Overline: Global Sustainability Strategy Forum
Headline: From Knowledge to Action: Recommendations to Advance the Transformation Towards Sustainability

Fifteen renowned scientists gathered in Potsdam for one week to discuss the state of play and the need for action to support the implementation of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals around the world. Their deliberations have resulted in new insights and recommendations to improve policymaking for sustainable development.

Participants of the Global Sustainability Strategy Forum working in groups.
Participants of the Global Sustainability Strategy Forum working in groups. IASS/Bianca Schröder

The first meeting of the project Global Sustainability Strategy Forum (GSSF), organised by the IASS and Arizona State University, and sponsored by the Volkswagen Foundation, brought together experts in the field of sustainable development from around the world, from South America to Australia. The event was held under the patronage of former President of the German Bundestag Rita Süssmuth, who joined the discussions for one day to share her expertise on multi-level governance systems: Advancing the transformation towards sustainability calls for commitment at all levels, from the personal to the global, Süssmuth advised the participants.

Science should not merely generate abstract knowledge, but also pave the way for political action

The challenge of linking different governance levels and policy departments was a key subject of debate at the Forum, explained IASS Scientific Director Ortwin Renn: The participants were united in their view that economic, social and environmental policies need to be developed in tandem in order to avoid optimising one at the expense of the other. The group also considered how science could support the transformation process along the steps from knowledge to action. Science, in their view, must do more than merely generate abstract knowledge. Rather, it should propose processes and procedures for implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals in a manner appropriate to target populations in each region.

The solutions proposed by the GSSF include reform concepts for the training and further education of employees in the field of sustainability, the renunciation of efficiency as the dominant criterion for the assessment of collectively binding decisions, and the augmentation of democratic institutions by organisations such as foundations, which are better placed to engage in long-term thinking. A report containing concrete recommendations for action will be published in late April and several scientific publications are also in planning.

Inspiration and Respect: Participants Praise Constructive Talks

Participants were unanimous in their praise of the open and constructive atmosphere at the Forum. “I have rarely attended such a collegial and friendly discussion, driven by personal engagement in the topic, the desire to move ahead, and respect for each other’s contributions. It was a truly inspiring event for me”, said Sander van der Leeuw, Professor of Anthropology and Sustainability at Arizona State University.  Belay Begashaw, Director General of the Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa, sees the meeting as a prelude to fruitful cooperation: “I personally learned a lot, and also realize, a lot more remains to be learned in the future from such a wonderful group.”

The Global Sustainability Strategy Forum will convene again in autumn 2020 for its second retreat. Staged in Hanover, the retreat will be attended by many of this year’s participants, together with some new faces.