Geology for Global Development

Sustainable Development Goals

Event Report: UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum 2019

In May 2019, we led an international delegation of early-career Earth scientists to the UN Forum on Science, Technology, and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Download our full event report here.

The annual UN Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) 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. 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).

The 2019 Forum theme was ‘science, technology and innovation for ensuring inclusiveness and equality’, exploring SDGs 4 (quality education), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 10 (reduced inequalities), 13 (tackling climate change), and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

Through engaging, we hoped to increase the visibility of the Earth science community in sustainable development discussions, championing the importance of understanding the natural environment, enhancing public understanding of Earth systems and resources, and building strong professional communities of Earth and environmental scientists. We did this by coordinating and leading an international delegation of early-career Earth scientists, working in diverse contexts (e.g., Central Asia and Latin America). Together we helped to draft formal interventions delivered during plenary sessions, and organised a side event on Earth and Environmental Science Education for Sustainable Development.

We are grateful to the International Union of Geological Sciences and IUGS/UNESCO International Geoscience Programme Project 685 for their support.


GfGD Annual Report 2018

Our 2018 Annual Report highlights our achievements last year, how these link with our strategy, and presents an overview of our finances.

We had many exciting opportunities in 2018 to influence the global sustainable development agenda and represent geoscience in places where it otherwise would not have been included. For example, we contributed a commissioned paper to the 2nd International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice Report outlining how geoscience graduates can be integrated into sustainability programmes. We also attended the 3rd UN Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs at the UN Headquarters in New York, advocating for the importance of geoscience in dialogue about cities, energy, water, and responsible production and consumption.

Our 6th Annual Conference focused on water and sustainable development and was opened by Lord Ian Duncan, the UK Government Minister for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Building on this theme, we launched a new international programme, partnering with The Eleanor Foundation to evaluate the sustainability of water programmes in Tanzania. We generated a small surplus in 2018, allowing us to commit to this new project.

We published a briefing note with other UK partners to demonstrate how geoscience is critical to the SDGs, and continued to invest in our network of University Groups around the UK that collectively engage hundreds of geoscience students through talks, humanitarian and development mapathons, conference visits and fundraising activities.

Download our 2018 Annual Report to read more.
You can access all of our Annual Reports on our website.

Flooding in some of the world’s most at-risk cities

Flooding in some of the world’s most at-risk cities

What are cities doing to mitigate rising sea-levels? What are the numbers behind the related challenges? In our August ‘Coast’ month, Heather Britton focuses on sea-level rise in the coastal cities of Jakarta, Lagos and London, where barriers and new islands are likely proposed solutions, even if they seem inadequate. [Editor’s note: This post reflects Heather’s personal opinions. These opinions may not reflect official policy positions of Geology for Global Development.]

It is safe to say that the impacts of climate change will be felt in some parts of the world more than others, and that in many regions these impacts are already making themselves apparent. One of the inevitable consequences of global warming is rising sea levels, caused by the dual effects of melting ice caps and the expansion of water volume in the oceans with increased temperatures, amongst other factors. In this week’s blog, I intend to focus on three cities which are under threat from flooding due to sea-level change, and look at how they are coping with the problem of sinking into the sea.


Jakarta is the world’s fastest sinking city, sinking on average 15 cm every year.

Jakarta is the world’s fastest sinking city, sinking on average 15 cm every year. Situated next to the Java sea, and home to 30 million people, there is a very real danger that this city will soon be completely submerged. The source of the problem is not, however, purely sea-level rise, but also to the fact that the city itself is sinking. This is not a purely geological issue and relates to a lack of sources of clean drinking water in the capital. The surface drinking water sources are too polluted to be considered safe places to drink, and a significant number of people are forced to dig their own illegal wells in order to access the cleaner, groundwater reservoirs. Draining the aquifers on which the city rests is causing the gradual subsidence of the region, but until clean drinking water is available to even the poorest of Jakarta’s residents, the problem is likely to continue into the future.

Current measures to combat the flooding are minimal, although various government officials have tried and failed to make a difference, for example by beginning a clean-up of waterways in the city and setting out plans to develop at least a rudimentary sewage system. The city’s most ambitious move has been the construction of the city’s coastal wall (which will likely be submerged itself by 2030). This has been constructed in collaboration with the Dutch government in a project called the National Capital Integrated Coastal Development program. A further idea associated with this project is to put an even larger sea wall off the coast of Indonesia, essentially cutting off Jakarta from the rest of the Java sea. Critics, however, say that without solving the problems that are leading to flooding within the city, building larger and larger barriers to keep out the sea is likely to be ineffective.


A large-scale idea to grow the economy in Lagos is to create a new financial centre, on a new ‘island’ called Eko Atlantic.

Lagos (Portuguese for lakes) is one of the most populous cities in Africa. Climate change has contributed to extreme storms, rainfall and rising sea levels, aggravating a flooding problem that has severely affected this country for decades. The people of Lagos are living on what is essentially a series of islands. Much of the city was built on top of swampland, which has since been reclaimed and settled, destroying one of the barriers which would have protected the city from the ever-encroaching ocean. Poor infrastructural planning has meant that most of the ground surface in the city is impenetrable, and water simply has nowhere to go but remain on the surface, taking days to drain away and leaving thousands impacted by flooding year upon year. One example of this is the terrible flooding that the city experienced in 2012.

A large-scale idea to grow the economy in Lagos is to create a new financial centre, on a new ‘island’ called Eko Atlantic. Plans for this island have, to some extent, considered the flooding risk – the centre will be surrounded by a sea wall – but this would likely worsen the flooding situation elsewhere. The effect on the poor, who make up 70% of the city’s population, would be greatest, as the slums of the city sit in the city’s lagoon regions where floodwater is most likely to pool and cause the greatest disruption to residents.

The Thames barrier in London, Stevebidmead on pixabay.

When constructed, it was thought that this barrier might be closed every 2 – 3 years. The current rate of closure is currently double this, at 6 – 7 closures a year, and this is only likely to increase.


During the last ice age, the North of the UK was weighed down under the weight of the ice that was amassed there. After this ice melted, isostatic rebound has resulted in the uplift of Scotland by ~ 1 mm, accompanied by the sinking of the south, including the UK capital city of London.

The Thames Barrier was constructed in response to the flood risk in London and was made operational in 1982. The structure is designed to protect the city against 1 in 100-year flooding events. When storm surges combine with high tide, waters can rise by up to 2 m, making this one of the regular causes of flooding in the city. When constructed, it was thought that this barrier might be closed every 2 – 3 years. The current rate of closure is currently double this, at 6 – 7 closures a year, and this is only likely to increase. With the impact of climate change, sea levels could have risen up to 115 cm by 2100, if emissions continue at the current rate.

There is hope that this prediction will not be the case, however. The UK has committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and is the first country to do so. This demonstrates the ambition to combat climate change and minimise warming, but many argue that a 2050 target is not ambitious enough to prevent most of the adverse impacts that we are already beginning to see materialising around the world today.

Cities are going to have to adapt to increased flood risk if they are to survive in a world that has warmed by 1.5 degrees Celsius or greater, and these examples are just a few of those that are at risk. In achieving UN Sustainability Goals 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and 9 (Industry, innovation and Infrastructure), flood adaptation measures will be more essential than ever before.

**This article expresses the personal opinions of the author (Heather Britton). These opinions may not reflect an official policy position of Geology for Global Development. **

Careers in Geoscience-for-Development: Some Tips and Resources

Careers in Geoscience-for-Development: Some Tips and Resources

One of the most frequently asked questions put to me is ‘how does a geoscientist develop a career linked to international aid or sustainable development?’. Here are some thoughts, recently curated for the 2018 GfGD Annual Conference report, together with examples of how GfGD’s work helps to mobilise geoscientists to engage in sustainable development.

  1. Geoscience matters, is critical to progress towards sustainable development, but is not always recognised. While geoscientists are critical to delivering many aspects of the SDGs, this is not always clear and understood by others engaged in development work. Geoscientists have many relevant skills, and their knowledge of Earth systems means they are well placed to be at the centre of sustainable development decision making, and not on the fringes. In 2018, GfGD were invited to submit a report to inform the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice Report, highlighting how geoscientists could fill a gap in professionals trained to engage in sustainable development. This report will be published later this year, and we hope that it will note the important role that geoscientists could make to sustainability efforts, raising awareness among other communities of geoscientists skills and understanding .
  2. Research into natural hazards can directly contribute to improved sustainable development decision-making. Photo Credit: Joel Gill

    Two pathways, both equally important. While there isn’t a straightforward career path or graduate scheme into ‘geoscience for sustainability’, we note two general, broad pathways that help geoscientists to put sustainable development at the heart of their career. Both are important and can result in exciting opportunities to see positive change. (i) Work for a traditional geoscience employer (e.g., energy, mining, environmental services, academia, risk modelling, geological surveys), championing the values and ethics GfGD promote. You can devote your career to supporting sustainable development in all the traditional geoscience career routes (academia, industry, public sector), being ambassadors for our values and ethics. For example, championing positive and respectful partnerships that build local science, technology, and innovation capacity, promoting good practice, engaging with geoethics, and taking part in capacity building. Our 2017 papers on ‘Geology and the SDGs’ and ‘Geoscience Engagement in Global Development Frameworks’ (both open access) give examples of how engaging in traditional geoscience sectors can help deliver the SDGs. (ii) The second approach is to work for a non-traditional geoscience employer (e.g., NGOs, DFID, development think tanks), but be prepared to invest in additional skills and knowledge to serve effectively in these roles. There are few jobs in the development sector for those with a pure geoscience background but if you combine your environmental understanding with further expertise in logistics, policy, communications, social vulnerability etc (see #4 and #5 for tips as to how to do this), you could be a very attractive candidate. While geoscience will inform and strengthen you in such roles, it is unlikely that your tasks will involve the day-to-day application of geoscience.

  3. Be in it for the long-term. Getting to where you want to be may take time and involve a winding path. Think strategically about what postgraduate courses may suit your future career plans. For example, ask if there are options to do your dissertation overseas, take modules from other departments, or do placements with those working in development contexts (so you build your network of contacts, see #6). Partnerships with those in the Global South can also take time to develop and build trust. Prove that you treat partners with respect, fulfil your obligations to send them data and reports if they help you with your dissertation. Recognise that it can take time to develop and mature meaningful partnerships.
  4. Invest in new skills and ways of working. The skills required to make an effective and positive contribution to sustainable development are often missing from the traditional education and continued professional development of geologists. Examples include communicating across cultures and disciplines, diplomacy, community mobilisation, social science research methods (e.g., how to do a good semi-structured interview, and how can that data enrich your understanding of water resources or hazard impacts). Demonstrating an understanding of why these are important in development contexts, and some competence in these skills, may help to boost your employability in some roles. In 2016, GfGD published a book chapter on ‘Building Good Foundations – Skills for Effective Engagement in International Development’ that outlines these skills (email for a PDF copy). We believe these skills are vital in many geoscience roles, embedding them into our conferences and workshops (coordinating training at international events in Tanzania and South Africa).
  5. Read widely around development challenges. Development challenges (e.g., access to water, food security, energy poverty, climate change, disaster risk reduction, urbanisation) are rarely solved by one discipline. We get a good understanding of technical geoscience in our degrees but miss out on opportunities to interact with and learn from other disciplines (e.g., engineers, geographers, social scientists, health professionals). Careers outside of the traditional geoscience industries will require you to demonstrate a broader understanding of sustainable development than just the contribution of geoscience. This is a reason GfGD conferences are interdisciplinary with speakers from economics, social sciences, engineering, and public policy. There are texts relating to disaster risk reduction, water management, natural resources, climate change and urban development that will present new ideas from human geography or the social sciences. If another department includes modules on relevant development challenges, but from different perspectives, email and ask for a reading list and start to broaden your understanding.
  6. The GfGD Annual Conference is a fantastic networking opportunity for geoscientists.

    Network, Network, Network. Use any opportunity you can to network – including in person and through appropriate use of social media (e.g., Twitter). The latter can be a good way to find jobs and learning materials and introduce yourself to people in development. Keep online accounts professional and active. Look out for free events and talks at and outside of universities. Organisations such as ODI have free events where you can attend in person or remotely via a webinar. GfGD have previously facilitated networking meetings, arranged placements, and provided conference bursaries and hope to develop further opportunities in 2019.


Do you have any further tips or thoughts on mobilising and equipping geoscientists to contribute to sustainable development? We’d love to hear them, so please do use the comments below!