State of sustainable development in the world causes concern – international group of researchers offers a solution

Inequality, climate change, loss of biodiversity and growing waste problems also hinder significantly the achievement of other UN goals. In its report, an independent group of researchers presents six keys for change.

In 2016, the UN Secretary-General appointed an international independent group of researchers to examine the state of sustainable development in the world. The first report of the group of researchers, the Global Sustainable Development Report, was published in New York on Wednesday 11 September. Unlike the annual monitoring reports of the 2030 Agenda, the report released at the turn of four years looks at the issue in a broader way and through multidisciplinary analysis.

The main message of the report is that although the state of sustainable development in the world is serious, we can and we must influence matters.

Change must be created at the system level

The group of researchers stresses the urgent need to take action to ensure sustainable development. On the other hand, progress must not be made so fast that weak countries or people would not keep pace.

“Inequality, climate change, loss of biodiversity and growing waste problems are four important reasons why global development is not progressing as a whole in a sustainable direction”, says Professor Eeva Furman from the Finnish Environment Institute, a member of the group working on the report.

The report presents six approaches for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. These six “keys” are the priorities that highlight the way to go forward.

People's wellbeing and opportunities must be improved, with a particular focus on early childhood. We must also take a leap towards equitable and sustainable economies. Thirdly, the group of researchers recommends the construction of sustainable food systems and forms of nutrition, as the system is currently not capable of sustainable food production under the Paris Agreement as the world population is growing. Fourth, the groups of researchers calls for decarbonising energy and securing access to energy for all. Fifth, emphasis is given to the importance of developing sustainable cities. The last of the keys is to secure common global natural systems.

In 2015, the UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are meant to be achieved by 2030. A key finding of the group of researchers is that achieving the Agenda 2030 requires examining the links between the objectives.

Obstacles to sustainable development are global and interlinked – climate change is a good example of this. Combating climate change is impossible unless the social injustice caused by it, the impoverishment of the country or the deterioration of food security are addressed by seeking a comprehensive exit. Problems go across national boundaries and require that wholes be identified instead of individual solutions.

“System-level changes are required,” Furman summarises.

More investment in science

Identifying the combined benefits and disadvantages of the overall and sustainable development goals also requires new emphases in the field of science and research:

“We must invest more in phenomenon-based sustainability science, which recognises the multidimensional nature of the challenges posed by sustainable development and seeks paths together with different sectors. This is not the case at the moment, because most of the global research and development work is targeted at relatively narrow needs in the private sector.”

According to the group of researchers, in order to achieve sustainable development, a more balanced distribution of scientific competence between different regions is also needed – especially in developing countries.

“Changes must be advanced by taking into account the special characteristics of each region”, says Furman.

If there is no local research capacity, it is difficult to consider these special characteristics. According to Furman, one alternative to ensure a more equitable distribution of scientific competence would be to allocate development aid funds more strongly to supporting research in developing countries.

Finland will make its own proposal based on the report

There are 15 researchers in the distinguished group of researchers. Professor Eeva Furman of the Finnish Environment Institute, a member of the research group, also chairs the Finnish Expert Panel on Sustainable Development. Based on the report of the group of researchers, the Finnish Expert Panel on Sustainable Development will draw up a proposal for Finland's national follow-up measures at the beginning of 2020.

The international group of researchers argues that sustainable development must be taken as the basis for all budgeting, planning and decision-making. The report of the group of researchers is to be submitted to the Heads of State and Government of the Member States at the UN General Assembly in New York on 24 September.