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Five ways research can support the Sustainable Development Goals

Nations meet in New York this week to discuss how to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), scheduled to be launched this September. With 17 goals and potentially 169 targets, implementing these goals will not be easy. A new commentary in Nature this week outlines the five essential ingredients from research to ensure SDG success. The authors identify Future Earth as an integral part of the intellectual infrastructure to coordinate this work. Here’s the five:

First, scientists, social scientists and economists need to devise metrics for tracking progress on each SDG. The goals need to be quantified so that they can be measurable, comparable and achievable.

Second, governments and researchers must decide which values need to be tracked, and establish monitoring mechanisms to acquire, analyse and interpret the data. Collaboration between governments and scientific bodies will be required to set up monitoring programmes globally.

Third, scientists should also help to establish criteria by which to evaluate progress, and scientific assessment bodies such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) should set up task forces to decide how they can evaluate relevant aspects of the goals.

Fourth, Earth observation, ground-based monitoring and information-processing capabilities need to be expanded by enhancing infrastructure to build global capacity to gather data. This can be achieved if the SDG process engages with Future Earth, say the authors. Future Earth’s observing networks and research infrastructures need to be enhanced to include observations of production, consumption and urbanization.

Finally, scientists and governments need to design robust approaches to standardize and verify data collection and processes, according to agreed definitions, specifications, methodologies and formats. Moreover, all SDG data should be open-access and released as soon as possible, underpinned by well-funded data collection, calibration and release. Scientists must help to integrate data-gathering and evaluation networks into policy-making at all levels, and to ensure information about our planet is available to all.

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