The German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) convened an online event to unpack the findings of the forthcoming Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) 2023 and the report of the High-Level Advisory Board on Multilateralism (HLAB) released in April. Experts highlighted the complementarity of findings and their contributions to the SDG Summit in September and the 2024 Summit of the Future.

Issued at the mid-point of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, both the GSDR and the HLAB’s report offer insights on how to boost the implementation of the 17 SDGs and propose solutions to current challenges.

The Global Sustainable Development Report originated in 2012, from the ‘Future We Want’ declaration at the Rio+20 Conference, to bring the power of science to navigating the complexity of the 2030 Agenda and the interlinkages between the environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainable development. The GSDR is produced every four years to inform the quadrennial SDG review at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), also known as the SDG Summit. The report is written by an Independent Group of Scientists appointed by the UN Secretary-General. The Group consists of 15 experts representing a variety of backgrounds, scientific disciplines, and institutions, ensuring geographical and gender balance. An advance version of this report was released to governments in March 2023. The final publication will be launched at the SDG Summit.

Opening the floor, Marianne Beisheim, SWP, highlighted that the GSDR focuses on “inevitable and possible transformations,” which nonetheless need to be steered towards sustainability. She explained that after an assessment of the status quo of the SDGs, the report details how transformation can be achieved through six entry points and five levers, providing a systematic organizing framework for SDG action. She said the report outlines a pattern that underlies transformations, consisting of an S-curve comprising the emergence, acceleration, and stabilization phases, which is matched by a reversed S-curve with phases corresponding to destabilization, breakdown, and phase-out. Policy interventions along these curves can help support positive configurations while breaking down unsustainable ones, she noted.

Beisheim said the report ends with a call to action for the establishment of an SDG Transformation Framework to build capacity, activate synergies, and improve the underlying conditions for SDG implementation, including conflict prevention, increasing fiscal space, focusing on marginalized groups, ensuring gender equality, and strengthening the science-policy-society interface.

Silke Weinlich, IDOS, highlighted the main messages from the HLAB’s report titled, ‘A Breakthrough for People and Planet.’ She explained that the report was mandated by the UN Secretary General’s Our Common Agenda, which originated in the UN 75th Anniversary Declaration, and that the HLAB Board was appointed in March 2022 with the mission to identify global public goods in areas of common interest where governance improvements are most needed and provide options on how to achieve these. The Board is co-chaired by former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former Prime Minister of Sweden Stefan Löfven.

Weinlich highlighted that the report proposes six transformational shifts, accompanied by recommendations, and has a strong focus on governance issues and on overcoming existing fragmentation gaps. She noted the report “did not reinvent the wheel” but instead, built upon and supported the findings from other reports and ongoing processes. The six shifts proposed by the HLAB report, she said, are related to inclusive governance, sustainable finance, regaining balance with nature, digital and data governance, peace and prevention, and anticipatory action for emerging transnational risks.

Imme Scholz, Co-Chair of the Independent Group of Scientists commissioned to prepare the GSDR, and Adam Day, Co-Lead of the HLAB Secretariat, discussed the main strengths of the two reports, highlighting interlinkages and complementarity of the findings. They indicated that the HLAB report complements the GSDR’s findings by focusing on the political side of transformations, especially inclusive multilateralism, global finance, and planet and nature, and by putting emphasis on the importance of regional and local dimensions, civil society, and marginalized groups, while also looking at security threats. They further acknowledged that both reports emphasize the importance of investing in sustainability transformations.

With other speakers, they noted that the two reports have similar language around transformative shifts to accelerate progress on the SDGs. Both touch upon behavioral sciences approaches and incentives for transformations to happen, with the HLAB’s report including contributions from behavioral scientists describing how change could happen.

Speakers traced common themes, such as reform of the global financial architecture and phasing out carbon-based fuels. They said both reports call for more accountability and greater reliance on the science-policy interface, and for becoming more inclusive by involving a broader range of non-state actors to achieve “a breakthrough scenario instead of a breakdown one.”

Other interventions recognized the prominence of the environmental dimension in the two reports, as a key element for the present and future generations’ prosperity and access to global public goods. With strategic foresight playing a key role to better position the systems to address current and future challenges, speakers highlighted the importance of developing a vision for longer-term sustainability.

Among other aspects emphasized in the GSDR and the HLAB’s reports, participants acknowledged: capacity building for transformation; stronger public policies to ensure transformational shifts are implemented in a coherent way; and technological innovation and digitalization to achieve the SDGs.

The event convened on 3 May 2023, as part of the Wednesday Expert Talk Series, organized by IDOS and SWP. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]