On the invitation from the UN Major Group for Children and Youth (UN MGCY) and with the support from the Newcastle University London Student Services, I was able to attend the Global Science, Technology & Innovation Conference 2018 (G-STIC) in November 2018 in Brussels. The main aim of the conference is to facilitate research, innovation and implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals were adopted in 2016 with the purpose to combat poverty, promote sustainable development and protect the earth from the harmful effects of climate change. The conference addressed various topics related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which include agroecology for sustainable food systems, economy, education, energy positive communities, geospatial data, health and wastewater as a resource.
Initial impressions and climate change
The conference was attended by various stakeholders, including scientists, innovators, technology providers and policy makers, with the aim to discuss the most effective implementation of the UN SDGs. This great opportunity, in addition to being a valuable learning experience, was the perfect complement to my academic goals. Travelling with my peer student, Vishnuja Shantharupan, made the experience even richer as we could further discuss topics of common interest. One particular presentation that piqued our interest was called “Project Drawdown”. This plan proposed to reverse global warming and focused on our lack of implementation and speed changes, despite being the victims.
Chad Frischmann, the Vice President and Research Director of Drawdown, presented the talk on the reversal of global warming and addressed his main objective to replace energy via fossil fuels, i.e. coal, oil and gas, to reduce technological impact and biosequester (capture and storage of carbon dioxide by biological processes). His passion set the tone for the day and helped sustain my eagerness to engage in the talks following. Additionally, the presence of the Youth Island which served as the central hub for the UN MGCY, provided a platform to ensure meaningful participation and collective engagement amongst the young people who attended the conference. Meeting and listening to these youth speakers on the program was a particular highlight as they inspired me to participate more actively in next year’s conference.
The diffusion of innovation
In addition to the talks and presentations, I came across many elaborate displays in the networking area. To my surprise, the intricate pieces were created using a 3D printer, an innovation I have yet to use. It was intriguing to see the mechanisms of a 3D printer creating a variety of objects. As a memorable keepsake of the entire day, I kept “a hexagon-shaped paper clip”. It also served a valuable reminder of how technology has advanced. My surprises were not limited to 3D printing, how exciting would it be to see tissue papers made out of bamboo? Another one that grabbed my attention.
Since I am searching for my own research topic, the plethora of leaflets on various projects, especially “Too Big to Feed”, by the iPES Food (International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems), helped guide my ideas. I finally settled on carrying out a project on the agri-food sector in Sri Lanka. Coming from a Sri Lankan ethnic background and knowing that the country is currently moving towards becoming an upper-middle income country where agriculture is the most important sector of the economy, I am eager to find out about the level of development related to productivity and profitability in this sector.
The Global Science, Technology & Innovation Conference 2018 was a truly memorable experience. Although attending all three days of the conference would have been amazing, my entire day at the conference provided me with invaluable knowledge and a new-found passion for maintaining sustainable development. The 3-day conference would have helped build greater bridges with co-participants as well as enabling me to come out of my comfort zone and to participate more actively. A greater number of students from Newcastle University would have further made the experience even more interesting, as it would have created the opportunity to discuss and share our individual views and knowledge to a greater extent.
Educating and engaging young people about the UN SDGs will make them aware of global challenges and ignite a passion towards willingness to become change agents. Additionally, a sense of ownership and motivation created via students’ engagement contributes to achieving the goals as per the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Thus, future action plans favourable to SDGs must be brought together at the conference, to encourage worldwide student participation, as ‘young people are the leaders of tomorrow’!
You are the future
My top recommendations to improve the experience for students at the G-STIC conference include:
- Arranging master classes on UN SDGs at undergraduate and postgraduate levels at universities
- Enabling greater linkage between the UN Sustainable Development Agenda and content of modules at the University.
- Creating greater awareness of UN SDGs amongst student population across universities.
- Running campaigns/social events on campus, utilizing banners and circulating regular e-mails about opportunities available for students to contribute to the UN SDGs.
- Promoting student research and engagement with the UN SDGs.
G-STIC is constantly kept active post conference via multiple social media, including Twitter and Facebook, with the youths’ contribution continuing on the WhatsApp group created prior to arrival at the conference. Keeping updated with the current happenings is highly inspirational and beneficial and can be a stepping-stone for students to attain improved connectivity and participation at the next series of G-STIC events.
Therefore, I would highly encourage students to apply for the participation at G-STIC in 2019, especially for those interested in research and innovation for sustainable development.
Ismuruthy Pushparajah is a second year BSc (Hons) International Business Management Student in Newcastle University London