“Now is time that we talk about rebuilding society and making peace with our planet”

One of the senior directors of the United Nations, Maher Nasser, opened the first Peace, Equality and Social Justice/SDG 16 conference at DMU this week, setting out two clear challenges to staff and students – work to rebuild society and the planet.

The brief for Mr Nasser’s remarks had been quite open – outline the challenges needed to be addressed through research in the context of the issues the world is facing. The call to action was direct. The war in Ukraine, the pandemic and deviation from or inaction on political pledges to address climate change have set back progress on the SDGs particularly in addressing poverty and global warming.

He said: “When we look at world events and headlines we see all the promises and achievements we had hoped for were delayed by COVID but most recently, since late February, by the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. We are looking not only at the devastating price paid by Ukraine but globally there are unprecedented rises in food and energy prices impacting any progress made in other countries and hampering world efforts to ‘build back better’ after the pandemic.” He concluded by highlighting the challenge faced by global warming: “This is the worst time to be a non-human. We are looking at the largest extinction of species ever between now and 2100. Climate change is affecting future generations. So now it is time that we talk about rebuilding society and it is also time for making peace with our planet”

Although Mr Nasser could not predict how the conference would unfold, his speech set a tone for the presentations and subsequent discussions that highlighted the stark connection between achieving peace, equality and social justice in our communities as an accelerator towards reducing carbon emissions and bringing climate change under control.

When our researchers talk about ‘our communities’, I should highlight, they are discussing their work in many diverse places; Leicester, Bosnia, Cuba, the former Yugoslavia, inner-city London. Collectively, the global reach of this work demonstrates the scale of the challenge to bring peaceful communities through issues of economic fairness, good education, quality health care, having voice and access to information. My work at DMU is currently spanning SDG16, and my role as Net Zero (SDG13) Research Theme Director with my colleague Professor Raffella Villa falls in to both camps of Mr Nasser’s call to action. While I was left with a stark sense of reality of the challenges faced to achieve Net Zero and reduce climate change and achieve the 169 targets of the SDGs, particularly the reduction in poverty and a rapid increase in social justice and equality in society, it was heartening to hear some of the work my colleagues at DMU are doing, often in collaboration with other researchers around the world, to tackle these issues.

As this was the first PESJ/SDG16 conference, I can offer some reflections on the two days. Firstly attendance could have been higher – the drop-off rate between signing up and turning up is notable and something to think about next year in the planning. We could have held a hybrid event but we really wanted people in the room creating debates to stimulate new research, and sense of togetherness for the research community (come on, we’ve missed each other lately…). The opening remarks on global challenges were immensely useful and over time began to present a dual purpose to the research outcomes. Interlinkages between PESJ and the other research themes were also promoted – net zero, health, digital divide, culture and creativity, presenting further opportunity. The audiences were highly engaged from a range of fields and new connections were made and ultimately it shone a light on the breath of research at DMU in the realms of PESJ and SDG16. I’ve uploaded the conference brochure to give an idea of the diversity of research taking place:

Anyone wanting to get in touch about the event or activities related to the field can email me via mcharlton@dmu.ac.uk

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