The city of Bonn unites a unique combination of research, education and policy advice on the future topic of sustainable development. Bonn is not only a city of science, but also the location of the UN in Germany. The 20 UN organizations, with the Climate Change Secretariat as the best-known institution, are largely focused on sustainability issues.
Under the leadership of the Excellence University of Bonn, several leading players in research and education, including the UN University, have joined forces to form the Bonn Alliance for Sustainability Research. The Innovation Campus Bonn (ICB), which is being developed under the auspices of the Bonn Alliance, pools existing top-level scientific expertise in sustainability research and expands it with new components into a unique international science center. Sustainability research takes place in direct exchange and dialogue with policy makers, civil society and the private sector from the local to the global level.
Sustainability as a future topic
In 2015, the member states of the United Nations adopted the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. This agenda expresses the conviction of the international community of states that global challenges can only be solved together. The Agenda 2030 with 17 defined Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provides a basis for shaping economic progress in harmony with social justice and within the ecological limits of the earth – worldwide (“Leaving no one behind”).
However, the implementation of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development can only succeed if not only the goals but also the central drivers of such global change are considered, which can be summarized in three categories: technological transformations, changed orders and guiding principles in transition.
These drivers influence all processes of sustainable development. They change, accelerate, slow down or even completely reorient transformation processes: The concept of sustainability itself is subject to transformation.
The goal of the Innovation Campus Bonn (ICB) is to investigate these dynamics in an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary manner in three research areas: Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence, Mobility and Migration, and Bioeconomy.
Current scientific and technical developments – in all areas of the natural and engineering sciences, but also in industrial process technology – are creating labor markets that will change the international division of labor, social systems, societies and knowledge systems as fundamentally as the technological transformations at the beginning of the industrial revolution in transition to the 19th century.
The discussions taking place around the term “Industry 4.0” are only a prelude to adequately understanding and shaping these far-reaching dynamics. These innovation thrusts touch all dimensions of the Agenda 2030 in a fundamental sense. However, the goals contained in the Agenda 2030 hardly address this. Established sustainability research has so far examined them only marginally or not at all.
Globally networked communication, transnational networks, new constellations of actors and tectonic shifts of power are becoming increasingly important. The relationship between transnationally mobile actors (including investors and companies, international NGOs, migrants) and stationary actors (such as governments, vulnerable population groups) is changing. New communication technologies, for example, allow very different actors to network and act transnationally.
New, highly dynamic relationships are emerging that stand in the way of maintaining manifest and previously established boundaries. They require new types of problem-solving, governance structures and processes. How transformation alliances and strategies for implementing the Agenda 2030 are designed and what “transformative governance” could mean are central questions addressed at the ICB. Changed systems and networks are reflected in a field of tension between the persistence, dissolution and renegotiation of boundaries, authorities, sovereignties and responsibilities.
The ICB research priority on mobility and migration is dedicated to this area.
Guiding Principles in Transition
Not only technologies and governance structures are in a state of transition, but also social models and ideas of development. The Agenda 2030, which for the first time addresses the development deficits of all countries – not just the “developing countries” – offers a broad basis for discussion. The aim of this discussion must be to find innovative solutions in conflict between social, ecological and economic needs.
Related research at the Innovation Campus Bonn (ICB) concentrates primarily on the research priority bioeconomy, with the goals of sustainable production and sustainable consumption in a world of 9 to 10 billion people. Central elements of this are the transition from an economy based on the extraction of fossil raw materials and resources to a low-emission recycling economy based on renewable resources, sustainably used ecosystems with care for biodiversity, and biological innovations.