The International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD), one of the side-events to the UN General Assembly Meeting that aimed not only to generate but disseminate knowledge that is needed, as an example for the importance of national and transnational knowledge cooperation in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Under the topic “Good Practices: Models, Partnerships, and Capacity Building for the SDGs” the conference brought together more than 3,000 participants from the public and private sector as well as from civil society and academia.
The implementation of the SDGs is an incremental process. Implementing this encompassing agenda – a current epitomisation of what the global community understands as “the global common good” it aspires to work towards – is a complex process of finding the different parts of the puzzle that builds on past and current achievements. The implementation is a deliberative process that depends on various stakeholders with diverging interests and perspectives and relies heavily on additional efforts to ensure that no one is (really) left behind. Through this mantra of ensuring that the weakest and vulnerable actors are given voices, national and transnational knowledge cooperation become imperatives in implementing the SDGs.
The recently concluded 2019 SDG – and Climate Summits during the UN General Assembly Meeting in New York were supported by various events that aimed not only to generate but disseminate knowledge that is needed. During the last two weeks of September, New York provided space for transnational and transdisciplinary knowledge cooperation. Climate protection and sustainable development are cornerstones of a positive vision of the future for all humans. To make realistic expectations, there is a need to understand, though, that sustainability is an incremental process through which small solutions can later emerge as giant leaps. Therefore, small contributions should also be acknowledged and even celebrated, especially when they inspire others to do more.
This year, the number of side-events to the UN General Assembly Meeting was drastically reduced to allow delegation members to focus more on concrete actions. In effect, this reduction in number has increased the importance of the few remaining events surrounding the two summits. One of these events was the International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD) where the theme “Good Practices: Models, Partnerships, and Capacity Building for the SDGs” was focus of the debate. The conference brought together more than 3,000 participants from the public and private sector as well as from civil society and academia.
National and transnational solutions
The million-dollar question of the ICSD was: which good practices are useful to implement the global sustainability goals? The key to a sustainable transformation is national and transnational knowledge cooperation for both the Managing Global Governance (MGG) and the German Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN Germany). Networks, through which knowledge is produced, distributed, verified and improved, generate solutions through synergies. Through the participation of various agents of change global solutions are made useful in local terms. An unprecedented achievement in this constellation are the interactions between different stakeholders (private sector, civil society, policy-makers) and the coming together of what the American academic Peter M. Haas described as “epistemic communities” of different themes, be that governance, international relations, climate science, developmental science, sociology, management science, law, anthropology, and others.
The discussion on issues related to the implementation of the SDGs in New York brought together solutions from different countries (of various national incomes) that all strengthen and at the same time demand for more transnational and transdisciplinary knowledge cooperation in the field of sustainable development. Knowledge cooperation is itself not an automatic process and that it requires additional efforts, participants in New York agreed. For example, the South Africa SDG Hub shared its experience on how it was able to overcome the initial lack of external funding by using synergies resulting from already existing projects. The Embrapa Network, a Brazilian research network addressing agricultural issues, highlighted how the need for interdisciplinary solutions on SDGs affected its recruitment of junior scholars. This need changed how member institutions design their curricula. Another major issue addressed is how to address the North-South divide. As a final point of agreement during discussions, due to the universality of the SDGs, South-North cooperation is as important as South-South cooperation. Circular, that is, South-North cooperation, and multi-actor interactions between different actors with diverse backgrounds and from all regions allowed the exchange in New York to become a forum for transnational knowledge cooperation.
Sustainable development and climate protection can be achieved, in particular, through the strategic linkage between local and global solutions developed and implemented by diverse actors. The intense talks and festive atmosphere in New York showed strong national and transnational solutions which impact policy- and decision-making. Yet, with all progress and good practice shared in New York: the world is not yet on track in achieving neither the SDGs nor the climate goals. The conference in New York was one small step, and the variety of actors gathered – from the South, the North, academia, policy, civil society, and business – not only presented opportunities for transnational and transdisciplinary exchanges, but also proved that more exchanges are desired. The momentum needs to be built. Exchanges across and beyond tightly knit groups should embolden the community to continue working for a sustainable future for all.