Humanity has become the major force in shaping the future of our Earth systems. The speed, scale and interconnectedness of human activities on Earth has brought new vulnerabilities – from escalating climate change and loss of biological diversity to the growing inequalities of human societies laid bare by the global pandemic.
Today, humanity is at a crossroads and the choice is stark. Either we continue our “business as usual” practices, with potentially severe consequences for all life on Earth or we collectively transition towards a more sustainable, resilient, and just future. The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the urgency of accelerating societal transformations towards sustainability to prevent similar future threats and create a more resilient society in the long run.
In today’s highly uncertain world, the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer an invaluable framework to guide governments and societies in shaping a transformative and resilient future. Achieving the transformative vision of the SDGs by 2030 requires an urgent realignment of most countries’ and actors’ priorities and resources towards longer-term, more collaborative, and drastically accelerated action. It also requires game-changing collective action within funding and science systems globally, in order to maximize the contribution of science towards the implementation of the SDGs.
Science is recognized as a critical lever in achieving the SDGs. It is at the forefront of providing solutions by creating actionable knowledge and informing policies and practices that support the attainment of the SDGs. Unlocking the full potential of science for advancing sustainable development in the next decade requires a system change in the way science is conducted, harnessed, assessed, and funded.
Advancing open and collaborative science; promoting mission-driven, high-impact and transdisciplinary knowledge creation; revision of existing incentives and reward systems; building capacities for dealing with complexity, uncertainty, and values; developing robust scientific capacities in all parts of the world; and securing sustainable investments in science, will be key for science to effectively support wider societal transformations in the 21st century.
Securing such developments is a systemic responsibility, shared by scientists themselves, the institutions in which they work, the policymakers that shape the conditions under which they work, and science funders that influence the direction of science and its practices.
In this context, the ISC and its partners launched a Decade of Global Sustainability Science Action in 2019, enabled by the framework of the Global Forum of Funders. The first Forum, convened by the ISC and its partners, was held in Washington DC in July 2019. Eighty leaders, representing national research funding agencies, international development aid agencies, private foundations, and scientific institutions, called for the scaling up of game-changing collective action within funding and science systems throughout the world to maximize impact of science towards the implementation of the SDGs.
Through the Decade of Global Sustainability Science Action, science funders and the research community seek 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.
To push this agenda forward, the Council was asked to convene the insights and ideas of the global scientific community on the critical priorities for science that will support and enable societies to accomplish the goals by 2030. To this end, the ISC launched a global call for inputs in October 2020 to shape a priority action agenda for science, with more than two hundred submissions that formed the basis for the reports on highlighting the research gaps and on a framework to unleash mission-oriented science. The latter highlights the need to focus our collective wisdom and research efforts on the delivery of five Sustainability Science Missions, and the former identifies possible areas for scientific inquiry for each mission. These reports were discussed at the 2nd Global Forum of Funders, which brought together over one hundred participants from more than 70 countries.
Following the 2nd Global Forum of Funders, which took place in April 2021, the Council finalised and released the two reports A Synthesis of Research Gaps for Science to Enable Societies to Accomplish the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and Unleashing Science: Delivering Missions for Sustainability.
Addressing the need for mission-oriented science as part of the decade of action, and backed by these two reports, the International Science Council launched the Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability. Political leaders, scientists, and influential personalities issued emergency warnings on sustainability inaction, and established the Commission to mobilize a $100 million a year global fund for Sustainability Science Missions.
“COVID-19 has shown what the science community can do when it comes together and focuses on a mission. We need a mission-led approach to science and to accelerate actionable progress on many aspects of the sustainability agenda. The ISC has understood the need for change, and I am delighted to assist them in the critical endeavour. The global community must work together to support this effort. The ISC has identified a credible path forward: we can make the necessary changes happen. Let’s just get going.”– Helen Clark, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Administrator of UNDP
“Science is a critical lever for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. To make the societal transition towards sustainability, we need to unleash the full potential of science. Only an urgent, more ambitious and well-resourced global plan for international, mission-oriented set of scientific initiatives can ensure that science is up to the task to effectively support the Goals of Agenda 2030. And I’m looking forward to working with the members of the Global Commission to undertake this challenging but very critical task.”– Irina Bokova, Former Director-General of UNESCO
“As the global NGO and voice for science and working with our members and the broader science policy community, we need new processes to identify priorities and design operating and funding mechanisms to accelerate progress. We are honoured that so many internationally respected figures have agreed to assist us in building a needed additional toolkit so that science can further contribute to urgently needed global solutions.”– Peter Gluckman, President of the International Science Council
The initiative is led by the International Science Council 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, Belmont Forum and Volkswagen Stiftung.