PESSER Volume 1 Issue 4

Perspectives on Earth and Space Science Educational Research, Vol. 1, Issue 4

American Geophysical Union Education Section

October 2020

Resilience Approach for Advancing Sustainable Development Goals

Mika Shimizu
Associate Professor at Kyoto University, Graduate School of Advanced Integrated Studies in Human Survivability (GSAIS)

To determine a path by which Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the timeframe of 2015-2030 (with only ten years to go as of 2020) can be implemented, the approach to challenges around SDGs is key. Recently published in Science, “Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for profound change”, a paper by Díaz et al. (2019) warns that transformative action must begin immediately, given that human actions are causing the fabric of natural life to unravel, posing serious risks for the quality of life of people. To enable the transformative action, a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic, and social realms is critical.  Díaz et al. (2019) emphasize that new strategies for knowledge production and coproduction, inclusive of diverse values and knowledge systems, are necessary. 

How can we use coproduction of knowledge to take transformative actions that require systemic change? I have considered this question throughout my research on resilience. One way to use coproduction of knowledge for transformative actions relies on the “resilience approach”, which focuses on integration of resilience-related concepts (including systems approach and practices) into the operationalization of resilience. (To explore further, consider the relevant work titled “Nexus of Resilience and Public Policy in a Modern Risk Society“.)

I recently attempted to apply the “resilience approach” to university field-based programs and projects, to advance toward enabling students’ transformative actions for SDGs through coproduction of knowledge. The programs/projects provide undergraduate or graduate students opportunities, through fieldwork or co-production knowledge-based workshops, to learn the essence of resilience thinking and to gain perspectives of looking at natural, social and human systems in continuum. The goal is to expand students’ capacities to consider or act on SDGs-related issues from multiple perspectives inclusively.

Specifically, the above programs and projects target a better approach for implementation of SDGs through a focus on interlinkages among SDGs. These interlinkages are crucial to enabling transformative change that leads to implementation of SDGs. While SDGs are largely popular and well known at local and global levels, in governments, businesses, academic/research institutions, civil society, and communities all over the world, a major gap is recognized in how these groups might address interlinkages among SDGs. Although the United Nations Assembly (2015) acknowledges these interlinkages are critically important, specific recommendations for how to address the interlinkages among SDGs are lacking.

Highlighting the interlinkage among natural, social, and human systems is especially urgent. Addressing each system separately or focusing on just one may negatively impact the outcomes of sustainable society. For example, if you construct solar panels (to increase energy efficiency or to potentially mitigate climate change) but those solar panels are constructed in forests by cutting trees and without consideration of the area surrounding the construction site, the action of building solar panels may actually lead to negative outcomes. The construction may affect the living conditions of the humans and wildlife that inhabit areas adjacent to the construction site due to natural environment destruction by construction, even if the construction was for solar panels. The loss of trees as a buffer may lead to disasters in human-inhabited areas when severe typhoons or floods occur, or loss of biodiversity.

The importance of interlinkages among systems is evident when considering the enormous influence of “COVID-19” pandemic on our society, along with the pandemic’s origins. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted human society in incredibly complex ways as of September 2020, has roots in complicated interrelationships among natural, social and human systems. Human society’s over-intervention with nature, with unprecedented roadbuilding, deforestation, and agricultural development, makes us susceptible to pathogens like coronaviruses. The resulting risks are interlinked with urbanization, population density, globalized travel and trade, as well as poverty. All these interlinkages will result in far-reaching social and economic consequences in the near future and in the long-term future as well.

Based on the recognition of the importance of interlinkages (as described above), I recently designed a Special SDGs Summer Program ( as a part of Kyoto University’s UNESCO Chair program. In the program, the resilience approach was applied to the fieldwork and collaborative workshops in Yakushima, which is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan. The Program, sponsored by Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), aims to provide opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to strengthen their holistic capacities as humans, researchers, and/or social entrepreneurs, by learning natural/social/human linkages through the fieldwork and collaborative works in Yakushima. Professors from different graduate schools in Kyoto University supported the Program. The Program is designed especially for the students to build their holistic capacities, so they can engage in implementation of SDGs, ultimately for a better future, well-being, and more resilient society.

While we were originally supposed to provide sessions in Yakushima, because of the situation of COVID-19, we shifted them to the online school. The Yakushima sites and students in Kyoto were connected through structured online sessions to reach the goal of this Program, even in an online learning environment. For three days, more than 60 students (majors vary from geoscience, engineering, management, environment, law and politics, agriculture, through literature) fully engaged in learning opportunities. They produced individual “i-posters” based on their insights gained through the Program. The i-posters vary and include ones with business plans, and ones which have artistic impressions with drawings or poems. The posters represent how the students gained core perspectives of interlinkages, provided by the Program. Following this school, a selected group of 20 students met in Seifuso, which has a beautiful natural garden close to Kyoto University, and worked on team plans for SDGs based on their learnings in Yakushima Online School. The plans will be polished for presentation in December at an International Forum to be held in Kyoto University.

A view of the collaborative workshop session in Seifuso, Kyoto, with students in different disciplines.  Photo credit: Kazuya Yamaguchi

Although applying the “resilience approach” to educational programs/projects is still in experimental stages, I am sure we progressed toward cultivating capacities of students to transform their mindsets and ways they think about and look at the world, given learning curves of students seen in the Program. I am determined to continue this endeavour to prove the resilience approach is essential to enable transformative actions through co-knowledge production, ultimately for a better approach toward implementation of SDGs.

Díaz, S., Settele, J., Brondízio, E.S., Ngo, H.T., Agard, J., Arneth, A., Balvanera, P., Brauman, K.A., Butchart, S.H.M., Chan, K.M.A., Garibaldi, L.A., Ichii, K., Liu, J., Subramanian, S.M., Midgley, G.F., Miloslavich, P., Molnár, Z., Obura, D., Pfaff, A., Polasky, S., Purvis, A., Razzaque, J., Reyers, B., Chowdhury, R.R., Shin, Y.-J., Visseren-Hamakers, I., Willis, K.J., and Zayas, C.N. (2019). Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change. Science, v. 366, 6471, eaax3100.

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