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Symposium 2015

Solution for Putting the SDGs to Work

The Challenge

Much of the recent public debate on international development has revolved around the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are due to expire in 2015. Negotiations on a new set of Sustainable Dev ...

Much of the recent public debate on international development has revolved around the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which are due to expire in 2015. Negotiations on a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are now under way. While the MDGs had a rather narrow focus on key issues of human development such as income, poverty, basic health, and education, the scope of the SDGs is much broader. The SDGs follow up on the previous poverty-oriented goals which have not been met completely, but they then also include distributional considerations as well as environmental objectives such as the protection of oceans and tropical forests. The SDGs are thus firmly rooted in the sustainable development paradigm, which renders them conceptually appealing. At the same time, the SDG list is extremely long, comprising 17 goals broken down into 169 sub-goals (so-called targets) as compared to the 8 MDGs with their 21 targets. This new complexity may pose a risk to the popularity and realization of the new development goals, given that the MDGs' appeal to a wider audience also originated from their catchy simplicity and measurability.

The SDGs Need Implementation Plans and Science Should Play a More Significant Role

 

The SDGs need Implementation plans

The SDGs require local ownership globally. The SDGs need implementation planning, which gives them sufficient focus in the diverse country contexts, with accountability, and an ambitious but not unrealistic time schedule. Otherwise the SDGs will not serve their purpose to accelerate achieving sustainable development pathways. The three dimensions of sustainability—social, economic, ecological—are the conceptual basis. They remain critical for a balanced agenda.

Implementation plans need be designed by national governments, include stakeholders, and define accountability. The should entail the actual mobilization of actions, and that is not just the mobilization of the SDG finance for investments, but mobilization of the governance and political actions for peace and security, mobilization of science, and of behavioral changes of people, and of stakeholders.

While partnership may be important for elements of goal achievement, banking on partnership alone may not be most efficient. The SDGs need Ordnungspolitk, i.e., the functioning of markets, competition in corporate sectors and across segments of civil society is needed, too. And the role of states is essential for much of public goods delivery. Obviously, sound data are needed for independent monitoring of goal and target achievements.

A significant role for science to achieve SDGs

Science should be considered an instrument, not a goal, to facilitate progress with the SDGs and to rationalize trade-offs between goals. For some SDG agenda items research is mentioned, such as to increase investment in agricultural research, research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and noncommunicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, access to clean energy research and technologies, and scientific research to upgrade the technological capabilities of industrial sectors. The international science community has not engaged enough with the UN process to bring the essential role of research into the SDG discourse. In view of the fundamental challenges for human development, sustainable use of natural resources, and protection of nature, sustainable development without science and science-based rethinking of given production and consumption patterns will not be achieved. Specific and durable arrangements are needed that facilitate emerging economies and low income countries’ access to science capacities in the richer world, while they must also scale up their own science spending and proceed with science policy reforms. An SDG science policy agenda of industrialized countries and emerging economies must be developed, based on mutual respect, considering countries’ interests, and comparative advantages. For instance steps taken by European Union and African Union with such consultations can be consolidated and focused on selected SDG related science issues.

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