SDG Conference Bergen 2023: Examining the Path to Sustainability

The recent SDG Conference Bergen at the University of Bergen was a momentous event addressing challenges of the Agenda 2030 and gathering over 1 500 participants from 117 countries.

The annual SDG Conference Bergen brings together research and higher education communities, politicians, government officials, NGOs and industry to discuss the university sector’s engagement with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The conference was digital, with a few hybrid events that in addition to online streaming, were held in Bergen. The conference was marked by the participation of influential speakers and thought leaders, including the Prime Minister of Norway, Jonas Gahr Støre, Environmental Rights Activist and Founder of Fridays For Future Uganda, Hilda Nakabuye, and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark. The conference served as a valuable platform for exploring the complex and nuanced issue of sustainability and the persistent perpetuation of injustices that underpins the current socio-economic order.


This year’s conference theme was ‘A just transformation to a sustainable future‘ and the programme was organised around six sessions attending to such topics as:

  • What do we mean when we talk about a ‘sustainable future’?;
  • Living well within limits: Is green growth an oxymoron?;
  • A safe and just space for all species;
  • The key role of business in securing a just transition;
  • The how of just transformation and Lessons learned for a just transformation?
  • Lessons learned for a just transformation.


One of the main themes of the conference was the effectiveness of the SDGs as a framework for achieving sustainability. There was broad consensus among speakers on the definition of sustainability and its potential to balance environmental protection, social justice, and economic equality. However, some participants raised concerns about the political aspect of the sustainability agenda, questioning by whom and for whom it has been developed, emphasising the need to challenge the existing global socio-political and economic order. The speakers also stressed the importance of critically examining the assumptions, premises, and biases underlying the current understanding of sustainability as the concept of sustainability itself was questioned.


Several speakers argued that sustainability should not be defined universally but must be rooted in the specific experiences and values of those it affects. According to these speakers, such an approach demands a greater blending of scientific knowledge with local knowledge, and for a just transition to sustainability that recognises and embraces the diverse perspectives as well as forms of knowledge. The conference provided a valuable platform for the exchange of ideas, the sharing of knowledge and experiences, and the development of innovative strategies to tackle the issue of sustainability.



The importance of plural approaches and forms of knowledge regarding the SDGs was strongly emphasised during the conference as well as knowledge-in-action rather than knowledge-to-action. The Holberg Prize Laureate, Sheila Jasanoff delivered an invigorating opening lecture, drawing lines from the Brundtland Report to today’s political inaction in creating a sustainable world. She also raised important questions about whose needs and purposes should be prioritised when implementing the SDGs, and with what knowledge. In a discussion that followed, Hilda Nakabuye, Ugandan climate and environmental rights activist, emphasised that many communities have the solutions to sustainability challenges but lack resources.


Large praise for the conference was received for its focus on academia’s role in transforming higher education and research to inform policy for a sustainable future. The Norwegian Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, spoke of his government’s support for the 2030 Agenda, both nationally and globally. He praised academia for taking a leading role in transforming higher education and using research to inform policy for a sustainable future. Rector of the University of Bergen, Margareth Hagen underlined academia’s crucial role in providing scientific knowledge to transform society. The final keynote was delivered by Chris Brink, who emphasized the importance of academic responsibility in addition to academic freedom.


There were also several debates throughout the conference, including a crucial discussion on the possibility of decoupling economic growth from environmental harm. Idar Kreutzer representing Norwegian industry organisation acknowledged the responsibility of businesses for all that happens in their value chains, while Beate Sjåfjell, law professor from The University of Oslo, spoke about the need to face the fact that many value chains still have slavery-like conditions and buttressed the responsibility of businesses to address these issues.


The SDG Conference Bergen was a valuable platform for discussing the important issues related to sustainable development and creating a just and sustainable future. The conference set the stage for further discussions and collaborations aimed at advancing the cause of sustainability and ensuring a better future for all. The conference provided a crucial gathering of international leaders, experts, and activists, who came together to discuss the pressing issue of sustainability and to seek ways to address the challenges faced by the world in achieving this goal. For more about related events at SDG Conference Bergen 2023, you can read and watch videos from the sessions below:

You can also access information on the conference as well as recorded sessions via this link.