KTH Professor Måns Nilsson: Research needed to realise UN development goals

STOCKHOLM, 9-12-2015 — /EuropaWire/ — Climate change is linked to at least six of the UN’s 17 goals for sustainable development. Making these goals a reality requires commitment at all levels — both at COP21 in Paris, and in our own daily lives, says KTH Professor Måns Nilsson.

Nilsson is research director of the Stockholm Environment. “As one of the few remaining non-politicized arenas, research has a very important role to play in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” Nilsson says.

The goals will be translated into reality in all countries of the world by 2030, tying together economic, social and environmental aspects.

“They are unique in that they are universal and integrated. Some are formulated as zero tolerance goals, while the climate targets are more cautious. But the key is that they are there.”

Nilsson’s work is focused on policy and impact analysis. As an economist, he became interested in why nothing happened in the political game plan despite environmental economic analysis showing the perils and costs of not acting.

He says there are several reasons for political inaction.

“Mainly, it is because there are prevailing norms that are upheld by short-term economic interests — the notion that it would cost so much to use more environmentally-friendly alternatives. Plus, there is also a lack of knowledge.”

Nilsson points to Sweden’s carbon tax, which was introduced 1991. Resistance was initially strong, but now the policy is taken as a given. A major upheaval has followed, with many environmentally-friendly solutions that are constantly becoming cheaper as the technology is developed, allowing for green alternatives to pay off.

“Within five years there will be electric cars that cost as much as today’s cars,” Nilsson says. “It makes me hopeful.”

Also in terms of standards, the perspective has changed.

“This is no longer a left/right issue. To protect nature is now important to most people — even the Pope has made his opinion known on the issue of sustainable development.”

Nilsson says the role of research terms of sustainability goals has several dimensions.

“First and foremost it is the researchers’ task to diagnose the situation, find technical solutions — researchers at KTH, for one, can make a big difference — decision support, be a national and international arena for dialogue.

KTH and SEI have developed a cooperation agreement for two years and work today with various research projects that are relevant to finding sustainable solutions, including research on sustainable cities, the measurement of the environmental impact of consumption and analysis of safe and sustainable access to water, energy and food in developing countries.

Nilsson is hoping for a binding agreement from the COP21 meeting in Paris. “Although there are several aggravating factors, such as a lack of trust between north and south, or what we traditionally regard as poor and rich countries.”

Another obstacle is language. Climate discussion is linked to negatively-charged words — such as liability, damages and burden-sharing — which can easily give a distorted picture of reality.

“It has been proven that becoming fossil fuel-free is not a burden but rather an asset for cities and countries that actually benefit both economically and environmentally,” he says.

Nilsson says there are however reasons to remain optimistic.

“While thousands of negotiators discuss the transition to sustainable development in terms of the burdens and damages, the outside world is going in another direction,” he says. “A social transformation is under way. For the first time in history, more money is being invested in renewable energy than in fossil fuels.

“And that’s just one example.”

The UN Sustainable Development Goals replaced the Millennium Development Goals, which expired in 2015. There are 17 new goals, with 169 targets with defined metrics, which were adopted in the UN General Assembly in September. The goals are to be realized by 2030.

For more information, contact Måns Nilsson at mansnil@kth.se or 073-330 93 82.

Jill Klackenberg

Currently: Head of Research at Stockholm, Environment Institute, member of the government’s scientific council for sustainable development, an adjunct professor at KTH in strategic environmental analysis with a focus on policy analysis.
On the climate summit: “I believe that countries can agree on a contract”
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Three Tips for everyday: “Drive a smaller car, use things as long as you can, and when you buy new, select the best environmental option.”

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals

1) End poverty in all its forms everywhere

2) End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

3) Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages

4) Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

5) Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

6) Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

7) Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

8) Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all

9) Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and foster innovation

10) Reduce inequality within and among countries

11) Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

12) Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

13) Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts (taking note of agreements made by the UNFCCC forum)

14) Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

15) Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss

16) Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

17) Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development

SOURCE: KTH Royal Institute of Technology

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For the first time, more is invested in renewable energy than in fossil fuels, which is important for creating a sustainable future. (Photo: Patrik Pleul)

For the first time, more is invested in renewable energy than in fossil fuels, which is important for creating a sustainable future. (Photo: Patrik Pleul)

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