Mobilizing global sustainable science action is imperative if we are to realize the 2030 Agenda.

In 2019, science funders and the research community have initiated an ambitious “Decade of Global Sustainability Science Action” in order to enhance strategic collaboration and  to accelerate the impact of science and science funding on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The initiative is led by the International Science Council in partnership with the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), National Science Foundation (USA), National Research Foundation (South Africa), International Development Research Centre (Canada), UK Research and Innovation, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Austria), Future Earth, Belmont Forum and Volkswagen Stiftung.

The decadal initiative is the outcome of a Global Forum of Funders, convened by the International Science Council and its partners, which was held in Washington DC in July 2019. Eighty leaders, representing national research funding agencies, international development aid agencies, private foundations and scientific institutions, called for the scaling up of game-changing collective action within funding and science systems throughout the world in order to maximize impact of science towards the implementation of the SDGs.

Through the Decade of Global Sustainability Science Action, science funders and the research community seek to:

  • apply a holistic and systems approach to tackling pressing global challenges, treating the SDGs as an indivisible agenda;
  • support transformative, high-impact and transdisciplinary knowledge creation;
  • promote mission-driven research, but also harness the contributions of fundamental research; and
  • support enabling activities, e.g. capacity development and knowledge brokerage.

The International Science Council was asked to convene the insights and ideas of the global scientific community on the critical priorities for science that will support and enable societies to accomplish the goals by 2030. To this end, the ISC launched a global call for inputs in October 2020 to shape a priority action agenda for science, with more than two hundred submissions that formed the basis for A Framework to Unleash Mission-Oriented Science discussed at the 2nd Global Forum of Funders.

The Forum took place on 26 – 28 April 2021, and was attended by over one hundred participants from more than 70 countries. You are invited to watch the video addresses and familiarize yourself with the ideas and concepts discussed by visiting the Forum webpage.

Here’s what the science funding and scholarly community are saying about the decadal initiative:

“Overall, insufficient mobilization and reorientation of science more broadly — including its approaches, organization and funding structures — threatens to derail the 2030 Agenda. Rather than standing by and allowing ourselves to come up short, the global community must enable scientific research to fulfil its transformational potential…We believe it is time to commit to a global mission for universally accessible, mutually beneficial sustainability science. Uniting the global North and South, this joint mission will unlock the transformational capacity of research and share its gains equitably.”

Peter Messerli, Professor for Sustainable Development at the University of Bern and co-chair of the UN Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR), et al, in Nature Sustainability, October 2019. 

“Protracted conflict, forced displacement, epidemic disease, food insecurity and the degradation of our environment – these are truly global problems. They require a global response and concerted action is necessary from research funders, as it is from others in the international community. The power of our response will ultimately lie in our willingness to work together.”

Andrew Thompson, Executive Chair of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK

“Funders must transform their systems in order to support transdisciplinary and cross-cutting research in all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals. We need new hybrid models of funding that will create the building blocks for impactful research that accelerates the solutions to the SDGs.”

Maria Uhle, National Science Foundation (USA), Principle Member for the United States at the Belmont Forum

“We need science to empower citizens’ active engagement in finding the solutions to the climate emergency, especially from poor and vulnerable communities.”

Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and ISC Patron.

“Sida is delighted to support these kinds of actions, by actively engaging the least developed countries to build on their existing research capacities at local, national and regional levels, and ultimately to contribute to solving global problems such as poverty and inequality.”

AnnaMaria Oltorp, Head of Research cooperation, Sida

Rationale for launching “Decade of Global Sustainability Science Action”

  • Despite the urgency, the implementation of the SDGs is not on track and the latest predictions are that no single country will meet all of the goals by the 2030 deadline. Only an urgent, more ambitious and well-resourced global plan of action will ensure that the goals are met.
  • Science has a fundamental role to play in achieving progress towards the implementation of the SDGs by providing evidence for decision-making and informing the development of more sustainable solutions. Science can accelerate transformative change by identifying the most significant interactions within the SDGs, help to fill in data gaps and monitor progress.
  • For an accelerated implementation of the SDGs, it is critical to build and harness scientific knowledge and capacities, particularly in low- and middle-income countries; synthesize existing knowledge; and create a ‘moon-shot’ mission for Sustainability Science.
  • Transformative and truly transdisciplinary research will be required to scale up the impact of science and to address something as complex as the SDGs. To really challenge the status quo, science needs to engage more with policy-makers and build strong partnerships with both the public and private sectors. This requires an urgent review of the way science is done, assessed, and funded.

Contact person

For more information about the initiative, please contact Katsia Paulavets


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