New report outlines how researchers can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals

Participants in a 2016 workshop focusing on how science can contribute the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals pose for a photo. A new report summarises this workshop and an earlier event in 2015. Photo: German Committee Future Earth
A recently-published report from the German Committee Future Earth summarises how the research community can help leaders around the world to make informed decisions.

The German Committee Future Earth has published a new report outlining the important role that science must play in international efforts to curb climate change and move toward sustainability. The report, titled "The contribution of science in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals,” captures the results of two recent conferences that explored how researchers can contribute to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agreement, adopted in 2015, laid out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a set of targets that guide how nations grow in ways that are equitable, just and sustainable.

The report is available online here.

Among other recommendations, the report urges the research community to collaborate across borders and with diverse members of society, including leaders in policy, business and civil society. In a forward, Martin Visbeck, chair of the German Committee Future Earth, a national network of Future Earth, writes:

“Over recent decades, members of the German Committee Future Earth and the German science community have played key roles in the effort to align research on global change, and have identified the need for an integrated research approach. We are convinced that international collaboration between researchers is essential for generating global and regional knowledge in new and exciting ways. This report shows that research collaboration across nations, disciplines and knowledge domains can work extremely well to suggest possible pathways for enhancing global sustainability.”

The UN’s 2030 Agenda and related international agreements show that nations may be more willing than ever to take shared responsibility for the future of the planet. However, an agenda as broad as the 2030 Agenda poses many challenges. Leaders around the world, for example, must disentangle how the Sustainable Development Goals relate to other international goals, such as efforts to curb climate change. At the same time, they also have to consider before decisions on implementation are done how the various goals may interact in ways that are complementary, or perhaps contradictory. Science can contribute, for example, to understanding these interactions, to providing synthesis, to advancing methods on integrated approaches and to working on “indicators” that can measure nations’ progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Science, however, can contribute knowledge informs each of these challenges, the new report concludes. For that reason, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), or German Research Foundation, has joined forces with a number of partners to further strengthen the role of science in the the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. These partners include the United Nations University (UNU), Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), Future Earth and German Committee Future Earth.

The collaborations resulted in two scientific conferences: a conference organised by DFG and UNU in 2015 on “Measuring sustainable development” and conference organised by the German Committee Future Earth, Future Earth and SDSN on “Science needs for implementing the SDG framework.” The new report summarises the goals and outcomes of these two conferences. It also sets the stage for the development of a Future Earth Knowledge-Action Network on the Sustainable Development Goals.

The report lays out a series of recommendations for how researchers can help decision-makers around the world to make informed choices for meeting the 2030 Agenda. These recommendations include:

  • To encourage interdisciplinary science to increase the knowledge base needed for the most efficient and coherent sustainable development pathways.
  • To prepare problem- and solution-oriented synopses in order to better understand, analyse and cope with different types of potential conflicts concerning the SDG implementation process
  • To establish platforms for free and open data sharing with transparent metadata that are available to all stakeholders, and can also be used as the basis for creating flexible indicator frameworks.
  • To foster increased international collaboration and exchange of knowledge and scientific capacity on the global level by intensifying projects such as Future Earth.
  • To reinforce the science-policy process by building on good examples, such as the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB), national science advisors and the committees that have been set up to ensure that the best scientific knowledge is available to decision-makers.
  • To develop more partnerships between academia, business, civil society and governments in order to find innovative sustainable development solutions through networks such as SDSN.
  • To understand the implementation of the SDGs as a continuous learning process that needs close and regular scientifically based revision.