Geology for Global Development

Geology for Global Development

Guest Blog: Exploring the Sustainable Development Goals at the University of Tübingen (Germany)

AuthorsSolmaz Mohadjer and Sebastian Mutz, University of Tübingen researchers, recently designed and facilitated a seminar on the topic of Geology and the Sustainable Development Goals. Below, they share some results from their pilot implementation at the University of Tübingen, Germany.

There is an African proverb that says “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The road set by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years is long and riddled with potholes. To travel far, everyone needs to join in and do their part. This includes the geosciences community. In October 2015, 130+ from the geosciences community gathered at the Geological Society of London to educate themselves about the SDGs and explore the role of the geosciences community in achieving them. At the conference, I spoke about the role of geohazards research and practice in addressing key sustainable development issues such as disaster risk reduction. The conference emphasized other sustainable development issues that are at the heart of many geoscience disciplines (e.g., sustainable agriculture, water and sanitation, and climate change). Once back in Tübingen, Sebastian Mutz and I created a plan for doing our part as geologists in addressing the SDGs. To hop on the road to the SDGs, we decided to go small and stay local. We designed and taught two sessions on the SDGs with the target audience being our own colleagues.

The curriculum can be downloaded and used for free:
Session 1: Curriculum instruction (PDF) and accompanying presentation (PDF)
Session 2: Curriculum instruction (PDF) and accompanying presentation (PDF)

These sessions are designed to give a brief introduction to the SDGs and the role of geosciences in achieving them. The curriculum is both lecture- and activity-based and can be easily adapted to suit participants from different backgrounds. The curriculum also provides participants with an opportunity to present their current/previous work in the context of the SDGs. The curriculum completion takes about 2 hours per session.

Below we describe an activity that was conducted as part of the second session. We then briefly state the key observations and our interpretation of them.

Inspired by a discussion session that was conducted as part of the 3rd Annual Conference of Geology for Global Development, we facilitated an interactive group activity in the second session during which participants were encouraged to think about how the SDGs should shape geosciences education, research, industry practice and engagement with civil society. Participants were given a series of questions related to the aforementioned categories and were asked to brainstorm and write down their responses on Post-it notes under each question. Participants were then asked to read and discuss all responses and indicate their level of agreement with each response. Red round stickers placed next to a response indicated their disagreement while green stickers showed their agreement (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Participants’ responses on Post-it notes to questions and their level of agreement with each response using round stickers (red: disagree, green: agree).

The three key observations from this activity (as demonstrated in Figure 2) as well as our interpretation are:

  1. High level of participation shows that the participants believed the SDGs can and should shape geoscience education, research, industry practice and engagement with civil society. Participants who are all members of the geoscience community were able to generate suggestions as to how this can/should be done in each category. The large number of ideas generated during this activity highlights the potential and confirms the important role of geoscientists in achieving the SDGs.
  1. While participants were able to generate suggestions to questions listed in all categories, their level of engagement (as reflected by the number of suggestions) across all categories is uneven. This could reflect the background of this specific group of participants consisting of geoscience students and researchers with varying degrees of involvement with industry practice. Therefore, more suggestions pertaining to questions related to these fields (i.e., education, research, and industry practice) were generated. The total number of votes (both negative and positive) in these fields is also higher. This possibly indicates a higher level of confidence in participants’ opinions related to these fields which could be due to this same background. The few suggestions under the civil society category might highlight participants’ limited (or lack of) engagement with civil society (e.g., NGOs). Organizations such as Geology for Global Development are currently working to address this issue by equipping geoscientists with skills and knowledge needed for meaningful engagement in the development field.
  1. Participants seem to have opposing opinions as to how the SDGs should shape geoscience research. This is reflected by the high number of positive and negative votes received in this category. Within this category, participants agree on suggestions pertaining to the following questions: (1) how to better connect researchers with those working in development, (2) how to ensure research outputs are more accessible; and (3) how to facilitate more effective research partnerships globally. Popular suggestions often related to sharing technologies and improving science communication (e.g., open-source software, journals and online knowledge-sharing platforms) and making research partnerships with local institutions mandatory by funding agencies. However, all suggestions related to the researchers’ role in enhancing scientific research in developing countries received negative votes. These suggestions included: funding bi-lateral programs, creating positions that are related to specific developing countries (for example: the work of Institut de recherche pour le développment), and donating old (but still usable) equipment to local universities and research partners.

Taken all together, participants seem to recognize the importance of forming effective global research partnerships as a means of implementation for all the SDGs, and that innovative solutions for enhancing scientific research in developing countries should look beyond providing traditional technical assistance and support.


Figure 2. Participants’ participation per discussion topic. Blue indicates the number of ideas generated per category, red indicates the number of negative votes received in each category; green indicates the number of positive votes received in each category. The numbers shown at the top of each column correspond with the number of ideas/votes per category. SDGs: Sustainable Development Goals.

The key point we hoped to convey during the seminar was to encourage our colleagues to think more broadly about their research findings and their role as researchers in solving global issues. “The seminar activities helped me realize why I should care about the SDGs and the applicability of my research to real world problems,” commented Dr. Karim Norouzi. The seminar was considered to be a great experience by Dr. Karl Lang. “[This is] something we should be doing regularly, but seminars like this help to stretch our thinking and consider new perspectives,” said Dr. Lang on the importance of thinking critically about the underlying motivations for scientific research. For others like Jessica Starke, the seminar was a good starting point for learning about the SDGs. “I recommend that the seminar be repeated for other students and members of the scientific community so that they are familiar with these important goals.”

UNISDR Science and Technology Conference on the Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030

UNISDROver the next few days (27-29th January) we’ll be attending the UNISDR Science and Technology Conference on the Implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) 2015-2030.

Agreed in March 2015, this framework aims to substantially ‘reduce disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries’. A key priority of this framework is to better understand disaster risk, meaning that science has a crucial role to play in ensuring its success.

Our key aims in attending this conference are to (i) learn more about the specific ways that geologists can contribute to the SFDRR over the next 15 years, and (ii) promote the role of early-career geologists (their research, extra-curricular engagement etc). Geology for Global Development is an official organising partner of the conference, alongside many other prestigious groups.

We’ll be presenting a poster about the role of GfGD in promoting the SFDRR to the geoscience community, and mobilising engagement (Work Stream 1 – The Science and Technology Partnership for the implementation of the Sendai Framework, Wednesday at midday). Our Director, Joel Gill, will also be addressing a side event (Thursday 1-2pm) on the role of young scientists in the application of science for DRR.

You can follow the conference highlights on Twitter using #Science4Sendai, and there’ll also be tweets on the GfGD account (@Geo_Dev). If you’re attending the event and wish to connect/know more about our work, please do contact us via Twitter or on our website.

Reviewing Key Development Agreements of 2015

2015 has been a significant year for global development efforts, with major agreements on disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change. The hard work has only just started, with significant work needed over the coming years and decades to deliver real, positive change.

Fuego (Guatemala) is a currently active volcano, with risks to local populations and their livelihoods.

Fuego (Guatemala) is a currently active volcano, with risks to local populations and their livelihoods.

Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) 2015-2030

Agreed in March 2015, this framework aims to substantially ‘reduce disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries’. A key priority of this framework is to better understand disaster risk, meaning that science has a crucial role to play in ensuring its success.

Seismologists, volcanologists, engineering geologists and others can all support this framework through their research and practice. One practical opportunity is the UNISDR Science and Technology conference, taking place in Geneva next January. Gathering scientists of all types, and from all locations, this event will launch the science and technology roadmap for supporting the Sendai Framework. The deadline to register for this free event is 31st December 2015.

Global Goals for Sustainable Development 2015-2030

These 17 Global Goals, agreed in September 2015, aim to end global poverty, fight injustice and inequality, and ensure environmental sustainability over the next 15 years (2015-2030). Earlier this year we hosted our third annual conference, exploring these goals. We believe this was the first major geology conference around the world to ask the question ‘how can we as a community best use our skills and resources to support the UN Global Goals?’.

GfGD 3rd Annual Conference (Geology and the Global Goals for Sustainable Development'

GfGD 3rd Annual Conference (Geology and the Global Goals for Sustainable Development’

As noted in a previous post, achieving the SDGs by 2030 will require many sectors to engage, including the geological sciences. Many of the themes within the SDGs are pertinent to geological research and practice. This gives all of us an exciting opportunity to take a leading role in promoting and facilitating responsible Earth stewardship, ensuring sustainable and equitable foundations for future global development. Geology students, educators, researchers, industry professionals, public servants and policymakers can all contribute to the achievement of the SDGs.

You can share your ideas and experiences on how geology can best support the UN Global Goals at the next EGU General Assembly, through this relevant session (no abstract processing charges!).

COP21 – Paris Climate Agreement

Also agreed this year, earlier in December, was an agreement on tackling climate change at the Paris ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP21). You can read an excellent summary of the key information on the EGU Blog (Geolog). Through their research on palaeoclimates, geologists have been at the forefront of understanding the underlying science. Through research in energy, carbon capture and storage and natural resources, geologists are supporting the transition to low-carbon technologies and renewable energy supplies. And through their research on natural hazards, water, engineering geology and more, geologists are understanding the impacts of climate change on the land, resources and infrastructure that we are reliant on.

Looking ahead…

From the perspective of global development, it’s been a year in which we have a lot to celebrate. Three significant (albeit imperfect) agreements have been reached that can help humanity to ensure a safer, more sustainable habitation of our planet, Earth. Reaching the agreements took huge amounts of energy and diplomacy, not to mention the years of research and consultation that have helped to shape them. Their true worth can only be measured in the years to come, as we monitor and evaluate their success. Geology doesn’t have all the answers, and can’t shoulder all the responsibility for ensuring that they are achieved in full. We do, however, have a significant role to play. Our research and practice underpins many of the Global Goals, and is crucial for improved disaster risk reduction and tackling climate change. Geologists in industry, research, governments and civil society can all make a difference.

As we leave 2015 and head into 2016, we encourage and invite you all to ask what can you do this coming year to help society move a step closer to seeing the successful implementation of the Sendai Framework, the Global Goals and/or the Paris Climate Change Agreement?‘. A simple first step could be to commit to reading each of them in the first three months of 2016!

We also take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

#EGU16 – Sessions of Interest

EGU2016-700x161The EGU General Assembly 2016 takes place in Vienna between the 17-22 April 2016. Abstract submission is now open for their fantastic range of sessions, with support applications open until 1st December 2015. These offer financial support to early-career scientists and established scientists from low, lower-middle and upper-middle income countries.

We’ve noted some sessions of immediate relevance to our work below:

SDGsEOS15: Geoscience and the Global Goals for Sustainable Development (No Abstract Processing Charges)

In September 2015 the Global Goals for Sustainable Development’ (Global Goals) were formally adopted by member states of the United Nations. Building on the Millennium Development Goals, the Global Goals aim to eradicate global poverty, end unsustainable consumption patterns and facilitate sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection over 15 years (2015-2030). Achieving the Global Goals by 2030 will require many communities to engage, including the geosciences. Many of the themes within the Global Goals are at the heart of geoscience education, research and practice (e.g., sustainable agriculture, water and sanitation, disaster risk reduction and resilient cities, climate change). The geoscience community should be ready and equipped to take a leading role in promoting and facilitating responsible Earth stewardship, for the public good and global development. In this session we welcome abstracts from across all divisions that demonstrate examples of, or ideas for, effective engagement with the Global Goals. Recognising that these goals are at an early stage of implementation, we particularly encourage abstracts that offer (i) creative ideas to improve the involvement of geoscientists in the fight against global poverty, (ii) lessons learnt from engagement in the Millennium Development Goals, (iii) insights into the transitions required within geoscience education, research and practice to support sustainable development, (iv) case studies of meaningful stakeholder participation and technical capacity strengthening, and (v) case studies of public sector/private sector/civil society partnerships to promote sustainable development. Through this session we aim to collate and develop strategies for sustained, effective geoscience engagement in the implementation of the Global Goals. The best format for the session will be determined based on the abstracts submitted, however we believe that a PICO session may be the best option to promote dialogue and interaction.

Last year this session included a dynamic discussion session, posters and short-course on 'natural hazards demonstrations'

Last year this session included a dynamic discussion session, posters and short-course on ‘natural hazards demonstrations’

NH9.3:  Natural Hazards Education, Communications & Science-Policy-Practice Interface

This session addresses knowledge exchange between researchers, the public, policy makers, and practitioners about natural hazards. Although we welcome all contributions in this topic, we are particularly interested in: (i) The communication (by scientists, engineers, the press, civil protection, government agencies, and a multitude other agencies) of natural hazards risk and uncertainty to the general public and other government officials; (ii) Approaches that address barriers and bridges in the science-policy-practice interface that hinder and support application of hazard-related knowledge; (iii) The teaching of natural hazards to university and lower-level students, using innovative techniques to promote understanding. We also are specifically interested in distance education courses on themes related to hazard and risk assessment, and disaster risk management, and in programmes for training in developing countries. We therefore solicit abstracts, particularly dynamic posters, on all aspects of how we communicate and educate the better understanding of natural hazards. The ability to have graphic screens at poster sessions is available (if pre-ordered through EGU), as is a location to put hands-on demonstrations or other material. We welcome both oral and poster presentations, and hope to ensure ample time for discussion.

Read an article reflecting on this session at EGU15

Guatemala City

Guatemala City

NH9.5: Urban Hazards and Risk in Developing Countries | PICO Session

This PICO session will address natural hazards and risk in urban areas of developing countries, including the role of humans in magnifying or decreasing those hazards. In urban areas of developing countries, hazard and risk analysis presents challenges such as (i) data collection, (ii) rapid informal and unplanned development creating large demands on services and infrastructure, (iii) complex natural-human systems, (iv) limited resources and capacity, (v) interaction of natural and anthropogenic hazards including cascading and concurrent hazards and (vi) communication between science, policy and the public. Here, we define “developing countries” as countries/regions with a low to medium human development index, according to the United Nations. We welcome submissions from a range of stakeholders to share their innovative theoretical and practical ideas and success stories of how urban risk can be understood and addressed in cities and towns across developing countries. Presentations will cover a variety of topics including: database and archive construction; modelling, instrumentation and tools; conceptual understanding of multi-hazards and complex natural-technological systems; and communication and policy. We anticipate a lively discussion and the sharing of best practice and novel ideas to reduce the impact of hazard events in urban areas across developing countries. This session is particularly topical given that the internationally-agreed ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ have included (Goal 11) the need to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Other sessions:


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