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(REF GS23) GeoScience for the SDGs: Earth systems span national borders and play out over timescales well beyond the 2030 horizon of the SDGs.
September 23, 2021 @ 3:00 pm - 6:00 pm PDT
Geoscience for the SDGs
The United Nations 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals represent the global strategy for achieving a better future for all. Yet, the Earth subsystems required to support the SDGs have been largely ignored. The agenda overlooks the spatial boundaries and geophysical processes of Earth subsystems such as river basins and coastal deltas, and the consequences of environmental feedbacks on the SDGs remain a key knowledge gap. The problem stems in part from the national-level focus of SDG monitoring and reporting, which is of course a matter of pragmatism in global policy, but it is compounded by the lack of geoscience in the SDG debate.
Excellent progress has been made in evaluating how the pursuit of certain SDGs might affect others globally and across different socio-economic contexts, these assessments are invariably performed with countries as the units of analysis instead of Earth subsystems. Recent research has expanded to account for the SDG interactions between countries that are embedded in global trade, but the interactions among SDGs, as well as the overall success of the 2030 Agenda, may look very different if one considers different environmental contexts, different system boundaries, longer timescales, or indeed other indicators beyond those defined by the 2030 Agenda.
Take, for example, river basins and coastal deltas. Coastal deltas are hugely important places to focus on in order to meet the SDGs, being home to more than 5% of the world’s population despite accounting for less than 0.5% of the world’s land area. Such high population density leads to substantial pressure on environmental resources, as well as challenges in providing adequate housing, ensuring good sanitation, and maintaining health and well-being. Deltas are also hugely important for global food production because of their flat lands, fertile soils and historically abundant freshwater resources. But deltas are precariously positioned between upstream basin development pressures and rising sea levels, and consideration of this Earth-system context will be key to any successful implementation of the SDGs in these places.
The river basins that drain to coastal deltas often span multiple countries, and downstream inhabitants depend on upstream freshwater and other resources provided by the river.
Policymakers need to think longer term and across scales. The processes relevant for Earth systems span national borders and play out over timescales well beyond the 2030 horizon of the SDGs. Focusing on SDG interactions in the here and now could blur important future implications, both ‘here’ and in other places.
Limitations to the national-level structure of SDG monitoring and reporting must be addressed. Better spatial and temporal resolution of SDG indicator data will help5, but this alone will not suffice.
Africa-EU Infrastructure for Geoscience (AEIG)
The “Africa-EU Infrastructure for Geoscience (AEIG)” initiative can provide a bridge between key policy objectives in Europe and Africa. This initiative has been constructed within the framework of the Africa-Europe Radio Astronomy Program (AERAP). The Africa-EU Infrastructure for Geoscience (AEIG) will provide:
• Human capital development including designated funding for the development of young women
geoscientists and young researchers.
• Synergies between African and European geological surveys and research consortia.
• Support for water security, agricultural sustainability, energy security, raw materials
availability especially with regards the critical minerals necessary for decarbonisation, the blue
economy, and community safety from geohazards including climate change and the Green Deal.
• Critical information for global, national region and local government policymakers, land-use
and natural resources management and regulators;
• Digital and sensor infrastructure for geo-and related sciences.
The European Commission’s Africa Strategy calls for partnerships to achieve common goals is in line
with UN SDG 17, “partnerships for the goals” and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 for socio-economic
transformation. The foundation for this strong and enduring partnership needs to be rooted in our
shared Earth, informed by the knowledge of what science and technology can bring. Geoscience is
required to justly achieve the green transition and the digital transformation while delivering the United
Nations Sustainable Development Goals for our planet home.
Viable solutions to ensure carbon neutrality in Europe by 2050 must be based on accurate, reliable
Earth-related data. Strategically collecting the vast amounts of necessary data will involve developing
and constructing cutting-edge analytical platforms and ICT infrastructure. It will also require a step-
change to empower African and European citizens to engage in citizen projects throughout our two
continents. The production of young new geoscientists, particularly women, with data analysis and
management skills together with an engaged public will accelerate sustainable growth, create new jobs,
and provides the promise of more virtual mobility through the availability of the new data.
Beyond the direct data and related societally important knowledge gained an AU-EU geoscience
partnership would also yield exciting new insights in fields such as geodesy and geodynamics and is
likely to influence existing fundamental scientific paradigms in myriad other fields from astronomy to
An AU-EU partnership in geoscience can be leveraged through the expansion of the existing cooperation
between the Organization of African Geological Surveys (OAGS) and the European Geological Surveys
(EGS) such as PanAfGeo which has been ongoing since 2016. iCRAG, which is a large multi-institution
the research group working across the full spectrum of earth science and sustainability topics in both
Europe and Africa is ideally placed and actively seeking to aid in ensuring an AU-EU partnership
delivers on goals critical to addressing the primary challenges outlined in the European Commission’s
comprehensive strategy with Africa.