Position paper for the 2023 High-Level Political Forum

Prepared by Fellows of the International Science Council (ISC), the statement advocates for an urgent shift towards integration and embracing the interconnectedness of the SDGs and global policy frameworks. Together, the Fellows of the International Science Council call for a move beyond rhetoric and towards concrete actions to leave no one behind, leveraging the power of science, technology, and innovation in supporting evidence-informed decision-making at all levels.

Position paper for the 2023 High-Level Political Forum

Rescuing and integrating the Global Agenda: Harnessing Science and Technology more effectively was prepared for the 2023 High-level Political Forum (HLPF) by Fellows of the International Science Council on behalf of the Scientific and Technological Community Major Group, co-convened by the International Science Council (ISC) and the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO).

The HLPF 2023 will discuss effective and inclusive recovery measures to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and explore actionable policy guidance for the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs at all levels. The Forum, held under the auspices of ECOSOC, will take place between 10 – 19 July 2023 at the UN Headquarters in New York.

Rescuing and integrating the Global Agenda: Harnessing Science and Technology more effectively

Position paper for the 2023 High-Level Political Forum, prepared by the ISC Fellows.

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The International Science Council at the HLPF 2023

Discover how the ISC is involved in the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2023, an international conference to discuss effective and inclusive recovery measures to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and explore actionable policy guidance for the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs at all levels.

Read the position paper online

Position paper for the 2023 High-Level Political Forum, prepared by the ISC Fellows

Rescuing and integrating the Global Agenda: Harnessing Science and Technology more effectively


  • INTEGRATION NOT FRAGMENTATION. We must urgently adopt a transformative, systemic approach to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda that recognizes the interdependencies of the SDGs and other global policy frameworks and is supported by coherent roadmaps, narratives and actions. These should draw on the classification of the six integrative SDG transformations and explore the potential to consolidate composite targets and indicators.
  • BEYOND RHETORIC. We must move the central promise of “Leaving no-one behind” beyond rhetoric with the UN and Member States placing a strong focus on building capacities and capabilities at all levels, forging a social contract for everyone and sharing positive narratives around decisions and practices that work for all.
  • THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY. The world’s political, scientific and civil society communities must vigorously increase their efforts to strengthen the science-policy-society interface, accounting for local realities and needs, and ensuring that decision-making at all levels – global, regional, national and local – is rigorously evidence-informed. Science, technology and innovation should be at the heart of integration, transformation and action, and the ISC stands ready to work with all communities as the global voice for science.


The 2030 Agenda, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), provides a vision of an aspirational, equitable and just future for all, thriving on a safe and resilient planet. Together with other key multilateral agreements, it provides a compass for reorienting development in a fundamentally new direction for the benefit of all people and the planet. The window of opportunity within the 2030 timeframe is rapidly closing and demands urgent action and genuine commitment on all fronts.


While differential progress has been made across some SDGs since 2015, it is indisputable that all SDGs are lagging and recent shocks – pandemics, wars, climate change, economic crashes – have thrown the world even further off course. The urgency of the 2030 Agenda risks being lost at a time of multiple crises when international cooperation and concerted political will are paramount in tackling shared and profound challenges, and building a resilient, just and sustainable world for everyone: we must use the “power of unity and solidarity to overcome the biggest test of our times” (Guterres, 2021 ).

Restoring human and planetary health is paramount for achieving the SDGs and building the foundations for a true transformation; one that recognizes people as part of nature and the safe and resilient functioning of the Earth system as a precondition for human well-being. Already, there is a real and present danger of irreversible natural and social tipping elements, such as the destruction of ecosystems, unabated climate change, increasing poverty and inequalities compounded by recent crises.


The SDGs were conceived as an integrated and holistic agenda, but their implementation has been managed through sectoral and institutional silos, due to fragmented governance, regulation, financing and monitoring. It is vital to unite efforts at all levels and foster a genuine understanding of the multifaceted challenges we face. This will unlock multiple shared benefits, build resilience to risks and facilitate collaboration: it requires a concerted, collective effort, from rethinking funding conditions to integrated monitoring and evaluation systems.

Further, the SDGs are an integral part of other interrelated global frameworks with important synergies and multiple benefits, including the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and New Urban Agenda. Interconnected and interdependent, they require a joined-up approach with sustained and sustainable investment – led by the UN and Member States – on a longer time-horizon (to 2050), to maximize synergies and minimize trade-offs. Without this, they all risk failure.

There is an urgent need to develop coherent roadmaps for achieving the collective ambitions of these global policy frameworks; for scaling up impactful interventions at all levels; and for experimenting with novel interventions related to – for example – the emergence of new technologies or the emergence of new behaviours, lifestyles, norms and values.

The roadmaps should be framed around:

  • the six integrative SDG transformations articulated in numerous scientific assessments e.g. The World in 2050 (2018, 2019, 2020) and the Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR, 2019): (1) Human capacity, well-being and health; (2) Consumption and production toward sustainable and just economies; (3) Decarbonization and universal energy access; (4) Food and nutrition, biosphere and water; (5) Urban and peri-urban areas and mobility; (6) Global environmental and human commons including the digital revolution;
  • the use of composite rather than disaggregated targets and indicators for monitoring nexus issues and identifying critical paths of interdependency up to and beyond 2030;
  • supported and expanded pilot countries, regions and communities that provide a rich portfolio of diverse approaches towards a common goal and include compelling people-oriented success stories that align global goals with local and regional implementation and examples of overcoming barriers to change. Such “bright spots” can inspire and motivate younger generations and accelerate change;
  • a compelling economic case for why long-term political commitment to building resilience and a green economy now (through managing risk and uncertainty, prevention and recovery, mitigation and adaptation) is vital (ISC, 2023).

Transformative and disruptive systemic change requires robust governance, scientific insight, business readiness, technological solutions and social innovation, ethical and sustainable finances, trade models and investment, and incentives to retire old ways and facilitate the uptake of new ones. We need concerted efforts to address systemic barriers to change, which include persistent inequalities, political short-termism and global capitalism that lacks regulation and seeks only profit. We need to tackle spillovers and negative externalities, such as the disregard of negative environmental and social impacts from production to consumption, to meaningfully assess progress.

Transformative change and innovation need robust governance and “social steering” to ensure they are responsibly regulated and democratized; the rapid and pervasive diffusion of digital innovations such as artificial intelligence can bring both multiple benefits and multiple risks. The response to COVID-19 with the development of vaccines in breathtaking time is a powerful illustration of how vigorous acceleration can be achieved when the world faces shared and profound vulnerabilities, and how the monetization and politicization of knowledge renders everyone vulnerable if access to beneficial innovation is not universal.


Multiple transformative pathways are required across public and private communities, cities and businesses, and different stakeholders – citizens’ movements, indigenous peoples, scientific, engineering, medical and other communities. Pathways to sustainability may come from diverse and sometimes unexpected places, requiring an urgent priority for building capacities and capabilities at all levels. National capabilities and capacities are heterogeneous and tend to be lower in countries where most needed. Knowledge production and provision need to be valued in all countries by improving access to science and education, particularly in countries where it is not universal. To achieve this, all sciences (natural, social, medical, engineering etc.) need to evolve and become ever more responsible, ethical and inclusive with concomitant strengthening of science education, communication and literacy.

Multiple forms of knowledge are required to develop step-by-step evidence-based targets across all sectors, with actionable insights to test, apply and scale solutions at different levels. We must step up – and openly learn from – the aforementioned pilot countries, regions and communities. We need to systematically assess and communicate the multiple benefits for people and planet of operationalizing the six SDG transformations in an inclusive way. Positive narratives are essential across policies and practices to maximize synergies and incentivize action: storytelling is critical to nurturing systems leadership that connects local needs with global action, sharing learning from champions who have delivered impactful action and inspiring all to be proactive.

Everyone, everywhere has agency, and must be part of a new social contract – an implicit moral and ethical agreement among all members of society for the 2030 Agenda and other related global agreements and frameworks. Everyone has a stake and can play their part, from governments and business to civil society and local communities.


Determined, accelerated, timebound and spatially explicit strategies and roadmaps at all scales must draw on the best available knowledge. A strong science-policy-society interface requires actionable

and evidence-based knowledge for decision-making, underpinned by transdisciplinary collaboration, integrated systems perspectives and new ways of organizing knowledge co-production with multiple stakeholders to achieve shared global outcomes.

Enabling mission-oriented research for sustainability in all science and engineering disciplines must be one of the key priorities of governments and science funders in pursuing the SDGs. Accelerating SDG implementation requires visionary thinking and fundamentally disruptive actions from funders worldwide, stepping out of business-as-usual approaches to funding science and creating supportive institutional arrangements for nurturing inclusive and impactful sustainability science. To be launched at the 2023 HLPF, the ISC has established a Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability that represents an institutional funding model for operationalizing science missions to support SDG implementation. Balancing curiosity-driven and mission-driven science is vital: for example, the mRNA technology for COVID-19 vaccines emanated from four decades of under-funded curiosity science for therapeutic solutions.

The President of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly, Csaba Kőrösi, has summarized the challenge ahead as the focus on “Solutions through solidarity, sustainability and science.” Science, education and evidence-based knowledge from multiple sources must be central to a new, integrated agenda. Recently launched, the “Group of Friends on Science for Action” will help provide the knowledge required to support UN Member States in their decision-making and strengthen evidence-informed policy making in the UN system.

We must support transformative science, engineering, medicine and other forms of knowledge to be truly integrative and inclusive – engaging providers and users of science from the outset in problem definition and solutions design – and truly transdisciplinary – using natural, political and social sciences to understand levers for change. In promoting knowledge to action, strengthening the science-policy-society interface and supporting mission-oriented research, we can build the conditions for transformation.

Despite enormous challenges, we must make every effort to build a governance architecture that steers us towards common goals and shared benefits, catalyzes positive and impactful change, and enables us to readily adapt to our fast-changing world. We must remain hopeful, building confidence and a positive vision for our collective future.


1. Global wake-up call | United Nations Secretary-General

2. Where “transformative” means a shift or break in existing paradigms – pushing boundaries – to bring about significant advancements and positive change

3. Griggs, D., M. Nilsson, A. Stevance and D. McCollum (eds) (2017). A guide to SDG interactions: from science to implementation. International Council for Science (ICSU), Paris.

4. The World in 2050 | IIASA

5. Independent Group of Scientists appointed by the Secretary-General, Global Sustainable Development Report 2019: The Future is Now – Science for Achieving Sustainable Development, (United Nations, New York, 2019)

6. International Science Council.2023. Report for the Mid-term Review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Paris, France. International Science Council. DOI: 10.24948/2023.01.

7. https://council.science/actionplan/funding-science-global-commission/

8. Creation of a Group of Friends on Science for Action at the UN – International Science Council


ISC Fellows Expert Writing Group

  • Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Chair of the Expert Writing Group
  • Irasema Alcántara-Ayala
  • Eduardo Brondizio
  • Terrence Forrester
  • Peter Gluckman
  • Maria Ivanova
  • Quarraisha Abdool Karim
  • Gong Ke
  • Melissa Leach
  • Carlos Lopes
  • Carlos Nobre
  • Tollulah Oni
  • Sawako Shirahase

ISC Fellows

Salim Abdool Karim, Olanike Adeyemo, Bina Agarwal, Yousuf Al-Bulushi, Eva Alisic, Tateo Arimoto, Ernest Aryeetey, Dominique Babini, Karina Batthyány, Françoise Baylis, Alan Bernstein, Sumaya bint El Hassan, Geoffrey Boulton, Jean- Pierre Bourguignon, Lidia Brito, Melody Brown Burkins, Craig Calhoun, Philip Campbell, Richard Catlow, Qiuming Cheng, Mei-Hung Chiu, Saths Cooper, Partha Dasgupta, Luiz Davidovich, Anna Davies, Sandra Díaz, Mamadou Diouf, Pearl Dykstra, Encieh Erfani, Maria J. Esteban, Mark Ferguson, Sirimali Fernando, Ruth Fincher, Ian Goldin, Nat Gopalswamy, Claudia Guerrero, Huadong Guo, Harsh Gupta, Heide Hackmann, Zakri Hamid, Yuko Harayama, Mohamed Hassan, John Hildebrand, Richard Horton, Anne Husebekk, Naoko Ishii, Alik Ismail-Zadeh, Elizabeth Jelin, Pavel Kabat, Takaaki Kajita, Eugenia Kalnay, Marlene Kanga, Motoko Kotani, Reiko Kuroda, Dan Larhammar, Yuan Tseh Lee, Jinghai Li, James C. Liao, Jose Ramon López-Portillo Romano, László Lovász, Yonglong Lu, Shirley Mahaley Malcom, Alberto Martinelli, Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Pamela Matson, Julie Maxton, Gordon McBean, Michael Edward Meadows, Binyam Sisu Mendisu, Khotso Mokhele, Florence Mtambanengwe, Helena Nader, Helga Nowotny, Connie Nshemereirwe, Paul Nurse, Mobolaji Oladoyin Odubanjo, Adebayo Olukoshi, Walter Oyawa, Maria Paradiso, Orakanoke Phanraksa, Peter Piot, Francesca Primas, Rémi Quirion, Daya Reddy, Martin Rees, Elisa Reis, Johan Rockström, Jeffrey Sachs, Michael Saliba, Flavia Schlegel, Marie-Alexandrine Sicre, Magdalena Skipper, Robert Jan Smits, Youba Sokona, Detlef Stammer, Peter Strohschneider, Natalia Tarasova, Kishi Teruo, Ion Tiginyanu, Vaughan Turekian, Eliane Ubalijoro, Albert van Jarsveld, Renée van Kessel, Hebe Vessuri, Krishnaswamy VijayRaghavan, Cédric Villani, Martin Visbeck, James Wilsdon, and Guoxiong Wu.

Image by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash.

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