ICSD 2021 welcomed 2,000+ participants worldwide to discuss Research for Impact

The 9th International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD) took place online from September 20-21, 2021. The event brought together 2,057 participants from 119 different countries to discuss Research for Impact: A Sustainable and Inclusive Planet. The two day conference hosted 49 different sessions across multiple time zones to accommodate our global audience, with 204 oral presenters, 239 poster presenters, and 977 total authors.

Read our summary below of the 10 plenary sessions held, including keynote remarks from H.E. Mia Mottley of Barbados, H.E. Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, and our Kapuscinski Development Lecture with a discussion between Ms. Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the IMF, and Jeffrey Sachs.

Playlist of Plenaries

Plenary 2 | The EU’s Plan towards the Future We Want: Fireside Chat on the European Green Deal

In December 2019, the European Commission presented a framework to make Europe climate neutral by 2050, entitled the European Green Deal. This set of policy initiatives represents one of the world’s most progressive decarbonisation frameworks and has rapidly evolved over the last months. Prof. Phoebe Koundouri lead a discussion among experts from policy, innovation, and finance to explore the opportunities and challenges of the European Green Deal, for Europe and the rest of the world. Prof. Koundouri set the scene explaining that the discussion is not meant to just talk about Europe, but to discuss how this leadership example can create value and knowledge that can be transferred across the world. She posed four questions to the plenary’s panelists:

  1. What impact will the Green Deal have on the global level?
  2. What are the main challenges ahead in implementing the European Green Deal? What can other regions learn from this?
  3. What is the impact of the European Green Deal on the Agenda 2030? Are the two agendas mutually reinforcing or do they risk competing with each other?
  4. What role does policy, innovation, and finance play in implementing this framework for counties and for Europe as a whole?

Antoine Oger, Head of Global Challenges and SDGs Team at Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) gave first remarks, commenting on how the EU Green Deal was designed to have an impact past the EU’s borders. He mentioned the increased acceleration of climate initiatives since its announcement in 2019, demonstrating the increased commitment to lowering the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Antoine proceeded to showcase the IEEP’s EU Green Deal Barometer, designed to track progress on its implementation. The conversation then turned to Laura Piovesan, Director of the Sustainability & Quality Management Department at European Investment Bank (EIB), who gave the financial perspective of the EU Green deal: how de we finance it? She emphasized the need for common language in order to support sustainable investments within the markets. What does “green” mean? How do we identify, track, and report on “green” investments and measure its impact? Banks across the EU are aligning themselves with the Green Deal through the new sustainable investment taxonomy. Laura then presented EIB’s Group Climate Bank Roadmap which operationalizes EIB’s commitment to the Green Deal.

The session then turned to Mr. Ketan Patel, CEO of Greater Pacific Capital, who continued the financing conversation. Mr. Patel explained that Greater Pacific Capital looked at 100 financial institutions to see their commitments and deployments of capital for the Green Deal. They also looked at the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets and what it would take to achieve them across the globe. They found that the SDGs do get financed with $3-$4 trillion every year, but the gap that leads to achievement is $84-$101 trillion and many variables that have shifted since the SDGs were adopted in 2015 play into that, such as the price of climate change impacts and the pandemic. He emphasized the need for longevity and ensuring that profitable opportunities are created for investment, not just one-time donations. Lastly, participants heard from Mary Ritter, International Ambassador at EIT Climate-KIC. Mary introduced Climate-KIC, highlighting the numerous regional hubs and partners they work with, and pointed out their main goal: systems innovation. In order to achieve such extreme changes as called for in the Green Deal, whole systems need to be analyzed and innovated. Climate-KIC has been implementing a variety of projects across the EU to pilot different innovation concepts that can hopefully demonstrate successes and serve as examples and inspiration.

Plenary 3 | Regenerative Agriculture for the SDGs

This panel showcased organizations that specialize in TeleAgric and regenerative agriculture initiatives, especially those that support acceleration of the achievement of SDGs 2, 4, 8, 11, 12, and 13, through financing, strategizing, and deploying targeted interventions. The panel featured projects and innovations which promote sustainable agricultural methodology and provide an opportunity to mobilize continued action to achieve the SDGs through cross-cutting strategies. Oulie Keita, Executive Director for the YouthConnekt Africa (YCA) Hub, moderated the panel.

Participants first heard from Moulay Lahcen Ennahli, Senior Vice President for West Africa at OCP, who talked about different innovations that have allowed OCP to support the achievement of the SDGs such as digitalization. Next, Momodou Lamin Ceesay, Global Lead Rural Development Specialist at the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), who explained the importance of sustainable agriculture, defining it as agriculture that is productive with a high yield and that is diversified. He called out the three main goals of sustainable agriculture: environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. Given that the member countries of the IsDB are often rural countries with economies built around agriculture, sustainable agriculture is vital to ensuring sustainable livelihoods of those within those countries.

The event then turned to Chief Nathaniel Ebo Nsarko, Executive Director of the Millenium Promise Alliance. Who discussed how ICT is improving farming practices in Ghana. Farming is a large portion of the economy in Ghana, however the farmers are disadvantaged in a variety of ways such as poor road infrastructure, poor advisory services, lack of access to the ready market, etc., which prevents them from reaching their full potential. He presented Teleagric, a communication and information technology through video, voice, and internet that connects small shareholder farmers to researchers for best farming practices and allows them to reach more of the market share.  ICT has the ability to help bridge communication gaps and significantly improve farmers’ livelihoods. Lastly, Safiatou Bah, the IFAD Country Programme Officer in Guinea, demonstrated the work that IFAD has done in Guinea through PNAAFA, the National Project to Support Value Chain actors. The project has empowered local actors and improved infrastructure, created storage facilities, developed irrigation systems, and established financial institutions which as connected many of Guinea’s farmers and villagers to global markets. Bringing ICT into these projects connects even more grassroots organizations to the support they need to continue to improve the well-being of farmers in Guinea. 

Plenary 4 | Minister Erika Mouynes and Dr. Agnes Kalibata

Erika Mouynes, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama, spoke with Professor Jeffrey Sachs in a session entitled Lessons Learned from Panama: How other developing countries can follow in its path to become carbon negative. Minister Mouynes noted that Panama, Suriname, and Bhutan are the only three countries which are currently carbon negative. The keys to Panama’s success are a very green electricity grid (mostly hydropower) and large areas of protected forests. The country aims to play a leadership role in motivating other leaders to follow this path. Mouynes highlighted that the key challenge is maintaining this status while also fostering economic growth; Panama is implementing policies to electrify their vehicle fleet and reduce remaining emissions. Minister Mouynes also noted that there is a lot of support from Panamanians for sustainability. It is important to Panama to mitigate climate change as they are already facing impacts; for example, the overall amount of rainfall Panama receives is declining, which immediately threatens the Panama Canal and can be easily quantified in economic terms. Sachs and Mouynes also discussed urgent issues in the region, including migration and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The second half of this session featured Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to the 2021 Food Systems Summit, in a session entitled Policy Research in Practice: Reflections from the UN Food Systems Summit Process. Sachs opened by highlighting the importance and relevance of food systems, noting that they impact every person at every meal as well as millions of farming families, but that they are complex and face a large number of challenges. Kalibata noted that the process for the Food Systems Summit began in 2019 and the summit will focus on the way food systems interact and touch all 17 SDGs, emphasizing that solutions exist around the world. One aim is to explore areas where the food system is not meeting its objectives, particularly in terms of human and planetary health, and to showcase over 2,500 solutions. Kalibata also emphasized that over 80 countries submitted national pathways for their food systems to address hunger, healthy diets, and sustainability challenges. She applauded the work of the national conveners who have been leading dialogues in advance of the summit, bringing in diverse constituencies, making sure stakeholder voices were heard, and making sure that the discussions focused on paths forward. Going forward, Kalibata highlighted three components essential to implementation: access to finance, good governance, and innovation.

Plenary 5 | H.E. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh

H. E. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, spoke with Professor Jeffrey Sachs in a session entitled Locally-led initiatives to achieve SDGs: The Bangladesh experience. Professor Sachs began by applauding Bangladesh on the progress it has made in recent decades, noting that from 1998 to today, the completion rate for lower secondary school rose from 50% to 88%, while electrification rose from 14% to 92% from 1991 to today. In her speech, the Prime Minister shared the challenges that Bangladesh has faced, including the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as natural disasters. She emphasized that these challenges threaten the achievement of the SDGs, and so we must remain committed to achieving the SDGs. She suggested several priorities to keep SDG achievement on track, including closing the resource gap, addressing global poverty, and addressing climate change.

Bangladesh has made deep progress towards achieving many SDGs, and they have learned many lessons which other countries can apply. They have innovative programs, such as making girls’ education free, and using mobile payments to support families with government scholarships. Additional programs such as free books and school meals have contributed to reduced dropout rates. They are also investing heavily in renewable energy, submitting a nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the UNFCCC, and are projected to graduate from the LDC category in 2024. The Prime Minister also emphasized the importance of the SDGs, saying “The 2030 Agenda is a global compact. This is our blueprint for a sustainable and inclusive global development. No single country can achieve this agenda alone. We need enhanced global collaboration and solidarity to advance this agenda.”

In closing, Sachs presented the SDG Progress Award to Bangladesh. According to the Sustainable Development Report 2021, Bangladesh is the country which has made the most progress towards achieving the SDGs during the period 2015 to 2020. The Prime Minister accepted the award on behalf of the people of Bangladesh.

Plenary 6 |Chat with a Teacher: How do you use education to create a better world?

Mission 4.7, founded by the Global Schools Program and the SDG Academy, took this hour plenary to talk with teachers, noting that the real action on sustainable development education happens in the classrooms. The panel of teachers each highlighted some of the lessons they’ve learned in trying to teach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their respective classrooms.

The first teacher participants heard from was George de la Cruz, a teacher at Handumanan National High School, who talked about the transformative nature of teaching the SDGs and global citizenship in the classroom. He explained that sustainable development education means integrated the future as a specific dimension of our learning activities and teaching. George explained that in order to foster sustainability, we need to integrate societal and individual needs into one. The next teacher to speak was Santha Nair, an English Teacher at a vernacular school in Perak, Malaysia. She walked participants through the techniques she uses to teach her primary school children: learn the curriculum as a teacher and then curate the lessons according to the content and language skills. She gives the example where in an eight-year old classroom, they talk through their favorite foods and work on their English skills by discussing meals; however, she adds in the global context layer by asking these students about their food access, and the types of food resources they have, encouraging them to think broader while also practicing their English speaking and listening skills. 

Next, Javeria Rana, ESL tutor and K-12 Teacher in Pakistan, talked about how Mission 4.7 is transformative education that will make children lifelong learners and more empathetic citizens of the world. She gave participants a tour of a 5 month lesson series in which students worked in teams to plan and conduct social action projects, learned how to apply the SDGs in the real world, and then how to evaluate the impacts of the SDGs and their social action projects. It resulted in seven total projects and students gained practical experiences with real impact. Finally, Lilian Oloo, an early years educator at CITAM Schools in Kenya, talks about the impact of sustainable education on early childhood children, a group that is very receptive to the world around them and very vulnerable to changes happening in the lives of adults. Lilian breaks sustainable development into three pillars: environment, economic, and social. She showcases some examples of hands on activities where the children can explore their environment and connect with it; where they can turn arts and crafts into a value and investment lesson; and where they celebrate international days to understand their connection with others. 

Plenary 7 | University Transformations for the SDGs: From Concept to Action

Universities are uniquely positioned to support the societal transformations that are needed to achieve the SDGs, through their research, education and leadership. However, universities’ ability to respond to the complexity, scale and urgency of action needed can be hampered by structural constraints within institutions and within the university sector more broadly. To strongly support societal transformations for the SDGs, universities themselves need to transform, and the SDGs themselves can offer a framework to guide profound institutional evolution. Kickstarting this session, Tahl Kestin, Network Manager for the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Regional Network for Australia, New Zealand and Pacific, presented the background for this session and highlighted a new set of innovative and inspiring case studies from around the world in support of the SDSN guide “Accelerating education for the SDGs in universities”.

Wendy Purcell, an Academic Research Scholar with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University, gave remarks to help frame the discussion. She emphasized how what is being done in universities does matter as we as a collective whole are all challenged by the issues of today and therefore can collectively work together through sustainable development to make an impact. She also called out the role that universities play in communities and in civic engagement, citing how far of a reach universities have. She closed by posing a question to the panel: how can we harness those capacities and capabilities that academia develop to adapt and to confront the crisis of the pandemic in support of the SDGs and the challenge of climate change?

Carlos Mataix of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in Spain answered first, recalling Wendy’s mention of radical collaboration. He noted that we must move from the “transactional” or “linear” form of collaboration to something that is more transformative, calling for systemic change and for the demolition of too many silos. Tawana Kupe of the University of Pretoria in South Africa jumped in next stating the drift he has seen in universities where they are beginning to look inward as a member of society rather than projecting outward into society. The role of universities are being reimagined in a new reimagined society. Tawana also mentioned the difficulties of university change, using the metaphor, “you have to fix the plane while you are piloting it”. Liz Price from the Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK chimed in next, explaining how in the process of transforming their sustainability strategy, they were able to engage people’s passion to develop their transformational strategy. They were able to build their strategy from the agenda of their faculty, staff, and students, which led to a really positive experience. The outcome of that is they can really drive forward what they want to do as a university. Lastly, John Thwaites from Monash University in Australia joined the conversation by comparing the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic with that of the SDGs and climate change. With the pandemic, it was and still is a very immediate crisis with a clear mandate: reduce death and sickness and support the community. This made it easy to break down the silos. However, the SDGs and climate change are much more complex and nuanced. The lesson John has taken is that we need to have clearer priorities if we are going to make an impact with the SDGs.

Plenary 8 | Laura Cozzi & Kapuscinski Development Lecturer Kristalina Georgieva

This session opened with a presentation from Dr. Laura Cozzi, Chief Energy Modeler at the International Energy Agency (IEA). She presented the IEA’s report Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, saying we need to achieve net zero by 2050 if we have any hope of limiting warming to 1.5°C. The report found that not only is today’s technology sufficient to achieve this ambitious goal, but that the economics have changed so much in recent years that in most cases these technologies are cheaper than fossil fuel technologies. In terms of concrete actions, solar and wind need to be scaled up fourfold, vehicle fleets electrified, and energy efficiency massively increased in the next nine years. The main challenge in achieving this future is investment; however, these investments would create jobs and generate economic growth. An obstacle is accelerating investment in low income countries and emerging economies, where the cost of capital is high. Sachs noted that wealthy countries pledged funds to help overcome this challenge, but that they have not yet been delivered. Cozzi also called for increased investment in research and innovation. Professor Sachs applauded this work and emphasized that additional key elements for the energy transition are to halt construction on new fossil fuel facilities and exploration. Sachs and Cozzi discussed how this report might contribute to the upcoming negotiations in Glasgow in November. Cozzi said that the IEA has been working with G7 countries on decarbonization of the energy sector, in the hope that they could be an example to other nations.

The second half of this plenary consisted of a Kapuscinski Development Lecture given by Dr. Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the IMF. Georgieva and Sachs discussed the interconnected challenges of recovery, climate change and inequality. The session was opened by Jutta Urpilainen, European Commissioner for International Partnerships, who highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare both humanity’s fragility and ingenuity. She also noted that the European Union has mobilized 46 billion euros in support of partner countries and their responses to the pandemic, prioritizing vaccination campaigns.

The conversation between Sachs and Georgieva touched on a wide range of issues. They opened with a discussion of inequality and the COVID-19 pandemic, with Sachs noting that wealthy countries are able to access low- or zero-interest loans to help reduce economic impacts, while poor countries are charged high interest rates. Georgieva noted that many countries are on the path to recovery, but that this recovery is unequal and uncertain, and particularly problematic with regards to access to vaccines. Georgieva was optimistic, saying that “vaccinating the world is a solvable problem. We are producing enough vaccines for everybody, but we are not yet distributing vaccines in a way that would provide the ground for accelerating recovery.” Sachs applauded global cooperation around financing, and particularly the leadership of the IMF, noting he thought there would have been a far worse economic crisis than occurred. Georgieva emphasized that much work remains to be done, and that if we cannot get the world vaccinated we risk losing $9 trillion in output between now and 2025. The unique strength of the IMF is that they are in regular contact with member countries and have a deep understanding of both local and global priorities, allowing them to share lessons learned between countries. This is especially true in terms of digitization, which is a current priority.

Plenary 9 | Dr. Raj Shah

This session featured a keynote address by Dr. Raj Shah, President of the Rockefeller Foundation. Shah opened by saying that the COVID-19 crisis is the greatest challenge the world has faced since World War II, and that the inequalities which it has exacerbated and underscored are an extremely great challenge. Shah highlighted that we live in two worlds, the wealthy world where vaccination rates are climbing and economies are recovering, and the poorer world where people still face high COVID-19 transmission rates and deep, continuing economic challenges. Shah noted that the global system needs to address these issues better, highlighting that ODA has only slightly increased, multilateral financial institutions are dedicating fewer resources than they did for the 2008 financial crisis, and the global health response to get the world vaccinated is inadequate. Shah said, “in light of this crisis, while institutions and leaders have truly done their best with the tools at their disposal, the net effect in terms of a coordinated, global development response, has been underwhelming.” Shah presented his call for a global COVID Charter which would commit countries to bold aspirations and targets.

During the discussion, Sachs noted that there is global agreement that we have the tools and technologies to achieve all our goals, whether it is addressing COVID-19, implementing the energy transition, or achieving the SDGs. The issue is financing, and how to mobilize the necessary resources. Sachs noted that interest rates are extremely low right now and a great deal of private wealth is available, saying “we have ample resources to build a better world.” Shah noted that in the US, wealthy individuals have become even wealthier during this crisis, although he warned that public sector leadership is lacking, and needs to describe what role philanthropy can play. Shah also proposed setting up a system, similar to and based on the experience of GAVI, to help make renewable energy technology available at a reasonable cost to the roughly 1 billion people who currently lack access to electricity. “We are all connected, and the right way to lift up and include everybody in a global economy is not sending your military to Afghanistan for two decades, but rather embracing the opportunity for development cooperation and joining the fight against climate change.” Shah highlighted the Rockefeller Foundation’s recent report, Transforming a Billion Lives: The Job Creation Potential from a Green Power Transition in the Energy Poor World, which shows that investing in renewable energy will create and/or improve hundreds of millions of jobs.

Plenary 10 | H.E. Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados

This plenary featured a keynote address by The Honorable Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados. The Prime Minister highlighted key achievements on the road to adopting the SDGs in 2015, including the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, and the UN Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of SIDS, held in Barbados in 1994 and the outcome of which was the Barbados Plan of Action. Mottley linked these policy achievements directly to research, saying that “after Rio we began to interpret development as having three interconnected pillars: society, economy, and environment. And what we have truly not yet acknowledged, then or now, is that the strength and reinforcement of those pillars rests on a body of research that allows for sound, sensible, and sustainable development policies.” The Prime Minister called on researchers to address the key challenges of our time, including the eradication of poverty and hunger, the preservation of ecological systems and mitigating climate change, and addressing rampant inequality and discrimination. Mottley also noted the inequality in research capacity between the developing world and wealthy countries, and called on all stakeholders to come together to close these gaps, highlighting that while this has always been a challenge it is especially important in the context of COVID-19.

Returning to the topic of climate change, the Prime Minister raised important questions about the legal implications of climate change on SIDS, particularly when sea level rise or natural disasters make whole countries uninhabitable and nations need to relocate. She also raised the unique challenges faced by highly tourism-dependent countries, which are highly vulnerable to climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and lack of access to capital. During the discussion, Sachs and Mottley discussed a research agenda for a better future and a new global financial structure to spur investment and reduce inequalities. Mottley emphasized that this change will require a coordinated campaign and calls from academia, civil society, the private sector, and all stakeholders. She also noted that technologies and digitization can be a great tool in addressing some of these challenges.