Science and research included in framing SDGs

The UN Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) concluded its thirteenth and final session in New York this 19 July. As the OWG on the SDGs released a definitive list of recommended overall goals and related targets — some experts say that political pragmatism threatens to sideline scientific advice in the final stages of UN negotiations for the SDGs.

However, the science community managed to pull the situation back from the brink when UNESCO’s New York office organised a ‘ministerial breakfast’ on 15 July on the margins of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development meeting in New York, to press home the importance of SDGs backed by science and research. This reinstated some of science and research commitments into the draft of the proposed SDGs released last month.  Science and research is included elsewhere in the document, which now also includes a commitment to help developing countries “strengthen their scientific and technological capacities to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production”. The report, the end product of 13 OWG meetings over some 16 months, lays out 169 targets spread across 17 SDGs for the UN General Assembly to consider in at meeting in New York in September.

IRDR is pleased that an opening for the recognition of the role of Science and Technology has been created; but more work needs to be done at the interface of science and policy for this opening to translate into reality.

Mark Pelling (King’s College, London), member of IRDR’s Science Committee, who had led the Major Group Science and Technology on behalf of ICSU, said, “This is a considerable achievement for the disaster risk community and its allies.”  Pelling, who also attended the said session, expressed that although there are still hurdles and ongoing challenges of framing, planning and implementation before UNGA 2016, this serves as an opportunity for science in general, but also for IRDR in particular,to a play a more significant role.

Among the requests of the S&T Group had been to add a phrase to the “chapeau” that would reflect the consensus of “The Future we want” insist that the challenges dealt with “include exposure to global environmental challenges and external economic shocks, (as well as) to a large range of impacts from climate change and potentially more frequent and intense natural disasters.”

Eventually, it was noted that the draft SDGs do include“resilience” in Goal number 11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable” with a target that explicitly mentions the HFA, in what appears to be a first in the SDG negotiation process.  The draft document has now been handed over to the UN General Assembly for discussion and adoption.

Following up on these efforts on SDG, R. Klein, Executive Director of IRDR, who represented ICSU as organizing partner of the Major Group Science and Technology in Geneva last July, also highlighted the importance of mutual reinforcement of strategies for disaster risk reduction and sustainable development.

ICSU is working with the UN to make sure that scientific advice and expertise is available to the OWG, predominantly through expert group meetings, papers on the SDGs and through the work of the Scientific and Technological Community Major Group.

Excerpts from SciDev: “Last-minute UNESCO lobbying brings SDG science success” and “UN’s zero draft of SDGs ‘is vague on boosting science.”

Outcome Document – Introduction to the Proposal of the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development Goals