Domain One: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

An improved understanding of the globally coupled natural, physical and social systems of our planet, and the identification of tractable pathways for sustainable and equitable development, are major and urgent tasks. The 2030 Agenda, and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed in 2015 by all 193 Member States of the United Nations, provide an integrated framework for this work. Science is vital to the development and implementation of this agenda and of related post-2015 agendas such as the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the New Urban Agenda (UN-Habitat), and the Sendai Framework of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).

💾 Download the full working papers for projects in Domain One

1.1 International science for global sustainability: addressing complexity, supporting policy coherence

(Project in progress)

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, multistakeholder 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.

The SDGs are increasingly a rallying point for scientists, science policy-makers and funders. As the number of science-based initiatives relevant to one or more of the goals increases, so does the potential for duplication, as well as competition for resources and for policy influence. With just over a decade to go to achieve the ambitious goals of the 2030 Agenda, there is a pressing need, and a significant opportunity, to amplify the impact of international scientific efforts through strengthened collaboration and strategic coordination. This should enable critical knowledge gaps and barriers to policy implementation to be identified, leading to the design of mission-oriented priorities for science and the mobilization of increased support for their successful delivery. It should also help to provide easier access to scientific knowledge for all actors, including governments, civil society and the private sector, in working towards the 2030 Agenda

Anticipated impact

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

Next steps

The ISC will convene a global sustainability science leadership meeting, bringing together relevant international science providers (including ISC cosponsored research programmes, related initiatives and partner organizations) and key representatives from the global policy community (including UN agencies and programmes). The meeting will seek to secure agreement on a longer-term programme of coordination and collaboration to facilitate strategic exchange, foster synergistic alignment and develop joint scientific actions in response to agreed priorities. The agenda would include discussion on the need to strengthen the science base for a ‘system of systems’ approach to global sustainability through the establishment of a common platform to develop, compare and validate global system models for scenario building and the prediction of system outcomes.

The Council will also continue to convene the global forum of science funders from across national, philanthropic and international development cooperation agencies that met for the first time in July 2019. The meeting resulted in a common call for a decade of global sustainability funding action, aimed at accelerating and amplifying the impact of investments in international science for the SDGs through strategic exchange, alignment and multilateral collaboration.

By bringing together the international science, policy and funding communities in this way, the ISC will lead on the co-design and promotion of critical missions for science in support of the 2030 Agenda.


1.2 SDG interactions as a national policy driver

(Project in progress)

The global ecosystem, of which humanity is an integral part, is a complex system in which interventions designed to achieve specific outcomes require an understanding of the system as a whole. A systemsbased approach to addressing the 17 SDGs comprising the 2030 Agenda exposes the nature and extent of interactions between individual SDGs. Positive interactions can produce synergies that in turn lead to policy interventions with multiple benefits, increasing the impact of limited resources and accelerating the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Negative interactions or trade-offs mean that progress in achieving one goal makes it harder to achieve another, undermining hard-won development gains. Interactions will be assessed differently by different stakeholders and in different contexts.

An analysis of SDG interactions, and the identification of the nodes where they are at their strongest, can show policy-makers and practitioners where they can have the greatest possible impact. This approach can also help identify research priorities for the scientific community. It would support existing work on science-for-SDGs roadmapping being undertaken by the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism’s InterAgency Task Team (IATT).

Translating the interactions approach into global, regional, national- and local-level policy is essential if the SDG framework is to serve not simply as a checklist for policy reporting, but as an instrument for driving coherent intervention, for mobilizing relevant coalitions for implementation, and tracking progress across the board. Given the absence of relevant and tested policy support tools and processes, interactions-based policy development remains a challenging objective.

Anticipated impact

Accelerated implementation of the 2030 Agenda through support for interactions-based research and policy prioritization and programming at all levels of governance.

Next steps

The ISC has played a leading role in promoting awareness and understanding of SDG interactions within international science and policy communities. The SDG interactions project builds on this work. It is led by a consortium of partners including the ISC, the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission.

A key output will be an online tool for mapping and visualizing interactions across the 17 SDGs, and identifying associated priorities for action that can be used in different geographical or sectoral contexts. In addition, the project will deliver a multi-stakeholder process of facilitated workshops, designed and organized to engage local sciencepolicy-practice partnerships in identifying SDG interactions relevant to specific national priorities. The tool and the workshop process will be tested in a number of countries. These pilot case studies will serve to develop a broader community of practice, and provide a basis for the further development of the project and its scaling up to other countries and stakeholder groupings, including by interested ISC members, partner organizations and the UN’s InterAgency Task Team (IATT) on science, technology and innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.