Partnership and cooperation are necessary to achieving global goals – and here academia plays an important role – emerged during the seminar “New Partnerships for Human and Planetary Health,” which was organised by Karolinska Institutet, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm University, in May.
The seminar was part of World Academic Forum Stockholm Summit with representatives from Karolinska Institutet, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stockholm University. The three universities have formed the university alliance Stockholm Trio. Within the alliance, there is an established sustainability group that works on ongoing and new collaborations using the UN’s goals for sustainable development as a framework. The seminar on 19 May was one of several activities carried out by the Stockholm Trio’s sustainability group.
“Our vision is that Stockholm will be an international leader in sustainable development and that students will be offered education in sustainability of the highest quality. We also hope to be able to attract world calss doctoral students and researchers. Within the Stockholm Trio, the partners complement each other based on our strengths. We can offer a good place to study and research sustainability,” said Karin Dahlman-Wright, Professor at Karolinska Institutet and a member of the alliance’s sustainability group.
Based on the UN’s goals for sustainable development, the group intends to create a common platform for cooperation and innovation for sustainable solutions by managing resources, expertise and contacts with various societal actors so that the universities can contribute with new educational programmes and research findings to equip new generations with knowledge and skillsets for meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow.
“We want to go from visions to results,” said Dahlman-Wright.
Three research centers in focus
During the seminar, three research centers were presented by their respective directors, namely Karolinska Institutet’s Center for Health Crises, the KTH Climate Action Center and the Bolin Center for Climate Research at Stockholm University. All are examples of how to gather existing skills, both from research and external actors, and work together towards solving various societal challenges. According to Johan von Schreeb, Professor at Karolinska Institutet, Karolinska Institutet’s Center for Health Crises took shape during the covid19 pandemic.
“It can be said that the Center was born out of the experiences we had during the pandemic, when Karolinska Institutet took many initiatives to manage the crisis with the help of research, education and laboratory activities,” said von Schreeb. The purpose of the Center is to be able to mobilize experts and provide expert knowledge to society in the face of various health threats and crises and here universities play an important role, said Johan von Schreeb who has also, through WHO, coordinated international medical efforts and trained staff in trauma surgery during the war in Ukraine.
Francesco Fuso-Nerini, who represented the KTH Climate Action Centre that was established in 2021 and has about 40 KTH-affiliated researchers, explained that the purpose of the center is to contribute to knowledge-driven sustainable climate measures, and emphasized that many of the global goals can be combined with various climate measures, which can also create economic opportunities.
Finally, Ilona Riipinen, Professor at the Department of Environmental Science and Co-Director of the Bolin Centre for Climate Research, explained that the research conducted at the Bolin Center covers everything from climate modeling to research on the hydrosphere, biosphere and geosphere. She stated that Sweden is a leader in climate research.
“Climate research in Sweden is standing on the shoulders of giants and we consistently come up high up in international rankings,” said Riipinen refering to climate scientist Bert Bolin who was Professor of Meteorology at Stockholm University during the 60s and who founded and chaired the IPCC between 1988 – 1997.
The Bolin Center includes over 400 researchers from Stockholm University, KTH Royal Institute of Technology and SMHI.
“It would be interesting to expand the collaboration within the framework of the Stockholm Trio and broaden the research to the health sector because climate change and health are connected,” said Ilona Riipinen.
All the representatives emphasized the importance of how collaborations between different research centers on the one hand and researchers between different universities on the other are absolutely central to strengthening the work to improve human and planetary health.
Discussion about the challenges of the future
Representatives from Karolinska Institutet, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Companies Sweden, Region Stockholm and the EU Commission’s representation in Sweden participated in the panel discussion that followed the centres’ presentations. The panelists gave different perspectives on how one can and should work to meet the challenges of the future and achieve the UN’s global goals for sustainable development. The discussion was moderated by Magnus Breitholtz, Head of the Department of Environmental Science and Kristina von Oelreich, Head of Sustainability at KTH Sustainability Office, both members of the alliance’s sustainability group.
“To be able to meet the challenges of the future, we need different perspectives, and that competence is within the Stockholm Trio,” said Ole Petter Ottersen, President of Karolinska Institutet, when asked about the role of Stockholm Trio in achieving the global goals.
Åsa Pettersson, CEO of Energy Companies Sweden, pointed out that from an industry perspective, it is good to know where to turn for new knowledge.
“There are many expectations and demands placed on the energy sector now and we need to be able to meet that challenge. Here, the Stockholm Trio’s sustainability group can be good for gathering knowledge and expertise,” said Petterson.
Christian Danielsson, head of the EU Commission’s representation in Sweden, stated that the challenges that exist in the world today are of a kind that we have not seen in a long time.
“We currently have a war in Europe, at the same time we have the green transition and we have had a major health crisis with the covid19 pandemic. All this needs to be nurtured by research to enable solutions and innovations. Cooperation is extremely important here and the EU can also help with establishing networks,” said Danielsson.
When the question of how the goals can be achieved came up, Anna-Karin Nyström, Head of the Climate Objectives Unit at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, highlighted various solutions for resource efficiency, such as solutions for reusing plastic.
“Here, education is central to the future, as well as lifestyle changes and behavioral changes,” she said.
Taking advantage of the experiences gained during the pandemic was something that several of the panelists highlighted. In their opinion, that cooperation made us both stronger and better.
“In just a few weeks, an enormous number of initiatives were taken in intensive care. We showed that we can really rise to the occasion, and that we can do things in a different way. I hope we can learn from that,”said Clara Hellner, Adjunct Professor at Karolinska Institutet and Director of Research and Innovation at Region Stockholm.
Reflections from students
Finally, student representatives from each university shared their reflections with the panel and audience. “How can we prevent today’s solutions from becoming tomorrow’s problems?” wondered Ossian Ahlkvist, who is studying for a Master’s in environmental technology and sustainable infrastructure at KTH.
Tobias Lindström Battle, who is studying for a Master’s in Public Health Science at KI, called for sustainability to be included in all educations at KI, not just in certain programs, and Elma Ósk Thorarinsson, who is studying for a Bachelor’s in Management at Stockholm University, thought it would be good if students could choose courses and programs from all three universities included in the university alliance.
“When there have been surveys about why international students apply to KTH, the majority answer that they applied here due to the sustainability focus of the courses. This shows that it is important to emphasize the sustainability focus of a university and to remain at the forefront,” said Ossian Ahlkvist.