In the words of the President of the UN General Assembly in 2013, “Achieving sustainable development is the overriding challenge of the 21st century”. The United Nations Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development lays out the local and global challenges humankind is facing with a perspective on the needed transformation towards sustainable development; and how the UN Member States have agreed to address these challenges. In the context of the United Nations, there is unanimity that sustainability science, an emergent approach of science concerned with an integrated humanistic view of the main dimensions of sustainable development, can provide a vital contribution to international achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and, more specifically, help to realize the vision set by the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Sustainability science is to be understood as science both about sustainability and for sustainability; or in other words, as a two-way process encompassing the study and understanding of complex socio-ecological systems on the first hand, and the same knowledge directed towards the design of actions in favor of sustainability on the other hand.
Since December 2017, exploratory discussions have taken place between UNESCO, the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH), and various institutional and organizational partners internationally active in the sustainability domain (in particular the Humanities for the Environment Circumpolar Observatory) concerning a proposal to establish a global coalition on sustainability science. This initiative builds upon the refined sustainability science paradigm inaugurated in 2017 with the launch of UNESCO’s Guidelines for Sustainability Science in Research and Education, and aims specifically to operationalize them.
In order to explore both the programmatic and procedural foundation for BRIDGES as an international coalition for action in sustainability science, UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformation (MOST) Programme organized a workshop on 5-7 October 2019 in Sigtuna, Sweden. This workshop followed two other establishment workshops that occurred earlier this year: one was hosted in March 2019 in Mação, Portugal, and the other in June 2019 at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France.
Following the high-level workshop, a symposium was organized on Monday, 7 October 2019 for the general public. It welcomed the participation of representatives of key organizations, institutions and other potential partners in the Nordic region that have a significant stake in promoting sustainability science.
The discussions allowed preliminary decisions on the core principles to be followed by the coalition. Committed to a critical understanding of sustainability that emphasizes the diversity of its subjects, objects and timelines, the coalition will study complex socio-ecosystems as a web of meanings and interactions, inherently multilayered and pluralistic. In doing so, it will be anchored in the humanities but designed to go beyond; it will be aimed at broadening sustainability science by bringing to multiple forms of knowledge, including traditional knowledge, while following an ethical approach to resource mobilization and use.
In particular, the event welcomed the participation of representatives from the Kogi Indigenous People from Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia, with the aim of bringing their ecological knowledge and practices into the scientific domain, by providing a transdisciplinary space for indigenous tradition to speak in its own terms with modern environmental methods. It drew attention to the meaning of “ancestral knowledge” of the land and to the significance of “sacred sites” in maintaining its health.
Starting in 2020, BRIDGES will be developing an action framework by bringing together a range of partners, to design and implement, in a co-owned manner, pilot territory-based projects, combining different knowledge sources and traditions.