Facing our global challenges

Sir Philip Campbell
Opinion - Academic Thursday, 14th November 2019

Sir Philip Campbell reports on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals


With temperature records being broken on an almost weekly basis, fires raging in various parts of the world, and health emergencies like Ebola never far from the headlines, the challenges facing us can feel insurmountable.

Research communities are integral to understanding and addressing these challenges: whether analysing problems, like the effect of atmospheric pollution on solar power generation; developing new solutions such as more cost-effective photovoltaic panels; or assessing the efficacy of new drug treatments - research is providing the evidence and inspiring action.

So why such a focus of effort? The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, ratified by 193 nations, and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a call to action by all countries to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. They address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice. The SDGs provide a framework for business and society to work together to solve the world's biggest challenges.

With just over 10 years left to achieve the agenda, many governments, research funders and higher education institutions are directing efforts to deliver on the commitments set out by the goals, and to meet the 169 specific targets that sit alongside them.

The role of academic publishers
To make meaningful progress towards the delivery of the SDGs requires strong, sustained interaction not only between professional communities, but also between the research fields themselves. The approach to tackling urgent societal challenges must be multi-disciplinary - as no one research area can solve the challenges of global hunger, poverty or climate change.

This is where academic publishers come in, to support the research community, who share their findings in our books, journals and magazines, in their collective efforts to advance discoveries and contribute to the delivery of the goals. What does this mean practically? At Springer Nature, our SDG Programme is our direct response. Through this programme, Springer Nature wants to better support researchers to gain the wider attention of the policy and business communities who can put research insights into action to solve regional and global issues.

We are doing this, first, by commissioning and targeting research related to specific aspects of the SDGs, making these articles more visible to key communities, and by finding new opportunities to partner and support the delivery of the goals. For example, by collaborating with researchers in multiple disciplines we are able to develop significant publications about a sustainable future of food from the oceans. In addition, Nature Research journals have introduced new preprint policies, working closely with InReview, to better support expedition of community access to research related to health emergencies such as Ebola.

Breaking down silos
Helping to break down disciplinary silos, both in publishing and across the global research community, is a major objective of our programme. We think publishers can use their expertise to help researchers inspire new connections and help them to achieve real progress towards answering some of the challenges highlighted by the SDGs. For example, journals such as Nature Sustainability or the books in the Springer Sustainable Development Goals series are able to bring together research from the physical and natural sciences with research from the humanities and social sciences.

This is also why we recently launched a new awards programme for SDG-relevant books written by Chinese scholars, announced at the Beijing Book Fair. Supporting this growth in relevant research, the Springer Nature China New Development Award recognises and profiles authors whose work has made an impact on sustainable development research, such as Professor Qiuhong Tan and Professor Quanshang Ge from the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, whose work addresses the health risks of climate change.

But we are not just looking at our work with researchers; we're also looking inwards at our own business and working hard to manage and minimise the social and environmental impacts of our publishing operations. We are reducing the impact Springer Nature has on the environment by cutting our carbon footprint and working with our suppliers to ensure that only sustainably sourced paper is used for our books and journals. We have set targets to increase gender diversity in the company's senior management, and have created networks and other programmes to build an empowered and fulfilled workforce.

Springer Nature is committed to opening up research and sharing it widely so that it is of use to policymakers and business leaders as well as practitioners around the globe. It is our aim that the positive actions we are taking will, in part, help direct the efforts both of our research community and our industry towards the sustainable and successful achievement of the Goals set out. These challenges are not going away, and now is the time for us as a community to take focused action, work across our business, disciplines and cultures, and direct our efforts collectively.

For more information: https://www.globalgoals.org and www.springernature.com/sdg-programme. Sir Philip Campbell is editor-in-chief at Springer Nature.

This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch Frankfurt Book Fair Show Daily.