Scientists Call for Urgent, Targeted Action to Avoid Reversing the Development Gains of Recent Decades

Since 1990, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. But this progress is under threat: inequality has deepened and climate change and biodiversity loss are approaching tipping points. However, science has the power to help mitigate the trade-offs that come with achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that are all interconnected, and put us back on track to creating a better world for all by 2030, according to the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report.

This report is the first quadrennial Global Sustainable Development Report to be written by an independent group of scientists appointed by the United Nations Secretary General as mandated by United Nations Member States. It has been written to inform actions to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Entitled “The Future is now: Science for achieving the SDGs”, the report stresses that governments, business, communities and civil society need to transform a number of key areas of human activities: food, energy, consumption and cities. Increased investment in science for sustainability and in natural and social science institutions based in developing countries are needed. The report will inform the upcoming SDG Summit which takes place on 24 and 25 September.

The report finds that the current development model is not sustainable, and the progress made in the last two decades is in danger of being reversed through worsening social inequalities and potentially irreversible declines in the natural environment that sustains us. The scientists concluded that a far more optimistic future is still attainable, but only by drastically changing development policies, incentives and actions. The report argues that understanding the interconnections between the individual SDGs and the concrete systems that define society today will be essential to devise policies that manage difficult trade-offs.

Creating economic growth just by increasing consumption of material goods is no longer a viable option at the global level: Projections indicate that the global use of materials is set to almost double between 2017 and 2060, with correspondingly increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and other toxic effects such as those from mining and other pollution sources. The present model of development has delivered prosperity to hundreds of millions. But it also has led to continuing poverty and other deprivations; unprecedented levels of inequality that undermine innovation, social cohesion and sustainable economic growth; and it has brought the world close to tipping points with the global climate system and biodiversity loss.

Moreover, the scientists suggest that the UN could promote a new sustainable development investment label, with clear parameters and guidelines, to encourage and reward investment in industries and financial markets that advance sustainable development and discourage investment in those that do not.

The authors emphasize that strong political will and commitment will be required to make the needed transformations, that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and the interventions in developed countries will look very different from those in developing countries.

The report’s Call to Action identifies 20 points where interventions can create transformative and accelerated progress towards multiple goals and targets in the coming decade. These targeted actions are based on the recent scientific literature analyzing the deeper systemic interconnections that identify synergies and trade-offs between individual goals and targets.

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