The COVID-19 pandemic has put the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in a new light, revealing them to be one of the most pressing challenges today.
Tech companies like Google maintain that SDGs are not in the service of charity, but are at their core a matter of economic management. In addition, universities are proposing new values that humanity must adopt and directions it must take, in contemplating a global response to global challenges and the actions they can take to play their part.
The UN's SDGs constitute an agenda that the 70th UN General Assembly and the Sustainable Development Summit 2015 resolved to bring to completion by 2030. The 193 UN Member States unanimously adopted the agenda, whose goals include the amelioration of a wide range of social problems (poverty, disease, lack of education, the challenges faced by women, children and refugees, international disputes, and so on), environmental problems (climate change, energy depletion, environmental pollution, water shortages, decreasing biodiversity, and so on), economic problems (lack of access to technology and of housing, weak labor rights, lack of employment, production and consumption issues, unproductive social structures and legal frameworks, infrastructural challenges, domestic and international economic challenges, and so on). The SDGs are the most significant joint objective undertaken by the international community, and aim to resolve such issues through the achievement of 17 goals and 169 targets by 2030.
In accordance with these global priorities, Korea University’s Research Planning Committee held the Creative KU Research Symposium on July 22nd in Chey Jong-Hyun Hall at SK Future Hall, with only the deans of each college in Korea University in attendance, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event was live-streamed on the Research Planning Committee’s YouTube channel.
What should universities do?
The first step is to reach a consensus on “leave no one behind.”
The symposium consisted of two sessions: “Universities’ Social Responsibility in the Implementation of SDGs” and “Innovation for Achieving SDGs: The Challenges Faced by Science and Technology and the Social Responsibility of Scientists.” Emeritus Professor Yoo Ki-pung, who chaired the first session, commenced by saying, “I’m pleased to be part of this symposium which aims to chart a course toward the achievement of the UN's SDGs, and to discuss universities’ social responsibility to the global community.”
Rhee Jay-hyuk, a professor at Korea University Business School, gave a presentation titled “SDGs and Sustainability: What Universities Can Do.” He said, “There have been many corporate-level discussions on SDGs. It is meaningful that universities have begun to take an interest in this area.” He welcomed Korea University’s efforts to contribute to the accomplishment of SDGs. He defined sustainability and argued, “The subject of ‘sustainability’ should be the earth and all UN member nations, rather than specific countries.” On the question of what universities’ role is in the achievement of SDGs, he emphasized that professors should not only conduct research, but also share their research outcomes with students, local communities, and many other stakeholders. He said that reaching a consensus is the priority in driving changes and that we need to make sure to “leave no one behind.”
Ok Yong-sik, a professor in the Division of Environmental Science and Ecological Engineering at Korea University, after showing infographics from a Nature article about Korea University, said, “Korea University has made some progress in the areas of SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) and SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy).” He added that Korea University, The Asia Pacific Research Unit (APRU), and Stanford University have launched a new program, and explained the research projects being undertaken as part of this program, including the study of medical waste management technology and the health risks of lead to children.
Lee Jong-tae, the Dean of the College of Health Science at Korea University, asked why it is so important to talk about sustainable development, firmly answering that the purpose is “to ensure the sustainability of humanity.” He stressed that “As SDG 3, which is related to public health issues caused by fine dust, is associated with other SDGs, we need multidisciplinary cooperation to achieve it.”
Korea University as a hub of convergence
Science and technology as a path toward human happiness
The topic of the second session was “Innovation for Achieving SDGs: The Challenges Faced by Science and Technology and the Social Responsibility of Scientists.” The first presenter, Professor Sung Chang-mo, focused on South Korea’s progress in the achievement of three SDGs—gender equality, clean energy, and climate action—and proposed a way forward. He stressed the importance of a gender lens through which to facilitate innovation in the development of ‘Creative KU’, multidisciplinary convergence synergies and impacts, transformational research innovations, and collective intelligence leadership.
The next presenter, Lee Sang-won, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, talked about expanding the boundaries of knowledge by harnessing Big Data. He expected that Korea University Medicine would take the lead in establishing a Big Data-based national disease surveillance system.
Choi June-seek, a professor in the Department of Psychology, gave a presentation about both “A Healthy Life” and “Happiness and Human KU.” The last presenter of the session was Cho Hun-hee, a professor in the School of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering, who talked about “The Sustainable Future City” and “Contactless Indoor Smart Construction Technology.” His presentation about new production methods and contactless smart construction technologies in the post-COVID era aroused great interest among audience members.
Clean and safe energy
The need to continuously identify new technological developments
The third session titled “The 'New Normal' Economy” opened with a presentation by Joo Sung-kwan, a professor in the School of Electrical Engineering, who spoke about the paradigm shift in the energy industry, new industries in the energy sector, and energy convergence technologies. He proposed a transition towards a cleaner and safer energy mix, which can be developed on the basis of the economic feasibility, environmental impacts and public acceptance of new technologies, as well as their potential for providing energy security.
In his presentation, Kim Seong-cheol, the head of the Research Planning Committee and a professor in the Department of Media & Communication, talked about the increasing use of digital technologies and the widening digital gaps between populations due to the pandemic, and he explained how to further develop the digital media ecosystem and what new digital policies will look like in the post-COVID world. He proposed that Korea University should establish systems by which trans-disciplinary research centers, universities and research institutes at home and abroad can collaborate with one another.
Chung Suh-yong, a professor in the Division of International Studies who currently lives in Saudi Arabia, attended the event via video conference call in order to give a presentation on “Climate Change’s Impact on SDGs and the Direction Universities Should Take.” He explained new global trends that are being driven by climate change, including the increasing priority being placed on a Green New Deal, and asserted that it will be critical for universities to make good use of fast-changing technological trends, which can be seen in the growing importance of hydrogen and the development of electric hydrogen vehicles.
The symposium also featured discussions on how universities should facilitate innovation in response to growing uncertainties, and navigate the great shifts attendant upon the implementation of SDGs. The event was significant in that it shed light on the 17 goals set by the UN, including the amelioration of environmental pollution, inequality and poverty and the provision of quality education, and encouraged members of Korea University to ponder how universities can play their part in fostering fundamental social change.