Expert voices Vol 23, No. 09 - September 2019

Science report offers concrete actions to realize global goals

All kinds of people, from UN delegates to youth organizers and business leaders, often say that realizing the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will create a better world—and now science truly backs this claim. The 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) will launch on 11 September, providing a science- and evidence-based tool in support of the global goals. We spoke with Shantanu Mukherjee, chief of the Integrated Policy and Analysis Branch in UN DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development Goals, about the report and some of the key findings.

How did the Global Sustainable Development Report originally come about?

“The GSDR was mandated in the Rio+20 outcome, when Member States were laying the groundwork for the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. The negotiators knew that the Agenda would be complex, and unprecedented in ambition, and that the traditional siloed approach to development would not be adequate. They recognized the power of science to understand and navigate relationships among social, environmental and economic development objectives, and so they called for a report to strengthen the science-policy interface.

In 2016, Member States decided that the report should be produced once every four years so as to inform the quadrennial SDG review deliberations at the General Assembly, and that it should be written by an Independent Group of Scientists appointed by the Secretary-General. The first such report will be launched this month.”

What does the report say about the state of sustainable development?

“The report is entitled “The Future is Now: Science for Achieving Sustainable Development,” and that name does express the urgency that runs through the text. The report finds that we are dangerously off track in many areas: we are at risk of missing the poverty eradication target, hunger is on the rise, and progress towards gender parity is too slow.

Inequalities in wealth and income are increasing in many countries, and inequalities in opportunities are limiting chances for upward mobility. Vulnerable populations—in countries in special situations, in conflict and post-conflict settings, migrants, women, youth, people with disabilities, among others—continue to be at risk of being left behind. And we are approaching tipping points in biodiversity loss and green-house gas emissions, which threaten to irreversibly erode the natural systems that sustain us.”

The situation sounds dire. Does the report offer a way forward?

“Yes, and the second part of the title holds the key! The science community—including social and natural sciences—has been carrying out research and analysis, making discoveries and driving innovation that holds the promise of changing our current development trajectory. Such change is only possible if the interlinkages across goals and targets are treated systemically, so that our actions realize the full potential of synergies and avoid the trade-offs.

The report looks in particular at six entry points through which systemic transformations can take place – human wellbeing, the economy, food and nutrition, energy, urban development and the global environmental commons. The transformations will not be easy, but the report includes concrete actions within each entry point, and we are hopeful that governments will use it as a tool as they recommit to achieving the 2030 Agenda in the 10 short years we have left.

Political will and the engagement of policy makers, the private sector, civil society, communities and individuals are now needed to make the necessary large-scale transformations. Overall, the report also emphasizes that while science is essential to SDG progress, there also needs to be more of it directed towards finding solutions for implementation bottlenecks, especially in developing countries where investments in research are woefully low.”

For more information: Global Sustainable Development Report 2019 

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