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Research and sustainability

The UN Sustainable Development Goals affect all sectors of society. To deliver on them, we need knowledge and solutions developed in an interdisciplinary way. The University of Oslo is a research-intensive university, which makes us very well-positioned for contributing to reaching the many and varied development goals.


Innovation

What do we need to meet the big challenges?

SEAS (Science Education for Action and Engagement towards Sustainability) is an EU-project taking a closer look at what kinds of scientific knowledge and skills students and citizens need in order to tackle the technological, socio-economic, and environmental changes that we are facing.

The meaning of design for sustainability in products

The degree of sustainability in products is often decided on already during the design phase, when choices are made about materials, energy consumption, life span, and circularity.

In this phase, we do not always know all the consequences of our choices. Later on, when the product has been put to use, it is hard to make alterations.

The Section for Digitalisation and Entrepreneurship (DIGENT) works on the importance of design for sustainability.

How to make the marketplace more sustainable?

SMART (Sustainable Market Actors for Responsible Trade) is a project looking at environmental, social, and economic sustainability. Why do we continue in a non-sustainable direction in which humans are exploited and the very existence of our societies are undermined?

SMART aims at delivering interdisciplinary and systemic research on the regulative complexity that many European market actors operate within – both the private sector and the public sector with its many roles in the marketplace.

The project is financed by the EU research program Horizon2020 for the period 2016-2020 and is lead by Professor Beate Sjåfjell at the Department of Private Law at the Faculty of Law. It has 25 partner institutions and involves 70 people from various parts of the world.

SMART has now reached a phase where it is moving from research to the dissemination of results and guidance. An investor forum as well as a business forum have been established, where participants can share experiences and discuss how market actors are able to move from non-sustainable to more sustainable solutions and approaches.

What will it take to make the Norwegian economy less dependent on oil?

INTRANSIT deals with how the Norwegian economy can move towards increased diversification and less oil-dependence, as well as the connection between digitalisation and the green shift. Amongst other things, researchers are looking into how science and innovation policies can be further developed in order for the transition of the Norwegian economy to move faster.

INTRANSIT is a collaborating centre located at the Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture (TIK) at the Faculty of Social Sciences. Partners include the Department of Informatics at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences as well as external contributors. The centre is financed for the period 2018-2026 by FORINNPOL, a research program at the Research Council of Norway, and is lead by Professor Taran Mari Thune

Sustainable cities

An increasing number of people live in cities. That so many are urban dwellers creates challenges, but also opportunities to find common solutions.

The Department of Sociology and Human Geography is running a wide array of activities connected to how cities can become more sustainable. They focus in particular on Oslo, Europe´s Environmental Capital 2019. The Department has several externally financed projects on urban development, mobility, health, social inequality, and inclusion. The research group has also been central in developing the study course CityStudio Oslo.

Among projects are the interdisciplinary "Smart Mobility Suburbs" (SMS), which examines conditions for energy-smart mobility solutions in suburban areas, linked to changes in people´s travel habits and changes in city and regional planning.

The project Shared Mobility for Innovative and Inclusive Green Cities aims at examining what is needed to increase shared mobility in cities – be it car pooling or city bikes.

Contact person: Professor Per Gunnar Røe. 

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Biosphere

How do we ensure a socially just green shift?

Studies show that the introduction of new energy measures and technologies may enhance social inequality. In Norway, toll fees and the electric vehicle policy have created a lot of debate. Critics feel that they constitute mitigation that hits society's weakest the hardest and provides benefits for the more wealthy. Such green measures will not function efficiently if they become very unpopular or not accepted among groups of society.

In 2019, UiO was afforded a new centre for environmentally friendly energy (FME). Researchers at Include are going to take a closer look at how we can achieve a green shift that is also socially inclusive and just. They will do so from a social sciences point of view and in cooperation with local and regional councils, energy companies, organisations and private actors. Include is led by Tanja Winther, Professor at the Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM) at UiO.

The climate and environmental crisis is also a social and cultural crisis

We have to change our values, routines, habits, and lifestyle if we are to deliver on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

When it comes to imagining an alternative and more sustainable future, humanities have much to contribute. Humanists ask how the environment has shaped society, and how people have changed, interpreted and represented “nature” in different cultural contexts, in different places and in different times. Philosophy, history, literature, anthropology, art, design, religion, media studies, and area studies are all relevant subject fields in this connection.

Through the Oslo School of Environmental Humanities (OSEH), researchers and students aim at producing groundbreaking research and education into many of the challenges that follow delivering on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Climate change is more pronounced in the Northern hemisphere

Effects of climate change emerge quicker and are more substantial in the Northern hemisphere than other places on Earth. A warmer climate has already led to the thawing of permafrost, reduced ice caps, and longer growing seasons – changes that in turn affect the atmospheric circulation and the hydrological cycle.

Throughs its research, the LATICE group (Land-ATmosphere Interactions in Cold Environments) will promote knowledge about the interaction between land and atmosphere and their role in controlling climate variations and climate change in the Northern hermisphere. Important focus areas are permafrost, snow, glaciers, vegetation, and soil moisture in boreal and arctic areas.

Wants to find new ways of using energy

Carbon capture and storage is pivotal for reducing CO2-levels in the atmosphere and for limiting global warming to maximum 1.5 degrees. UiO cooperates with research centres that aim at enabling the swift establishment of carbon storage through industry-driven and science-based innovation. 

UiO:Energy is one of three strategic priority areas at the university – focused on advancing new ways of using energy to reduce global climate change and to mitigate environmental challenges. The approach is interdisciplinary. By bringing together expertise from law, social sciences, humanities, technology, and natural sciences, our researchers contribute to new solutions for clean, affordable and reliable sources of energy.

UiO: Energy has four main research areas across the university:

Cross-disciplinary research into the handling of global toxicants

AnthroTox is one of the convergence environments that are part of the interdisciplinary priority area UiO: Life Sciences.
The project combines natural and social sciences to better understand and manage global, anthropogenic toxicants. The aim is to find out how environmental processes and social structures, and the link between them, impact on the spread and effect of environmental toxins from electronic waste. This will be investigated across communities and ecosystems with field studies in Tanzania and data from the Arctic.

The project is led by P. Wenzel Geissler, professor at the Department of Social Anthropology.

CIENS: a research collaboration for the environment and society

CIENS is a strategic collaboration between UiO and the following research institutes: CICERO, the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (NIBR, at OsloMet), the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), NILU – Norwegian Institute for Air Research, the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), the Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA), and the Institute of Transport Economics (TØI).


Together, these constitute Norway's, and one of Europe's, largest research communities within the fields of environment, climate and society. This broad and shared competence will be used for the benefit of society, for the institutions themselves, and for a sustainable future.

UiO is represented in CIENS with researchers from both social and natural sciences, with the interdisciplinary priority area UiO: Energy as a hub.

The collaboration is part of a broad commitment to sustainability throughout UiO's core activities – in both education, research, dissemination and operations.

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Welfare

Centre for Development and the Environment(SUM): an interdisciplinary approach

SUM is an internationally oriented academic centre working with research and education related to the sustainable development agenda.

It was established in 1990 as a response to the UN report “Our Common Future” (the Brundtland Report) from 1987, known for coining the phrase “sustainable development”.

The centre´s research portfolio is characterised by an interdisciplinary approach to central topics within the fields of development and the environment, with perspectives from social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities.

Many of the research groups at the centre deal with various aspects of welfare:

HISP provides better health care for 1.3 billion people

HISP (Health Informatics Systems Programme) has ensured a better foundation for making decisions about patients for many health workers in African and Asian countries. HISP´s vision is to develop sustainable information systems enabling health workers and governments to increase the quality and coverage of health services.

DHIS 2 (District Health Information Software 2) is a health information platform used to collect, validate, analyse and present both aggregated and individual patient data. The platform is the world´s largest and is used in more than 100 countries. Its area of usage is continuously expanding, and several countries have started using the platform for education as well as sanitary and hygiene purposes.

The Department of Informatics at UiO started working on the platform as early as 1994 and is now an official partner of the World Health Organization (WHO). The platform is based on an open source, it is free and with no license requirement. This is pivotal to the development of the system, and makes it easy to integrate local solutions.

The software also contributes to capacity building through output such as research articles, PhD-education, and the training of thousands of health workers.

There is now a global group of DHIS2 experts working with the platform. UiO functions as a hub for the sharing of knowledge, experience, and best practice.

How to stop the spread of disease?

To stop an epidemic, it is necessary not just to know in what ways a disease infects people, but also to understand how information needed to stop the epidemic is conveyed.

Lifetime of Epidemics is a project looking into how it is possible to delay the spread of a disease and at the same time be able to move faster in spreading information about risks and vaccines.

Aging is another important research topic in Lifetimes. Because of an aging population in many European and Asian countries, it is important to gather more knowledge about how effort to improve people´s living conditions and the environment is affected by an increasing life expectancy.

Antibiotic resistance is a threat to public health

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes antibiotic resistance as one of the biggest threats to public health in the 21st century. Antibiotics is an important medicine in the fight against infections. However, antibiotics can also disturb the balance of our natural microbiota – thus negatively affecting some of the most important bacteria in our body. This can in itself cause disease or make it easier for pathogenic bacteria to establish themselves. The use and overuse of antibiotics has led to an increase in bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

This UiO research group is investigating the effects of antibiotics in premature babies and their microbiotica. The group is also looking into the microbiotica of patients who are treated with long-term antibiotic therapy. The goal is to develop strategies that promote a healthy microbiotica and reduce the development of antimicrobial resistance. The research group cooperates with institutions in the Nordic countries, India and Brasil.

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Good Governance

Oslo SDG Initiative: Education, research and dissemination of knowledge

Oslo SDG Initiative is part of Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM) at UiO and works to strengthen research and education promoting sustainable development. In addition, the initiative encourages research into what it will take to implement the 2030 Agenda and delivering on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Oslo SDG Initiative regularly organises dialogue fora and seminars to convey research results to a broad audience, including decision makers, and shares joint platforms for discussions on the 2030 Agenda between government, civil society, the corporate sector, and academia.

How can policies and economic models be further developed to deliver on the SDGs?

Research at ESOP (Center for studies of Equality, Social Organization and Economic Development) contributes to a knowledge-based policy development.

Amongst other things, ESOP looks at the sustainability of generous welfare states. A welfare state provides valuable social safety nets, insurance, and redistribution of wealth, but it also affects people´s incentives to work, save money, and invest.

Political support of the welfare state depends on the distribution of income in the population and between sexes. How willing you are to pay taxes, may depend on what services the welfare state offers and to whom. The question to be answered is: what are the prerequisites for welfare states that function well and are economically and politically feasible?

Another area of research is income and social mobility. ESOP seeks to understand the relationship between countries´ economies, distribution of wealth, and social inequality. What are the cost-benefits of more equality?

Research carried out by ESOP provides important knowledge about how policies and economic models can further develop to deliver on the SDGs.

Does the European Union contribute to justice?

The main aim of GLOBUS (Reconsidering European Contributions to Global Justice) is to carry out an analysis of the EU´s contribution to global justice.

The EU´s stated goal is to promote justice on a global level, but we know little of the union´s actual contribution. And how exactly will a just foreign policy look like? There is disagreement regarding the principle of justice and about what it entails to establish a just world order.

GLOBUS puts a special emphasis on studying the EU´s positions and policies related to climate change, migration, peace and conflict, and trade and development aid. What perception of justice underpins EU policies in these areas, and how – if at all – does the EU contribute to justice?

The project is behind a wide variety of dialogue meetings with politicians and bureaucrats from international, regional and national levels, representatives for civil society, think-tanks and different interest groups. Research is conveyed through scientific publications, social media, and blogs. In addition, GLOBUS arranges student days and its own youth conference.

GLOBUS brings together researchers from the fields of political science, international politics, philosophy, economy, law, and sociology, and has partners in Brazil, India, Ireland, Italy, China, South Africa and Germany. The project is financed by the EU´s Horizon2020 with a contribution of 2.5 million euros.

Is the Nordic model sustainable when faced with global challenges?

UiO:Nordic is one of three strategic priority areas for UiO, doing research into the Nordic model.

Three Nordic countries find themselves at the top of the first ranking of states´ ability to meet the challenges of sustainable development. They are commended for their contributions to developing and promoting the sustainable development goals both locally and internationally.

The economic success of the Nordic countries, the high degree of trust in their societies and the ability to face crises, is often explained with a combination of factors also found in the sustainable development goals (education, gender equality, a good working life).

Several of UiO:Norden´s projects are about such institutional arrangements, how they are interlinked, and how they can contribute to solving societal challenges.

NORDHOST researches how and in what way immigrants are received by local communities in Nordic countries. The project is also preoccupied with the institutional framework and values underpinning the meeting between national populations and immigrants in various parts of Europe.

The Nordic Branding project looks into whether Nordic experiences are as exceptional as often claimed, and whether there is a correlation between what we do at home and the problem definitions and solutions we promote internationally.

The Nordic Education Model (NorED) researches how the UN Sustainable Development Goals are used in education and teaching.

How do societies handle abuse by authoritarian regimes?

The Transitional Justice project is about how societies handle and carry with them abuse conducted under previous armed conflicts or authoritarian regimes. The focus is on Latin America, in particular Colombia, Peru and Guatemala, and research is carried out in cooperation with amongst others the Chr. Michelsen Institute, University of East-London, the Pontificial Catholic University of Peru, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and FLACSO Guatemala.

The Colombian Peace Process project

In 2016, Colombia and the FARC guerrilla entered into a peace agreement that represented the ending of a 50-year-old armed internal conflict.

Colombia has gone through several peace processes in its more recent history.

The Justice and Peace process from 2005 involved the collective demobilisation of paramilitary actors, but also individual members of the guerrilla.

The Victims Law from 2011 promotes peacebuilding by ensuring the rights of victims, including the return of land and property. Since 2008, research into this area has been carried out through cooperation between Colombian universities (Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Universidad del Norte) with additional funding from the Research Council of Norway and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Contact person:  Jemima García-Godos, Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography.

Cooperation with universities abroad

UiO strives to contribute in a substantial way to the knowledge base needed for tackling many of the world´s challenges. Strategic partnerships with foreign universities and active participation in university networks are fundamental for achieving this.

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