Photo: (L to R): Urs Wiesmann, Co-Chair of SDSN Switzerland; Katrin Muff, Conference Facilitator; Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse Foundation; Jacques Dubochet, University of Lausanne; Océane Dayer, Co-Chair of SDSN Switzerland; Michael Bergöö, Acting Managing Director of SDSN Switzerland. Credit: Peter Lüthi, Biovision. - Photo: 2018

Switzerland Joins Sustainable Development Solutions Network

By Jaya Ramachandran

BERN (IDN) – The global Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) has launched its 25th network, SDSN Switzerland, co-hosted by the Centre for Development and Environment at the University of Bern and BIOVISION Foundation, foundation for ecological development, with a view to shaping multi-stakeholder dialogue, fostering sustainable development solutions, and advising decision-makers on the implementation of the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Climate Agreement.

SDSN Switzerland was officially launched on February 15 with a conference under the banner ‘Where Society, Science and Politics Create Solutions.’ The network claims to have 19 members from key institutions around Switzerland who are committed to implementing SDGs at the local level.

The global SDSN was launched in 2012 under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General. It mobilizes global scientific and technological expertise to promote practical solutions favorable to sustainable development. SDSN collaborates with UN agencies, multilateral financing institutions, the private sector and civil society. A Leadership Council of approximately 100 global leaders on sustainable development acts as the board of SDSN.

Spanning six continents, the SDSN Networks Programme currently draws upon the knowledge and educational capacity of over 700 member institutions, most of them universities, organized around 25 National and Regional Centres. National and Regional SDSNs develop long-term transformation pathways for sustainable development, promote education around the 2030 Agenda, and launch initiatives at the local level.

According to organizers, the SDSN Switzerland Launch Conference brought together around 250 representatives and decision-makers from science and research, think tanks, government, civil society, business and international bodies to discuss how to effectively implement these international sustainability agreements in Switzerland and beyond.

The Conference featured plenary sessions on various topics, including: SDSN as a tool to build bridges and create solutions; making Switzerland sustainable; and Switzerland’s opportunities and responsibilities for a sustainable world. Nine parallel breakout sessions were held in innovative formats, including “collective story harvesting,” to exchange experiences and ideas.

The 2030 Agenda also calls on the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), to carry out voluntary, state-led national reviews to provide a platform for partnerships.

Rio+20 called for the HLPF in 2012, in its outcome document, ‘The Future We Want.’ This universal intergovernmental high-level political forum replaces the UN Commission on Sustainable Development. Since 2012, the HPLF has held five annual meetings. The fifth session, in July 2017, addressed the theme of ‘Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world.’ It carried out thematic reviews, reviewed the implementation of several SDGs, and also adopted a Ministerial Declaration.

Katrin Muff of the Business School Lausanne facilitated the Conference. She emphasized that SDSN Switzerland is not just another new initiative, but rather a network that will enable existing initiatives to scale and speed up, and make new connections.

Muff introduced SDSN Switzerland Co-Chairs Océane Dayer, Swiss Youth for Climate, and Urs Wiesmann, University of Bern. Highlighting the role of peace and justice in achieving “a healthy planet,” Dayer said meaningful sustainability is not a question of fixing issues one by one, but that a sustainable world demands interdisciplinary work and cooperation.

Wiesmann outlined the history of Switzerland’s sustainability agenda and commitment to the SDGs. He drew attention to the interrelationships among the SDGs, and identified the challenge of addressing them in concert, taking into account the social dimensions.

He said sustainability cannot be achieved within country boundaries, but needs to be a global effort, and called for a move from sectoral sustainability policy to a broad-based movement for sustainability involving all actors, including government and civil society. He stressed the important role of promising initiatives that bring together different stakeholders and forms of knowledge.

Dayer said the conference aims to: bring together unlikely allies; foster transformative solutions; and advise makers.

Guido Schmidt-Traub, SDSN Global, introduced SDSN, noting serious sustainability challenges around the world. He highlighted that the network aims to promote sustainable development through knowledge and to propose solutions to nudge policy-makers.

Welcoming SDSN Switzerland to the global network, he encouraged the Swiss network to help the country better take on its international responsibility by improving education and training, and providing pathways for the sustainability transition, including practical solutions on data.

Bertrand Piccard, explorer and initiator of the Solar Impulse Foundation, which performed the first solar-powered flight around the world, gave a keynote address. Piccard said that upon completion of this flight, he realized that “the rest of the world lives in the past.” He identified a “tremendous gap” between the people fighting for environmental protection and those who focus on economy and profit.

Noting the need to speak the language of industry and politics, Piccard said solutions already exist that can help to halve CO2 emissions from transport, construction and industry, and at the same time create jobs and make profits. He noted that the way forward is to create the biggest market for industry, namely by replacing out-dated and inefficient technologies.

Piccard highlighted the strength of the technology pull, but felt that the current legal framework is “completely out-dated.” He suggested fixing this at the government level, starting with information, including the fact that if all actual costs are included, sustainable electricity is already cheaper than conventional electricity.

Piccard also drew attention to ‘#1000solutions,’ a Solar Impulse initiative that aims to identify 1000 solutions that protect the environment in a profitable way. He said: “Even for climate change deniers and people who have no compassion for the environment, there are only advantages in sustainability.”

Sibyl Anwander from the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment shared her experience in Haiti 30 years ago, noting that inefficient political systems can lead to bad education and poverty, which in turn cause serious environmental concerns. Citing the example of the “Go for Impact” platform, she highlighted the need to use a holistic approach and promote innovations that address the global challenge.

Nicola Blum from ETH Zürich outlined her research and entrepreneur experiences with regard to promoting sustainable development. She underscored the need for collaboration among different stakeholders in order to bring solutions to society that are conducive to sustainability.

In the ensuing panel discussion, Piccard said it is naïve to think that a group of people with good intentions can change the world, since “these are not the people who run the world.” He noted that the people who run the world are billionaires who own businesses and politicians who want to be re-elected. Blum responded that this underlines the importance of educating future world leaders. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 February 2018]

Photo: (L to R): Urs Wiesmann, Co-Chair of SDSN Switzerland; Katrin Muff, Conference Facilitator; Bertrand Piccard, Solar Impulse Foundation; Jacques Dubochet, University of Lausanne; Océane Dayer, Co-Chair of SDSN Switzerland; Michael Bergöö, Acting Managing Director of SDSN Switzerland. Credit: Peter Lüthi, Biovision.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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