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Sustainability Week at the UN General Assembly

The ISC continues to deepen its engagement with the UN General Assembly to advance science-informed deliberation, debate, and decision-making – most recently, through a high-level debate on debt sustainability and socioeconomic equality for all.

This week, the President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), H.E. Mr. Dennis Francis, is convening the first-ever UNGA Sustainability Week at UN Headquarters in New York.

As last year’s SDG Summit made clear, there is an urgent need to accelerate progress toward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The world remains woefully off track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, with development challenges compounded by COVID-19, armed conflict, geopolitical tensions, humanitarian crises, and the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

UNGA Sustainability Week therefore brings together global leaders to discuss and debate five critical topics on this year’s General Assembly agenda, in the context of sustainable development: debt sustainability, sustainable tourism, sustainable transport, infrastructure connectivity, and sustainable energy.

As the ISC has been making clear to decision-makers through its work in the multilateral system, to achieve the 2030 Agenda requires closer and more systematic engagement with science, including both natural and social sciences. Science plays a key role in breaking deep-seated siloes in understanding and action, enabling decision-makers to address the root causes of development challenges and identify synergies and trade-offs among possible solutions.

The ISC therefore commends the President of the General Assembly for convening a Sustainability Week that acknowledges complex interconnections between global challenges in the context of rapid change and polycrisis, while providing inroads for engagement with the scientific community via Fireside Chats, multistakeholder panel discussions, and the opportunity to deliver statements. As the leading interface between multilateral decision-makers and the global active scientific community, the ISC was invited to contribute to preparations for Sustainability Week by recommending expert speakers for panels from the ISC Membership and their global scientific networks.

The ISC also has worked together with the Global Research Programme on Inequality (GRIP), an affiliated body of the ISC, to prepare a joint statement around Sustainability Week’s “High-level thematic debate on debt sustainability and socio-economic equality for all.”

Full statement

This statement has been prepared jointly by the International Science Council and the Global Research Programme on Inequality (GRIP).

Science, including natural and social sciences, is an essential tool to advance the 2030 Agenda. It plays a key role in breaking deep-seated siloes in understanding and action, enabling decision-makers to address the root causes of challenges. We therefore emphasize three key science supported principles on debt crisis, development crisis, and social equality:

  1. Debt crises have without exception produced downward spirals on social and economic equality. Orthodox stabilization and structural adjustment policies have often magnified and hardened those effects even when they, over time, have successfully supported growth in GDP. Severe damage has been both calculable and incalculable, and has traversed the fields of gender, health, mortality, education, youth, and more, generally leading to declining social trust, sharpening social and political polarization, and migration.
  2. The current escalating debt situation is historically unprecedented. It will substantially impede an equitable and successful green transition and is severely weakening institutional capacity to deal with future pandemics.
  3. There are no scientifically valid obstacles to the creation of sufficient, accessible, and smart public finance tools to deal with debt, debt crises, and investment needs. Discussion aimed at overcoming vested interests and orthodoxies to expand and finetune such tools is vital in light of severe and costly global threats, and must be supported by interdisciplinary scientific inputs.

The scientific community stands ready to support Member States and the UN system in evidence-informed design and implementation of the necessary decisions.

The ISC commends growing commitment to enhancing the science-policy interface across the UN, including in the UN General Assembly, as evidenced in the creation of the UN Group of Friends on Science for Action, for which the ISC serves jointly with UNESCO as Secretariat; the establishment of the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, on which the ISC serves as member of the Board’s affiliated network of scientific organizations; and recent UN Resolutions, among others.

The ISC looks forward to continued close engagement with Member States and UN leaders as we continue to support evidence-informed decision-making and action across the UN system.

For additional information, please contact Morgan Seag, ISC Liaison to the UN System, at

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Picture by Tomas Eidsvold on Unsplash.

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