27 April 2015

Nature Comment: How
can science support sustainable development?

Monitoring, data gathering, and evaluation processes are vital for the successful implementation of the multiple aims of the Sustainable Development Goals, argue leading researchers in a commentary in Nature.

Atmospheric nitrogen dioxide measurements from satellite data show pollution hotspots around the world. ©KNMI/ESA

Atmospheric nitrogen dioxide measurements from satellite data show pollution hotspots around the world. ©KNMI/ESA

In a new comment in Nature, IIASA Deputy Director General Nebojsa Nakicenovic and co-authors argue that “science must be at the heart” of plans for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which the UN is set to adopt in September 2015. With 17 goals and 169 targets, the researchers say, the SDGs are far more complicated than the Millennium Development Goals they are replacing. Many of the aims still need to be defined in more detail, and new monitoring and evaluation procedures will be needed.

Nakicenovic says, “Industrial revolution has catapulted humanity to unprecedented wealth and has left some three billion behind. The SDGs have the ambitious but achievable goal of leading to a sustainable future for all. Science must be at the heart of this process so as to help achieve synergies and void conflicts among the 17 SDGs.”

In the paper, the group of international researchers lay out five priorities for the scientific community to participate in the planning and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals:

  • Metrics: The authors argue that economic growth alone is an insufficient measure to track progress. Parameters such as income inequality, carbon emissions, population, and lifespans must be included.
  • Monitoring: Governments and researchers should work together to decide what should be tracked and how.
  • Evaluation: Standards to evaluate progress should be based on peer-reviewed science.
  • Infrastructure: More and better data gathering is needed, in order to successfully track progress.
  • Data: Data must be standardized and verified, and should be made freely available to the public.

Yonglong Lu, Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Martin Visbeck& Anne-Sophie Stevance. 2015. Policy: Five priorities for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Nature 520, 432–433 (23 April 2015) doi:10.1038/520432a

International research for a sustainable future

IIASA has recently launched two major international research projects focused on sustainable development: the World in 2050 Project, and the Nexus Solutions for Sustainability Project

The two research projects are complementary efforts among leading global research institutes and financing and development organizations to bridge a gap between science and policy. They aim to address outstanding questions on sustainability, climate, social equity and the environment, and provide pathways for the world to reach the future we want.

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Last edited: 27 April 2015


Nebojsa Nakicenovic

Distinguished Emeritus Research Scholar Transformative Institutional and Social Solutions Research Group - Energy, Climate, and Environment Program

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria
Phone: (+43 2236) 807 0 Fax:(+43 2236) 71 313