Academic journal article Australian Journal of Adult Learning

University Engagement in Achieving Sustainable Development Goals: A Synthesis of Case Studies from the SUEUAA Study

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Adult Learning

University Engagement in Achieving Sustainable Development Goals: A Synthesis of Case Studies from the SUEUAA Study

Article excerpt

Introduction

Globally, our cities are facing a range of interconnected challenges, with issues spanning the natural environment, economy and social realms. Banerjee (2003, p. 144) suggests that human progress and economic development 'has come at a price; global warming, ozone depletion, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, air and water pollution are all global problems with wide-ranging impacts on human populations'. However, there is an increasing divergence between the challenges facing the Global North and South, with areas of the South often experiencing the most extreme instances with higher levels of unemployment, ill-health and poverty, and issues such as migration placing increasing demands on infrastructure. In addition, those countries experiencing highest rates of inequality are further made vulnerable to the consequences of climate change with flooding, drought and large scale extreme weather events, such as Super Typhoon Mangkhut in 2018. These negatively impacting access to power, damaging housing and infrastructure, and triggering landslides and flooding. It can also have a devastating effect on food production. These issues significantly impact the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of the population.

As the challenges facing the Global South are diverse and complex, with the drivers of poverty multifaceted, resolving these issues requires a complex and interconnecting system of activities. One way to understand and address these issues is through a sustainability approach. There are several different interpretations of this approach, some highlighting the importance of sustainable development for social development (Stenn, 2017) or as a consensus between economic, environmental and social matters (Sachs, 2012). The most commonly used definition of sustainable development comes from the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) report in 1987, 'Our Common Future'. In this, sustainable development is defined as 'development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs' (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987). Brundtland, the then chairperson of WCED, acknowledged the present issues of sustainability of non-renewable resources (fossil fuels and minerals), extinction of ecosystems and loss of plant and animal species.

There are significant criticisms of sustainable development. Some critique it for its roots in colonialism, particularly with the Global North setting the definitions for poverty and potentially disempowering rural populations in the Global South (Banerjee, 2003), and its lack of clarity as to what is at the root of sustainability measures (Byrch, 2007; Escobar, 1995). In terms of the latter, many scholars have argued that the core aim of sustainability is to secure economic growth without environmental destruction, leading to a question as to whether economic growth is the subject of sustainability rather than the environment (Escobar, 1995; Redclift, 1987). Acknowledging the complexity of the term, John Blewitt suggests we look at sustainable development as 'a collage or a kaleidoscope of shapes, colours and patterns that change constantly as we ourselves change' (Blewitt, 2008), and therefore to make sense of the shapes in the best way we can, in the lens we chose. To develop a solution for the varied and ingrained issues facing our ecosystems, economy, environment and populations requires multiple voices working together to make sense of these shifting patterns. Importantly, ensuring that we listen and empower voices from differing groups, from academics, industry, government, but also in the communities most affected by these issues.

The importance of sustainability in developing solutions of global challenges has been adopted by the United Nations (UN), first through the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) (2002-2015), and now with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (2015-2030). …

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