Earlier this year, UN Secretary-General António Guterres brought together a group of 10 renowned experts to support the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism. These scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and activists will draw on their diverse areas of expertise to advise on how to harness science, technology and innovation to accelerate progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. They will work closely with stakeholder groups, including business, youth and children. Among them is Prof Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, Senior VP for Research Networks at Elsevier.
Brito is one of Brazil’s most renowed physicists. His interest in science started when he built an hourglass for a school project. He admitted, “That’s not the easiest thing to do,” about a project that required a level of calibration, patience and calculation that doesn’t come easily to a 9-year-old. Nonetheless, his passion for science and fascination for measuring time persisted.
As a researcher, he ended up designing a very precise laser that could measure how fast an electron moved across the surface of a molecule. At the time — around 1987 — his system allowed for the most precise measurements of time available.
“It was something of an improvement on my flour-based hourglass,” he recalled.
Contributing our data and content to the SDGs
Speaking from his home in Oxford, he explained how Elsevier would be contributing the program supporting the UN’s objectives around the SDGs:
Elsevier has the most important database of scientific articles and scientific publications in the world — a ‘go to’ place for scientists everywhere to look for collaborators or for information about their interests. We’ve worked hard to classify this database according to the Sustainable Development Goals.
That work can be seen in the initiative which uses machine learning and crowdsourcing to map millions of publications according to how they contribute to the SDGs. Brito said:
That’s a beautiful piece of work — a very powerful example of an initiative that will contribute, and is already contributing a lot, to the UN objectives related to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Bringing more young people and businesses into the SDG conversation
One of the stated goals of the group is to work closely with stakeholders, including children and young people. As Brito points out, young people are often overlooked as stakeholders, despite being hugely important to the conversation:
Children and young people are very relevant stakeholders for the UN — for almost everyone, in fact — because they are the future of humankind. They’re somewhat underrepresented in most discussions because they’re not at the age of participating or voting, and therefore representatives don’t always pay attention to their needs. This is one of the reasons the UN strengthens the importance of paying attention to youth and children.
Indeed, Brito went on to underline the value of including younger people in the discussion, both in terms of the importance of reaching out to them, and the insight and energy they bring to discussions:
There are a lot of actions that need to be developed through education and through awareness so that you can have the next generation better informed about environment, sustainability, climate change. So, there’s a key point around education and awareness.
However, it’s not just about broadcasting to the younger generation. Brito pointed out that when young people are present in the debate about the planet’s future, they come to the discussion extremely well informed, with passionate views and an appetite for action, which is necessary for driving change.
"When the UN calls, people pick up the phone."
As the world gears up for action on climate change ahead of COP26 and in the wake of the recent IPCC report, Brito noted that an organization like the UN, which pulled together this taskforce, can play a particularly powerful unifying role:
When the UN calls, people pick up the phone. When the UN organizes this discussion, the question becomes how do we frame the objectives of development for humankind in such a way that we will do it in a sustainable way.
Because of the UN, companies like Elsevier, universities, research funders, governments across the world are attentive and are creating ways of monitoring the advancements towards each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. They’ve shown they can mobilize the world — and increasing that mobilization is a very smart idea.
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