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Transforming science for sustainability: the ISC’s impact at the 2023 SDG Summit

The 2023 SDG Summit was a hopeful and essential response to the significant delays in achieving the SDGs. The International Science Council (ISC) stood as one of the drivers in the call for transformative action by mobilizing experts from the scientific community and advocating for a change in how we currently do and fund science for sustainability.

Ethical and equitable knowledge co-production

At the SDG Action Weekend from 16 to 17 September, the ISC worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to co-organize the event “Catalyzing Transformative Change: Science, Academia, and the Journey to 2030”. During this session, Melody Burkins, a distinguished member of the ISC Governing Board and the Director of the Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth College, shared her insights on strengthening the science-policy interface and creating ethical and equitable knowledge co-production.  

Burkins’ address at this event echoed the report from the ISC’s Global Commission Flipping the Science Model: A Roadmap to Science Missions for Sustainability. She stressed the need for inclusive platforms that bring together diverse knowledge systems to co-produce true ethical and equitable knowledge. This resonates with the report’s emphasis on inclusive collaboration with a wide range of stakeholders to make co-designed research and action the standard practice in sustainability science. Burkins’ call to widen the platforms to include the voices of indigenous peoples, youth, businesses, and communities also reflects the report’s commitment to scaling up and redesigning science funding – a shift that would facilitate transdisciplinary and engaged mission-oriented science for sustainability. 

Cover of the "Flipping the Science Model" report

Flipping the Science Model

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.

“If we want more ethical and equitable knowledge co-production, it is up to both scientists and policy-makers to widen those platforms. We need to make sure that we bring in the interests of communities, the voices of indigenous peoples around the world, of youth, of businesses, of all the diverse knowledge systems that we have on this planet, to the table”, expressed Burkins. 

💻 Watch the recording:  

Transdisciplinary, inclusive and mission-led science

The ISC also participated in another event titled “Accelerating Multilateralism with Transformations in Science Policy Practice Interfaces,” co-organized with SDSN, the Permanent Missions of Ireland and Zealand to the United Nations, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). During this event, María Estelí Jarquín, a Member of the ISC Standing Committee for Outreach and Engagement 2022-2025 and an ISC special advisor, delivered an inspiring statement that encouraged attendees to envision a new “Golden Record” for our era. 

Jarquín’s message resonates with the ISC’s call for transformative approaches to science funding. She emphasized the imperative of adopting new funding approaches for science, leaving behind intense competition, and embracing co-created science. Her call to build equitable and respectful partnerships between high- and low-income countries aligns with the report’s recommendation to support transdisciplinary and engaged mission science that can drive inclusive and intergenerational wellbeing globally. 
💻 Watch the recording:  

“We need to underline the importance of encouraging transdisciplinary and mission-oriented science. Long-term, actionable, and creative science, like the Voyagers and the Golden Record. Missions that will outlive a generation for others to take care of. Science that will provide context-specific solutions to accelerate the progress towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.”   

Jarquín’s call for transdisciplinary and regionally led mission-oriented science also mirrors the report’s emphasis on science that provides context-specific solutions to accelerate progress towards the 2030 Agenda. Her plea for a fair and equitable “concert of nations” reiterates the ISC’s invitation to international financial institutions and national science funders to support mission and transdisciplinary science as an ambitious and pragmatic framework for action. 

Expert recommendations for a robust science-policy interface

To further feed into the 2023 SDG Summit, the ISC, alongside the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), released a statement Harnessing Scientific Evidence and Decision-Making to Accelerate Progress on the SDGs. An output of the inaugural Science Day at the High-level Political Forum 2023 prepared for the Summit, it summarizes recommendations from experts and stakeholders who gathered to recognize the imperative of evidence-based policy-making and emphasize the need for policy-makers to prioritize robust data and research in their decision-making processes.   

Harnessing scientific evidence and decision-making to accelerate progress on the SDGs

The statement is available in the following languages:




“To tackle the challenges of the 2030 Agenda, we must embrace a ‘big science approach’. It’s time to break down silos, collaborate across borders, and engage with society and all stakeholders. Just as we’ve harnessed ‘big science’ to build monumental infrastructure, we should apply that mindset to build a sustainable future.”, said Salvatore Aricò, CEO of the ISC. 
The statement also highlights the significance of leveraging local knowledge and context, acknowledging that community insights and real-life experiences are invaluable for tailoring sustainable development efforts effectively. Moreover, the statement underscores the importance of open access to scientific research, advocating for transparency and accessibility to democratize access to research findings. These discussions and recommendations laid a solid foundation for integrating science into the SDG Summit’s agenda, reinforcing the ISC’s commitment to facilitating evidence-based policy and sustainable development. 

Beyond the release of reports and the organization of events, the ISC’s role in mobilizing scientific experts on the ground was instrumental. By bringing together experts from diverse fields, the ISC facilitated meaningful multistakeholder knowledge dialogues and collaborations. These experts, with their extensive knowledge and innovative thinking, contributed significantly to the Summit’s discussions.  

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