Published: 16-05-2022 12:45 | Updated: 19-05-2022 11:43

Hybrid conference: The university as a vital driver of sustainable development

Decorative image
Researchers, academics and students have an important part to play in driving sustainable development. Photo: Getty Images.

The day before the UN’s Stockholm+50 international conference in early June, KI, Stockholm University, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm Environment Institute are arranging a hybrid conference focusing on how scientists, academics and students can influence decision-makers and drive progress towards a sustainable society.

Making decisions based on actual knowledge is essential to societal development. But knowledge quickly grows stale and needs to be updated. Researchers, academics and students therefore have an important part to play in decision-making in our society. It is the part played by science that is the focal point of the conference "Sustainable planet, sustainable health – how science-based solutions can drive transformative change" on June 1.

“A good example of how researchers are already influencing decision-makers at a global level is the IPCC, a UN panel comprising thousands of scientists and experts from around the world,” says Hanna Karlsson, researcher at KI’s Institute of Environmental Medicine and member of the conference’s organisational committee. “The IPCC pulls together current scientific knowledge about climate change and the related consequences, vulnerabilities and possible solutions.”

Multisectoral collaboration needed

But it takes more than just knowledge. The knowledge must be converted into practicable solutions. It also must be easy for people to do the right thing. It cannot all be up to individuals, so universities bear a heavy responsibility as regards developing and contributing to solutions that can drive progress towards sustainable development.

“KI is a health university, but health is affected by many societal factors,” says Stefan Swartling Peterson, professor of global transformations of health at KI and also a member of the organisation committee. “This is why multisectoral collaboration is extremely important. We need to gather many different sectors – academia, industry, local government and society in general – if we’re to create sustainable health. This isn’t only about mitigating climate change, it’s also about adapting to it.”

Hanna Karlsson and Stefan Swartling Peterson
Co-organizers Hanna Karlsson and Stefan Swartling Peterson believe in multisectoral collaboration. Photo: Ulf Sirborn.

Sustainable food and health – an important aspect

Along with the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, KI is hosting a hot item on the conference agenda: “Sustainable and healthy food”.

“Food currently accounts for a third of all CO2 emissions, while a third is destroyed en route from field to fork – and 50 per cent of the Swedish population is overweight,” says Stefan Swartling Peterson. “This isn’t only a matter of food having to be sustainable, it’s also about it being healthy. Health and sustainability are closely intertwined, and this is the point we want to get across at the conference.”

Interest in sustainability issues at KI

KI has recently drawn up an action plan for the environment and climate, one of the primary goals of which is to greatly increase education and research activities related to climate change and health.

“The greatest potential we have to contribute to a better environment and sustainable development is simply through drawing attention to and integrating the sustainability perspective in our research and education,” Hanna Karlsson continues.

Hanna Karlsson recommends all students who feel passionate about sustainability to engage with the Medical Students’ Association in Stockholm, which is the larger of KI’s student unions. Here they will find a special committee – Students for sustainable development – where they can become more involved in sustainability-related issues.

“There’s no doubting that the next generation will be driving these issues,” says Stefan Swartling Peterson. “We’ll be closing the conference with a session titled ‘Next generation leadership’, in which young master’s and doctoral students will give their views on how universities can and should evolve to meet the challenges of the future. It promises to be a very exciting day.”

Take part in the conference!

"Sustainable planet, sustainable health – how science-based solutions can drive transformative change" will be held on 1 June on the Stockholm University/Royal Institute of Technology Albano Campus. The conference is free and can be attended in person or online.

Click here for more information and to sign up.