Laura Raaska is the Director of the Division for Biosciences, Health and Environmental Research at the Academy of Finland.
In 2015, UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The goals set out in the Agenda apply to all countries, including developed countries. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also cover environmental priorities, which were missing from the previously agreed goals. The SDGs are very ambitious and address many different areas of life. The 17 SDGs comprise 169 targets.
In 2019, the UN estimated that progress on the goals has been too slow. It highlighted the areas that need the most urgent attention and for which more rapid results are expected. These included wellbeing and health, a fair economy, food systems and nutrition, carbon neutrality of energy, development of urban areas and global ecosystem services.
Finnish public sector has produced more than 2,000 pledges to promote sustainable development
Finland’s national strategy for sustainable development was reformed in 2013 with a view to developing a strategy that would be more effective in steering development towards a more sustainable direction. The National Commission on Sustainable Development therefore decided to introduce ‘Society’s Commitment to Sustainable Development’, a mechanism through which individuals, companies and other public-sector actors could make their own concrete operational commitments to the shared goals. This rather different approach has attracted a lot of attention abroad. To date, more than 2,000 commitments from all sectors of Finnish society have been made.
Academy of Finland considers sustainability in both research funding and administration
The Academy of Finland made its first commitments to sustainable development in 2015. The impetus to do so stemmed from the requirement recorded in the Academy’s performance agreement with the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture to support sustainable development. The Academy’s commitments included, in particular, a commitment related to research funding for programme activities and a commitment related to the Academy’s administrative activities. For example, the Academy sought to reduce business travel, encourage the use of public transport and increase teleworking.
In 2018, the Academy Board extended the commitment related to research funding to cover all Academy funding opportunities. The Academy does not use sustainability as a funding criterion, but encourages researchers to pay attention to the objectives of sustainable development and to promoting their implementation in their own research as part of responsible science. However, there is no obligation to account for how sustainable development is promoted; in many research topics, sustainability objectives are not the primary focus.
Applicants asked to describe how the research addresses sustainability: emphasis on wellbeing, health and equality
In the September 2018 call, the Academy asked applicants for the first time to describe how their research responds to the Sustainable Development Goals. The applicants understood the question quite well. More than 90% commented on the role of their research from the point of view of achieving the SDGs. We have analysed the answers of those who received Academy Research Fellow funding in relation to the sustainable development goals set out in the ‘The Finland we want by 2050’ societal commitment.
The figure below presents the answers in relation to eight of Finland’s sustainable development objectives. All sustainability goals were represented in the responses. Of these, the promotion of wellbeing and health was seen as an absolute priority.
This autumn, we will conduct the same analysis for applicants and funding recipients who participated in the September 2019 call. The results will be reported to the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, and the Academy Board will deliberate on the content of the next commitment based on the results. The current commitment is for 2019–2021.
Picture 1. Commitment 2050: Academy Research Fellow funding recipients
- Analysis of which sustainable development goals identified in ’The Finland we want by 2050’ vision paper the funded Academy Research Fellows’ (n = 65) research supports.
- Responses analysed based on which goals the application concerned
- Applications could include several goals
- Applications recorded for a goal if the term was mentioned in some form (e.g. ’sustainable society’ recorded under the goal ’sustainable society and local communities’).
- Clearly most mentions for ’equal prospects for wellbeing, in 27 applications).