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”).

The implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development can only succeed if not only the SDGs are considered, but also central dynamics and drivers of global change that structure the challenging environment for these very goals.

In the Bonn Alliance for Sustainability Research, we speak of three central drivers of global change: (1) technological transformations, (2) changed orders, and (3) guiding principles in transition.

These drivers influence all processes of sustainability. They change, accelerate, slow down, or even completely redirect them. Therefore, research at the Innovation Campus Bonn (ICB) will focus on three strategic research priorities that take these drivers into account: (1) digitalization and artificial intelligence, (2) mobility and migration and (3) bioeconomy.

The foci of the strategic research priorities for the ICB have overlaps and synergy potential in many places:

Technological transformations and thus D&KI concern possibilities of mobility and networking of actors as well as innovation possibilities in the field of bioeconomy. Changed orders have an impact not only on mobility and migration, but also on economic systems, labor markets and innovation capacities.Guiding principles in change drive solutions such as circular and sustainable economies, but also guide our thinking on the use of D&KI/ ICT, on international cooperation and regarding (international) responsibility.

As complex as issues in sustainability are the opportunities for connection and collaboration at the intersections of the strategic research priorities. The Innovation Campus Bonn (ICB) aims at optimal inter- and transdisciplinary research through this focused choice of topics “with open edges”.


Technological Transformations

1. Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Current scientific and technological developments – in all areas of the natural and engineering sciences, but also in industrial process technology – are creating labor markets that will fundamentally change the international division of labor, social systems, societies and knowledge systems in a similar way to the technological upheavals at the beginning of the industrial revolution in the transition to the 19th century.
The discussions surrounding 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 2030 Agenda in a fundamental sense. However, the goals contained in the 2030 Agenda hardly address this. They have not anticipated the dynamics and profound processes of change brought about by digitalization and AI, but only occasionally mention the opportunities offered by “information and communication technologies” and digital inequality.

Established sustainability research has also so far only marginally examined this complex topic, or not at all. Yet the connections between digitization, AI and sustainability are characterized above all by high uncertainties, high rates of change, major knowledge deficits and diverse design challenges. In the coming decades, digitization and AI will fundamentally change the global economy and the international division of labor, as well as society, politics, regulatory systems, and the way people think and work.

The strategic research priority digitization and artificial intelligence (AI) is designed to look at issues of technological upheaval at the interface with the transformation to sustainability.


Changed Orders

2. Mobility and Migration

Contemporary society is characterized by increasing mobility. Classical factors such as conflicts, economic drivers, catastrophes and, in the future, presumably climate-induced environmental changes continue to be in the foreground. In addition, normal working life is becoming increasingly diverse and mobility-intensive. Scientific and technological advances that fundamentally change social orders and offer humanity fundamentally new opportunities in terms of geographic and social mobility pose crucial new challenges to that mobility. For example, new communication technologies allow very different actors to network and act transnationally.

Globally interconnected communication, transnational networks, new actor constellations and tectonic power shifts are becoming increasingly important. The relationship between transnationally mobile actors (including investors and corporations, international NGOs, migrants) and stationary actors (such as governments, vulnerable populations) is in flux.

New, highly dynamic relationships are emerging that counteract the maintenance of manifest and previously established border demarcations. They require new kinds of problem solving, governance structures and processes. The changing systems of order and interconnectedness are reflected in a tension between the persistence, dissolution, and renegotiation of boundaries, authorities, sovereignties, and responsibilities.

These multiple interactions between these different dimensions of mobility, have hardly been the subject of sustainability research so far. Yet they are central to collaboration on a topic as global as sustainability.

With a focus on “mobility and migration”, the ICB aims to close this research gap. How transformation alliances and strategies for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda are shaped and what could constitute “transformative governance” are also central questions that the ICB addresses.


Guiding Principles in Transition

3. Bioeconomy

The future of humanity will largely depend on reliable and secure access to food and the sustainable use of energy, water and raw materials. In view of climate change and dwindling resources, renewable sources and their basis play a central role.

Not only technologies and governance structures are in a state of upheaval, but also societal guiding principles and development ideas. The 2030 Agenda, which for the first time addresses the development deficits of all countries – not just the “developing countries” – provides a broad basis for discussion in this regard. The aim of this discussion must be to find innovative solutions in the area of tension between social, ecological and economic needs.

After all, the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will only be achievable by overcoming the current use of resources. Population growth, increasing nutritional demands and environmental pressures result in key trade-offs of sustainable development around higher living standards, limited arable land with increasing land degradation, shrinking water resources, loss of biodiversity.

Research on these issues at the ICB focuses primarily on the research priority of bioeconomy, with the goals of sustainable production and consumption in a world of 9 to 10 billion people. Central elements are the transition from a fossil fuel and resource depleting economy to a low-emission circular economy based on renewable resources, sustainably used ecosystems with biodiversity conservation and biological innovations.


Our Sponsors

The Bonn Alliance for Sustainability Research/ Innovation Campus Bonn (ICB) is funded by