Geology for Global Development

Dr Joel C. Gill

Joel is the Founder/Director of Geology for Global Development (@Geo_Dev) an organisation working to support geologists to make a sustainable contribution to the fight against global poverty. He is an interdisciplinary researcher, with a PhD in geography (natural hazards), and research interests in multi-hazard frameworks, disaster risk reduction, rural water projects, and sustainable development. This work has taken him to Chile, China, Guatemala, India, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Joel is currently based at the British Geological Survey, and tweets at @JoelCGill.

Event Report: UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum 2018

Last month GfGD Director, Dr Joel Gill, attended the UN Annual Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With few other, if any, geoscience organisations in attendance we believed it to be important for Geology for Global Development to engage and ensure a voice for geoscience at this significant event. 

**Event Overview**

UN General Assembly resolution 70/1 on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for an annual science, technology and innovation (STI) Forum to discuss cooperation around thematic areas for the implementation of the SDGs. This is expressed in an annual gathering at the UN headquarters in New York, with focused discussion around a subset of the SDGs.

The event this year discussed the science required for “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”, including SDGs 6 (water and sanitation), 7 (energy), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 15 (life on land).

The STI Forum aimed to facilitate interactions, networks and partnerships to identify and examine needs and gaps in technologies, scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building to support the SDGs. The forum is attended by member states (official national representatives, civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, and United Nations entities (e.g., UNESCO, UN Water).

This was the first time Geology for Global Development has attended this meeting, having previously engaged in a UN scientific meeting around the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction in Geneva in 2016. Given the topics being discussed, and our commitment to ensuring the geoscience community is engaged and actively contributing to the SDGs (and processes around them), we believed it to be of paramount importance that the geoscience community attended and contributed. Given our leadership on geoscience and the SDGs, we made it a priority to attend and ensure a clear voice for geoscience at the heart of global development decision-making.

**How and what did we contribute to this meeting?**

The first thing we had to get to grips with, is understanding HOW to contribute to a meeting like this, different from the typical science conference. The forum included (i) formal panel discussions, followed by interventions from the floor, and (ii) side events. The latter generally allowed for more free-flowing dialogue and unscripted questions from the floor after a panel discussion. The former were a complex mix of science and diplomacy. Each SDG being discussed had a formal panel discussion, with interventions (largely scripted) afterwards to represent the perspectives of a stakeholder group. These interventions were generally made by member states (national representatives), with only a handful throughout the forum from non-member state groups.

Through collaborating with the UN Major Group on Children and Youth (UN MGCY), I was able to shape some intervention statements, and communicate geoscience messages at the meeting. UN MGCY are the UN General Assembly-mandated, official, formal and self-organised space for children and youth (under 30 [Editor: -ish!]), supporting their contribution to and engagement in certain intergovernmental and allied policy processes at the UN (such as this STI Forum). They act as a bridge between young people and the UN system in order to ensure their right to meaningful participation is realised.

By working in coalition with such stakeholder groups it is possible to construct strong, interdisciplinary interventions, that have greater resonance (and chance of being heard) than the voice of an individual or single-interest community. These interventions are captured in the meeting record and can eventually inform other gatherings, such as this week’s High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, attended by ministers from around the world.

UN MGCY at the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, UN HQ (2018), with GfGD Director at the back (left).

So while the interventions made by UN MGCY were not wholly focused on the geoscience (not a bad thing, interdisciplinarity is essential) – this mechanism ensures perspectives from geoscientists, engineers, economists etc are integrated and heard. Here are some of our contributions to the official interventions:

SDG 7 – Energy. Editing was made to ensure clarity around the provision of energy to the poorest and most vulnerable.

SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities. Text was added which emphasised the role of (i) improved collection, management and integration of environmental, build environment and societal data, and (ii) that the spatial extent of cities does not cease at the surface, and that we encourage cities to develop underground master-plans, based on 3D subsurface models, to strengthen urban resilience as outlined in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

SDG 12 – Sustainable Consumption and Production. Text was added which brought attention to the
expected increase in demand for mineral resources as green technologies are more widely deployed.

In addition we made the following contributions to the less formal side events:

  • Smart Cities. In the context of a session primarily focused on the surface of cities, I emphasised the importance of the sub-surface to urban development was raised, highlighting its relevance to resource management, integrated spatial planning, and disaster risk reduction.
  • Capacity Building. In the context of a discussion about how to build science capacity in policy makers, I noted the importance of training and engaging with scientists to improve the communication flow between these two stakeholder groups. I emphasised the need to build the capacity of the scientific community through UN institutions, and to strengthen understanding of science for policy.
  • Disaster Risk Reduction. In the context of a session which primarily addressed DRR and
    hydrometeorological hazards, I noted the importance of geological hazards, holistic (or ‘multi-hazard’)
    disaster risk reduction that considers all relevant hazards, and dialogue between geologists,
    hydrologists, meteorologists and others.
  • Planetary Boundaries. In the context of a session emphasising green energy and transport technologies, smart technology, and ICT for development, I emphasised the need to consider current and future natural resource requirements. While others noted the need to protect water and air, the need for mineral resources was largely missing from all discussions at the meeting. I gave the example of coltan and batteries for car electrification, referencing this report by the BGS.

Alongside these interventions, the event also provided important opportunities for networking and sharing information about Geology for Global Development, and learning about the United Nations and how to engage effectively.

**What’s Next**

Given the topics being discussed (water, energy, cities, disaster risk reduction, planetary boundaries), the lack of geoscience engagement and attendance was notable, and disappointing. I have sympathy for those expressing frustration that general discussions on expanding green technologies ignore the question of accessing natural resources, or discussions on cities ignore the subsurface. It is not possible to have resilient and sustainable urban environments without comprehensively understanding the subsurface, given (for example) it’s interaction with surface infrastructure or the movement of water and contaminants between the surface and subsurface.

Cities: Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development (GfGD Annual Conference, 2017)

However, if as disciplinary specialists in these aspects of global challenges we don’t prioritise attendance and engagement as part of our knowledge exchange and policy support responsibilities it is understandable to some extent that these factors are ignored. We need policy makers who understand (geo)science, but we also need scientists and scientific organisations passionate about policy.

Greater geoscience leadership on this theme is needed, with international geoscience organisations recognising their social and professional responsibility to give a voice to geoscience at these meetings. Geology for Global Development will be working to facilitate this over the coming months, building relationships with other national and international organisations to provide a stronger and clearer voice to the international geoscience community on sustainable development. We’ll be sharing more at our next annual conference (details coming soon). We’ll also be exploring how we can encourage greater engagement of our network with the United Nations, including through the UN Major Group on Children and Youth (for those in that category).

Discussion at this forum is now feeding into the annual High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, which started earlier this week. Ministers from around the world are gathering to examine progress towards the SDGs.

Demonstrating the Importance of Geoscience in the Transformation Towards Sustainable and Resilient Societies

Next week the UN Annual Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will discuss the science required for “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”. Discussions will focus on SDGs 6 (water and sanitation), 7 (energy), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 15 (life on land).  

This forum will bring together member states, civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, and United Nations entities. It aims to facilitate interactions, networks and partnerships to identify and examine needs and gaps in technologies, scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building to support the SDGs. We believe it is critical that the global geoscience community is represented, and will therefore attend and ensure a clear voice for geoscience at the heart of global development decision-making.

The natural environment is a key pillar of sustainable development. Research, innovation and improved communication and use of geological science (or ‘geoscience’) is therefore essential to delivering sustainable and resilient societies. For example,

  • Mapping and Understanding the Sub-Surface. In a sustainable and resilient society, interactions between the surface and sub-surface are understood and integrated into urban planning to ensure that development is safe, hazards are mitigated against, and environmental impact is minimised. Geological maps, geophysical surveys, and the integration of geoscience data to develop ground models can generate an understanding of the sub-surface and support effective urban planning.
  • Resource Management. In a sustainable and resilient society, everyone has sufficient and reliable access to energy, clean water, and the materials required for sustainable, resilient cities. This requires the identification and careful management of natural resources, including water, minerals, and building aggregates. The transition to renewable energies, such as solar panels and wind turbines, and electric transport will require a wide range of minerals, such as cadmium, lithium, molybdenum, selenium, and tellurium, as well as rare earth elements.
  • Waste Management. In a sustainable and resilient society, less pollutants are generated, and those that are generated are better managed to reduce the environmental impact of society. Pollutants can take many forms, and these can impact both the surface and sub-surface. For example, while mining may be necessary to supply the materials needed for green technologies, this can generate large amounts of waste which needs to be managed carefully to avoid chemicals leaching into groundwater.
  • Reducing Disaster Risk. In a sustainable and resilient society, the focus is on reducing risk (and preventing disasters), rather than accepting or increasing risk (and responding to disasters). Resilient communities, water supplies, energy infrastructure, and terrestrial ecosystems require effective disaster risk reduction. Research on the processes and potential impacts of earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, landslides, subsidence, and other geological hazards can help stakeholders to understand and reduce risk.

Sustainable and resilient societies, therefore, depend on access to geoscience information and the expertise to interpret this, as well as meaningful engagement by the geoscience community. The networks and partnerships being developed at the UN next week, to identify how scientific cooperation and innovation can support the SDGs, need to include geoscientists working across a broad array of specialisms.

Since the SDGs were agreed in 2015, we have been at the forefront of mobilising and equipping the geological science community to engage and help deliver this vision. We are proud to continue our international leadership on this topic, and will be a champion of the geosciences next week at the UN Headquarters.

Follow updates on Twitter – #GfGDatUNHQ

Read more about this event: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/18157Forum_Concept_Note_April_26_draft.pdf

Read more about Geology and the Sustainable Development Goals: http://www.episodes.org/view/1835

Photo Highlights – 5th GfGD Annual Conference

Kindly hosted and supported by the Geological Society of London, our 5th Annual Conference had the theme “Cities – Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development”. The event gathered more than 130 participants, with diverse speakers from the public and private sectors, academia and civil society! Find resources online . Thanks to Jesse Zondervan (Plymouth University) for taking and editing photographs.

GfGD Annual Conference 2017 – Cities and Sustainable Development

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

Since the Sustainable Development Goals were agreed in 2015, Geology for Global Development has been at the forefront of mobilising and equipping the geoscience community to engage and make a positive contribution.

In 2015, we organised the first major gathering of geologists/Earth scientists anywhere in the world to explore our role in delivering the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Over 120 geologists came together to consider how our science and skills can help ensure the successful achievement of these 17 ambitious goals, aiming to end global poverty, fight injustice and inequality, and ensure environmental sustainability by 2030. Our 2016 conference had the themes of ‘best practice’ and ‘personal engagement’. We explored the skills and topical understanding required to deliver high quality, high-impact development projects, and practical projects and opportunities to get involved and help achieve the SDGs.

This Friday we hold our 5th Annual Conference, turning our attention to cities and considering the role of geoscience in realising the SDGs in urban environments. There are unique opportunities presented by cities, as well as significant challenges associated with urban development.

Over the past 12 months I have had the opportunity to visit culturally and economically significant cities across three continents, with notable visits to cities in eastern and southern Africa – Nairobi, Kampala, Lusaka and Dar es Salaam. These cities are growing, rapidly. Dar es Salaam is the third fastest growing city in Africa, with some projections suggesting that it will be one of the 20 largest cities (by population) by the middle of this century.

The United Nations note that:

“Cities are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity, social development and much more.
At their best, cities have enabled people to advance socially and economically.”

But what do cities ‘at their best’ look like? How does (or perhaps, how should) geoscience inform urban planning, development, and resilience? What are the primary successes and mistakes of past and current urban development that could support Dar es Salaam and other future megacities? These are some of the questions we’ll be exploring at our conference, with the aim of catalysing ideas for urban geoscience research, innovation and training tools.

Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) – September 2017

The geoscience community have a significant responsibility and exciting opportunity to work with other disciplines to promote sustainable cities and strong stewardship of the Earth. Our conference will bring together ambassadors from multiple diverse disciplines and sectors, together with 140+ geoscientists, to explore these themes and better understand our role in urban development that strengthens society and best serves future generations.

Limited tickets remain (available here), and you can follow the conference on Twitter using #GfGDConf.