SCNAT and its network are committed to a sustainable science and society. They support policy-making, administration and business with expert knowledge and actively participate in public discourse. They strengthen the exchange across scientific disciplines and promote early career academics.

Image: Sebastian,

Priorities for sustainable development research

Good marks for the SCNAT research agenda

Under the leadership of SCNAT, the Sustainability Research Initiative is developing priority topics for sustainable development research in Switzerland. At a review meeting in early July, several well-known experts gave the draft research agenda very good marks. They especially appreciated the systemic approach and encouraged the authors to place even more focus on pathways towards transformation.

Mining in Namibia
Image: Wikipedia

How does an economy committed to sustainable development work, and how do we strengthen debate on this issue? How do we promote sustainable agriculture and counteract the diverse negative influences upon our diet? How can our society move rapidly towards climate-neutrality and what does this mean in practice? How can the way we deal with space and land resources contribute to reducing ecological footprints and preventing social fragmentation? And how must social values and visions evolve to enable transformation towards sustainability? These are the central questions underlying the five thematic areas proposed by the SRI following its discussions with the scientific community.

Synergies and dilemmas

At the review meeting, invited experts from science and practice endorsed the priority topics and gave the proposed research agenda good marks. The systemic approach was warmly welcomed, and it was suggested that this could be elaborated as a sixth priority theme. This additional chapter should consider the dilemmas and synergies arising from the interrelations and interactions among sustainability goals.

The reviewers encouraged authors to focus more upon pathways towards transformation. In addition, they identified several issues meriting more attention. These include: demography, health, digitisation and artificial intelligence, financial markets and social cohesion, as well as social erosion or democracy under pressure.

Switzerland in a global context

Experts agreed upon the importance of viewing the challenges that Switzerland faces in a global context, given that we live in a hyper-globalised world. For example, research into the food system or the economic system should focus upon what can be shaped differently in, with and through Switzerland. The fact that we live in a time of major changes and upheavals – brought to our attention by the COVID-19 crisis or the Black Lives Matter movement – means that any research represents a contribution to an evolving roadmap, and needs to continuously updated.

Cooperation within the academies network

It was suggested that the importance of social justice should be given stronger emphasis. This issue is just one example of why cooperation among the sister institutions of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences is essential in developing an agenda for sustainable development. Other exciting opportunities for research collaboration across disciplines were also identified, for example in the field of sustainable consumption and nutrition. The results of the expert consultation will be incorporated into the revision of the individual chapters of the whitepaper, which will serve to publicly present the priority topics at the beginning of December 2020.

The five topics at a glance:

  • Economy of well-being - economic and financial systems that serve sustainable development
  • Sustainable food systems for people and planet - visions and implementation
  • Net zero greenhouse gas emissions society - how do we achieve decarbonisation?
  • "Thriving Spaces" or how we deal with our space - mobility and transport, living and working, social divides, land use
  • Values, visions, and pathways - defining well-being as the basis for transformation towards sustainable development



Dr. Gabriela Wülser
Steering Committee Sustainability Research
House of Academies
PO Box
3001 Bern