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New Competence Centre at Giessen University Takes a Look at UN Sustainability Goals

Within its programme “exceed – University Excellence in Development Cooperation“, the DAAD promotes and supports the development of the international research centre “SDG Nexus Network“ at JLU to the tune of about 3.8 million euros


The goals the United Nations (UN) formulated with regards to sustainable development are to be implemented by all states around the globe until 2030. Disaccords and conflicting goals, though, could hamper the introduction of hugely necessary reforms and could stall the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Consequently, it is all the more important to create an international network as the one at Justus Liebig University Giessen (JLU), which will deal with the relationships between the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Within the framework of the “exceed – University Excellence in Development Cooperation“ programme, promoted by the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – DAAD), the JLU successfully proposed its “SDGnexus Network“. For five years, starting in 2020, the DAAD will support the creation of this international research centre dealing with topics of the Agenda 2030 with an amount to the tune of 3.8 million euros.

As one of five supported centres nationwide, the Giessen “SDGnexus Network“ will concern itself with the UN’s 17 goals for sustainable development. The overall coordination at JLU lies in the hands of the Center for international Development and Environmental Research (ZEU), an interdisciplinary research centre based at the point of intersection of natural and social sciences. As early as January 2020, numerous scientists from a total of 21 partner institutions in six countries of Latin America and Central Asia will begin to concern themselves with the question of how to deal with the conflicting goals which have arisen due to contradictions within the UN sustainability agenda.

“The new competence centre of development cooperation is already the third major project within the framework of the DAAD’s excellence promotion formats at the JLU,“ says Prof Dr Dr Peter Kämpfer, Vice President for research and promotion of junior scientists, congratulating all those involved.  Apart from the “SDGnexus Network“, the other DAAD excellence centres of research and academic training are:

  • the excellence centre of marine sciences CEMarin and 
  • the German-Colombian Peace Institute (Instituto CAPAZ).

“In all three cases, the JLU has developed international consortia, in order to address the great challenges of our times in cooperation with strong partners,“ explains Prof Kämpfer the common aim, which is independent of each individual subject.

„The approval of such an ambitious project by the DAAD against the backdrop of a highly competitive procedure is a great honour for development research at the JLU,“ declares the ZEU’s spokesman, Prof Dr Lutz Breuer of the Professorship of Landscape, Water and Biogeochemical Cycle at Faculty 09 – Agricultural Sciences, Nutritional Sciences, and Environmental Management.

“Conflicting goals can be extremely diverse,“ reports Breuer and clarifies this, using the following example: The construction of a reservoir for the production of hydropower may have a negative impact on the availability of water for the people living downstream and on their access to said water. Furthermore, major projects usually involve a number of states.

“Obviously, rivers do not stop at nations‘ borders,“ says Breuer. “Water use conflicts between states may heat up quickly. Thus the potential for conflict has to be evaluated early on.“ Such conflicting goals can be identified for a great number of the 17 individual goals, which is why the envisioned global achievement of objectives of the SDG until 2030 is doubtful, at least in part and from a present-day perspective.

With the nexus approach, the Giessen network aims to develop possible solutions for this dilemma. At its core, the approach is to examine simultaneously the interactions between a number of sectors. Current quantitative studies show that nexus approaches reveal synergies and may disclose compromises between sectors. Thus, if implemented the right way, these methods can reduce negative surprises and can promote an integrated planning process, administration and governance. Still, the use and implementation of nexus approaches is, scientifically speaking, new ground; the network will approach this challenge purposefully.

In that respect, the SDGnexus Network does not only see its duty in conducting research concerning sustainability, but also aims to meet its own sustainability criteria. This means that, for example, the project’s CO2 footprint is to be quantified from the beginning and will be reduced even further in the long run. A part of the planned activities will be carried our virtually, in order to reduce the number of official trips.

Without close cooperation with already existing projects, such a nexus project could not be carried out successfully. Hence, it is planned to cooperate with JLU‘s already existing prestigious projects, for example with the DAAD Excellence Centre for Marine Sciences CEMarin, the DAAD German-Colombian Peace Institute (Instituto CAPAZ), both situated in Colombia, and with the agricultural doctoral programmes IPPAE at the JLU and SUSADICA in Central Asia. A close affiliation with international partners working in the practical field, as for instance the Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), the World Bank or UN institutions, has also been planned.