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Leveraging science for sustainable development

Science has a critical role to play in advancing the SDGs. The upcoming 2023 SDG Summit stands as an important opportunity to champion a paradigm shift to make the codesign of research and action the standard practice in sustainability science.

The 2023 SDG Summit, set to take place on September 18-19 in New York, marks a crucial halfway point in the journey towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Rather than just another summit; it represents a pivotal moment to reignite hope, optimism, and enthusiasm for the 2030 Agenda and provide high-level political guidance to drive transformative actions.

The primary goal of the 2023 SDG Summit is to identify and promote concrete opportunities and partnerships that will leverage science and academia to accelerate progress in key areas of the 2030 Agenda. By bringing together policymakers, researchers, academics, and various stakeholders, this event aims to foster dialogue, share best practices, and develop actionable strategies for SDG implementation.

Until now and despite significant scientific support for the SDGs, progress has been slow. The Summit aims to bridge these gaps and promote the responsible use of science, technology, and innovation, as drivers of sustainable development – in line with the commitments made in the SDG Summit Political Declaration.

The pivotal role of science, technology, and innovation in addressing sustainability challenges is clear. However, achieving meaningful progress necessitates more than just scientific advancements; it requires a robust science-policy-society interface that informs decision-making at all levels. To facilitate this, we must embrace a paradigm shift in the way we conduct scientific research for sustainability. Moving away from the traditional, siloed, and competitive models, we need to prioritize the generation of actionable knowledge that leads to practical outcomes. Just as the global community has used big science approaches to build infrastructure like CERN and the Square Kilometer Array, a similar mindset should be applied to address sustainable development challenges.

The International Science Council has proposed a complementary approach to science called “Mission Science for Sustainability”. Presented during the 2023 High-level Political Summit, this model focuses on solving real-world problems through a big science approach relying on a globally funded and mission-driven network of Regional Sustainability Hubs.

Flipping the Science Model: A Roadmap to Science Missions for Sustainability

International Science Council, 2023. Flipping the science model: a roadmap to science missions for sustainability, Paris, France, International Science Council. DOI: 10.24948/2023.08.

Individually and collectively, these Hubs would be designed to systematically approach mission science for sustainability, from problem definition to implementation. With enough funding and time to develop and test interventions wherever they are needed, the Regional Hubs would ensure that science is fit-for-purpose, inclusive and results-driven to address the complex real-world situations it seeks to transform.

Through the SDG Summit, the United Nations community, national funders, and philanthropic organizations have a unique platform to endorse and champion mission-driven and transdisciplinary science as an ambitious framework for catalyzing collective efforts towards the successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

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