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On the third day of the HLPF, the co-chairs of the Independent Group of Scientists presented key findings of the 2019 edition of the Global Sustainable Development Report, which will be officially launched during the SDG Summit in September.

Several governments shared their general views on the GSDR, and welcomed the report.

11 July 2019: A thematic review during the 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) addressed the science-policy interface (SPI), with several UN Member States welcoming the Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR). The co-chairs of the group of scientists that produced the GSDR briefed participants.

In July 2016, UN Member States agreed that the GSDR would become a quadrennial report drafted by an independent group of scientists (IGS) supported by a task team of six UN entities, namely the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Bank. Members of the IGS for the 2019 edition of the report were appointed by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in December 2016, and are currently finalizing the report for its formal launch during the SDG Summit in September 2019.

At the briefing on 11 July 2019, IGS co-chair Peter Messerli, University of Bern, Switzerland, said that based on an assessment of a “business-as-usual” scenario, many SDG targets are off-track. Some, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions (SDG 13) and inequalities (SDG 10), are going in the “wrong direction.”

Messerli said the IGS has analyzed interactions among the SDGs, based on 67 scientific assessments and UN reports, and found that while achieving one SDG will have benefits on the other Goals, this achievement also will be characterized by tradeoffs. He highlighted the need to address these tradeoffs through a knowledge-based framework to accelerate transformations towards sustainable development. These transformations include shifting toward sustainable and just economies, achieving energy decarbonization, and building sustainable food systems and healthy nutrition patterns.

Messerli also outlined levers for change (or tools) to achieve these transformations, namely governance, economy and finance, individual and collective action, and science and technology. He noted that the IGS is mandated to bring together different perspectives of science to inform the 2030 Agenda and strengthen the SPI, and that the GSDR has benefited from a scientific review and consultations, including comments by UN Member States.

Co-chair Endah Murniningtyas, former Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of National Development Planning of Indonesia, suggested including scientists in national SDG coordinating teams to conduct SDG mappings and advise on implementation, explaining that science helps identify key and emerging issues not necessarily considered by the SDGs. She also stressed the need to account for each country’s specific context when considering transformations for sustainable development.

Delegates shared their general views on the GSDR, with several governments welcoming the report. Stephan Contius, Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), said the report highlights key windows for change in the next decade, forms a good basis for discussion at the SDG Summit, and provides a good argument for adopting ambitious and integrated policies. Norway called the GSDR “bold” and said it includes “fresh perspectives.” Switzerland said the report is “what is was meant to be,” as a strong evidence-based instrument to support policy-makers, and called for the SDG Summit’s political declaration to refer to this “first GSDR” so it can continue to serve as a fact provider for policy makers.

Among other comments, the EU said it agrees with the report on the need to understand interlinkages between Goals and targets. Sweden said the report recommends activities on “both sides of the divide” between science and community. Ghana said the GSDR is timely and brings “key insights” to guide policy action. Jamaica welcomed the diversity of the IGS team which, she said, reflects a broad representation of ideas and views on sustainable development. The Republic of Korea observed that the report places more emphasis on the environment than the other two dimensions of sustainable development, and a future report should be better balanced. The Women’s Major Group lamented that the report does not sufficiently reflect gender and human rights.

Responding to comments, Messerli remarked that the GSDR was guided by a central tenant of the 2030 Agenda – leaving no one behind – and it examines how the three dimensions of sustainable development relate to each other.

Heide Hackmann, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), International Science Council, reported that a science funders meeting convened by Council in July 2019 called for a decade for global sustainability funding action to enhance strategic alignment and multilateral collaboration on investing in science for the SDGs. She specified that the science funders comprise donors, philanthropies, and countries, including developing ones, among other actors.

Ghana called for mainstreaming STI in policy and decision-making processes, noting that Ghana’s STI policy is anchored in its National Development Plan (NDP) and promotes sustainability of “economy-wide activities.” Sweden said it has restructured its funding along the SDGs, it addresses women and minorities in research, and it supports research and capacity building for research in developing and middle-income countries. The Bahamas reported that in 2018 it opened the G.T.R. Campbell Small Island Sustainability Research Complex at the University of The Bahamas.

Virginia Murray, Public Health England, remarked that science should be useful, usable and used by partners and stakeholders. The Republic of Korea said the scientific community should participate in SDG follow-up and monitoring mechanisms, such as the voluntary national reviews (VNRs).

Participants also outlined the need for providing further access to data, research and knowledge across the world, and strengthening scientific infrastructure and institutions, especially in developing countries. An expert called for vigilance to avoid creating another knowledge divide when linking data, including big data, across disciplines. Another delegate said local governments need to be empowered to “know what is going on” in their city, and should be given resources and tools to process such information, including information technology systems and software.

The HLPF is taking place under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) from 9-18 July 2019, in New York, US, on the theme ‘Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.’ [Event Background Note] [IISD Meeting Coverage] [UN Press Coverage] [UN News] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]


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