KTH Royal Institute of Technology: Sustainable development requires cooperation

That academia, business, authorities and industry representatives do things together is the way forward to drive sustainable development.
This is the opinion of Anders Karlsson, Vice President, leading strategic cooperations in Asia at the publishing giant Elsevier, with a background as a science diplomat and professor at KTH.

Through cooperation from different perspectives and with different knowledge, it is easier to identify the right issues and get to the point more quickly in terms of processes for possible ways forwards, he points out.

“Things often become complex when you get into concrete societal challenges. At the same time, it is important that no time is wasted in solving the societal challenges we face. What is required is that we do things here and now”, says Anders Karlsson.

What is the key to successful cooperation?
“It is about understanding each other’s roles and what is the strength of what you yourself can contribute. The most important thing is trust and confidence. Meeting and trying to solve practical problems is a good basis for continued cooperation.

Personal chemistry plays a big role, he adds, possibly an insight gained from the experience of his previous work as a scientific diplomat at the Swedish Embassy in Tokyo, a city where he still lives and works.

Swedish-Japanese collaborations
He came to Japan from a position as Professor of Quantum Photonics at KTH and with many years of Swedish-Japanese collaborations in his backpack.

“Mainly it involved being a catalyst for cooperation, knowing the right people and mediating between contacts”, says Anders Karlsson.

During his diplomat time, in conjunction with his colleagues at the embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he managed to take part in and guide two Swedish delegations – Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and his entourage in Tokyo in 2008 and the royal couple’s state visit four years later. And in between, in 2011, he participated in the Foreign Ministry’s crisis management during the earthquake and the course of accidents at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

In his current position at the science publishing house Elsevier, with responsibility for strategic contacts with universities, governments and industry in the region, he is strongly involved in issues such as sustainable development, inclusion and diversity.

Elsevier has, together with university consortia, developed a methodology that maps scientific publications in connection with the UN’s global sustainability goals. The results are included as a part of Times Higher Education, THE’s ranking of universities’ sustainability work, and is one of many examples of Elsevier’s various partnerships.

“It’s a thought provoker”
“The sustainability ranking provides an opportunity for universities to make their work visible. Then you can always discuss the importance of a ranking and what it reflects. Our role, with the help of all the data we have access to, is to contribute with bases for decision-making to future strategies for various actors”, says Anders Karlsson.

Based on 15 years of academic work on site in the Japanese capital, he has a strong conviction that Sweden and the rest of the Western world need to expand cooperation with the Asian region. Not least when it comes to sustainable development.

“Asia has a crucial role for our future societal development, not just relating to research and innovation. I often have to remind that Japan is actually the world’s third largest economy. And when we look at publication data, we can see that in the years 2000–2020, China accounted for 24 per cent of the scientific publications on renewable energy. It’s a thought provoker.

At the same time, there are many issues concerning democracy and human rights to discuss – how do you think about that?
“It is of course important to include these issues. At the same time, our issues are too great not to be dealt with in a global collaboration. Finding a forum where we can collaborate on issues about our planet and health goes beyond geopolitics is essential.”

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