Global Sustainable Development Report 2019


In July 2016, Member States agreed on the scope, frequency and methodology for the Global Sustainable Development Report going forward. The agreement is reflected in Paragraph 22 of the HLPF Ministerial Declaration, and made operational through the associated Annex.


The text recalls paragraph 83 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and stresses that the Global Sustainable Development Report is one important component of the follow-up and review process for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Global Sustainable Development Report will inform the high-level political forum, and shall strengthen the science-policy interface and provide a strong evidence-based instrument to support policymakers in promoting poverty eradication and sustainable development. It will be available for a wide range of stakeholders, including business and civil society as well as the wide public.

The Report should incorporate scientific evidence in a multidisciplinary manner, considering all three dimensions of sustainable development, in order to reflect the universal, indivisible and integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda. With its universal scope, the Report should also consider the regional dimension, as well as countries in special situations.

The Report will provide guidance on the state of global sustainable development from a scientific perspective, which will help address the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, provide lessons learned, while focusing on challenges, address new and emerging issues and highlight emerging trends and actions. The Report should also focus on an integrated approach and examine policy options with a view to sustaining the balance between the three dimensions of sustainable development. These policy options should be in line with the 2030 Agenda to inform its implementation.


A comprehensive, in-depth Report will be produced every four years to inform the high-level political forum convened under the auspices of the General Assembly. The next report will be published in 2019.

Each year, in order to strengthen the science-policy interface at the high-level political forum convened under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, scientists who work on the Report should be invited to provide scientific input into the discussion, including on the theme of the forum.


The main principles guiding the methodology of the Report should be objectivity, independence, transparency, inclusiveness, diversity, scientific excellence and integrity, and policy relevance.

The Report represents the result of an ongoing dialogue among scientists in all relevant fields on sustainable development worldwide, ensuring geographically balanced participation and assessing existing assessments, including the relevant reports on sustainable development from a variety of sources, including the United Nations system, as well as bringing together dispersed information.

Organizational setup

Member States requested the creation of an independent group of scientists to draft the quadrennial Global Sustainable Development Report.

The independent group of scientists is to comprise 15 experts representing a variety of backgrounds, scientific disciplines and institutions, ensuring geographical and gender balance. The group will be appointed for each Global Sustainable Development Report by the Secretary-General in open, transparent and inclusive consultations with Member States, including the possibility of taking nominations from Member States. For the first quadrennial report, the independent group of scientists is to begin work in 2016.

The independent group of scientists will be supported by a task team, co-chaired by one representative each of the United Nations Secretariat, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the World Bank, with the logistical support of the United Nations Secretariat.

The task team will coordinate inputs from a network of existing networks, representing the United Nations, the private sector, civil society and academia. Inputs can also be posted onto the high-level political forum online platform annually.

2019 report: nominations for the group of 15 scientists

In response to the mandate given by Member States, on 25 August 2016 a note verbale was sent to all Member States, asking them to nominate experts for the group. The members of the task team have also submitted nominations, keeping in mind the need to ensure geographic and gender balance as well as diversity of backgrounds, disciplines and institutions.

The UN Secretary-General received over 60 nominations of experts in the natural and social sciences from across the world, for membership in this prestigious panel. The final selection of 15 experts was made with a view to providing balanced coverage of the various topics that could be expected to feature in the Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR), 2019, while also respecting regional and gender balance. The GSDR will promote a holistic and science- based approach to policy measures that will advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030.

Mr. Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue (Cameroon)

Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue (Cameroon) is Professor and Department Chair of Development Sociology, Cornell University. His research in the realm of global development covers questions about the demography of inequality, the sociology of education, and the links between global population change and socioeconomic development. Within these areas, he has worked on substantive questions on demographic dividends, youth bulges, intergenerational exchanges, and the demographic reproduction of inequality. In linking population and development, he is testing new frameworks and methods that can link micro processes and aggregate outcomes of interest in global development policy. Much of this work has a strong policy orientation. Some of it seeks to advance understanding of the policy prospects and policies for harnessing a demographic dividend in sub-Saharan Africa, and he has coordinated a network of African researchers working on this question. He is serving or has served on the Board of Directors several professional organizations, including the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP), the Population Association of America (PAA), the US Population Reference Bureau (PRB), and the Guttmacher Institute.

Mr. Ernest G. Foli (Ghana)

Ernest G. Foli (Ghana) is Principal Research Scientist at the CSIR Forestry Research Institute of Ghana. He holds a PhD in Forestry with specialization in Tropical Forest Silviculture & Management from University of Aberdeen, UK. His professional fields of interest include Tropical Forest Ecology & Silviculture; Forest Mensuration & Inventory (Natural forest and plantations); Tropical Forest Management; Growth & Yield Modelling; Forest Biomass and Carbon Stocks Assessment; Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation. He has held several management positions in the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, including Head of the Ecosystem Services & Climate Change Division, the Plantation Production Division, Training and Consultancy Unit and, until recently, Deputy Director of the Institute. Dr Foli is a member of numerous organizations, including International Union of Forest Research Organisations' Forest Futures Task Force, Commonwealth Forestry Association, UK (since 2000), Governing Council, Commonwealth Forestry Association, UK (since 2009), Ghana Representative on the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) Thematic Programme Advisory Committee on REDDES (Yokohama, Japan) since 2009 and others.

Ms. Eeva Furman (Finland)

Eeva Furman (Finland) is Director of the Environmental Policy Centre at the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE. She chairs the National Expert Panel on Sustainable Development, comprising of eminent professors from different disciplines. She is the coordinator of a project dealing with operationalization of ecosystem services and natural capital, OpenNESS, funded by the 7th framework programme of the European Commission. She leads a sub-project In a project on politics, practices and the transformative potential of sustainable diets funded by Academy of Finland. She is a member of council for the European long term biodiversity, ecosystems and awareness research network, the ALTER-Net. Ms Furman has more than 100 publications including peer reviewed international articles, report and books for broad audience. She was responsible for the Gap analysis of implementing Agenda 2030 in Finland. Her research interests include policy effectiveness, mechanisms of problem oriented and policy relevant knowledge production and transfer, urban resilience and socio-ecological processes.

Ms. Amanda Glassman (USA)

Amanda Glassman (USA) is chief operating officer and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. Her research focuses on priority-setting, resource allocation and value for money in global health, as well as data for development. She has more than 25 years of experience working on health and social protection policy and programs in Latin America and elsewhere in the developing world. Prior to joining CGD, Glassman was principal technical lead for health at the Inter-American Development Bank, where she led policy dialogue with member countries, designed the results-based grant program Salud Mesoamerica 2015 and served as team leader for conditional cash transfer programs such as Mexico’s Oportunidades and Colombia’s Familias en Accion. From 2005-2007, Glassman was deputy director of the Global Health Financing Initiative at Brookings and carried out policy research on aid effectiveness and domestic financing issues in the health sector in low-income countries.

Mr. Gonzalo Hernández Licona (Mexico)

Gonzalo Hernández Licona (Mexico) is the Director of the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL). The objective of CONEVAL is to evaluate the social development policy and programs, as well as measuring poverty in Mexico. He is also Board Member of the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), Board Member of El Colegio de México, member of the Evaluation Committee of the GAVI Alliance and teaches Development Economics at ITAM in Mexico since 1991. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Oxford, UK, a Masters Degree in Economics from the University of Essex, UK, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology (ITAM). He was Head of Evaluation and Monitoring at the Ministry of Social Development. He was full-time Chair Professor at the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology (ITAM) in the Department of Economics from 1991 to 1992 and from 1996 to 2002 and acted as Headmaster of the BA in Economics in the same institution. From 1996 to 2000 he was Academic Representative to the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation Labor Cooperation Commission.

Ms. Eun Mee Kim (Korea)

Eun Mee Kim (Korea) is Professor and Dean at the Graduate School of International Studies, the Director of the Institute for Development and Human Security (IDHS) and the Director of the Ewha Global Health Institute for Girls (GHIG) at Ewha Womans University (Seoul, Korea). She is currently PI on a research grant on Korea's Global Health Strategy focusing on South Korea's global public health strategy and programs funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since 2013. She has conducted research comparing emerging and traditional donors, and the relationship between human security and development with a research grant funded by the WCU (World Class University) program through the National Research Foundation of Korea funded by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology of the Republic of Korea. Before coming to Ewha, she was Professor in Sociology at the University of Southern California; and Visiting Scholar at Harvard University and Brown University. Research interests include East Asian development; globalization; development cooperation; multiculturalism, and chaebol.

Mr. Wolfgang Lutz (Austria)

Wolfgang Lutz (Austria) is Founding Director of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital (a collaboration of IIASA, the Austrian Academy of Sciences and WU). He joined IIASA in October 1985, where he is Program Director of the World Population (POP) Program. Since 2002, he has also been scientific Director of the Vienna Institute of Demography (VID) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and since 2008, Professor of Applied Statistics at the WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business). He is also Professorial Research Fellow at the Oxford Martin School and Honorary Professor of Shanghai University. Professor Lutz has worked on family demography, fertility analysis, population projection, and the interaction between population and environment. He is the author of the series of world population projections produced by IIASA and has developed approaches for projecting education and human capital. In 2008 he received an ERC Advanced Grant, in 2009 the Mattei Dogan Award of the IUSSP, and in 2010 the Wittgenstein Prize, the highest Austrian science award. He is elected full member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, the German National Academy Leopoldina, The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters and the US National Academy of Sciences.

Mr. Peter Messerli (Switzerland)

Peter Messerli (Switzerland) is Professor for Sustainable Development and Director of the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE) at the University of Bern, Switzerland. As a land system scientist and geographer his research interests lie in the sustainable development of social-ecological systems in Africa and Asia. He focuses on increasingly globalized and competing claims on land, rural transformation processes, and spatial manifestations of their outcomes in the Global South. He has lived and worked more than 10 years in Madagascar and Laos, directing large-scale research projects focusing on inter- and transdisciplinarity. Committed to an engaged and transformative sustainability science, he has acquired an extensive experience in science-policy interactions from the local to the global level. He is also the co-chair of Future Earth’s Global Land Programme (GLP) and occupies many functions in advising and guiding governmental, scientific, and civil-society organisations related to sustainable development.

Mr. Jean-Paul Moatti (France)

Jean-Paul Moatti (France) is Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the French Research Institute for Development (IRD). He is an internationally recognized expert in the field of health economics, who has had a major impact in regard to the problem of HIV disease. He has been a member of numerous World health organization and World Bank committees on the economics of AIDS and access to HIV/AIDS care in developing countries. He is the author of over 350 articles in scientific reviews and publications on both economic and social sciences and biomedical disciplines and public health. He has been at the head of many national scientific bodies. In particular, he was the director of the Institute for Public Health (ISP) of the French Alliance for Health and Life sciences (Aviesan), which now coordinates all public research in this sector. He was also a member of the national committee of the CNRS and of the governing board of Aix-Marseille University. He was vice Chair of Inserm (French NIH) Scientific Advisory Board, as well as President of the Scientific Board of French National Institute for Prevention and Health Education (INPES) and of the “Research in public health, human and social sciences” scientific committee of the French Agency for Aids and hepatitis research (ANRS). He is currently a member of the scientific boards of the French Institute for Nuclear Protection & Safety (IRSN) and the National School of Public Health (EHESP).

Ms. Endah Murniningtyas (Indonesia)

Until May 2016, Endah Murniningtyas was Deputy Minister for National Resources and Environment at the Ministry of National Development Planning/National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS) of Republic of Indonesia. She was the Indonesian Representative a the Open Working Group on SDs at the UN. She has been working at BAPPENAS for over 30 years in the area of natural resources, economics, and poverty and has been a frequent lecturer at Bogor Agricultural Institute. She is frequently speak at various international conference on Development Plan, SDGs and Povert Reductions. She is an active board member of Perhimpunan Ekonomi Pertanian Indonesia (Perhepi), and also a member of the Long Term Development Planning Study and Strategic Planning Team of BAPPENAS. She graduated with a BSc in Agricultural Economics and Social from Bogor Agricultural Institute in 1984, graduated with an MSc in Agricultural and Resource Economics from Oregon State University in 1989, and was awarded a PhD from Colorado State University in 2000 for studies in Agricultural and Resource Economics.

Ms. Katherine Richardson (Denmark)

Katherine Richardson (Denmark) is Professor of Biological Oceanography and Leader of the Sustainability Science Center at the University of Copenhagen. She was Chair of the Scientific Steering Committee for the scientific conference Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges and Decisions, which sought to inform the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference. She was also Chair of the Danish Commission on Climate Change Policy which developed the plan for removing fossil fuels from the Danish energy and transport sectors upon which the current national energy strategy is based. She is a member of the Danish Council on Climate Change. Her research is carried out in the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate and focuses on biogeochemical processes in the surface ocean and how these are influenced by climate change. Specifically, her work deals with how changes in climate and biodiversity in the ocean interact to influence the global carbon cycle. She is also a co-leader in the development of the Planetary Boundaries framework aiming to identify a safe operating space for humanity in relation to its perturbation of the global environment.

Mr. Muhammad Saidam (Jordan)

Muhammad Saidam (Jordan) holds a PhD in Environment and Water Resources Engineering from Imperial College of Science Technology & Medicine – London (1995) and has been a Senior Researcher in the Royal Scientific Society (RSS) in Jordan since 2006. With over 25 specialized locally and internationally accredited laboratories and 500 scientists, researchers and technical support staff, RSS is the premier applied research institution, consultancy, and technical support service provider in Jordan. Dr. Saidam has over 30 years of experience in studies, consultations and research related to the fields of water, wastewater and environment and has published, as a first author, circa 50 papers and technical reports in English and Arabic. He is currently the Chief Science Officer (CSO) in RSS, with main responsibilities including strategic planning and supervising implementation of research and consultation projects in the four Applied Science Centres of RSS: Energy, Water & Environment, Sustainable Buildings, and information Technology. He previously was the Executive Director of RSS Knowledge Sector (Energy, Water, Environment & Sustainable Buildings, 2012 - 2014). He has also been an active partner in European research consortia over the period 1995-2010. Muhammad serves in the International Council for Science (ICSU) Committee on Scientific Planning and Review (CSPR) (2015-2018). Recently, he was selected to serve in the committee that will oversee a 3-year project (2016 – 2019) on “Improving Scientific Input to Global Policy Making: Strategies for Attaining the Sustainable Development Goals”, organized by the Inter Academy Partnership (IAP).

Mr. David Smith (Jamaica)

David Smith (Jamaica) is Coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the University Consortium for Small Island States (UCSIS), and the Caribbean Chair for the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The institute focuses on research in Sustainable Development Governance and Policy, Disaster Management and Environmental Management. Dr Smith was an expert reviewer for the IPCC Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events (SREX). He served on the Board of the Caribbean Conservation Association for five years and was President in 1995. From 1994 to 2000 he was a Regional Councilor of IUCN-The World Conservation Union and the Chair of the Business Committee of IUCN’s Council as well as a member of the steering committees of the IUCN commissions on Species Survival, Protected Areas, and Communications and Education. He oversaw the development of the Jamaican Protected Areas System Plan and contributed to the National Forestry Management Plan. He has consulted on small business management and the design of environmental financing mechanisms in Jamaica, Uganda, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago.

Mr. Jurgis Kazimieras Staniškis (Lithuania)

Jurgis Kazimieras Staniškis (Lithuania) is a full member of Lithuanian Academy of Sciences, Professor at Kaunas University of Technology and Director of the Institute of Environmental Engineering. In 1992, he was the first in Lithuania and in the former Soviet Union and one of the pioneers in Central & Eastern Europe to start developing the strategy and theory of cleaner production / pollution prevention and implementing it in industry. The methodology is based on systematic approach to problem solving, pollution prevention, environment and waste management, pollution modelling and sustainable development. He was a manager and leading expert for more than 80 international sustainable development programmes and projects implemented in Lithuania, other EU countries and a number of developing countries, delivered in cooperation with international organizations (UNEP, UNIDO, OECD, EBRD) and partners from developed countries. Prof. Staniškis took part in elaborating a number of international and national strategies and programmes, such as the Cleaner Production Capacity Building Programme for Central and Eastern Europe (OECD), the Lithuanian White Book of Science and Technology, and the Programme of Sustainable Development of the Lithuanian Industry. In 2011, he was elected as an Executive committee member of the UNEP/UNIDO Global Network on Resource Efficient and Cleaner Production (RECP-Net). He has received numerous awards, including the Lithuanian National Prize in Science, the prize of the President of the Republic of Lithuania and the Baltic Sea Award.

Mr. Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (Belgium)

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele (Belgium) is Professor of climatology and sustainable development in Université catholique de Louvain (UCL, Belgium). He also co-directs its interdisciplinary Master programme in Science and Management of the Environment. Doing research on various aspects of climate change since 1980, he has published with scientists from many disciplines. He has been involved since 1995 in IPCC activities as author and Bureau member, and was Vice-Chair of the IPCC from 2008 to 2015. Professor van Ypersele is a member of the Belgian Federal Council for Sustainable Development since 1993, and he chairs its Working Group on "Energy and Climate". He has also been science advisor in the Belgian delegations to more than twenty United Nations conferences. He has won numerous prizes and awards. He is also active on Twitter: @JPvanYpersele.

UN Task Team
UN Secretariat Shantanu Mukherjee Chief, Policy Analysis Branch, Division for Sustainable Development mukherjee1[at]
UNDP Renata Rubian Bureau for Policy and Programme Support renata.rubian[at]
UNESCO Ana Persic Senior Science Officer persic[at]
UNCTAD Chantal Line Carpentier Chief, UNCTAD New York Office carpentier[at]
World Bank Erick C.M. Fernandes Lead Specialist, Agriculture Global Practice efernandes[at]
UNEP Ludgarde Coppens Head of Unit, SDG Data and Information Unit, Science Division ludgarde.coppens[at]

On 16 September 2018, the Independent Group of Scientists held a consultation with Latin American and Caribbean stakeholders in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to discuss regional challenges and priorities for sustainable development. The report of the meeting can be found here.

On 12 May, 2018, the IGS held a consultation meeting with African stakeholders in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, to discuss regional perspectives that should be addressed in the GSDR. Please find the summary of the meeting here.

Seeking to deepen their macro-economic analysis, the IGS met in March 2018 with economists from the World Bank Group and other institutions. Please find the summary of the meeting here.

Identifying pathways to transformation will be a central focus of the GSDR 2019. In December 2018, the IGS met in Helsinki with a range of outside experts to explore promising pathways to sustainable development. Please find the summary of the meeting here.


Paragraph 85 of the outcome document of Rio+20 (“The Future We want”) lists functions for the high-level political forum on sustainable development (HLPF), including to “strengthen the science-policy interface through review of documentation, bringing together dispersed information and assessments, including in the form of a global sustainable development report, building on existing assessments”.

In July 2016, in the Ministerial Declaration of HLPF, 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 agencies (DESA, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, and the World Bank). The members of the IGS were appointed by then Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in December 2016 (profiles of the 15 IGS members are here and attached).

Work of the IGS to date

The first meeting of the IGS, held from 21 to 23 February in New York, identified activities that would be necessary to ensure the scientific credibility, legitimacy and relevance of the GSDR 2019. The second meeting, held 14-19 July, took the form of a workshop in an informal setting outside of UN headquarters (at Glen Cove Conference Center), to give the IGS the time and space to brainstorm, debate and discuss the scope and objectives of the report. As planned, the IGS advanced the conceptualization and structuring of the report and have finished an annotated outline of the report, as well as a work plan for engaging with scientific communities and other stakeholders, especially from the global South.

The IGS has kept Member States abreast of their progress, holding briefings in UNHQ at the conclusion of the February and July meetings.

Call for Inputs

The IGS has issued a “call for inputs” to targeted scientific communities as well as policy makers (through the UN-based Missions), and communities holding indigenous knowledge and other knowledge systems.

In particular, the IGS is seeking inputs in four key areas:

Interactions among SDGs and their targets

Here we are calling for contributions that provide evidence of how progress towards any one of the SDGs or targets affects the set of options to reach any other Goal or target, and what solutions and/or policies may minimize incoherence in SDGs implementation and maximize positive synergies between them.

Transformation pathways

The analysis of interactions among SDGs and their targets underpins the analytical understanding of the transformations—behavioural, institutional and societal changes—needed to help achieve them efficiently and in mutually supportive ways. The IGS invites contributions on key issues, obstacles and opportunities for defining and proceeding along such transformation pathways.Â

Looking beyond the Goals

While the 2030 Agenda was designed as a universal and comprehensive blueprint for the future, there are nonetheless issues and trends not mentioned in the SDGs that have the potential to have a significant impact on the achievement of the Agenda. We are seeking inputs on such issues, with an emphasis on concrete solutions for confronting them.

The role of science for sustainable development

The GSDR aims to advance the science-policy interface, in order to promote more effective sustainable development policies and their implementation. We therefore seek inputs that explore the interplay between science, policy making and society, highlighting the roles of different stakeholders in your particular context.

Please follow this link to contribute to this important exercise.


Scientists at a meeting


Scientists at a meeting
Eeva Furman

Speaking to the heart… with evidence

Eeva Furman, Director of the Environmental Policy Centre at the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE

A blog entry by Dr. Eeva Furman, Director, Environmental Policy Centre at the Finnish Environment Institute SYKE and member of the Independent Group of Scientists responsible for the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report

“Are the 17 SDGs of the 2030 Agenda theoretically possible to reach in time?” A friend of mine posed this question to me when he heard I was writing the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR). Taken individually, each SDG target could, in theory, be reached. But can we reach all the Goals and targets by 2030? That is another question. But I think my dear friend had missed the point.

The individual SDGs and the targets are important, each of them, but determining whether the 2030 Agenda will ultimately succeed needs a different kind of approach for assessment. To achieve the 2030 Agenda requires looking into its whole framework—in substance, time and space. Taking the SDGs one by one, or in a certain order, would create an expensive and frustrating vicious circle where in the long run sustainable development has not been accomplished, and in fact, the world might even find itself in a worse state.

Are we going to experience a major systemic transformation in handling interlinkages between the various SDGs? And are we going to implement new global governance where international flows of resources, people and money are fair? If we can answer “yes” to these questions, then we can say that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda has succeeded and we have taken a clear step on the path toward truly sustainable development.

Therefore, I replied to my friend; “Implementation of the 2030 Agenda is possible in theory. But it is also possible in practice, if crucial pieces of a complicated puzzle find their right places in the right way.” Anyone who has worked puzzles with their children (or even by themselves) knows that progress requires quite a bit of luck, but taking an analytical stand that is based on knowledge and evidence can increase the luck! In the following paragraphs I will describe some of the missing pieces and their positions in the puzzle of sustainable development.

Looking through a magnifying glass

There is great need to develop new forms of governance that take a broader, systemic approach, integrating different sectors, different actors, and different parts of the world. It is time to look through a magnifying glass, to analyze and understand how various actions affect local people, land use and ecosystem services in all countries. Clear, jointly developed and agreed international rules are required to direct countries and multinational businesses to build flows that are fair not only to them but to all countries connected. Local communities, when encouraged with policies, can act as sources of innovation and become active drivers of sustainable development. This local level behavioral change requires people to be allowed to form empowered groups who come up with sustainable solutions in their everyday life.

Looking through a telescope

Things are not always what they look like at first glance, so it is worthwhile to experiment with things before mainstreaming them. Without understanding the long-term, side, and unexpected impacts we might expend a great deal of effort without much to show for it. This is where research comes in, together with proper monitoring and assessment. In certain contexts, neither the key problems nor the solutions for sustainable development have been mentioned in the 2030 Agenda, so the 17 SDGs should not prevent us from using a “telescope” to see the drivers and solutions for sustainable development that sit beyond the 17 SDG framework. We must be brave about looking outside the box.

Sustainability of science and policy

There is an endless debate around the science-policy interface: How independent or how integrated should science and policy be? What should be the role of society, including indigenous communities, in raising knowledge needs and bringing evidence? A strange characteristic is, however, embedded in our cognitive skills. There is evidence that high-level experts are prisoners of their past understanding of scientific facts to an extent where even school children beat them on the level of knowledge of the latest discoveries in science. Despite the information that is entering through their eyes and ears on a regular basis, something makes the originally learned facts prevail in the brain. There is, however, evidence that joint fact finding in groups formed by various stakeholders from science, policy and the general public lead to joint learning, progress in understanding, shared commitment and durable solutions. Sustainability science researchers need access to these kinds of interactions to develop the most efficient transformations. There is a great need to strengthen sustainability science in all institutions and in all parts of the world. In the long run, sustainability science acts as a vector which brings the new advancements in general science into the pathways of sustainable development.

Full capacity of knowledge

Science has indicated that it has the technological solutions for transformation. Sustainability science has the ability to move ahead and develop context specific, systemic transformations. Industry is prepared for new rules, as long as they allow long term strategic planning. What is lacking? And why does everything seem to move at a snail’s pace? Some call it lack of interest of people to change their behavior. I would claim this is not the truth. Some call it lack of political will. I would rather call it a deficiency of ethics among decision makers: deficiency of using the full range of one´s physical and mental experience, gained either on the ground or through media, when making decisions, strategic plans and research proposals.

Speaking to the heart

In December 2017, the international group of scientists writing the GSDR2019 met with a dozen distinguished scientists from all over the world. (See report here.) Key issues of transformation were discussed ranging from land use to equity. That meeting has been one of the many ways we have collected signals to the GSDR2019 from scientific understanding and evidence. There is indeed plenty of material. Unfortunately not everyone sees sustainable development as the development they want to happen. But from a scientific perspective, the alternatives are not durable. There can be several pathways to sustainability, but only sustainability will maintain a planet that is livable and just. There was one strong message that came out from the science workshop that was surprising and awakening: “Please speak to the hearts of decision makers”. With open hearts there is a possibility to develop a sustainable future for all.

The decision not to act is a grave decision to make. My friend turns 80 in 2030. However, I am more concerned about the youth of that time: Will they praise us for the steps we took or will they be angry – extremely angry – that we could not get our act together to avoid the sad outcome they have to witness.

Call for Inputs

We request your input to the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR). The GSDR, mandated by the United Nations’ Member States in the outcome document of the 2012 Rio + 20 conference, is meant to strengthen the science-policy interface and provide a strong evidence-based instrument to support policymakers in promoting poverty eradication and sustainable development.

The GSDR is being drafted by an independent group of scientists (IGS), supported by a task team of six UN-system agencies. Profiles of the 15 IGS members are found here.

As part of its outreach efforts, the IGS is soliciting inputs from a diverse group of scientific and non-scientific communities, from all over the world, in the form of publications supported by short abstracts or descriptions of case studies. Currently, we are requesting contributions in four major areas: (1) interactions among SDGs and their targets, (2) transformation pathways towards sustainable development; (3) looking beyond the SDGs (major issues identified by research which are not explicitly taken into account in the SDGs), and (4) the role of science for sustainable development. Contributions will be acknowledged in the GSDR.

If you are interested in contributing to this important exercise, please follow this link to a questionnaire.

For any colleague unable to access the Google-supported questionnaire, please see the PDF version here.

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