On the occasion of an event on the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030, BOKU researchers call for a transdisciplinary dialogue with decision-makers as a new task of universities.

Discussed the role of science in the UN Sustainable Development Goals: Klaus Steiner (Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs), Katrin Hipmair (Fridays 4 Future), Raffaela Moderator Schaidreiter (ORF), Georg Gratzer (BOKU), Rector Eva Schulev-Steindl, Josef Settele (biodiversity researcher) and Franz Fehr (BOKU). (c) BOKU Media Office/Christoph Gruber

Seven years ago, the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) raised high hopes. They formulate an inclusive, holistic vision for a world worth living in for everyone. The transformation required to achieve this by 2030 is to be socially, economically and ecologically sustainable. Last Tuesday, October 11, a full-day event was held at BOKU under the title "SDG half-time - a livable world for all by 2023?". The focus was on the question: are we on the right track in Austria?

"Austria is doing well in the SDG rankings. However, this is also due to the fact that in many areas, when the SDGs were adopted, we had very favorable conditions." With Franz Fehr, BOKU provides the council chair of the UniNEtZ project (Universities and Sustainable Development Goals), in which 20 partner institutions across Austria with around 300 scientists* from around 30 disciplines have joined forces to work together on the implementation of the SDGs in Austria. "If you look at the progression of the indicators over time, it quickly becomes clear that we still have a lot of work to do on the path to achieving the goals - in some cases, we are even moving away from them," said Fehr.

As a core result of the SDG workshops, Fehr summarizes: "Today, it is no longer enough for a scientist just to research and publish. Knowledge must be brought to action. Transdisciplinary dialogue with those in positions of responsibility is one of the new tasks of universities."

BOKU as a pioneer in SDG implementation.

"BOKU has been working on the implementation of the SDGs in Austria since the first minute of the ratification of the UN Agenda 2030 and was one of the leading universities that developed and launched this project together with the Ministry of Science in the framework of the Alliance of Sustainable Universities," BOKU Rector Eva Schulev-Steindl emphasized at the beginning of the afternoon event, which was moderated by Raffaela Schaidreiter, head of the ORF correspondent office in Brussels.

By way of introduction, the author Marlene Streeruwitz, who is also known for her critical contributions to current topics, was asked to give her opinion: It would be natural to want to reflect in the long term, to abandon all connections with power and to devote oneself to a basally inclusive and appreciative mediation of research. It should be research that can be communicated, understood and lived. Here in our cultures, the struggle for the world takes place within the persons themselves, so she would suggest first and foremost writing one's own novel and developing a curriculum from the insights gained from this process. "You'll find that it's about enduring, enduring truths, being able to endure truths, and it's about wanting the world to be undivided to everyone," Streeruwitz said.

Need to catch up in terms of climate neutrality

"It is scientifically proven that climate protection measures would come many times cheaper to our country than the costs of the consequences of the climate crisis, not to mention the penalties," BOKU student and Fridays for Future activist Katrin Hipmair underlined the search for effective solutions of her predecessor. From the perspective of the climate justice movement, Austria is not on a good path compared to other industrialized countries, she said: "For 32 years, greenhouse gas emissions in Austria have not decreased - and the government wants to get to climate neutrality in the next 20 years." However, the draft legislation lacks that.

Broad social acceptance

What about the Austrian government's national goals? "There are targets in sub-areas such as climate neutrality targets or electricity from renewable energy, but there is no national SDG target catalog, we are guided by the UN target catalog," said Klaus Steiner from the Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs. In the concrete implementation, it is also important to convince people who do not directly benefit from a specific measure. In view of the many actors involved, from politics to administration and science to civil society and business, broader social acceptance is needed. "These are social negotiation processes that are not quite simple to manage," Steiner said. "However, in light of the current multiple, global crises (COVID, climate change, the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, ...), the challenges for implementing the SDGs have become much greater in the past year," Steiner contends. But, "The SDGs can serve as a compass for us in the midst of uncertainties and crises, so that we don't lose sight of the big picture in the decisions we have to make every day."

Example: Reduction of meat consumption

Gratzer brought a good example of the extensive potential of the SDGs and of possible synergies in achieving the goals into the subsequent panel discussion using the topic of meat consumption in nutrition: "In Austria, we eat 63 kilos of meat per person and year. At BOKU, one of the options for action for the government summarized what would happen if we succeeded in achieving a sustainable diet of 22 kilos per year that everyone could live well on. The result: it would reduce cardiovascular disease by up to 45 percent, it would reduce diabetes, it would reduce methane emissions and greenhouse gases, and it would also reduce 30 percent of agricultural land that we could use as eco and biodiversity land to solve the many problems we now face. So there's everything to be said for big, inclusive solutions. It won't be easy, though!"

Accelerate processes

SDGs are intended not only to provide a compass for policymakers, but to set target coordinates. But: do SDGs have any relevance outside of academic discourse? "It often takes time for things we research to reach society," says German biodiversity researcher Josef Settele. The point now, he said, is to accelerate this process and, as a scientist*, actively bring the Sustainable Development Goals to the people. "It's not trivial, but it's worthwhile for everyone working at a university." However, Settele also pleaded for basic research, which should not be neglected, even if it is currently still "pointless" from the perspective of application-implementation issues. "We need to have that up our sleeve when it's needed."

The SDG Halftime panel discussion can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvGUt2_SnjM 

For more information on the UniNEtZ policy statement and options report, visit https://www.uninetz.at/beitraege/uninetz-grundsatzerklaerung 

Franz Fehr
University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna
Council Chair of the UniNEtZ project
Email: franz.fehr(at)boku.ac.at 
Phone: 01 47654-10113