Sustainable Development Goals Summit at UCT: how biologists can help work towards sustainability

16 Sep 2021 - 10:15

From 13th -15th September, UCT hosted an international summit on the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa. It was a call to action that brought together some of the world’s leading thinkers on sustainability.

As biologists, our concern for biodiversity is intrinsically linked with the sustainable use of natural resources. Our work is directly linked to numerous goals including life on land and life below water (see Figure 1). The biosphere also underpins numerous ecosystem services including water provision, food production and climate regulation. These services are pivotal to other goals such as providing clean water, and eradicating hunger and poverty.

As global citizens, biologists have an important role to play in bringing our expertise to the sustainability challenge. Learning to work with other disciplines and building partnerships with communities, policy makers, conservation practitioners, farmers and other stakeholders will be essential to keeping biodiversity conservation at the heart of sustainability debates.

The UCT summit, the brainchild of VC Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, provided opportunities to explore how to improve transdisciplinarity at conceptual, practical and institutional levels. It resulted in a position paper (available here) co-authored by the PCU’s Lindsey Gillson, and a set of practical suggestions on how to better showcase transdisciplinary work, building relationships and networks, changes to funding structures, facilitating mentorship, changes to the academic curriculum and postgraduate training, as well as the establishment of transdisciplinary centres.

 “The pandemic and the climate crisis have highlighted the need for urgent action” said Professor Gillson. “This is an exciting time for biologists to work with others outside our discipline and with the wider community to help drive sustainability at UCT and throughout Africa.”