Achieving human well-being for all of the Earth’s people – expected to number eight and a half  billion by 2030 - is still possible, but only if there is a  fundamental - and urgent - change in the relationship between people and nature, according to a new United Nations report by an independent scientific panel  to be launched at the 2019 SDG Summit on September 24th-25th, but handed to António Guterres on September 11th.

Cover of the first global report on sustainable development.

© UN

Entitled “The Future is Now: Science for Achieving Sustainable Development” and written by an independent scientific panel, among which Pr. Jean-Paul Moatti, President and CEO of the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD-France) and Chair of the French Alliance for environmental sciences (Allenvi),
is made public on september 11th.

Requested by all United Nations countries, the report is the first of its kind since the landmark Sustainable Development Goals were adopted in September 2015. It appears 32 years after the report “Our Common Future” coordinated by Gro Harlem Brundtland in 1987 and whose recommendations had fueled the Rio Earth Summit (1992).

An imperious need to transform

« Creating economic growth just by increasing consumption of material goods is no longer a viable option at the global level ». The present model of development has delivered prosperity to hundreds of millions. But it has also led to continuing deprivations, levels of inequality that undermine innovation, social cohesion and economic growth, and it has brought the world close to tipping points in the global climate system and biodiversity loss.

To change course, the scientists say the world must transform a number of key areas of human activities, including food, energy, consumption and production, and cities. « These transformations can come about through coordinated action by governments, business, communities, civil society and individuals ».

Developed countries need to change their consumption patterns, including by limiting the use of fossil fuels and plastics. The scientists say that « higher levels of growth will continue to be needed in poorer countries, to ensure quality social services and infrastructure, at the same time stressing that growing first and cleaning up later is not an option ».

The scientists suggest that the UN could promote a new sustainable development investment label (SDI label), with clear parameters and guidelines, to encourage and reward investment in industries that advance sustainable development and discourage investment those that do not.

The report suggests that a deep scientific understanding is needed to anticipate and mitigate the tensions and trade-offs inherent in widespread structural change. For example, those losing jobs in the shift away from fossil fuels and other industries at odds with a sustainable future should be supported towards alternative livelihoods.

The authors emphasize that strong political will and commitment will be required to make the needed transformations, that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and the interventions in developed countries will look very different from those in developing countries.

Independent experts at the time of submission of the report to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

© UN

A call to action: 20 interventions that will matter

The Report’s Call to Action identifies twenty points where interventions can create transformative and accelerated progress towards multiple goals and targets in the coming decade. These targeted actions are based on a scientific analysis of the deeper systemic interconnections that identify synergies and trade-offs between individual goals and targets.

The report advocates for universal access to quality basic services as a prerequisite to human well-being - healthcare, education, water and sanitation infrastructure, housing and social protection. The report calls for renewed attention to ending legal and social discrimination and for strengthened unions, nongovernmental organizations, women’s groups and other community organizations, finding them all to be important partners in efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda.

With two-thirds of the global population projected to live in cities by 2050, the report finds that achieving the 2030 Agenda will require more compact and efficient cities that are better served by quality public transport and other infrastructure, social services and an economy that provides decent and sustainable livelihoods including those enabled by technology and nature-based industries.

The scientists emphasized that the global environmental commons - such as the atmosphere and oceans - must be safeguarded as crucial sources of ecosystem services and natural resources. « Governments, local communities, the private sector and international actors must work together to conserve, restore and sustainably use natural resources ».

Decisions based on science

Science must play a major role in advancing sustainable development. « Universities, policymakers and research funders must increase support to research guided by the 2030 Agenda ». 

Development aid budgets should prioritize boosting scientific capacity and access in the global South. UN member States, research consortia, and libraries should work together to improve cross-border and inter-disciplinary collaborations in science for the SDGs.

The report makes the case for supporting innovative approaches to sustainability science, emphasizing cross-disciplinary partnerships, and committing support and resources to scientific institutions, particularly in the global South. It is in this perspective that IRD develop collaborations with scientists from the country of the intertropical and Mediterranean zone.


Read the UN Press Release.

Consult the report:

The quadrennial Global Sustainable Development Report was commissioned by the Member States of the United Nations in 2016, to help inform the 2019 SDG Summit. It has been drafted by an independent group of 15 scientists appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General.

The scientists, representing diverse disciplines in the natural and social sciences and hailing from both developed and developing countries. The group is co-chaired by Peter Messerli, Director of the Centre for Development and Environment at the University of Bern (Switzerland) and Endah Murniningtyas, former deputy planning minister of Indonesia.