Humanity faces some of the biggest challenges in its history. At the same time, the knowledge and technological capability we have at our disposal to meet these challenges are just as great. But meeting these challenges is easier said than done.
It will require the involvement of physicists, chemists, earth scientists, biologists, mathematicians, computer scientists, engineers, clinicians, economists, entrepreneurs, social scientists and policymakers. And although they may share the same goals, they rarely attend the same conferences, read the same journals or even speak the same language. This Global Goals Week we at Springer Nature are asking ourselves what we can do to help bring people together and to join the dots between research and the solutions we need to build a better, more sustainable world.
In 2016, Springer Nature launched the Grand Challenges Programme as a means to focus on what we could do as a publisher to support the Goals in areas that we felt we could make the strongest contribution — sustainable cities, global health, climate change, the digitally transformed world, and the food-energy-water nexus.
We created a portal to showcase content on these topics to encourage researchers to look beyond their own discipline. In 2018, we held the Science and the Sustainable City Summit in Singapore to bring together leaders in research, technology, business and policy to discuss approaches that are already being used to make cities healthier, happier and more equitable for their citizens. We also founded Science on the Hill (formerly known as Science Meets Congress), a series of events held in Washington DC that connects researchers to members of Congress and their staff to discuss the impact that science can have in tackling problems like the energy crisis, plastic waste, and improving public health through artificial intelligence. And we’ve already begun to publish the Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the first major reference work addressing each of the 17 Goals, and which sits alongside our flagship SDG monograph series.
So we’ve made a great start. But one thing that has become increasingly clear is the near-boundless enthusiasm of our colleagues in finding ways in which we as a publisher can help to make the world a better place. What’s more, the journals, magazines, books, databases and other researcher services we produce cover every area of academic scholarship. They reach all areas of research that are needed to fulfil the Goals — from the natural sciences to engineering, clinical practice to public policy, mathematics to computer science, humanities and social science to business. Which led us to think that our initial decision to focus on just a subset of the Goals was overly modest.
And so, earlier this year we decided to expand the remit of our Grand Challenges Programme to become the Springer Nature Sustainable Development Goals Programme. The aim of this programme is to empower a greater span of Springer Nature to contribute to supporting research and researchers from all areas of scholarship to seek solutions to all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
We’ve formed internal working groups to assess the ways our publishing activity is already supporting specific goals, and what more we might be able to do to make a meaningful difference to communication, and sometimes collaboration around these goals.
Beyond supporting specific disciplines, we also believe that UN SDG framework presents us with a duty to support researchers in the Global South. Although the challenges that the Goals represent face us all, they weigh most heavily on those in lower and middle-income countries. Our subscription content is already available to researchers in some of the lowest-income countries through Research4Life. And we are the world’s largest Open Access publisher.
But we want to do more. It’s not enough to give researchers in these countries access to our content. Many of the solutions to the goals will only be found in the Global South and can only be found by including scholars, community stakeholders, practitioners and policymakers in the research programmes that seek those solutions at their inception. And so, we want to improve the representation of researchers from these countries as authors, referees and editorial boards of our journals and books.
The challenges that face us demand action from all of us. Each of us can and should do our bit through individual lifestyle changes like eating less meat, using less plastic, consuming less energy. But this is unlikely to be enough. What is needed is coordinated collective action led by governments, informed by experts and consulted on by civil society organisations, businesses and the wider public.