International science for global sustainability

The project aims to increase relevance and impact of international scientific input, advice and influence within global policy processes related to the 2030 Agenda.

International science for global sustainability

The biggest and most urgent challenges for contemporary science are to identify tractable pathways to global sustainability, and to assist in the creation and promotion of policies and public action that can advance societies along those pathways. Implementation of the 2030 Agenda calls for multi-sectoral, multi-stakeholder collaboration and for greater policy coherence, based on systemic understanding and so-called ‘whole of government’ approaches. The scientific community must be a key partner in the implementation of the global goals at national, regional and global levels. Science can provide critical data, knowledge and innovation to inform society and decision-makers about the opportunities and challenges associated with particular pathways and interventions. It can identify leverage points for social transformations that support greater sustainability.

Anticipated impact

Increased relevance and impact of international scientific input, advice and influence within global policy processes related to the 2030 Agenda.

Convening the scientific community working on sustainability

This activity aims to bring together ISC scientific initiatives and partners working on sustainability to discuss how the science community can strengthen its collective impact on global decision-making. Recent scientific assessments of the requirements for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for large-scale transformations that address the complexity of human-environment system dynamics. As we move into a Decade of Action and Delivery where the urgency of addressing these sustainability challenges simultaneously and in an integrated manner is widely recognized, there is a need for the science community to come together. 

The aim of this activity is to foster information exchange and strategic discussion on issues of common and cross-cutting interest (e.g., on interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to science, the science-policy-practice interface, open science, including data management and integration). It is intended to foster synergies, stimulate collaboration and identify an agenda for coordinated, collective action.

Next steps

The ISC secretariat will continue to engage its programmes and partners through remote and virtual activities, around a number of issues of joint interest, in particular:

🟡 The Global Forum of Funders and its associated science mission identification for achieving the SDGs

🟡 UN-related processes (including research dialogues in partnership with UNFCCC on socio-economic pathways to achieve the 1.5 degree target)

🟡 The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development

Global Forum of Funders

The goal of this initiative is to foster strategic partnerships between the national research funding agencies, philanthropic foundations, and development aid agencies to increase and accelerate the impact of science and science funding on the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 

The initiative is led by the ISC in partnership with the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), National Science Foundation (USA), National Research Foundation (South Africa), International Development Research Centre (Canada), UK Research and Innovation, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Austria), Future Earth, and the Belmont Forum.

Key Milestones

Global Forum of Funders 2019

The Global Forum of Funders was convened by the International Science Council  and hosted by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. on 8 and 9 July 2019.  The forum resulted in a common call for a “Decade of Global Sustainability Science Action”. It recognises the need for scaling up on impact through game-changing action within funding, research and science systems throughout the world. The decadal initiative seeks to:

  • apply a holistic and systems approach to tackling pressing global challenges, treating the SDGs as an indivisible agenda;
  • support transformative, high-impact and transdisciplinary knowledge creation;
  • promote mission-driven research, but also harness the contributions of fundamental research; and
  • support enabling activities, e.g. capacity development and knowledge brokerage.

Global Forum of Funders 2020

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2nd Global Forum of Funders meeting to be held on the margins of the Global Research Council’s in Durban, was cancelled. In its place, the ISC organized a webinar with the GFF community on the implications of COVID-19 for the science systems.

Global Forum of Funders 2021: 26 – 28 April, online

In 2020 the ISC mobilized the global scientific community to shape a priority action agenda for science. The ideas submitted will be clustered in thematic science missions for the SDGs and presented to science funders during the 2nd Global Forum of Funders in April 2021 with the aim of shaping global research and research funding priorities for the coming years as well as of exploring opportunities for collaboration among funders.

Read: ISC convenes successful 2nd Global Forum of Funders

Unleashing Science: Delivering Missions for Sustainability

Following the 2nd Global Forum, the ISC published a report Unleashing Science: Delivering Missions for Sustainability that outlines an ambitious approach of how science with science funders, policy makers and civil society can scale up the impact of science towards achieving the SDGs by 2030 and addressing current planetary crises in a humane, dignified and equitable manner.

Report’s key messages were endorsed by the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Global Research Council and discussed at the 2021 United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

A Synthesis of Research Gaps

Based on the input collected from an ISC-led global call in 2020, extensive reviews of international research agenda-setting reports, and the relevant scientific literature published since the adoption of the SDGs, the ISC developed A Synthesis of Research Gaps that  outlines research gaps and priorities which, if pursued, could support the impact that the Sustainability Science Missions, outlined in the Unleashing Science report, seek to accomplish. The intention of this synthesis is to help guide future scientific and science funding action.

Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability Launched

In December 2021, political leaders, scientists, and influential personalities issued emergency warning on sustainability inaction and established a Global Commission to mobilize a $100 million a year global fund for Sustainability Science Missions.

Read the press release

Next steps

🟡 To encourage discussion around mission-based science, the ISC will continue its series of essays, interviews and discussions from thought-leaders on mission-based science.


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