6th World Sustainability Forum (WSF2017)

The 6th World Sustainability Forum

27 and 28 January 2017

An international scientific conference sponsored by the journal Sustainability under the patronage of the University of the Western CapeUniversity of Cape TownUniversity of Basel and the National Research Foundation of South Africa.

The adoption of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015 was accompanied by what insiders considered an optimism they have not experienced in relation to UN resolutions before. The relative efficiency in the drafting, the lack of trenches between East and West, or between North and South, and the unanimity of support of the 193 countries speak volumes. In stark contrast, sustainability and dealing with it could be the poster child for what Robert Horn called a social mess (2007: 6): “a set of interrelated problems … resistant to analysis and, more importantly, to resolution.” Characteristics of a social mess generally, and sustainability specifically, include an absence of a unique and correct solution, interrelatedness of problems, ideological constraints, multiple possible intervention points, resistance to change, value conflict, and political and economic constraints. While these are excellent ingredients for a thorough academic debate, the issues underpinning the sustainability debate are so urgent that, beyond academic reflection and research, much more is necessary than what academics, political leaders, administrators, industry, nations, communities, and individuals are habitually prepared to do.

Based on the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, adopted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, sustainability refers to the “collective responsibility to advance and strengthen the interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development — economic development, social development and environmental protection — at the local, national, regional and global levels.” Conference topics at this forum may include food, nutrition, agriculture, water, mining, technology, energy, economics, sustainable cities, land management, migration, lifestyles and consumption, business and management, and corruption.

The 6th World Sustainability Forum, for the first time held in Africa, contributes to international debates on sustainability and, more specifically, enables exchanges, which sensitise the international community to the urgency, specifics, and existent knowledge base of sustainability on the African continent, and the African research community about international perspectives on sustainability. To do justice to the topic, we included contributions not only from national and international academic perspectives, but we have also attracted a diverse audience that includes members from the political and business sectors. For better or worse, the next few decades will be marked by a profound engagement in sustainability research and policy – and Africa is profoundly influencing and being influenced by global developments. In stark contrast, sustainability seems to go against a changing economic and political tide, where waves of nationalism and protectionism from some of the most powerful countries risk the wellbeing of the rest of the world.

This is an excellent opportunity for researchers, practitioners, and policy makers to engage with this topic, to become aware of the urgency of the issues, and to recognize individual, collective, and national opportunities associated therewith.