One year ago United Nations Academic Impact announced the inauguration of the UNAI SDG Hubs, UNAI member institutions selected as exemplars for their innovative scholarship and engagement related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) who serve as resources for best practices for the UNAI network, currently composed of over 1,400 universities and colleges in more than 130 countries.
On the anniversary of the program launch, we’re taking this opportunity to check in with some of the hub schools to highlight their scholarship and activities over the past twelve months and look ahead to future initiatives. The sixth school profiled in our anniversary series is the University of Bergen (Norway), hub for SDG 14: Life Below Water.
The University of Bergen is one of the world's leading universities in ocean sciences. Our aim is to build on this leadership, both to inspire to ocean action and to use our research results to impact decision-makers on national and international levels. To manage our ocean in a justifiable and sustainable way we must put science-based knowledge at the core and this must be clearly communicated to decision-makers.
Looking forward to 2045 and the UN at 100, the University of Bergen is already developing new and innovative channels for academic impact towards the UN. We are creating channels for societal impact by establishing global SDG14 consortiums and connecting such ocean-focused efforts to the SDGs more widely, in particular SDG 17.
Given the University of Bergen’s prominent portfolio of ocean and climate science, the university is engaging closely with the ocean-climate nexus that is central to one of the defining challenges of our time, that of climate change. Furthermore, if we are to assess the status of the marine ecosystem across several trophic levels, we need to predict its future changes, and thus contribute to the sustainable management of human activities on the ocean. These initiatives are, however, closely connected with other urgent challenges, broadly and clearly reflected in the 17 SDGs agreed upon by UN Member States in the 2030 Agenda.
To achieve a sustainable society, we need change in policy and diplomacy and this change requires knowledge. Research and education for a sustainable ocean does not happen in one single university alone, interaction and collaboration are critical. Complementing the University of Bergen's SDG 14 Hub for UNAI is the International Association of Universities (IAU) SDG 14 Team, consisting of ten world-leading universities in ocean science from all continents. IAU is a UNESCO-affiliated global university network based in Paris. In 2018, the University of Bergen was tasked with leading the IAU’s work on SDG 14, in particular creating channels for promoting best practice in higher education.
At the University of Bergen, the day to day work with our global SDG 14 commitments is administered by Ocean Sustainability Bergen (OSB), a virtual centre that encourages and promotes international partnerships for ocean-oriented work centred on SDG 14. OSB is part of the university's SDG Bergen initiative, which reports directly to the university leadership.
SDG Bergen also encompasses the SDG Bergen Science Advice mechanism, which has been actively engaging with the ocean-climate nexus at the international level and is constantly developing and innovating the science-policy interface. By interacting directly with a number of Permanent Missions to the United Nations, SDG Bergen is placing science directly in the hands of decision-makers. Currently, several innovative projects of science advice are in progress, including the development of the SDG Bergen Policy Brief series, which will be a useful tool to strengthen science-based decision-making on the national and international level.
Through the SDG Bergen initiative and its global interaction with key research institutions, the University of Bergen also collaborates closely with two other universities – the University of the South Pacific and the University of the West Indies - covering small island states with big ocean interests and large exclusive economic zones. All three universities are present in the IAU SDG 14 Team as well as in the equivalent IAU team for SDG 13 Climate Action, which is led by the University of the West Indies. These universities all host strong ocean and climate research communities. Among notable collaborations is the establishment of a Norway-Pacific joint chair of oceans and climate change, a voluntary commitment jointly by the University of Bergen and the University of the South Pacific during the 2017 UN Ocean Conference.
Another initiative for the future is a new agreement the University of Bergen has signed with the International Science Council (ISC), to reshape the Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP) to encompass inequality-oriented research more broadly. This is reflected in the new name Global Research Programme on Inequality (GRIP) and in a more focussed approach towards the SDGs and science advice for this interdisciplinary programme.
In the past year, the university has launched several SDG-specific courses with three SDGs-oriented interdisciplinary courses at advanced undergraduate and graduate levels for SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life Below Water) and SDG 15 (Life on Land). The courses have proved popular both with Norwegian and international exchange students, and are taught in English, partly using online tools. In the upcoming years, the University of Bergen will build on these early experiences to tailor future courses beyond the 2030 Agenda's timeframe, to encompass a wide range of issues of global sustainable development.
Building on this unique approach to the SDGs in the university's course portfolio, one notable upcoming initiative is the One Ocean global circumnavigation on board the tall ship Statsraad Lehmkuhl of Bergen. Together with partners, the University of Bergen is planning an original way of educating the leaders of the future aboard the ship. This course will teach the students how to integrate sustainable development into their discipline-oriented education, and how to make sure this knowledge has societal impact and generates secure science-based decision-making.
In the direct run-up to the one year anniversary for the UNAI SDG Hubs, the University of Bergen hosted the first Ocean Sustainability Bergen Conference from 21 to 22 October 2019, a new arena for ocean-related science-policy discussions.
To learn more about the UNAI SDG Hubs, including the University of Bergen, visit the United Nations Academic Impact SDG Hubs.