It’s news to no one that the world has a long way to go in achieving a prosperous and sustainable future. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted important health and social inequities, the climate crisis has reached a critical point, and the gap between the rich and poor is growing significantly. To help guide the world to achieve global peace and prosperity, the United Nations (UN) created the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Adopted by the UN in 2015, the SDGs are a global call to action to ensure that we can achieve a sustainable future by 2030. They are composed of 17 interconnected goals that balance social, economic, and environmental sustainability. The year 2030 is an ambitious target that requires concerted action at all levels within and between nations.
Universities play an essential role in achieving the SDGs by providing education, conducting research, and engaging in both community-level and global partnerships. In addition to the contributions of universities as institutions, the student body plays a valuable role in driving the change we need to achieve the SDGs.
How U of T is advancing the SDGs
Higher education helps provide future leaders with both the knowledge and tools necessary to create meaningful change. Through education, universities provide students with a better comprehension of the SDGs as well as relevant training and networking opportunities geared toward SDG solutions. Through research, universities engage students in the process of conducting interdisciplinary projects that may engage stakeholders, identify important gaps, and reveal new SDG solutions.
Furthermore, events led by universities can connect members of local communities with students and faculty to raise public awareness about the SDGs. In 2020, U of T conducted Institutional Strategic Initiatives (ISI) workshops that brought together over 120 participants from the U of T tri-campus community, including faculty, graduate students, and trainees from multiple disciplines.
These workshops began the brainstorming process of identifying practical steps the university can take to advance progress on the SDGs. U of T is currently building on these initial workshops by developing an ISI proposal to further develop current research initiatives, provide more educational opportunities, and generate more partnerships to advance SDGs at U of T.
How students are helping advance the SDGs
Recognizing the inequalities and obstacles that we face in achieving a sustainable future, students have been advocating for change at U of T. For example, student activism, including participation in fossil fuel divestment marches, played an important role in U of T’s decision to fully divest from fossil fuels by 2030.
Student activism has been integral in promoting action on and recognition for important sustainability-related issues at U of T. Recognizing the student body as important stakeholders and agents of change, the Student Advisory Committee (SAC) was created as a part of the ISI proposal development process.
The SAC is composed of undergraduate and graduate students from diverse faculties across U of T’s three campuses. Working alongside the faculty-led Steering Committee, the SAC has thus far participated in various brainstorming sessions to identify the SDG strategy’s priorities, research agenda, and action plan.
Taking an action-oriented approach to achieve the SDGs
Although pledges and proposals act as blueprints that guide action, student engagement and initiatives drive ideas into action. The ultimate goal of the ISI proposal is to ensure that students and faculty have access to the training and resources they need to bring innovative solutions to light. Therefore, funds secured by the proposal can be leveraged to support faculty and trainee research as well as to provide networking and training opportunities.
Since students are important stakeholders, it is essential that they are involved in the ISI proposal development process. Students can share their insights on important research priorities and resources they believe may help advance the SDGs at U of T. There will be a virtual engagement session co-facilitated by the Steering Committee and SAC on April 19 where students will have a seat at the table along with faculty and staff.
Lorena Almaraz De La Garza
Thai Dillon Higashihara
Yao Yan Huang