developing concrete measures directly aimed at the Sustainable Development Goals,” she said.
However, there is a challenge inherent in the conflicting objectives between the goals and in some instances between the subgoals within some of the goals. This was addressed by several of the panellists, who all agreed on the importance of creating broad support for the goals in politics and the general population.
”It's important that the core institutions of our society are involved in and geared towards transformation and that our democratic processes act as a driving force to ensure this,“ said Ragnhild Freng Dale.