UCL News


UCL hosts global conference on UN Sustainable Development Goals

4 November 2020

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark was among a host of eminent speakers from across the world discussing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a UCL conference.


Running from 19– 29 October, the ‘Beyond Boundaries: Realising the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) conference, believed to be the first of its kind at UCL, brought together world-leading experts and champions of sustainable development to examine how universities can galvanise research and teaching to support the SDGs.

Jointly hosted by UCL Grand Challenges and the Global Engagement Office, thousands of attendees from over 55 countries joined the event online to hear presentations and panel discussions on a range of key topics, including sustainability in a COVID-19 context, achieving inclusive wealth and addressing global inequalities.

Professor David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research), said: “This conference was a tremendous opportunity for UCL staff, students and the public to come together to discuss how and if universities, through research and teaching activities, can contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“We hope that Beyond Boundaries has inspired attendees to collaborate across both physical and disciplinary boundaries in efforts to confront the global challenges set out in the UN’s Agenda 2030. As London’s Global University, we hope that the outcomes of this conference will enable us as an institute to make progress towards a new strategy on the SDGs to guide us through the next decade of action.”

Over 60 speakers joined from countries including Australia, Japan and South Africa and from across government, academia, the media and think tanks. They included Special Envoy of WHO Director-General on COVID-19 Dr David Nabarro, Guardian and Observer investigative journalist Carol Cadwalladr, Delhi-based environmentalist and author, Dr Sunita Narain and Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

UCL’s own researchers also presented, including co-chair and renowned economist Professor Mariana Mazzucato, doctor and former WHO Director Professor Anthony Costello, psychologist and SAGE advisor Professor Susan Michie, and climate scientist and author Professor Mark Maslin.

In the conference’s opening session, attended by over 460 people, keynote speaker Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Professor of Natural Prosperity, Sustainable Development and Knowledge Systems at UCL Institute for Global Prosperity, discussed the need to create a more sustainable economic model focused on wellbeing, urging the world to build forward better from COVID-19.

Dedicating her talk to the late Professor Dame Georgina Mace, an acclaimed ecologist and conservationist, Professor McGlade highlighted the two potential futures the planet faces, exploring the impact of the pandemic and its profound implications on the environment and inequalities.

Professor McGlade, former Chief Scientist at UN Environment Programme, said: “While the COVID pandemic has greatly hindered many aspects of our lives, it has made us more aware of our capacity to rapidly transform our lives and our economies, especially when governments and society adopt a values-led approach. Our success at managing COVID is also a good indicator of how well we will recover in the coming months and years and especially which forms of leadership will enable us to go beyond simply building a “better” version of the past, towards building forward better.

“What we can see is the need to work together at all levels - from the community up to national government - towards shared endeavours and civic norms. Getting the Sustainable Development Goals back on track is a good way to do this and to give us direction, towards a fairer, more environmentally sustainable world for future generations.”

To watch the session recordings, visit the Beyond Boundaries conference website. To hear more about UCL’s work on the Sustainable Development Goals, sign up to the UCL & the SDGs mailing list.

For any questions about the conference, please contact beyondboundaries@ucl.ac.uk.


Visit the conference website
UCL Grand Challenges
UCL Global Engagement Office

Office of the Vice-Provost (Research)
Professor Jacqueline McGlade’s academic profile
UCL Institute for Global Prosperity
United Nations Sustainable Development Goals