The world is now seven years into the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the context has dramatically changed over that time: inadequate action on climate change means that its impacts are more widespread and intensifying; conflict has worsened; the world is currently recovering from an enormous pandemic which is long way from being over; inequalities are growing with increases in extreme poverty and hunger; and social cohesion in many countries is under threat. All these issues make the SDG framework more relevant than ever as a comprehensive tool for addressing most of the issues facing humanity and their root causes.
As we reach a midpoint in the SDG cycle, the ISC and the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), as co-leaders of the Scientific and Technological Community Major Group, convened an event on the margins of the 2022 High-level Political Forum to discuss lessons from the implementation of SDGs to date and the future action required.
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President Carlos Alvarado Quesada of Costa Rica, speaking during the event, stressed that ‘the worst thing we could do as humankind is to dismiss the SDGs’, calling for a continued and reinforced support of the agenda from all actors.
The five panelists highlighted a number of barriers currently hindering implementation of the SDGs, as well as the actions required to create change.
First of all, let’s consider the challenges and barriers currently hindering implementation of the global goals:
- There’s a gap in communicating the vision of the SDGs as a critical tool for humanity’s survival, and understanding how decisions are made and how scientific evidence is being used (or not). We need to better integrate knowledge from the social and natural sciences to improve the translation of scientific knowledge for policy communities.
- There’s a political disconnect in many countries, with a lack of policies for change and/or incoherent policies that fuel unsustainable trajectories. Only small number of governments have embedded the SDG agenda into their national development plans, despite this integration being seen as essential for achieving the goals.
- The lack of a prioritization mechanism being applied across the SDGs has led to slow progress. When the matters that need to be addressed are so broad, they may appear overwhelming.
- Development trends are creating inequalities that threaten sustainability goals. Although millions of people overcame poverty through the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) and the SDGs, development is currently structured in a way that generates conditions of inequality. Inequality is jeopardizing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and undermining democracy and the ethical principles that allow societies to function. There is a negative correlation between inequality and sustainability.
- There is a lack of capacity for implementation, particularly in low-income countries, which require better support as well as leadership from larger states who are mostly responsible for today’s planetary crises
To address these challenges, participants highlighted five key priorities for action:
- A new narrative to communicate around the SDGs is needed. The SDGs offer a planetary plan to respond to most of the existential threats our societies have to deal with. The SDGs are no longer just some ambitious goals: they have become critical for our survival and governments need to fast-track their implementation.
- The multilateral system should be reinforced. Sustainability and the SDGs will not be achieved unilaterally by any individual nation state. The 2030 Agenda requires comprehensive multilateral action around matters of common interest. Given existing scenarios forecasting more frequent global shocks, there is also a need to start thinking about regenerating our economic system and its governance framework.
- All societal actors require ownership of the agenda, backed by a strong commitment from all state institutions. Achieving the SDG objectives requires processes that are increasingly inclusive and accepted by society at large.
- Leadership for small states on the global scene. While small states are often dealing with issues around the lack of capacity, many of them are showing incredible progress and delivery on the various international agreements. Small states are critical for resolving big issues and so far, they have demonstrated that the leadership that is required may come from the spaces where it’s least expected.
- Globally coordinated and more participatory science implementation effort to pursue the SDGs. Accelerating implementation of the SDGs requires a systems approach to resolving the SDGs through co-production and more inclusive approach, with greater involvement of societal actors. This kind of transdisciplinary science requires a deep rethinking of our science systems and stepping out of business-as-usual approaches towards structuring science, funding science and doing science.
The ISC and the WFEO work together to advance science and technology to support implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Read the latest position paper from the Scientific and Technological Community Major Group for the 2022 High-level Political Forum on the theme ‘Building back better from the coronavirus pandemic while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’:
Image by Steven Skerritt on Unsplash