Mobilizing the World’s Scientists to Support the Sustainable Development Goals
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The 2030 Agenda is potentially transformative, but realizing this potential requires profound change in many arenas, including research and research support systems, and the unsustainable practices and values that underpin them.

Researchers in all countries, in all disciplines, across all generations must be mobilized to bring about this transformation.

A report published this week by InterAcademy Partnership is designed to help the global science community, and in particular the world’s science academies, support the SDGs more effectively and with more urgency.

This week saw the publication of an InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) report designed to help the global science community, and in particular the world’s science academies, support the SDGs more effectively and with more urgency.

This report, titled, ‘Improving Scientific Input to Global Policymaking,’ has been prepared for a critical moment in the UN’s 2030 Agenda, the global blueprint for the economic, social and environmental development of our planet. In September 2019, four years into this 15-year framework, world leaders will review progress on the implementation of its 17 SDGs and set a course for the next review phase, which will take the world beyond the halfway mark. Assessments of progress in 2018 (such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Report) made it clear that no country is on track to meet all of the SDGs by 2030, and countries need to step up their efforts and act fast.

There is no doubt, either, about the need for the global science community to play a stronger role. Many targets and indicators for the SDGs are difficult to measure, weak or absent altogether, making accurate monitoring of progress challenging; there are still major data gaps and a lack of integrated data, especially in low and middle-income countries; and little is understood about the interactions (synergies and trade-offs) between the 17 Goals and those interactions’ effects on policy interventions.

There is an urgent need to bridge the gap between knowledge production and knowledge use.

Furthermore, the 2030 Agenda is potentially transformative, but realizing this potential requires profound change in many arenas, including research and research support systems, and the unsustainable practices and values that underpin them. Examples are assessment and reward systems in academia. Researchers in all countries, in all disciplines, across all generations must be mobilized to bring about this transformation.

IAP is a global network of over 140 science, engineering and medical academies and the Global Young Academy, working additionally with a rapidly growing number of national young academies. Together they represent over 30,000 of the best scientific minds in the world and can provide a wealth of research expertise and insight, which is presently underutilized. If deployed effectively, they can play an important part in supporting the SDGs, as independent sources of peer-reviewed knowledge, as champions of evidence-informed policymaking and investment in science, as convenors of diverse sources of knowledge and insight, and as conduits for, and mentors to, younger generations of scientists to empower them to play their part.

Academies can lead the breakdown of disciplinary and geographic silos by shifting from competitive, isolated communities to collaborative, integrated ones, and from working for society to working with society, openly and inclusively. There is an urgent need to bridge the gap between knowledge production and knowledge use, ranging from existing knowledge that is not yet being applied to the SDGs, to new knowledge including on topics such as new and emerging technologies, which bring both opportunity and risk.

The IAP report is the culmination of three years’ work that has brought together over 200 senior scientists, early career researchers and policymakers from nearly 70 countries, by: convening regional workshops in Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific; helping to sort over 400 academy reports and other sources of relevance to the SDGs into an online, open source database; and engaging directly with different global, regional and national implementation processes, learning about them and sharing good practice. An important part of the project has been to help the science academies navigate their way through related UN processes, which are perceived as important but complex and confusing. To this end, a brief guide was published last year to “demystify” the SDGs, as outlined in this SDG Knowledge Hub guest article. The guide has helped academies get involved in implementation and review processes, join the SDG conversation, and gain an appreciation of the challenges of applying science, technology and innovation to the SDGs.

In order to engage the science community in effectively supporting SDG implementation, there must be a genuine desire from the policymaking community to do so too. For UN agencies serving, and trying to satisfy, their national and regional constituencies, this is undoubtedly challenging. The report encourages the UN and its agencies to foster a culture of evidence-informed policymaking, standardizing rigour and review across its work, so that policy design, implementation and review are robust.

Mobilizing national science academies and their regional and global networks will be an ongoing effort considering global changes and the established nature of these academic communities. But pockets of good practice have been seeded in different parts of the world. At the very least, the global science community will be in a better place to serve the next set of global goals that will be negotiated, and to ensure that they will be truly evidence-based and measurable.

The authors of this guest article are Tracey Elliott, InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) Project Director, Eva Alisic, IAP Project Co-Chair and Global Young Academy alumnus, and Teresa Stoepler, IAP Executive Director for Policy and Global Young Academy member.

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