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Funding Science for Sustainability

With just over 10 years to go to achieve the 17 ambitious goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda, more than 80 science funders, representing international development aid agencies, private foundations and national research councils have called for greater collaboration among science funders and the research community to address the world’s most pressing challenges, as exemplified by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


The Global Forum of Funders, convened by the International Science Council (ISC) and hosted by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. on 8 and 9 July 2019, resulted in a common call for a decade of global sustainability funding action. It recognises the need for scaling up on impact through game-changing action within funding, research and science systems throughout the world.

The Forum discussed the challenges faced by science systems in striving to meet sustainable development goals, how strategic partnerships can help navigate these challenges, and how to maximise the impact of research investments.

The event was supported by a number of partners that included the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), National Science Foundation (USA), National Research Foundation (South Africa), International Development Research Centre (Canada), UK Research and Innovation, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Austria), Future Earth, Belmont Forum and Volkswagen Stiftung.

Anna-Maria Oltorp, Head of Sida’s unit for research cooperation, said “Sida is delighted to support these kinds of actions, by actively engaging the least developed countries to build on their existing research capacities at local, national and regional levels, and ultimately to contribute to solving global problems such as poverty and inequality”.

Maria Uhle, Principle Member for the United States at the Belmont Forum – a partnership of funding organizations, international science councils and regional consortia committed to the advancement of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary science – expressed her desire for funders to transform their systems in order to support transdisciplinary and cross-cutting research in all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“We need new hybrid models of funding that will create the building blocks for impactful research that accelerates the solutions to the SDGs”, she said.

The meeting agreed that while the SDGs provide an excellent framework for the international science, policy and practice communities to work together on identifying transformative pathways towards global sustainability, the challenges were highly complex and uneven, particularly in the global South.  A well-coordinated and collaborative programme of accelerated innovation and funding mobilisation will be required to boost the chances of the SDGs being realised.

Andrew Thompson, Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK  and an International Champion of the UKRI said, “The International Science Council has done us all a great service in convening funding agencies from the Global North and South to reflect upon the role of research in relation to the UN SDGs. The 2030 Agenda is a call to scholars from across all disciplines to rethink their research with regard to the pressing global challenges of our times”.

Professor Thompson further challenged the research funding community suggesting that  research funders must rethink how they might best stimulate and support the scientific community towards meeting the SDGs.  “Protracted conflict, forced displacement, epidemic disease, food insecurity and the degradation of our environment – these are truly global problems. They require a global response and  concerted action is necessary from research funders, as it is from others in the international community. The power of our response will ultimately lie in our willingness to work together”.

The diverse group of science funders from across the world and across national, philanthropic and international development cooperation agencies, agreed to accelerate and amplify the impact of their investments in international science and its contribution to the achievement of the SDGs through strategic exchange, alignment and multilateral collaboration.

The group further agreed to reconvene after the UN’s SDG Summit in September 2019. The Summit already recognises in its draft political declaration the need for accelerated action that includes mobilising adequate and well directed funding, solving challenges through international cooperation, and harnessing science, technology and innovation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Additional reporting: Sarah Frueh, NAS.

Image: Photo by Clint Adair on Unsplash

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