Sustainable Development Goals

The ISC provides input and advice on the SDGs throughout their development and implementation in a number of ways.

Sustainable Development Goals

From 1992 – 2015, ICSU (our predecessor organization) had been continuously involved via multiple mechanisms and its partner organizations to push for a sound scientific basis for the goals. Since the goals were adopted by the world’s governments in 2015, the International Science Council has continued to argue for science to have a strong role in their implementation, notably via the mechanisms described below.

High Level Political Fora (HLPF) for Sustainable Development

Held every year, the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is the United Nations central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Against this backdrop, the ISC sees its main role in providing evidence-based, politically independent, and actionable scientific guidance to decision-makers by drawing on its large and diverse global membership and the embodied expertise of natural and social scientists to tackle challenges to the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs at all levels.

The Scientific and Technological Community Major Group, co-convened by the International Science Council (ISC) and the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), submits position papers to the forum, organizes side-events, and facilitates the attendance of scientists from the ISC community, contributing valuable insights to the thematic issues under review by the the HLPF.


Our latest work at the HLPF

The International Science Council at the HLPF 2023

“Accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”.

HLPF colour straw

The International Science Council at the HLPF 2022

“Building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”

The International Science Council at the HLPF 2021

“Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development”

The International Science Council at the HLPF 2020

“Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”

The International Science Council at the HLPF 2019

“Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”


Read our latest HLPF position papers

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.

Scientific and Technological Community Major Group Position Paper for the 2022 High-level Political Forum

Building back better from the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full
implementation of the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development.

cover of the publication

Position paper from the Scientific and Technological Community Major Group for the 2021 High-level Political Forum

The paper sets out ways to advance progress on the SDGs throughout the Decade of Action while living with and through the COVID-19 pandemic and underscores the urgent need to address existing scientific evidence and move from plans to action.

Scientific and Technological Community Major Group position paper on the theme of the 2020 High-level Political Forum

The paper on the theme “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development” gathers inputs from a wide breadth of partner organizations and programmes such as the Transformations to Sustainability (T2S) programmeFuture EarthLIRA 2030 Africa, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and others.

Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for the SDGs

The Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs (STI Forum) is convened yearly by the President of ECOSOC to discuss science, technology and innovation cooperation around thematic areas for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Similarly to the yearly High-level Political Forum, the ISC has a central role in this platform as a co-convenor of the UN Major Group for Science and Technology. The ISC works with the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) to secure a mandate for science at the UN and to integrate scientific and expert knowledge into sustainable development-related policy processes. 

Rediscover our previous work, read our statements, watch the recordings of our side-events, and explore activities organized by ISC members and partners:

The International Science Council at the STI Forum 2023

“Science, technology and innovation for accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”

The International Science Council at the STI Forum 2022

Watch the recording of our side-event discussing reflections on pandemic-related science advice to governments and implications for the future of the science-policy interface.

various icons over the photo of a forest

The International Science Council at the STI Forum 2021

 “Science, technology and innovation for a sustainable and resilient COVID-19 recovery, and effective pathways of inclusive action towards the Sustainable Development Goals”

Other work for the SDGs

A Guide to SDG Interactions: from Science to Implementation

The report examines the interactions between the various goals and targets, determining to what extent they reinforce or conflict with each other. It provides a blueprint to help countries implement and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Go to the publication page and read more >


Pathways to a sustainable post-COVID world – reports from the IIASA-ISC consultative platform

One question dominated science-policy discussions more than any other in 2021: how could the multi-trillion-dollar COVID-19 recovery packages be implemented in a way that would support resilience and sustainability for the long term?

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)-ISC Consultative Science Platform ‘Bouncing Forward Sustainably: Pathways to a post-COVID world’ mobilized the science communities of both the IIASA and the ISC to design sustainability pathways for the COVID-19 recovery period and beyond.

Four thematic reports were released in January 2021: Enhancing Governance for SustainabilityStrengthening Science SystemsRethinking Energy Solutions; and Resilient Food Systems, as well as a Synthesis Report which emphasized the need for ‘systemic transformative changes’.

Discover more >


You may also be interested in:

Flipping the Science Model: A Roadmap to Science Missions for Sustainability

This report by the ISC Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability describes and advocates for mission science for sustainability as an urgently needed new form of science for the SDGs. It also serves as a call, inviting all stakeholders, both familiar and unconventional, to unite with the science community in this endeavour of collectively catalyzing science’s power to drive transformative action towards a more sustainable world for all.

Go to the publication page and read more >

A Model for Implementing Mission Science for Sustainability

In its report, the Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to the Global Commission proposes a model to set priorities for mission science for sustainability. Based on a co-design process, it details the core principles and institutional, governance and funding arrangements needed to accelerate our progress on the path towards sustainability.

Go to the publication page and read more >


Stories of Transformations to Sustainability

The Transformations to Sustainability programme funded 15 international research projects between 2016 and 2022 to study how social transformations to sustainability can be supported. The projects worked with communities in diverse places around the world to understand the complex relations between social structures, the material world and environmental and social change.

Stories of Transformations to Sustainability

Find out more about the T2S programme on its dedicated website >


Leading Integrated Research for Agenda 2030 (LIRA 2030 Africa)

After six years of supporting transdisciplinary research on sustainability across African cities, the research funding programme Leading Integrated Research for Agenda 2030 (LIRA 2030 Africa) announced the launch of two reports that capture key achievements and lessons learned, both at the programme and project levels, from advancing transdisciplinary science for sustainable urban development on the continent.

History of ICSU’s involvement in the SDG process

Throughout the process to define the Sustainable Development Goals, the International Council for Science (ICSU) and its partner organizations have continuously pushed for a sound scientific basis for these goals and a strong role for science in their implementation.

The development of the SDGs was mandated at the Rio+20 summit in 2012, where ICSU and the World Federation of Engineering Organisations (WFEO) worked as the organizing partners for the scientific and technological community major group. During the Rio+20 preparatory process, the scientific and technological community strongly supported the proposal by Colombia and Guatemala to include among the recommendations to be adopted by the summit the development of universally applicable SDGs.

In preparation for the adoption of the Rio+20 outcome document “The Future We Want”, ICSU coordinated inputs from the leading research programmes on global environmental change that culminated in the Planet Under Pressure conference (London, March 2012) which produced a number of policy briefs for Rio+20. ICSU, in cooperation with UNESCO and other partners, organized the international forum on science, technology and innovation for sustainable development which brought together many leading international scientists, policy-makers, industry, NGOs, journalists and youth from more than 75 countries to explore the key role of interdisciplinary science and innovation in the transition to sustainable development, a green economy and poverty eradication. Future Earth was launched at Rio+20 as a major new platform for catalyzing research to achieve a transformation towards global sustainability.

The UN-led process to develop the SDGs was open and inclusive, involving an extensive consultation of stakeholders. Throughout the process, ICSU has worked closely with its research programmes like Future Earth, IRDR, Urban Health and Wellbeing and the other official organizing partners of the scientific and technological community, ISSC and WFEO, to facilitate input from the scientific community. ICSU particularly contributed the following:

  • At Rio+20, ICSU launched Future Earth together with partners (ISSC, Belmont Forum, UNESCO, UNEP, UNU and WMO), a major international research platform aimed at providing the knowledge to accelerate our transformation towards a sustainable world. Future Earth brings together thousands of scientists across all disciplines, and seeks to engage with other stakeholders to contribute to achieving the SDGs.
  • Provided thought leadership through the publication of opinion pieces in major scientific and development publications.
  • Provided written input into the discussions of the UN Open Working Group (OWG) mandated to prepare a set of proposed Sustainable Development Goals by July 2014.
  • Championed science and delivered statements on behalf of the scientific community at the meetings of the OWG, at the interactive dialogues within the further intergovernmental negotiations in 2015, and the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development.
  • Co-organized and participated in side events and expert workshops around these meetings to co-ordinate scientific engagement into the substance of these discussions
  • Provided written contributions to the development of the first two Global Sustainable Development Reports (GSDR), intended as an evidence-based tool for decision makers synthesizing existing knowledge on sustainable development and promoting a strong science-policy interface.
  • Co-ordinated and published the first independent scientific review of the targets that are intended to operationalize the SDGs, in partnership with ISSC, in February 2015. The review of the targets conducted by over 40 scientists found overall that the SDGs offer a major improvement over the MDGs, with a greater understanding of the interplay between the social, economic, environmental and governance dimensions, and inclusion of systemic barriers to sustainable development such as unsustainable consumption and production patterns and inequality. And where the MDGs only dealt with developing countries, the new set of goals is applicable to all countries. However, the scientific community also expressed concerns over the lack of an overall goal providing a means to end continuum i.e. an overall narrative to bind together the SDGs, the large number of targets, and in many cases, their lack of specificity, and the challenge of harnessing the relevant data to measure progress effectively.

Scientists have strongly mobilized around the SDGs and have taken the measure of the importance of the consensus achieved globally on a set of goals for people and the planet. However, achieving this ambitious agenda will require strengthening the science-policy interface to promote stronger and more systematic collaboration between scientists, policy-makers and societal groups. In this regard, science should not only be recognized as an observer, but also as an advisor and a partner to promote evidence based decision-making, as highlighted also by the UN Scientific Advisory Board. To this end, ICSU will continue to contribute to the preparation of the Global Sustainable Development Reports (GSDRs) in the coming years, alongside other activities to strengthen science advice to governments.


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