Science and the Sustainable Development Goals
New studies are emerging about the role of science in the negotiation and definition of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly around the creation of a set of indicators to track the goals that are expected to be finalized in September 2015.
The sustainable development agenda calls for a new consensus that is science-based and universally applicable. However, challenges persist. A recent article by Angel Hsu and Alisa Zomer from Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies summarizes four of these challenges, highlighting the need for goals that are realistically measurable and that contribute to achieve the overall objective of sustainable development. They include:
- Data collection, analysis and management, including the definition of the entities that will be “data custodians” for the information required to monitor the proposed 17 goals and more than 100 indicators. Data custody will also include the monitoring and reporting on SDGs progress.
- Use of communication technologies and non-traditional sources of data to make the SDGs “embrace the data revolution”. This includes data collection, availability, and the definition of scientific methods for countries and international bodies to monitor and evaluate the SDGs.
- The development of a cross-sectoral approach that integrates separate data categories and indicators, reflecting on the specific components of sustainable development.
- Linking science to policy bridging the gap between what science measures and the design of the goals and policies. The new sustainable development agenda should motivate action while offering a realistic path towards sustainable development.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will require new data sources, with appropriate data custodians that ensure the integration of science and policy and the creation of a sustainable architecture that inspires political commitment. More recently, the International Council for Science (ICSU), in partnership with the International Social Science Council (ISSC), took a step in that direction.
The two organizations released a report that reviews the proposed goals and targets, “assessing whether they are backed up by scientific evidence, whether they address the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in an integrated way, and whether they are sufficiently specific to be effectively implemented and monitored.” According to this report, only 29% of the targets are well developed, 54% should be more specific and 17% require significant work. Still, the authors believe that the SDGs represent an improvement, compared to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).