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Position paper

Position paper for 2020 HLPF: Accelerated action and transformative pathways

Realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development

The Scientific and Technological Community Major Group, jointly facilitated by the International Science Council and the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), seeks to input scientific evidence into sustainable development-related policy processes, including intergovernmental negotiations, at the United Nations.

For the 2020 High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), the main UN platform to monitor and review progress towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Science and Technology Major Group has submitted a position paper related to this year’s theme “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.

The HLPF will take place 7-16 July and will be mainly held virtually.


The position paper gathers inputs from a wide breadth of partner organizations and programmes such as the Transformations to Sustainability (T2S) programme, Future Earth, LIRA 2030 Africa, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and others. The document will be made available on the UN website and a summary of the paper will be included in the Major Groups’ and stakeholders’ official contribution to the meeting. Both documents will be published here.

The position paper underscores the contribution of science and technology to accelerate transformations in support of the 2030 Agenda by providing examples of concrete initiatives set up by the scientific and technological community to sustain and bolster transformative action.

Revealing the full potential of the 2030 Agenda however requires:

  • strengthened research and development financial support aimed at orienting scientific knowledge production towards attaining the SDGs
  • wide access to existing and emerging scientific knowledge, data and breakthrough tools
  • a reinforced global institutional framework to ensure, among other things, that the best scientific knowledge related to sustainable development is utilized to uphold decision making.

Key messages and recommendations

The COVID-19 crisis must become the great accelerator of transformations towards a more sustainable, equitable and
healthy world

While the immediate priority for countries is to solve the health crisis and protect the most vulnerable, the COVID-19 outbreak offers in the longer term an important opportunity to rethink the very foundations of our societies and to move away from the existing system where inequalities in terms of vulnerability and environmental impact are structurally embedded. In that sense, the COVID-19 crisis must become the great accelerator of transformations towards a more sustainable, equitable and healthy world.

Achieving a sustainable, equitable and healthy world requires an integrated transformations approach

Achieving a sustainable, equitable and healthy world requires an integrated transformations approach, such as that offered in the Global Sustainable Development Report 2019 (GSDR 2019), which addresses the Sustainable Development Goals in a comprehensive, systemic way, rather than as a collection of discrete goals and associated targets and indicators. With just ten years to go, countries and regions urgently need to design and implement integrated, context-sensitive and attainable pathways towards achieving transformation at all levels and scales.

Strengthened contribution from the social sciences and
humanities, and stronger, more equitable collaborations are
urgently required to operationalize comprehensive and
integrated transformation frameworks

Operationalizing comprehensive and integrated transformation frameworks will require:

  • an important contribution from the social sciences and humanities in understanding and making sense of the bearing of history, culture and context on transformations, the conditions and consequences of possible transformations, the role of subjective sense-making in our visions of the world, the ethics and responsibilities involved in deliberate transformation, and the complexity of decision-making and governance processes, including the role of science in the policy process;
  • collective processes to define where science is needed and where public and private investments should be prioritized to accelerate the achievement of the 2030 Agenda;
  • stronger and more equitable collaboration across policy, science, civil society and other stakeholder communities at all levels and scales.

There is a special urgency to rethink the role and importance of technology in achieving the 2030 Agenda

There is a special urgency to rethink the role and importance of technology to achieve the 2030 Agenda, and how it could be reoriented in order to more meaningfully contribute to the implementation of the SDGs in a transformative way. The UN’s global Technology Facilitation Mechanism should become a vehicle to assess whether the current stock of technology and knowledge is sufficient for achieving the SDGs and suitable for transfer across the globe.

We need to address the multiple threats, complex risks and interactions that may threaten progress towards the SDGs

Implementation and review of the SDGs should take into account the multiple threats, complex risks and interactions which may threaten progress if programmes are not sufficiently resilient. The conceptualization, identification and understanding of risk demands interdisciplinary integrated approaches from science, collaboration between science and policy, and cross-sectoral engagement by government. Strengthening data collection and exchange are cornerstone activities towards this end.

The five major environmental policy frameworks should be better coordinated to accelerate action and delivery

For greater coherence and impact, the implementation of five major environmental policy frameworks – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Global Biodiversity Framework, and the New Urban Agenda – should be better coordinated to form an integrated global agenda for action for an equitable, sustainable and resilient world.

Member States, regions and stakeholders urgently need to
consider how they would respond to a situation
of planetary emergency

Member States, regions and stakeholders urgently need to consider how they would respond to a situation of planetary emergency where both risk and urgency are high, in the face of mounting evidence that global environmental change will soon cross tipping points leading to cascading effects across multiple sectors and regions. Learning from the COVID-19 crisis will be important as it has shown that governments can act swiftly and resolutely in a crisis, and people can change their behaviour in the face of an existential threat.

Global institutional frameworks, such as the HLPF, must be strengthened to accelerate action and delivery

The global institutional framework must be strengthened in order to accelerate action towards achieving the 2030 Agenda. The review of the High-level Political Forum is a vital and necessary opportunity to convert the Forum into a knowledge-based, coherent, and action-oriented arena through improved evaluation and analysis of evidence-based inputs. In addition, the UN must take steps to ensure that the evidence-based inputs stemming from the multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (STI Forum) better feed into the HLPF.

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