Dear Ms. Biber-Freudenberger, recently you’ve been appointed Junior Professor with BMBF-funded project on LANd Use SYNergies and CONflicts within the framework of the 2030 Agenda (LANUSYNCON). What is the aim of the project?
In the project LANUSYNCON, together with my research group, I investigate how the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), affect conflicts and synergies in the context of land use. The 17 SDGs were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 and are a framework that aims to ensure that development is economically, socially and ecologically sustainable. However, it quickly becomes clear that there are a number of conflicts but also synergies between individual goals, which are particularly evident in the context of land use. Let’s take the example of biodiversity conservation and the expansion of infrastructure. Both are interests represented by individual SDGs but at the same time are conflicting with one another. There can be also synergies between other goals, for example climate protection and species protection. Protecting carbon-rich forests can contribute to both goals. However, since decisions about the implementation of the individual goals are mostly made by different political sectors, the question arises whether synergies and conflicts in land use policy are sufficiently taken into account.
In LANUSYNCON I and my working group examine SDG conflicts and synergies using the example of land use in Kenya and Tanzania. In addition, we shed light on the role of science in political decision-making by taking a closer look at so-called interfaces such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). These interfaces are also mostly sectoral, which is why the question arises if synergies and conflicts are adequately considered here as well and what influence this has on local political decisions
In your previous research project STRIVE (Sustainable TRade and InnoVation transfer in the bioEconomy) you also dealt with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). What responsibility / importance do you see for science in the course of Agenda2030?
I think and hope that science will play an increasingly important role. In the past, science was often designed to examine increasingly small parts of a complex reality, sometimes maybe losing sight of the bigger picture. Today, system-oriented science has a completely different relevance because it resembles political reality, where different aspects and interests have to be weighed against each other, much more. In addition, the effects of unsustainable development such as climate change and loss of biodiversity are having an increasingly pronounced impact on our lives. Because of this, and because a growing share of the population, such as the Fridays for Future movement, unite behind science, politicians have to deal with what scientists have to say. My feeling is that political decision-makers are becoming increasingly interested in scientific knowledge. That is why I believe that science is making an important contribution to predicting the effects of today’s decisions in the future and that politicians in the future will have to justify themselves if they have not considered this knowledge in their political decisions.
We interviewed you six years ago. At that time you regretted that, with regard to the protection of biodiversity, the underlying mechanisms such as consumption and global markets received too little attention in the political debate in the countries of the global north. Has anything changed since then?
I think change is happening but slowly. Unfortunately, these processes are very slow and I believe we still tend to turn a blind eye to many things. But I think that we will only be able to reverse climate change, loss of biodiversity, land degradation and consequent disasters and hunger if we admit that we all have to change our behavior and consumption. In order to achieve this, however, it takes a lot of fundamental changes in the way we live and what we value. I am not sure whether we will be able to get there in time.
What motivates you in the morning and how do you think about it in the evening?
That’s a difficult question because of course I don’t do this in a systematic way. But I can say that my son motivates me. I would like him and his children to have the opportunity to lead a good life in the future. If he ever asked me if I tried to take action against injustice in the world and towards future generations, I would like to be able to say that I am certainly not perfect, but that I hope to have contributed a little to solving these problems. I also think of all the people and their children, who were not lucky enough to be born in a highly developed country like Germany. The main burden of our consumption is not borne by us, but by the millions of people who are threatened by climate change, hunger and other disasters. So much for my motivation: But when I go inside and think about myself, I realize that unfortunately I often do not live up to my own standards.
What question would you like to answer that you have never been asked?
I find this question very difficult to answer, which is why, with your permission, I would like to change it. Instead, I would like to explain which question I would like to ask a representative sample of the world population and why. I would like to ask people how they envision a just and sustainable world. If we look at our global system today, it is deeply unfair, both because some countries take advantage of others, but also because today’s generations live at the expense of their children. Where and when we are born determines to a much greater extent whether we live a life of prosperity or poverty than other things. If we assume that all people today and in the future should have the same right to food, security, water, education etc., then we have to put up with the question of what the system should look like that can make this possible. If we take all laws, ideas about life and ambitions out of the equation and were able to set up completely new rules of the game, what would they look like? Which ways of living would survive this discourse and which would not? I’m sure things like the annual vacation in a far distant country, the private car, and excessive meat consumption would be among the things we would need to give up fairly early on. Perhaps this question would be easier to answer than those that grapple with fixing the system we have. Instead of constantly trying to correct the picture by changing something here and there, we should first ask ourselves how the picture should look in the end.
This interview was conducted by Yana Adu