Concerted effort to address global challenges

‘Today’s risk assessments of chemicals are inadequate. It is not enough to look at only one chemical at a time. This practice is based on the idea that the environment is free from other chemicals, which is a major simplification of a reality in which many chemicals are present at the same time’, says Professor Thomas Backhaus, director of the Centre for Future Chemical Risk Assessment and Management Strategies.

Backhaus argues that the toxic effect is greater for mixtures than for individual chemicals because they interact. He notes a problem in the current regulatory system. Scientists at the research centre are looking for tools and alternatives that will make it possible to extend the current regulatory system, such as through special taxes on chemicals, additional information campaigns or voluntary measures.
‘We are currently analysing Swedish experience with hazardous chemicals, such as the fat solvent trichloroethylene, and experience with biocides from other countries. The goal is better management of chemicals and to help facilitate the replacement of hazardous chemicals with less problematic options in consumer products. To succeed with this, we need closer collaboration with project stakeholders, such as government agencies, experts in the field, students, industry and the public.

The greatest challenge when it comes to interaction with stakeholders is ensuring that our work is relevant to them and that we create an open and secure arena where thoughts and ideas can be developed at a natural pace. Our advisory group will be an important part of our work. It is composed of experts from different disciplines and work environments and complements the expertise of people working on the project.’

The centre is part of the University of Gothenburg’s commitment to research related to global societal challenges. The university is investing SEK 300 million in interdisciplinary research over a six-year period.

Deliang Chen, Assistant Dean for Research at the Faculty of Science, believes that a multidisciplinary approach is necessary to create the right conditions for taking on this kind of issue.
‘The global societal challenges we are grappling with today are very complex and touch on interconnected issues in areas such as climate, water, food supplies and biodiversity’, Chen says. ‘At the same time, science is divided into different disciplines that deal with different aspects of these issues, which means that a holistic approach is lacking. Tackling these challenges in a systematic and integrated way requires new working methods and approaches in research.’

Thomas Backhaus argues that the multidisciplinary approach offers good opportunities for new insights because you are forced to look beyond your own discipline. At the same time, it presents several challenges.
‘One is learning each other’s language and understanding the specific problems confronting different disciplines. Another is designing case studies, outreach and educational efforts that benefit each participant from a rather diverse group of researchers.’

Chen hopes that the research within the initiative will help solve global problems. ‘At the same time, I would like to point out that there is much other interesting research within the university that directly or indirectly contributes to sustainable development in the world. An example of this is the Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre, which will be established on January 1, 2017. The loss of biodiversity is another important societal challenge, and alleviating it will require great commitment and collaboration.’

Facts about UGOT Challenges

Over a six-year period, the University of Gothenburg is investing SEK 300 million in interdisciplinary research related to global societal challenges. After an extensive application and selection process, six projects were granted funds within the framework known as UGOT Challenges.

  • The Centre for Antibiotic Resistance Research
  • The Centre for Future Chemical Risk Assessment and Management Strategies
  • The Centre for Collective Action Research
  • The Centre for Critical Heritage Studies
  • The Swedish Mariculture Research Centre
  • The Centre for Ageing and Health