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Published: 2020-11-25

In order to develop good collaborations, we need to meet

PROFILE Maria Nilsson is a professor of public health science at the Department of Epidemiology and Global Health. She sees the need for broad collaboration to be able to bring about the transition to a sustainable world which is of utmost urgency.

Text: Kristina Lindblom
Image: Privat

What is your background? 

- I earned a degree in social work at Umeå University. After graduating, I first worked as a social worker with adolescents in Husby, Stockholm. I also worked with public health at Västerbotten County Council (now called Region Västerbotten) prior to becoming a doctoral student at Umeå University. I defended my dissertation in epidemiology and public health science at the Faculty of Medicine. 

Can you briefly describe your research?  

- My professorship has a focus on climate change and health. In my research in this field, I am mainly interested in: 

  1. climate adaptation measures and vulnerable groups. 
  2. climate change mitigation and adaptation measures based on the local community.
  3. strategic communication on health and risk. 

Research on climate change and health is directly related to UTRI through its focus on collaboration for sustainable transformation.

- I lead projects in low-, middle- and high-income countries. One example is a project in Indonesia to prevent and control the spread of the climate-sensitive disease Dengue fever. Another is the HOPE project, which has studied private consumption in high-income countries and the willingness of households to implement necessary consumption changes for society to achieve the temperature goals set by the EU and the UN. A third example is a project that studies strategic social communication in climate change work and the role of health in it. Research on climate change and health is directly related to UTRI through its focus on collaboration for sustainable transformation. 

What is sustainable transition according to you and what challenges can you see in getting there? 

- I usually start from the principle behind sustainable development, which was first introduced in the Brundtland Report in the late 1980s, which states that humanity must meet its needs today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The principle implies an uncompromising responsibility towards children and young people now and for the future. That principle demonstrates that we as human beings have not lived sustainably for a long time, that the earth's resources are being depleted. 

- In my field of ​​climate change and health, our transformation focus is on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to quickly phase out the use of fossil fuels, so that we have a chance to meet the temperature targets agreed upon at the Paris global climate conference 2015. The challenges are many and the window of opportunity for action here is short, but there are some challenges within us as human beings, since change can require a lot. On the one hand, it is about the necessity to increase knowledge and to make it widely accessible. It is also about the choices we make, the willingness of the business community to invest in climate change mitigation, and the courage of politicians to prioritise today for long-term climate benefits, with leaders who are positive about cooperation from the local to the global level. 

How did you decide to become involved in UTRI? 

- I was involved in initiating UTRI because I wanted to increase our opportunities for broad collaboration across the faculties with sustainable development, but also with various stakeholders outside the University. This is necessary in order to solve sustainability challenges. It is important for me to make research-based knowledge accessible to the wider public, and I recognise UTRI as an important platform for doing this together. 

What do you think UTRI can contribute with in your research? 

- I believe that new collaborations will emerge with expertise from many different fields of knowledge, and that it can lead the sustainability work forward in both research and practical operations. 

Finally, why do you think people should take part in the kick-off? 

- To develop good collaborations, we need to meet, tell each other about what is being done, discuss the challenges and opportunities for sustainable development and how we can continue to work together. The kick-off is a good first opportunity for this with UTRI. 


Umeå Transformation Research Initiative (UTRI)

Umeå University is investing in sustainability research. The new Umeå Transformation Research Initiative (UTRI) supports collaborations promoting sustainable transition at Umeå University, but also welcomes collaborations with other universities and stakeholders in the field.

UTRI held a kick-off on Monday 30 November and Tuesday 1 December 2020 in the form of an online webinar. Keynote speeches from honorary doctors at Umeå University was: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, Nancy Langton, Professor at Michigan Technological University, the US, John Anderson, Professor at Loughborough University, the UK, and Michael Hall, Professor at the University of Canterbury, New Zeeland.

The moderator was Ola Nordebo.

Read more on the UTRI website.