8 December 2022
Scientists Identify Actionable Steps, Research Priorities to Achieve SDGs
Photo by Lynn Wagner
story highlights

The report outlines actionable steps and research priorities in the areas of education and capacity building, localization of the SDGs and indigenous knowledge networks, food systems, urbanization, decarbonization, science, technology, and innovation for the SDGs, science and peace, and financing to achieve the SDGs.

It recommends that, “as part of the effort to negotiate what initiative follows the SDGs beyond 2030,” governments and NGOs create a global social pact to promote a system for science to help advance peace.

The Committee on Operationalizing Sustainable Development of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the US issued a report that makes recommendations on how to operationalize the SDGs. It aims to inform the adoption of evidence-based actions that can advance progress both locally and at the global level.

Titled, ‘Operationalizing Sustainable Development to Benefit People and the Planet,’ the report builds on discussions among scientists, policymakers, business leaders, and youth at the April 2021 ‘Nobel Prize Summit: Our Planet, Our Future’ and on positive case studies highlighted during two virtual public workshops in April and May 2022.

The actionable steps and research priorities identified in the report span eight areas:

  • Education and capacity building: With educational institutions being “powerfully positioned” to operationalize sustainable development across society, the report suggests universities undertake initiatives to help develop “voluntary university reviews,” take actionable steps that advance the SDGs, and ensure that every student “is exposed to the challenges and opportunities in sustainable development.”
  • Localization of the SDGs and indigenous knowledge networks: Noting that the SDGs “must be rooted in local buy-in and implementation,” the report recommends that “urban and community leaders, practitioners, and philanthropic organizations … learn from case studies and knowledge networks, including how others effectively incorporate indigenous knowledge for advancing sustainability.” It also recommends that the US government “commit to creating” a voluntary national review (VNR) and incentivize voluntary local reviews (VLRs) to accelerate SDG achievement.
  • Food systems: Acknowledging that the current food system is responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 70% of global water use, the report recommends that federal and local governments work together to promote supply chains that are resilient and sustainable, and that academic leaders and the private sector support training and workforce development at universities, community colleges, and tribal colleges to promote sustainable and equitable food systems.
  • Urbanization: To promote synergies among urbanization-related SDGs, the report prioritizes: improving data collection and reporting at the local level, including disaggregated and city-level data; creating open data hubs and portals to capture information from local agencies and community-generated datasets; and improving the understanding of the types of data needed from cities to monitor environmental, social, and economic SDG transitions.
  • Decarbonization: The report notes that in addition to reducing emissions and transitioning to zero-carbon energy sources, organic and inorganic carbon dioxide removal (CDR) can help minimize global warming. It calls for investment in, and research that examines: the fundamental science of ocean and nature-based CDR; the shift towards zero-carbon energy sources such as renewables and nuclear; efficiency improvement across the whole energy system; and new behaviors and lifestyles, including circularity and sufficiency.
  • Science, technology, and innovation for the SDGs: Highlighting the role of partnerships across sectors and disciplines, including science, technology, and innovation (STI) cooperation, in developing innovative approaches to SDG implementation, the report recommends that studies examine how STI can facilitate SDG achievement in the context of the economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and conflicts, including the war in Ukraine.
  • Science and peace: Noting that conflict undermines all SDGs, the report stresses the need to strengthen SDG data hubs, partnerships, and data for monitoring and enforcement, with a focus on science and peace. It recommends that: governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) create a global social pact to promote a system for science to help advance peace, “as part of the effort to negotiate what initiative follows the SDGs beyond 2030”; funding agencies and philanthropic organizations invest in organizations that contribute to solutions to address wars, conflicts, and resulting migration; and scientific societies and academies conduct studies and dialogues to advance control of new and emerging weapon systems.
  • Financing to achieve the SDGs: Underscoring opportunities “to realize tangible and intangible benefits from SDG-related investing,” the report supports place-based initiatives that help attract private investment and unlock financing, and suggests that public, private, and other organizations create more blended finance options.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are non-profit institutions that provide independent analysis and advice to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. [Publication: Operationalizing Sustainable Development to Benefit People and the Planet] [Publication Landing Page] [Report Highlights] [National Academies News Release]

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