Second Annual Summit on Science Enablement Advances United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals
Participants shared best practices and actionable examples to advance the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda.
Published December 14, 2017
In 2015 the United Nations (UN) adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an ambitious plan to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. In October, with the support of the UN, the Second Annual Summit on Science and Technology Enablement for the Sustainable Development Goals was convened at the New York Academy of Sciences headquarters in downtown Manhattan. More than 100 representatives from industry, academia, NGOs, UN organizations and Member States gathered to continue the work started at the 2016 inaugural SDG Summit and determine next steps to advance the 2030 Agenda.
The conference opened with an active workshop with discussions divided into four streams: People in Crisis, Early Childhood Development (ECD), Sustainable Consumption and Production, and Food Security and Nutrition. Participants were challenged to develop a definition and holistic approach that would cut across streams. Highlights of their recommendations included:
People in Crisis: To help “people in crisis,” better data must be collected, but this data must be secure. Participants called for a shift in thinking about the scope of crisis, moving beyond basic emergency relief to include long-term recovery, risk reduction, and plans for future education, livelihood, and opportunity promotion. Importantly, decisions on these matters must be made with the active consent of those impacted by crisis.
Early Childhood Development: Participants recommended improving ECD evaluation of the “research to practice” cycle, in order to foster stakeholder engagement and increase implementation through community participation. This includes guidance on how to plan holistic children’s services from conception through the age of six and how to create better data platforms (or provide better access to existing platforms) for stakeholders and ECD agencies, in order to share knowledge of effective models and their adaptation to local contexts and realities.
Sustainable Consumption and Production: What role should science play in encouraging more sustainable behavior by consumers? Participants called for the use of social science and behavior change evidence-based target interventions to encourage and motivate more sustainable choices. This was followed by an exciting opportunity for a materials resilience index which would track individual materials and create an index of available materials, materials under threat, and levels of dematerialization. This data could be used by policymakers and governments to make better decisions on the utilization of resources and drive research in new materials and sustainable practices.
Food Security and Nutrition: Coincidentally meeting during World Food Day, discussion focused on ways to end hunger by making the supply chain more efficient and improving food security. Integrated approaches to food security and nutrition are hindered by the lack of data-sharing across disciplines. Although food access data exists at the country level, it doesn’t exist at the community level. Furthermore, research gaps in the measurement of non-traditional, nutrition-sensitive indicators need to be addressed.
Keynote speaker, Zia Khan, PhD, Vice President, Initiatives and Strategy at The Rockefeller Foundation addressed participants, describing the SDGs as a “north star” for success and noted the importance of integration and productivity in achieving the SDGs. He went on to say that successful implementation will require coordination and integration across both public and private sectors and civil society writ large to help find a common solution.
Panel discussions and presentations covered a wide scope of policy issues. The panel “Systems Thinking in the SDG Context,” led by Laurie Manderino of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, reinforced the integrated nature of the SDGs and the need for coordinated approaches toward their achievement. Heidi Huusko of the UN Global Compact and Cynthia Cummis of the World Resources Institute described Science-Based Targets, a method developed to provide companies with a clearly defined pathway to future-proof growth by specifying how much and how quickly they need to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Should human and privacy rights come before data needs? This critical question was the central discussion point in “Critical Issues: Data, Identity, and Privacy.” Robert Kilpatrick, UN Global Pulse argued that many of the rights people have cannot be protected without the use of data. Data is very important in terms of service delivery, early warning systems, government accountability, disaster response, and education, but unfortunately it is not often effectively used for these purposes. As the panel continued Dakota Gruener, ID 2020 explained that ownership and control over an individual’s data should be considered a human right – that identity should not be commercialized.
During “Critical Issues: Linking Research to Impact” panelists were asked what the “best approaches in taking bench research to the field, validating research in the field, and then taking the evidence from the field to policymakers?” Aisha Yousafzai, Harvard School of Public Health responded that engagement of partners – including community stakeholders in the early stages of conceptualizing the project is essential, arguing that the engagement process is as important as the translation of final results.
Thomas Gass, Inter Agency Affairs, UN DESA closed the Summit with a description of the SDGs as a shared vision of humanity. He called for a new social contract for implementation and portrayed them as a vision that is too ambitious, comprehensive, and complex for any single organization to implement. Lise Kingo, UN Global Compact followed by emphasizing the role of innovation in making the SDGs possible, calling for collaboration between the UN, industry, and scientific communities.
A report on the Summit’s activities will be released in the first quarter of 2018.