As the deadlines for the targets set by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) program are getting closer and closer, as well as the shift of paradigms to the new time scales of 2030 and 2050, it is crucial to look at the current scenario and understand what we have and haven’t achieved so far. This is the only possible way to delineate new realistic objectives, that consider the transversal contributions of the various areas of knowledge in the listed goals.
Ecology and ecologists are now in a position as challenging as it is fortuitous,
specially because of the changing behaviors and visions of world society, motivated by a greater awareness of environmental issues. The growing notion of the multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary nature of ecology as a science, and even as a movement, is driving the thinking and action trends of various sectors, such as politics, health, education and economics.
Aligned and fully aware of this framework, the Portuguese Society of Ecology (SPECO) proposed to the European Ecological Federation to dedicate the next international event, which would take place in Portugal, to link Ecology with the SDGs. Thus, the 15th European Ecological Federation Congress, simultaneously 18th Portuguese Ecological Society Meeting, was entitled “Ecology across borders: Embedding Ecology in Sustainable Development Goals”. It is worth noting that of the 17 SDGs, the congress highlights that 10, with different prevalence, receive undeniable contributions not only from the entire scientific community, but also from the business and industrial fabric whose activity crosses the domain of ecology.
At national level, SPECO brought together 16 research units that work in the various fields of ecology, as well as a considerable number public and private partners and institutions. With 22 guest speakers of recognized international merit and hundreds of scientists participating, the congress would provide the perfect opportunity for top-quality discussions, the results of which are seen by the organisation not only as the culmination of what has been done to date, but also the starting point for what is to be done. Since the absence of a direct connection to society would reduce the event to the academic community and keep it from the motives behind its genesis, the organization decided to open the first day to the general public. This decision, unprecedented in previous editions, will broaden the discussion in the two debates that took place on 29 July, devoted (1) to the geopolitics of environmental change and (2) directly to the role that ecology has been playing in the achievement of the SDGs. The event will also feature open exhibitions by national and international artists - from the fine arts, to sculpture, photography and film - focused on the interface with the ecological sciences, ensuring coverage of a transcendent component with high potential impact on all participants. As a final note, the happy coincidence with the preparation of Lisbon Green Capital 2020 celebrations allows the event to be part of a broad program of initiatives and practical measures for which the knowledge of ecology is crucial.
The 11 challenges
Widen the scope
We jumped from a research directed concept at the 14th EEF Congress, entitled “Ecology across borders”, to a broader notion of ecology that aimed to engage not only scientists, but also different stakeholders from the public and private sectors. Setting “Embedding Ecology into Sustainable Development Goals” as the official designation, required effective links between ecology, conservation, evolution, genetics, environmental sciences, climate change, agriculture, social-ecology, urbanism, economy, managers, and related disciplines.
- Create a programme that stimulates highly qualified transdisciplinary discussions;
- Highlight what ecologists have done so far towards the success of the SDGs and set a starting point for what still needs to be accomplished;
- Encourage and strengthen partnerships between the participants;
- Promote transgenerational discussions by including a greater amount of young researchers in the scientific programme;
- Designing an event as sustainable as possible;
- Engaging non-scientific audience during and after the congress;
- Produce solid and visible outputs.
Select the Sustainable Development Goals
Ten out of 17 SDGs were selected. These 10 SDGs were transformed in 12 topics at the congress, each one having their own keywords/research areas. The SDGs “Life on Land” and “Partnerships for the Goals” were divided, giving rise to 4 topics. This decision as based on the broader number of research areas we highlighted on those goals, and an expected higher demand towards them. The organisation attributed tailor-made titles to the sessions inside each topic and reduced the overlap of sessions from the same topic to the minimum possible.
Select the partners
SPECO brought together 16 Portuguese research units, covering all listed research areas in the topics. We also engaged a considerable number of relevant public and private partners and institutions.
Select the invited speakers
Seventeen speakers of recognised international merit were invited. Twelve for each of the selected topics and five plenary sessions with cross-cutting areas of great interest in ecological knowledge. We endeavored to have gender parity but, unfortunately, that was not entirely possible.
Since the absence of a direct connection to society would reduce the event to the academic community and keep it from the motives behind its genesis, the organisation decided to open the first day to the general public. This was a decision, unprecedented in previous editions and allowed to broaden the discussion in both debates during 29 July. The open programme included two transdisciplinary debates (see “Debates” section) a plenary lectures by Arjen Wals on socio-ecological challenges, and the possibility to visit all the “Ecology & Art” exhibitions. The debates, plenary and keynote lectures were all livestreamed and directly made available on SPECO's Youtube channel.
Ecology & Art
Art is being increasingly used as a tool of ecological awareness as well as a way of communicating environmental problems. Therefore, the organization invited national and international artists, from the fine arts, to sculpture, photography and cinema, to exhibit their talent during the congress. All artists, on their own way, focused on the interface with different ecological domains, assuring that, if not all, most participants (and general audience) felt a connection with the artworks.
Throughout the preparation of the Congress, SPECO took important measures towards the sustainability of the event. The concerns included (1) merchandise, (2) outreach materials, (3) catering, (4) waste valorisation, (5) mobility and even interior design, trough (6) flower arrangements.
Beyond the scientific, the congress included a social programme with (1) a welcome cocktail at the Lisbon Museum, with traditional Portuguese food and drinks, as well as a musical performance by Lisbon’s Academic Tuna; (2) a social sunset with free drinks and music; (3) two thematic excursions, one to Sintra, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the other to Arrábida Natural Park; and (4) the congress dinner at Casa do Alentejo, an historical place on Lisbon’s downtown.
To ease the participation of families at the congress, we provided facilities directed to parents with babies and young children, including a family room and an area for breastfeeding. Moreover, there was a free childcare service, for children from 0 to 16 years old, thanks to a local kindergarten and Lisbon Zoo.
Connecting to Lisbon Green Capital 2020
Taking into consideration the scientific content, the importance of theme and the moment in which it took place in Lisbon, the congress was part of the initiatives promoted by Lisbon’s Municipality towards the preparation of Lisbon European Green Capital 2020.
Want to know more?