To achieve SDGs, involve science academies

A new guide published by InterAcademy Partnership seeks to raise awareness of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals among scientists, policymakers and other leaders and encourage them to get more involved in achieving those goals. John Dyer reports.

Academic societies could lobby the government to require voluntary national reviews on how countries are mitigating or contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. (Image credit:

Scientists at national academies are usually brainy leaders in their fields.

But when it comes to the United Nations’ Sustainable Academic Goals (SDGs), top researchers often don’t know how to help or, if they are taking action, how to measure their impact, according to a new survey from InterAcademy Partnership, a global association of 130 national and regional science and health academies.

Academic societies presently underutilized

“Academies and academic societies can provide a wealth of research expertise and insight, which is presently underutilized,” said Eva Alisic, co-chair of the InterAcademy Partnership Working Group on Improving Scientific Input to Global Policymaking and a psychologist at the University of Melbourne, in a press release.

“If deployed effectively, they can play their part in supporting the SDGs as independent sources of peer-reviewed knowledge, as champions of evidence-informed policymaking, and as mentors to young academies and scientists to help empower them to play their part in shaping their future.”

New guide seeks to raise awareness

The partnership has released a guide that Alisic and others hope could raise awareness of the UN’s goals among scientists, policymakers and other leaders.

“We anticipate this guide will be a useful tool for academies and other members of the global research community,” said IAP Project Director Tracey Elliott, a British biological anthropologist. “Our efforts will now focus on dissemination across the academy networks nationally, regionally and globally; and on encouraging them to get more involved.”

The UN’s 17 SDGs range from ending poverty and hunger, improving broad-based education, improving work conditions, fighting climate change and promoting peace and civil society. The international organization aims to achieve its goals by 2030. Unlike a treaty, the goals are not international law, but UN members states are expected to be making progress on the goals.

Many researchers already active on SDGs

Many researchers at science academies currently work as advisors to policymakers on matters of science, including sustainable development goals. Others are investigating the problems associated with the goals.

Members of the Science Council of Japan, for example, have set up expert committees devoted to specific combatting issues like youth poverty, which is a serious problem in a country that, while rich, has failed to grow sufficiently to provide opportunities for up-and-coming generations since the 1990s.

South Africa’s Academy of Science has included sustainable development goals in its annual performance plan. The Swiss Academy of Sciences has provided funding for universities that further the goals. The Chinese Academy of Sciences has published reporting measures whether the country is progressing or falling behind in meeting its sustainability goals.

Lobbying role

But academies’ activities are not necessarily always aligned with government’s pursuit of the goals, whether through law-making, procurement, regulations and other functions. Science academies, however, are in the unique position of having a bully pulpit from which they can call for more concerted action using their unique technical expertise. Specifically, academies could lobby for government to require voluntary national reviews, or eliciting feedback from scientists on whether different programs and public efforts are mitigating or contributing to the UN’s goals.

“Academies can help facilitate this process, not least as honest brokers and trusted convenors, but also as vital parts of their national science systems and by virtue of the way academies are organised regionally and globally,” the guide stated.

The InterAcademy Partnership officials admitted that the guide was a framework, but said they hope it would inspire deep thinkers to consider how their knowledge might yield practical benefits for government, industry and the citizenry of their respective nations.

“Its targets are aspirational, but the stakes are high, as our planet faces unprecedented economic, social and environmental stresses,” said the guide.

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