A symposium co-organized by UNU-IAS on 15 November 2014 explored challenges and opportunities for incorporating scientific inputs in the development and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The symposium Science and the Sustainable Development Goals brought together leading scientists and practitioners working on the global post-2015 development agenda. Organized with Tokyo Institute of Technology and the POST2015 project (funded by the Ministry of the Environment, Japan), the event was held at Roppongi Academyhills in Tokyo.
In opening the symposium, Dr. Kazuhiko Takemoto (Director, UNU- IAS) reminded participants that science will play an ever more important role as the SDGs move towards implementation next year.
The first of two keynote speeches was delivered by Ambassador Csaba Kőrösi (Permanent Representative of Hungary to the United Nations; Co-Chair of the Open Working Group on the SDGs). He explained that like all international negotiations, those on the SDGs would be connected to long-term political and economic power struggles in international relations. The transition to the SDGs, thus, will require a paradigm shift that cannot be achieved on the basis of current north–south relations. Ambassador Kőrösi also reiterated the important role of the scientific community and the need for innovations in the interface between science and policy.
The second keynote speech, by Dr. Mark Stafford Smith (Science Director, Climate Adaptation Flagship at CSIRO; Chair, Future Earth Science Committee) highlighted the extreme nature of recent human-induced environmental changes, and the need for collaborative action to avert a global disaster. He introduced Future Earth as a hub to link science and policy for the post-2015 development agenda, and explored possibilities for using integrated targets, synergies and trade-off to achieve multiple goals at the same time.
In the following panel discussion, the panelists shared their experiences in fostering interaction between policy processes and science, ranging from institutional support for SDGs to the role of amateur scientists. Prof. Norichika Kanie (Senior Research Fellow, UNU-IAS; Associate Professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology) explained that although there had been some success in the co-design of the SDGs by scientists and policymakers, there remained many shortcomings in co-production and co-delivery.
Dr. Tanya Abrahamse (CEO, South African National Biodiversity Institute; member, UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board; member, UNU-IAS Board) highlighted the importance of good institutions. She emphasized the need for innovative thinking, not only in the implementation of the SDGs, but also in science communication. To deal with the current complex system for implementing the SDGs, we need to develop better human and institutional capacity, as well as determined leadership.
Prof. Maria Ivanova (Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston; member, UN Secretary General’s Scientific Advisory Board; member, UNU-IAS Board) presented her research results on reporting systems for global environmental conventions. She advocated building a better governance structure from the current monitoring and reporting framework, rather than developing new monitoring institutions. At the global level, she remarked, there is a need for better division and integration of labour between UN agencies.
In his concluding remarks, Ambassador Kőrösi stressed that although the SDGs would be based on political commitment rather than a legally binding one, the goals would still be attached to other agreements and targets that are legally binding. He also expressed his strong expectation that the goals and targets would evolve over the next 15 years due to necessary learning processes and as knowledge and technologies are created by the scientific community.