The GSDR is UN publication synthesizing knowledge on the SDGs, published every 4 years. It is an assessment of assessments that involved over 200 scientific experts seeking to synthesize evidence on sustainable development issues and strengthening the science policy interface.
The high-level event, which was opened by Andre Vallini, Minister of State for Development and Francophonie, attached to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, brought together a diverse range of actors from academia, government and civil society. Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs in UN DESA, gave an overview of the report and stressed that the GSDR was not just a report, but also a mobilizing process for scientific communities from all over the world, notably non-anglophone communities. ICSU President Gordon McBean provided some remarks on the Council and its scientific programmes. A lively roundtable followed, with questions from the audience.
The previous day, an expert workshop with 50 scientists was held at Sciences Po, organized by UNDESA, the International Council for Science, the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) and the Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD). The goal of the workshop was to raise awareness of the GSDR, and encourage engagement from Francophone scientific communities for next edition to be published in 2019.
During a series of thematic discussions, there was agreement that the GSDR provides a major opportunity to mobilize scientific inputs and to feed them in at the highest level. However, its success will require the definition of an architecture and process around the elaboration of the GSDR that enables a meaningful collaboration across policy-makers, the scientific community, the UN system and other stakeholders around the core principles of legitimacy, credibility and relevance, and with coordinating existing scientific networks and assessments. The participation of the scientific community across disciplines, and countries provides the necessary foundation for the GSDR and, ultimately the success of the SDGs.
Daniel Compagnon, from Sciences Po Bordeaux, noted that the GSDR is something new, as it is not a science policy interface in itself, nor is it an assessment like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES), and it is not linked to a legally-binding convention. It is a UN publication with a very large ambition – approved by member states – to include the scientific evidence underpinning the SDGs, capture trends, assess responses and their impacts, and new emerging issues in an integrated manner and that seeks to be evidence-based to track progress.
Some recommendations which emerged from the workshop were:
- Need for a process that is based on principles of legitimacy, credibility and saliency, providing a long term platform for meaningful engagement of the scientific community from across disciplines and countries.
- Data accessibility is problematic in many countries and a purely statistical approach will not suffice given the range and types of data and information needed for tracking progress.
- The integrated approach to the SDGs and nexus is critical for the GSDR to ensure that synergies and trade-offs are captured and ensure that progress is made across the board.
- Success factors for meaningful engagement in GSDR include: a common analysis framework, providing a bottom up approach to engagement of the scientific community, the need to move away from the science-policy interface to something more multi-faceted that includes policymakers and stakeholders throughout the process.
- Develop mechanisms to ‘pre-digest’ the huge body of scientific evidence to be synthetized, possibly at national level and / or around questions co-designed with decision-makers and stakeholders to ensure that the GSDR is based on latest scientific evidence and policy-relevant and through partnerships with existing scientific networks and communities such as ICSU, Future Earth, observing systems, etc.