The vision of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Black Sea is to unite the people of the wider area under one goal: sustainable development. However, to achieve this goal, people, governments, businesses and entrepreneurs will have to find common ground for collaboration, participation and implementation of the SDGs.
Dr. Nicolaos Theodossiou, Chair of SDSN Black Sea, explained how the network is managing to bring together all those involved and to coordinate their actions, thus facilitating the achievement of the SDGs. He is a Professor at the Department of Civil Engineering of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and the president of the board of the Association of European Civil Engineering Faculties (AECEF).
The interview was published in November 2022, in the bilingual yearbook Community Index Magazine no. 4. The publication can be accessed here: https://communityindex.ro/flip-book-2022/
1. Besides protecting its vulnerable ecosystem, SDSN Black Sea’s mission is to tackle some of the region’s major challenges, such as: economic transformation, unemployment, innovation or sustainable tourism. Which are the major concerns regarding Romania’s contribution to the implementation of the SDGs in the region? Which are the key areas where Romania has made major improvements?
Romania is a very interesting case and should be a paradigm for other countries internationally. In 2017, Romania established a Department for Sustainable Development (DSD) within the Prime Minister’s Office. The DSD is tasked with coordinating the implementation of the Agenda 2030. It serves as a center for monitoring data regarding sustainable development in collaboration with public institutions. As a result, the country links policy planning and budgeting to support the implementation of the SDGs in Romania. This means that every decision taken and every cent spent are connected to at least one SDG, allowing a detailed mapping of the governmental actions towards SDG implementation. Furthermore, in 2019, the Interdepartmental Committee for Sustainable Development, an inter-institutional body, was set up, comprising all members of the Romanian Government further enhancing collaboration and action monitoring. As far as we know, the next step is to localize the SDGs and conduct research to identify relevant indicators at a regional and local level.
2. The role of education for understanding and overcoming the above mentioned regional challenges is crucial, as it can help switch from knowledge to action. For instance, the contribution of universities to implementing the SDG framework can be immense. What is SDSN Black Sea doing in order to mobilize the excellent universities in the region, tapping into their potential as a collaborative effort for the 2030 Agenda?
One of the main axes of our work in SDSN Black Sea (http://sdsn-blacksea.auth.gr/) is the Education for the SDGs, which includes mobilizing the participating institutions to integrate sustainability into their workflow, as well as in their educational processes. For this reason, apart from organizing relevant webinars and workshops, SDSN Black Sea leads the initiative of translating SDSN guides that aid in educating about the SDGs. Starting from the “Accelerating Education for the SDGs in Universities: A guide for universities, colleges, and tertiary and higher education institutions”, teams formed within SDSN Youth Black Sea will translate the guide in Greek (in cooperation with SDSN Greece) and in Georgian (in cooperation with our local hub in TSU). Of course, these are just two of the twelve languages our network covers, but it is a start.
Moreover, SDSN Black Sea supports actions that are directly linked to educating the academic community regarding the complexity of sustainability and its interdisciplinary nature. For instance, EUSTEPs (https://www.eusteps.eu/) is an ERASMUS+ funded project that aims at aiding Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) through a collaborative participatory approach, based on the application of the Ecological Footprint. It offers both teaching material (dedicated to students & educators or the Administrative Staff) and a University Footprint Calculator. EUSTEPs received full support from SDSN Black Sea especially in dissemination issues.
3. In which way are the research, innovation and technology sectors in the region aligned with the SDGs? Which are the major lacks when it comes to research results and their implementation in the area, especially within the private sector?
The Black Sea region is a very complex area, comprising different nations with a variety of cultures and needs that do not simultaneously follow the same policy agenda, as it is the case in the EU Countries. This means that each country may focus on a different aspect of the SDGs, and, as you know, SDGs are interconnected and interrelated, meaning that every action has a reaction, due to these synergies and trade-offs. One characteristic is common, though: all nations try to understand and integrate the SDGs in their strategies.
The Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in cooperation with the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, were funded by the Black Sea Project Promotion Facility (BSPPF) to conduct a Feasibility Study for a Black Sea SDGs Observatory, which will serve as one of the main divisions of SDSN Black Sea. During this study, many gaps were identified in monitoring and reporting the SDG indicators. Without consequent and right problem monitoring, one cannot tackle it effectively and cannot understand how it is related to several other issues that affect the country’s sustainability performance. This mis-reporting leads to loss of trust. The problem is even bigger in the private sector, as few stakeholders of the private sector, especially in the SME spectrum, quite understand why the Agenda 2030 and its principles are important.
Ditching old practices, such as linear economic systems, and adopting new ones, as circular economic models, is always a hard process and it needs to be supported by research centers and central governments.
4. Can you share more information regarding the “SEAs Initiative”? Which are the main socio-economic benefits related to maritime multi-use? In which way does blue growth lead to a smart, sustainable and inclusive economic path?
The mission of the ”Sustainable Euro-Asian Seas, United Nations SDSN Initiative – SEAs Initiative” (https://sdsn.eu/un-sdsn-seas-initiative/) is to accelerate Science Driven sustainable Blue Growth and the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) in the Euro-Asian Seas and beyond, and it is supported by SDSN Greece, SDSN Black Sea and SDSN Mediterranean via SDSN Europe.
Ocean multi-use aims at reducing the conflicts at sea while promoting sustainability through boosting economic growth and respecting the environment. Combining different activities may, of course, lead to tensions between different uses, but there are supporters within the scientific community who think that it can also lead to reducing user conflicts. Sharing of resources fairly is in the core of sustainability and it can offer clear benefits either directly to the users themselves or the society at large.
An example that can show the benefits of maritime multi-use is pescatourism. Pescatourism is about fishing trips in touristic areas. Essentially, tourists pay local fishermen to go to short fishing escapes. These fishing trips are aimed at providing insights to the fishing world, showcasing how fishing should be correctly and sustainably done, while it can reduce the negative impacts of fishing. As a result, tourists are being taught the value of fish, while a source of income is added on a small family’s budget apart from fishing itself.