ICSD 2022 welcomed participants from 163 countries to celebrate its 10 year anniversary!

The 10th International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD) took place online from September 19-20, 2022. The event brought together 1,463 participants from 164 different countries to discuss celebrate A Decade of ICSD. The two day conference hosted 42 different sessions across multiple time zones to accommodate our global audience, with 190 oral presenters and 198 poster presenters.

Read our summary below of the 7 plenary sessions held which included the announcement of the best paper awards. You can watch all the ICSD 2022 plenaries on the SDSN YouTube channel

Day 1

Plenary 1 | ASEAN Green Future

The ASEAN Green Future project is a collaboration between the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, ClimateWorks Australia, the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development at Sunway University, and research groups from across Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, and Thailand, with potential participation by Brunei, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, and Viet Nam in the future). The project aims to demonstrate how sustainable, decarbonized economies offer enhanced economic development and more resilient futures for the region. 

The Phase 1 report of each country team presents priorities and actions to date, and key technology and policy opportunities to further advance domestic climate action. The Phase 1 regional report situates the region’s path to low-carbon transition within a global context using the country reports and other studies. This series of reports, produced through a synthesis of existing research and knowledge, builds the case for advancing the region’s climate agenda.

Our speakers included Professor Toby Melissa C. Monsod from the Philippines; Wai Sern Low from Malaysia; Dr. Vannarith Chheang from Cambodia; and Associate Professor Wai Mun Chia from Singapore. Each speaker demonstrated the research and methodology of their research teams, their findings, and what impact this has in their respective countries.


Plenary 2 | Systemic Solutions and Innovations for Climate-Resilient Regions

Today, sustainable development projects no longer revolve around the success of a specific technology. Instead, they are about promoting deep transformations by bringing different stakeholders together, and actively promoting human engagement, interdisciplinarity and learning by doing.

IMPETUS and ARSINOE are two sister projects funded by the prestigious European research program Horizon 2020 in the Green Deal call. They explore the best pathways to climate change adaptation in different European bioclimatic regions by bringing together the most up to date scientific and technological advances with local knowledge and an understanding of the difficulties experienced by the communities they work with. Using advanced social engagement mechanisms combined with powerful ICT tools, they will test a combination of innovative solutions in 15 different case study demonstration sites. Their objective is to address the complex challenge of sustainable development through consensus, aiming to improve the active participation of local communities in creating solutions, knowledge and decisions about how best to adapt to climate change and mitigate its impacts.

Professor Gunter Pauli, economist, entrepreneur and  author of ‘The Blue Economy’ gave an opening address calling for urgent action. The need for analysis of scientific and economic considerations to underpin careful but appealing communications to encourage action was emphasized by the panelists, who gave examples from their own areas of expertise. Dr. Aline Mosnier brought perspectives as Scientific Director of the Food, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Land-Use, and Energy (FABLE) Consortium. Civil engineering expert Professor Chrysi Laspidou of the University of Thessaly in Greece spoke for the ARSINOE project along with Dr. Martin Drews, a Senior Researcher at the Technical University of Denmark, who co-chairs the Collaborative Program on High Impact Events and Climate Change of the European Climate Research Alliance, and is a member of the Expert Advisory Group of the European Climate Risk Assessment. , Dr. Andrea Marinoni, Associate Professor of Remote Sensing at UiT The Arctic University of Norway spoke about the IMPETUS project’s approach, combining satellite data with societal information in digital tools to aid community engagement and decision making.

The session was moderated by Laura Durnford of the European Science Communication Institute (ESCI) and chaired by Andrija Erac, Manager with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). SDSN is a partner in the IMPETUS and ARSINOE projects and was co-organiser of this session.

Over 150 guests attended the online session and listened to the speakers address questions such as;

  • Why do we need ‘systems thinking’ i.e. big-picture / interdisciplinary approaches in tackling climate change in a sustainable way? 
  • Political systems, project funding and business profit making tend to have short-term cycles of only a few years. Is this as a barrier to sustainability and climate change solutions and how can a longer-term view be encouraged? 
  • To what extent is diversity in the business and economic landscape as well as in land use and nature and representation in developing climate change solutions necessary for resilience & adaptation? 
  • How can we encourage the notion that there is inherent value in e.g. biodiversity, or should we encourage an economic value to be placed on nature in order to encourage a more sustainable approach? 
  • In studying climate change, the role for science, data modeling, and technology developments has been clear. In tackling it, the need to involve policy makers, urban planners, citizens, business and industry, agriculture, tourism and other stakeholder sectors has more recently been recognised, and is now seen as a key area of work. In what ways are these projects working towards this?


Plenary 3 | Siemens Gamesa Award Announcement

The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN) and Siemens Gamesa announced the winner of the Universities for Goal 13 award, a competition promoting university talent in the fight against climate change through disruptive solutions.

For its first edition, Universities for Goal 13’s winning project is “ Byte Rainforest: A new pathway to realize the intangible value of tropical rainforest ” developed by Tsinghua University. The team proposed a blockchain-based digital MRV system to monetize the carbon sink potential of tropical rainforests by converting carbon flux into carbon credits. The solution will create a strong incentive for local farmers to conserve the rainforest and attract international private capital to support their protection.

The winning solution will be awarded 10,000 USD for further development and implementation.

From March to September 2022, fourteen teams of students from five participating universities from UN SDSN’s network, representing a range of disciplines, worked together to identify and propose an innovative and sustainable solution to a problem in their region. Five solutions were shortlisted:

  • Byte Rainforest: A new pathway to realize the intangible value of tropical rainforest, from Tsinghua University in China,
  • Design of a novel solar-powered non-thermal plasma technology for water treatment in rural communities, from the University of Pretoria, South Africa,
  • Waste Gas to Fuel – Sustainable biofuels with bacteria from the University of Göttingen, Germany,
  • Use of wind potential as a driver for socio-economic leverage in underdeveloped locations from the Pontifical University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and
  • Sustainable Management of Wind Turbine Blades from Arizona State University in the United States of America.

Throughout the competition, students were assisted by mentors from Siemens Gamesa who shared their expertise, provided technical advice, and helped to bring out the best in the presentation of their proposals to the members of the jury composed of top managers from Siemens Gamesa and SDSN.

Through this alliance, SDSN and Siemens Gamesa are embarking on a path of collaboration to promote quality education and technology as driving forces toward the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the Agenda 2030.

Addressing the climate emergency by changing the trajectory of CO2 levels is the most pressing challenge of our time and it requires bold solutions. By giving students the opportunity to demonstrate their talent and skills in a collaborative and competitive way, universities position themselves and their faculties within a dynamic and innovative environment, while providing regional stakeholders with an understanding of technical, legal, and sociological aspects of how local economies could decarbonize.

“This is a remarkable project and a hugely creative approach for the future. Every day we are seeing more climate disasters around the world. We have lost a lot of time facing reality, and we know that we need big global-scale solutions to decarbonise the world energy system by mid-century, at the latest. It is an enormous, unprecedented challenge. Today, thanks to companies such as Siemens Gamesa, we have innovative options that we could not have imagined years ago. “Universities for Goal 13” is making sure that this innovation continues in a dynamic way with the new, young engineers and leaders of the coming generation. Thanks to this competition, students from universities all over the world receive excellent mentorship to work on practical problem-solving directed at the challenge we face,” commented Jeffrey Sachs, President of SDSN.

“Given the lack of vocations in technological careers, we want to inspire young people to follow in the footsteps of these students who through their talent and teamwork have managed to surprise us with their solutions for their creativity and disruptive potential,” said María Cortina, global head of the department of Social Commitment at Siemens Gamesa.

“From our experience and leading position in renewable energies, we know the importance of innovation in the fight against climate change”, said Mrs. Cortina, underlining that “a standard SGRE Onshore turbine avoided in 2012 the emission into the atmosphere of more than 5.500 Tons of CO2 per year. Ten years later, a standard onshore turbine avoids almost three times more emissions per year, and as for SGRE Offshore “star” turbine, it already avoids about 40,000 Tons CO2, more than 7 times the achievement of 2012”.


Plenary 4 | 10 Years of ICSD and the 2022 Best Paper Awards

A keynote address from Ms. Sandrine Dixson-Declève, President of the Club of Rome, highlighted how the field of sustainable development has changed over the last decade and what we can expect moving forward. She noted the wake-up call that the last few years have been in affecting policy, specifically with regards to the pandemic and political conflicts.

“We need to understand how of the nine planetary boundaries that keep Earth in a relatively stable state, we can actually bring [those that are already past those boundaries] back and keep those that are not yet outside of the boundaries within a habitable space.”

Patrick Paul Walsh, VP of Education at SDSN and Lucia Rodriguez, Director of the Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) Program, then reflected on the last ten years of the conference. The presented the history of ICSD, giving credit to MDP who launched the first event in 2013 in partnership with SDSN as a way to connect the growing network of MDP practitioners and the SDSN network of universities and share their knowledge with the world. Since that initial event, the conference has grown every year, taking on the online format in 2020 and becoming a fully accessible and global event.

To end the session, the best papers of the 2022 event were announced:

  • Dr. Eugene Eteris: Sustainability: priorities for modern politics and economics
  • Cecilia Gomes: Comparative Studies of the Impact of US Foreign Aid on Economic Development in the Global South: The Middle East and North Africa vs. sub-Saharan Africa
  • Ludovica Chiappini and Mr. Luca Osvaldo Uccello: The SDGs and value chains: customized solutions for an inclusive global value chain governance
  • Dr. Pradeep Kumar Choudhury and Amit Kumar: COVID-19 and digital learning in higher education in India: Unpacking the inequity in students’ experiences
  • Pooja Pandey, Nisha Vernekar, Avinash Reddy, Dr. Rahela Khorakiwala, and Ms. Sakshi Pawar: Passing the Baton: Understanding the Public Private Partnership (PPP) Model of Pre-Primary Education in Mumbai, India
  • Vera Barinova, Vladimir Potashnikov, and Aleksandr Golub: Theoretical aspects of the development trap in new conditions
  • Calyssa Burke, Chiamaka Ibeanusi, and Sydney Thorburn: Developed or Disregarded?: Indigenous Vulnerabilities to Water Insecurity in Canada and Australia


Plenary 5 | Science Communications for Impact

The Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia University, in partnership with the Global Masters of Development Practice and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), are all organizers of the 10th Annual International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD). These organizations have partnered with Springer Nature since 2020 on the Science for a Sustainable Future event series.

In 2021 we released a white paper: Harnessing Science for a Sustainable Future, which set out recommendations for encouraging integration between research, policy, and community in order to better address the world’s greatest challenges. One of the recommendations in this paper was: Raise scientific literacy and awareness of the SDGs among citizens and policymakers through greater collaboration, advocacy, and outreach.

The third Science for a Sustainable Future event hosted at ICSD explored this issue in more depth, through an exciting, high-level panel on science communications 

The expert panel was comprised of journalists, researchers, influencers and activists, and moderated by Laura Helmuth, Editor in Chief of Scientific American, who all participated in a discussion and a Q&A session covering the following topics:

  • How important findings from academia can be disseminated in different ways to encourage action in support of the SDGs
  • Journalism and the media’s role in addressing misinformation and behavior change in support of the SDGs 
  • How social media, influencers, and other new forms of information and communication impact traditional sources of information and journalism outlets, and vice versa, when it comes to global challenges
  • Techniques to understand and confront misinformation when it comes to delivering the SDGs
  • How media and academics can cooperate to increase trust in science


Day 2

Plenary 6 | Translational Knowledge to Shape Sustainable Urban Futures

There is a broad consensus that the increasing proportions of the globe that is urbanized foregrounds the city as a site in which the futures of economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainability will be challenged, realized or possibly failed. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 committed national governments to ‘Make Cities and Human Settlements Inclusive, Safe, Resilient and Sustainable’. This goal is of major significance. By including a commitment focused on cities within a nationally-determined agenda, countries recognized both the importance of a place-based approach to development and the unique nature of the challenges facing urban communities of all shapes and sizes. In this context the emergence of transdisciplinary urban sciences raises both promises about the potential to know the city better and long standing challenges about how best to translate such knowledge into practice.

In this plenary, Prof. Michael Keith from the University of Oxford; Prof. Sue Parnell from the University of Bristol and the University of Cape Town; Prof. Pengjun Zhao from Peking University; and Prof. Juan Carlos Duque from EAFIT University considered three such challenges and opportunities:

  • The core challenge of translating translational research and the opportunity of new urban sciences.
  • The core challenge of a global urban agenda and the opportunity of international collaborations linking global science to global institutions.
  • The challenge of practice on the ground in and within cities and the opportunity of linking research to practice and ‘shaping urban futures’.

These speakers presented the key learnings and experiences of being a part of PEAK Urban and how that led to a new online course entitled, ‘Shaping Urban Futures.’


Plenary 7 | Financing the Joint Implementation of the SDGs and the European Green Deal

The European Green Deal includes wide-ranging goals for a climate-neutral, resource-efficient, technologically advanced, and socially equitable continent. EU leaders have also decided to integrate the SDGs in the European Semester, the major process for the coordination of national economic and employment policies in the EU, putting ‘people and the planet at the center of EU economic policy’. Additionally, the EU has responded to the immense challenges posed by the pandemic with a strong ‘Next Generation EU’ package to boost economic recovery while pursuing Europe’s green transition.

In an attempt to connect the dots between these four major policy initiatives – the SDGs, the European Green Deal, the European Semester, and the EU recovery plan – the EGD Senior Working Group published its first report, entitled ‘Transformations for the Joint Implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the European Green Deal: A Green and Digital, Job-Based and Inclusive Recovery from COVID-19 Pandemic’. The report, published in February 2021, supports policymakers with actionable strategies that can guide EU-wide and national economic recovery in line with the continent’s overarching sustainability agenda.

On May 3rd 2022, the group launch the second annual report, entitled ‘Financing the Transformations for the Joint Implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the European Green Deal’ which: provides an overview of the EU policies published since 2020 in support of the implementation of the European Green Deal, explores the financial implications of the Joint Implementation of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the European Green Deal, and stresses the need for private financial flows to be directed towards sustainable projects and activities. 

Prof. Phoebe Koundouri, University Professor at Athens University; Prof. Leonardo Becchetti, Full Professor at University of Rome Tor Vergata; Mr. Ketan Patel, CEO Greater Pacific Capital;

Mrs. Ilenia Gaia Romani, Researcher Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM); and Prof. Theodoros Zachariadis from The Cyprus Institute presented the report and its findings.

Europe has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to accelerate the transformation to sustainable societies, whereby governments intervene proactively and co-design a systemic green transition with broad participation of societal stakeholders.


Plenary 9 | The Importance of the Leave No One Behind (LNOB) Principle in Times of Crises

SDSN in cooperation with GIZ has commissioned three networks to conduct research in the field of building forward better with a focus on reducing inequalities and Leaving No One Behind (LNOB). SDSN Mexico, SDSN Pakistan and SDSN South Africa have defined research questions that revolve around the just transition, access to health care and education. This session explored key elements of the LNOB principle and its importance in times of crises. LNOB not only entails reaching the poorest of the poor, but requires combating discrimination and rising inequalities within and amongst countries, and their root causes.

Dr. Alí Ruiz Coronel from UNAM, host of SDSN Mexico presented their project, ‘The Open Door Clinic’ which provides access to healthcare for persons facing homlessness in Mexico City. Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta from The Aga Khan Universit, host of SDSN Pakistan, discussed their project to reach those unreachable. In partnership with UNICEF and GIZ, they conducted research to identify how they can use the education system to reach marginalized populations. Their research led to recommendations to improve access to healthcare and social programs for children in isolated communities. Lastly, we heard from Prof. Heinrich Bohlmann from the University of Pretoria, the host of SDSN South Africa whose team focused on the ‘Just Energy Transition’ in their country. This research looked at moving South African away from coal-fired plants while also determining the livelihoods of those workers was not lost in the transition.