Academics from Cranfield University have spoken about how an interconnected, transdisciplinary approach looking at resilience across multiple different levels is key to securing the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Cranfield’s Resilience Grand Challenge group hosted an online session as part of the UNGA76 Science Summit around the 76th United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Professor David Denyer, Professor of Leadership and Organisational Change and Commercial and Development Director at Cranfield School of Management, said: “Resilience is written either explicitly or implicitly into the SDGs and a lot of the documentation that we read around them mentions resilience but often in multiple ways. This session is an opportunity to discuss what resilience really means within the SDGs and how might we think about an approach to make them more resilient.

“If we don’t think about resilience to future disruptions, shocks and stresses, then we won’t be able to deliver on SDG promises. Focusing on strengthening resilience can protect the gains we have already made and help us to think about the future and what is required to make it more resilient in the context of the SDGs.”

Dr Kenisha Garnett, Professor Jim Harris, Dr Simon Harwood and Dr Simon Jude also spoke at the session and responded to points from the audience.

Professor Harris, Professor of Environmental Technology, Cranfield Soil and Agrifood Institute, pointed to adopting a ‘five capitals’ perspective – encompassing natural, social, human, built and financial capitals – in order to capture a whole of society approach to resilience.

“Unless we consider all of these things – and certainly in the context of the SDGs – and how they interact, we’ll never get to be able to understand the complexity of the system, the functions that arise from it and therefore emerging properties, in particular resilience,” said Professor Harris.

Dr Harwood, Director of Defence and Security, Cranfield University, said: “The SDGs are about guiding us where we want to be in the coming ten or so years, and while they are broadly framed within 17 goals, they’re all inherently linked with each other forming an indivisible system that the UN looks at from a social, economic and environmental perspective. We also need to consider the human and built, to cover the five capitals.

“On the one hand, one goal or target may contribute to achieving other goals or targets, but on the other hand, the pursuit of a goal or target may conflict with achieving another. Understanding the interlinkages among the goals can help us to know where we need to target, the synergies and also the trade-offs.”

The UNGA76 Science Summit aimed to raise awareness of the role and contribution of science to the attainment of the UN SDGs, demonstrating initiatives that provide models for global science mechanisms and activities in support of the SDGs, particularly in the area of science infrastructure and capacity building.