DCU and the Sustainable Development Goals: Recognising and Enhancing our Research Contribution Conference

Recently, DCU hosted a conference about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the UN. It was a one-day conference and workshop that featured talks from scholars across all the faculties of the university. The conference highlighted the research being done in DCU that related to the SDGs and promoted future cross faculty collaboration.

Most of the scholars that were involved in giving talks were leading Principal Investigators (PIs) of the Water Institute. This included the director of the Institute, Prof. Fiona Regan, the current president of DCU, Prof. Brian MacCraith, as well as Prof. Anthony Staines, Dr. James Carton, Prof. Edgar Morgenroth, Prof. Alan Smeaton, Prof. Christine Loscher, Dr. Blanaid White, and Dr. Rob Gillanders. Their projects and research that they discussed were presented in a way that showed how it related to the goal that they were talking about.

The conference was opened by the president of DCU, Prof. Brian MacCraith. He spoke of how important the goals were and how they were in improving the university, our society, and the rest of the world. Prof. MacCraith concluded the opening with a quote that he had heard of before. “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”.

The first goal, No Poverty, and second goal, Zero Hunger, were given by Dr. Deiric O’Broin and Prof. Anne Matthews respectively. The third goal, Good Health and Well-being, was given by a member of the Institute, Prof. Anthony Staines. This goal ensured healthy lives and promotes the well-being of everyone, which is essential to sustainable development. Prof. Staines talked mainly about the importance of well-being, and the problem with the health system in Ireland. “The biggest predictor of your health is the social class of your parents… that sets your health to a disturbingly high level”. He also talked about obesity and how it has increased in the recent years, and about autism in the university, and how DCU is an autism friendly campus.

The next goals, 4 & 5 (Quality Education and Gender Equality) were given by Dr. Charlotte Holland and Prof. Maura McAdam respectively. Goal 6, Clean Water and Sanitation was given by the Director of the Institute Prof. Fiona Regan. This goal emphasizes the importance of clean, accessible water in the world we want to live in. Prof. Regan spoke mainly about the importance of futureproofing clean water for the next generations. She talked about water scarcity, sanitation, wastewater, abstracted water, and access to safe water. “Our mission is to support society by carrying out research & development and generate innovative solutions that help to address major water challenges.” She also mentioned various projects that the Institute has done with regards to this goal, such as membrane technology, autonomous sensors, Nano-water technology, and data analytics to name a few. These projects require the Institute to be multi-disciplinary and collaborative, as it requires people with different expertise. She also spoke about how equally important safe water is in Irelands as it is in a water scarce environment. “Water falling from the sky doesn’t mean we have good policy drinking water at readily available levels” she explained.

Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, was given by Dr. James Carton. This goal highlights how energy is central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity. Dr. Carton’s goals echoed the sub-goals of SDG 7, which were to ensure universal access to energy, increase sustainability, double our improvement efficiency, and sharing technology. He talked a lot about climate change and how it is very much affects not only this goal, but also others. “Energy consumption and transport make up 60 % of greenhouse gasses that contributes to climate change” he stated.

Prof. Edgar Morgenroth presented Goal 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth. This goal states the importance of sustainable economic growth, and how it will need societies to make the conditions that allow people to have quality jobs. Prof. Edgar Morgenroth discussed the goals sub-targets of sustain per economic growth, productivity, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity & innovation, and resource efficiency to name a few. He spoke of what they are doing in the business school of DCU, examples of what they have published, and other such data. “We have to innovate to use our resources efficiently” he stated with reference to how much is being used up in various projects and research.

Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, goal 9, was given by Prof. Alan Smeaton. This goal stresses how investments in infrastructure are in sustainable development.. “It all defaults down to building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation, and fostering innovation” he stated. “Build, promote, and faster innovation” were the mentioned action words in this goal and he went on to explain what he meant for the duration of his presentation.

Goal 10 (Reduced Inequality), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 12 (Responsible consumption), and 13 (Climate Action) were given by Dr. Maeve O’Brien, Prof. Caroline McMullen, Prof. Barry McMullen, and Dr. Diarmuid Torney respectively. Goal 14, Life Below Water, was given by Prof. Christine Loscher. This goal underlines the careful management of water as an essential global resource as a key feature of a sustainable future. It was stated how it is essential to our existence. “Destroying this resource impacts us” she stated. She went on to discussing the sub-targets of this goal such as reducing marine pollution, protect & restore ecosystems, reduce ocean acidification, and overfishing to name a few. She stated that this goal is about “conservation, and being still be able to use the ocean, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.”

Dr. Blanaid White presented the 15th goal, Life on Land. This goal focuses on terrestrial ecosystems, how it is protected, used sustainably, how to reverse any degradation done to the landmass, and any losses in biodiversity. Dr. White went on to discussing what the landmass of Ireland is being used for, with around 2 % of the land is dedicated to roads, 3 % to semi-natural habitats, 15 % is wetlands, forestry is 10 %. The dominant use for the land is agriculture, which makes up 2/3s of the land. This is mainly down to the Irish culture and history. However, how sustainable is this and the impact on SDG 15, biodiversity and habitats? “Unfortunately, it’s not fantastic. Agriculture is still one of the biggest threats to habitat loss and to loss to biodiversity.” Dr. White explained.

SDG 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions was given by Dr. Rob Gillanders. This goal highlights access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels. “I like to think Goal 16 is a foundational one” Dr. Gillanders stated. He spoke corruption and bribery in society, institutions, and governments. This is a key goal as “corruption really affects goals like SDG 1 Poverty”. This goal protects the rule of law, gives people the capacity and strengthens their rights, and people’s ability to participate fully in decision making.

The final goal, SDG 17, Partnerships to achieve the Goal, was given by the current president of DCU, Prof. Brian MacCraith. This goal revitalizes global partnerships for sustainable development. This goal is a core element of goals, as through partnerships and working together, we can achieve the set goals easier. Prof. MacCraith started off with saying that DCU’s mission statement hasn’t changed and that the statement aligns strongly with the topic of SDGs. He said that we place “sustainability at the core of our university”. He went on to say that through partnerships that various referendum changes in the university has been passed, for example the passing of introduction of smoke-free zones on the campus was passed through the coming together of not only student body but also the lecturers and professors of DCU. Prof. MacCraith spoke about SDG 17 in a university context, the goal itself, and finally, where to go from here with the university. He spoke of the importance and our responsibility to future generations to keep the world alive and sustainable for them. Prof. MacCraith spoke about how the university plays an important role with helping in improving the probability of partnerships to complete goals. During the day, there were breaks in between talks where we could go out into the Helix where various projects in the themes of the SDGs were presented. A particular project that was praised by Prof. MacCraith was the Co-cup scheme. This scheme was done with collaboration with Trinity College, Dublin City Council, and 2GoCup Ltd which is an example of how partnerships can be used to complete a goal. “Intersectionality” was the word that Prof. MacCraith used to explain this. “The university prides itself in convergences and interdisciplinary”.

Overall, the day has been an eye-opener. It was amazing to see what the various faculties of the university has been working on in terms of sustainability. It was been better to discover how many of these projects and research has been done cross-faculty. We would like to thank all the professors for their time and their thought-provoking talks. We would also like to thank Roisin Lyons and Rob Gillanders, and everyone else who is involved in organising the event. Hopefully, it has also opened other people’s eyes in the importance in these SDGs and how important it is not only for us, but also for the future generations.

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

― David Brower

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