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Mobilising for sustainability through science and policy

Nowadays, the subject of sustainability remains all-important. It is not only relevant in academics but also in policy, governance and practice. This is because living in sustainable conditions is increasingly recognised in almost every society. Yet, the global society continues to face challenging and unpredictable sustainability issues. Why? Natural and non-natural resources have not been profitably managed to equitably meet basic needs of people without having to destroy the resources. Humans’ contribution to climate change, for instance, has aggravated rapid rate of environmental and ecosystem destructions. The destroyed ecosystems consequently have led to a reduction in the opportunities for livelihoods, foodstuffs, jobs and thereby bolting the cycle of hunger, poverty and shelter deficits. The current real-life situations clearly show that policy lags behind in resolving these complex challenges, especially in the global South. If you are not unemployed, you are not safe, you are poor, homeless or rich but unable to effectively lead and govern well because of threats of inequality and carbon toxicity.

Another example is that unplanned cities are now confronted with enduring slums, climate-induced migration and youth joblessness. No single day passes without disturbing news about environmental issues and natural disasters such as conflicts, wildlife thefts, fires, mudslides, floods and pollutions. In both print and online social media in various parts of the world, videos and text messages related to severe degradation of the natural environment have been published to substantiate a need for collective action to reverse the undesirable trends. The disasters are rendering political and socio-economic sustainability structures more and more vulnerable, for which policies are required to coordinate resources, peoples and institutions to redress.

Socio-environmental conflicts largely emerge from various factors, including how people interact with, use or connect to nature. High utilisation of poisonous chemicals in agriculture, industry and exploitative surface mining for minerals come into mind. The formulation and implementation of policy interventions to deal with such the development issues has yielded mosaic of successes. Very often this has happened because scientific data to inform reframing of the interventions is deficient or lacking. In the present and the future, data derived from scientific means is necessary and funding to get it must be vehemently stressed. But, well-trained experts with excellent and deeper understanding of sustainability sciences are also needed to contribute to redesigning fresh policies that eliminate the barriers of faith, poverty, gender, politics, carbons and cultures to make society friendly, enjoyable and all-inclusive. The obvious fact is that there is a very wide gap between science and policy from a sustainability context. This is affecting how to systematically nurture, build and sustain society in which the needs of all persons are readily available. As sustainable society in which sheer human suffering is done away with among the marginalised groups like children, aged, disabled persons and less educated women in deprived communities!  This vacuum must be filled over time if society is to become sustainable, and continue in meeting everyone’s needs, interests and lives. Gross systemic failures of relationships, leaderships and other ingredients needed for stimulating human cooperation to foster sustainability can be resolved if the interconnectedness of science and policy is recognised by training and utilising experts with a stronger grounding in sustainability-related sciences. The role and ever importance of scientists in the ‘futures of cities’ have been eloquently stressed (McPhearson et al., 2016). For industries of all kinds that pose severe pollution threats, ‘chemical leasing’ (Dunjić, 2016) is one of the innovative science-business-policy model that can be employed to decouple emissions from industrial processes while at the same time giving higher returns on industrial investments socio-economically and environmentally. Carbons are lowered as well.

Science plays key role in explicit understanding of the processes, changes and events that lead to creating the development challenges I mentioned above and those that I did not mention due to limited space. It also aids appreciation of the consequences if solutions for the challenges are not resolved. The practical solutions that are required; and the ways to sustain the solutions tend to be convincing when the actors in the solution chain are mobilised using tested scientific modelling, tools and value-checks. Most often science unearth information, which is hidden from the views of policymakers, decision-makers, governors and leaders as well as the ordinary citizens in the informal economies. It thus helps to establish verifiable evidences to guide policy decisions and choices of lifting people from informal to formal economies. This is one of the obvious ways by which science is strongly linked to, and crucial for connecting society, economy and environment through policy. From this angle, sustainability science emphasises the ‘triple-bottom-line’ – respecting all disciplines, harnessing resources and streamlining institutional roadmaps. Policy is interconnected to science by making it possible to get the vision of sustainability to materialise on the ground.

Certainly, society operates in a system that involves multitude of physical structures, institutions, cultures, and norms that must be knowledgeably managed to bring in high-quality sustainable development gains. This implies policy structures constituting society must be built to function in systemic manners before the needs of people can be met quickly and sustainably. In the same way, science must meet the needs of society by revealing the realistic data that goes into weaving the social structures. What it means in real-life is that science must provide evidence-based information to enrich policy; and policy, on the other hand, must promote scientific services towards finding solutions for problems confronting humanity. Policy facilitates how to translate scientific inventions to equitably impact on every segment of society in all areas of economic and environmental improvements.

With a growing ambition of the global community to resolve some of the world’s pressing issues through international agendas such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, New Urban Agenda, and the Paris Agreement, the need to comprehend the interdependencies, interactions and multi-connectedness of science and policy in driving sustainability is substantiated. From the local to global levels, the significance of science and policy in getting to the level of human cooperation for social advancement is so clear. One can think of carbon risks which are not controlled by national borders or international boundaries. Carbon risks are happening everywhere and troubling people at varying scales and intensities. “Common sense” is useful in everyday life but the vast differences in human interests, aspirations, values and geographical locations suggest that policy cannot be vaguely formulated without incorporating scientific evidences in the policy towards tackling the economic and socio-environmental challenges like the carbon impacts. Ignoring science to engage in large-scale development has the propensity to cause disillusionment, discontent and misery. Thus, the methods and procedures for delivering social innovations at various levels will require well-blended policy and scientific instruments. Imagine the oscillating nature of social and climate tipping elements manipulating or fast-forcing the earth’s climate systems to reach tipping points!

We cannot succeed in realising a just and sustainable society in the medium to long run without utilising integrated tools, knowledges and skills drawn from both science and policy firmly grounded in sustainability sciences. In connecting science to policy vice versa, the element of human values for getting to human cooperation must remain high on sustainability agendas.



  1. Dunjić, B. 2016. Innovative business models (chemical Leasing). A paper presented at the Green Industry course – Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development. UNIDO Institute for Capacity Development/Central European University, Hungary, July 19, 2016.
  2. McPhearson T.; Parnell S.; Simon D.; Gaffney O.; Elmqvist T.; Bai X.; Roberts D.; Revi A., 2016. Scientists must have a say in the future of cities. Nature 538: 165-166.

Future of Accra’s Odaw River: a new conversation for eco-modernisation

The seat of the Ghana Government, Accra, is a place of active power, wealth and abundant natural resources, including the eco-assets of the Odaw River. The Odaw River possesses climate, socio-environmental and health benefits, and yet the underutilised and abused by the public in the capital city. The polluted river has influenced people to suggest that it should be covered from the public eyes. Many also believe that water from the river can never regain its natural significance. These views I do not concur. In this text, I am calling for a new conversation to eco-modernise the Odaw River to maximise its multiple contributions to green urban growth, combating microclimatic warming and socio-environmental services.

The eco-situation
SDiiThe ecosystem properties of the Odaw River are severely threatened because urban residents and migrants have done harm to it. The bio-habitat for useful insects, birds, fishes and earthworms necessary for re-building a functional urban biodiversity have been polluted and destroyed. Both domestic and industrial pollution played a greater role in causing the river’s unattractiveness and deteriorated conditions. Wastes of various types are deposited every day into it. The debris of manufactured products from local and international companies and businesses have been thrown into the river (un)consciously – broken computers, radio sets, lorry tyres, destroyed musical cassettes, mobile phones, sim cards and sachet water rubbers are dumped into the river. Industrial wastes, especially e-wastes and plastics are traceable, and credited to be major forces in fueling high flow of surface waters during rainfall and impermeability of flood waters in urban Accra. Conventional industrial practices failed to repair and sustain the Odaw River.

Generally, out of 2,200 tonnes of wastes generated annually, Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) records that nearly 400 tonnes are not collected or properly disposed. And, the collected wastes absorbed nearly 75% of the funds/revenues generated internally thus putting pressure on the budgetary allocations of the assembly. As a result, the uncollected wastes have drifted into most rivers and streams in the inner city. The Odaw River, in particular, has become “landfill” for discharging unwanted toxic substances. Open trading practices partially contributed to devaluation of this once viable river. What can be done to bring natural life into the river’s ecosystems is now an impasse. The unfortunate thing is that public debates about how to restore the river come up only when people are trapped, died or displaced by damaging floods in the city. When urban floods lead to painful disasters, the debate about how to find immediate solution resurfaces. As soon as the flooding ends, discussion concerning the Odaw River also closes. No one is interested.

The continuing pollution of the river is probably because its public values are not clearly known or due to the fact that people have assumed that nothing can be done about its restoration and sustainability.  One of Ghana’s renounced environmentalists, Dr. Letitia Eva Obeng, while delivering the JB Danquah memorial lecture some time ago had observed: ‘The Mediterranean, until recently was in shocking state but the countries bordering it decided to clean it up. And, cleaning up can be done; fish once gain breeds in Thames. Pollution of surface waters can be stopped, and with determination, suitable technologies can be found.’ The Thames River is in the UK. During my learning periods in England in the first decade of the 21st Century, I walked around and saw a better managed river. There are best practices about how to scientifically and practically improve quality of river ecosystems in all over the world. Even in Ghana, we still have unspoilt river zones that offer good drinking water for local population.

Presently, the water in the Odaw River is not clean for drinking. The polluted Odaw River represents sanitation, climate and socio-economic cost. The World Health Organisation and Ghana’s Ministry of Health, for instance, will hardly refute this because the river can have ‘detrimental effects on quality of life and outbreak of infectious diseases’. The consequences of climate impact on the urban society if the eco-assets of the Odaw River completely collapse will be devastating in the future. Therefore, it is important to re-connect residents to urban nature through the promotion of eco-modernisation and sustainable conservation of the Odaw River and its ecosystems.

Linking global goals and the Odaw River     
Urban authorities always envision and want good living conditions for their residents – good health, safety, happiness and comfortable city environments. This is same in Accra. Along the Odaw River, this desire is seemingly elusive but carefully being worked on. And, new all-inclusive actions are urgently needed to realise this vision over time. Raising and sustaining Accra’s Green Index is impossible without modernising the Odaw River’s eco-assets to its best usable status by 2030. Consider the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) #11 of the global agenda 2030? Currently, the polluted river endangered the progress towards the goal #11 of the SDGs and other local urban environmental agendas.  Thus, modernising and sustaining the urban ecosystems in the catchments of the river ought to be a priority – a priority which concerns every Ghanaian. It is not one day task and should not be left to overwhelm the budget of the AMA alone. Every little contribution from us all is required to achieve a just and sustainable Accra through eco-modernisation of the Odaw River. What can urban youth really do to help eco-modernise Odaw River for a better future?


  • AMA, 2011. Accra, Millennium city, Accra.
  • Obeng L.E., 1980. Environmental management and the responsibility of the privileged. The J.B. Danquah memorial lectures series 13, February 1980. Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, Accra.
  • Republic of Ghana, 2007. National health policy: creating wealth through health. Ministry of Health, Accra.


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