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José Eli da Veiga

From six to seven

This afternoon will be the climax of strategic multilateral sustainability confabulations, which began yesterday in New York under the auspices of the UN General Assembly. It is particularly important to all those involved in fulfilling the well-known seventeen Agenda 2030 SDGs. This challenge, unfortunately, concerns only those acting in subnational spheres.

From 3:05 pm (BRT), the last of the six “leader dialogues” scheduled by the “High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development” (HLPF), which will be responsible for monitoring the SDGs, will open. Both the Rio + 20 document “The Future We Want” of 2012 and the “Agenda 2030” of 2015 stress that such a Forum (HLPF), composed of representatives of the 193 Member States, should be periodically clarified by manifestation that makes us memorize another inevitable acronym: the GSDR, “Global Sustainable Development Report”.

In 2016, the Ministerial Declaration of the Forum itself (HLPF) stipulated that the preparation of these reports should be quadrennial and always entrusted to the diverse independent group of fifteen scientists appointed by the General Secretary. Which has added to the list of acronyms you need to get used to: IGS stands for “Independent Group of Scientists.”

Well, the climax of this afternoon will be the closing of the HPLF dialogues about the first four-year GSDR of the IGS (phew!). The elaboration of this document entitled “The Future is Now: Science for Achieving Sustainable Development” (251 pages) was led by two researchers from the Center for Development and Environment, University of Bern (Switzerland): Indonesia Endah Murniningtyas and Swiss Peter Messerli.

It is advisable to consult the seven pages of the “Concept Note” to understand the dynamics of the Forum’s dialogues about this document. It was distributed in July by the President of the General Assembly, Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, and it is available at 

However even more useful will be the comparison of this document (the IGS GSDR) to another similar work, launched in July 2018, by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), based in Laxenburg (Austria) as part of The World in 2050 Initiative (TWI2050). 

Titled “Transformations to Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” (157 pages), it was coordinated by eight top researchers, including the well-known Jeffrey Sachs and Joahan Rockström, as well as IIASA’s managing director Nebojsa Nakicenovic himself. Also much friendlier synthesis authors, published in the September issue of the excellent journal Nature Sustainability.

The core message of this TWI2050 is that meeting the seventeen SDGs will depend on the speed of six profound transformations in education / health, consumption / production, decarbonised energy, healthy food, smart cities, science / technology / innovation.

1) Substantial advances in human capacity are essential through improvements in education and health care. To enable people to live a self-determined life, find decent work, and generate income, ending poverty in all its forms and reducing inequalities.

2) Responsible consumption and production allow us to do more with less. It is possible to greatly reduce resource consumption and boost vast savings potentials at different stages of the supply chain.

3) It is possible to decarbonize the power system by providing clean and affordable energy to all. Energy efficiency with renewables, electrification, and carbon capture and storage play key roles.

4) Access to nutritious food and clean water for all while protecting the biosphere and oceans requires efficient and sustainable food systems. It is possible to meet the needs of a growing world population while limiting environmental impacts.

5) Transforming cities will benefit the majority of the world’s population. Sustainable cities are characterized by high connectivity, “smart” infrastructure, and high-quality services with low environmental footprint.

6) Science, technology, and innovations are a powerful engine, but the direction of change must support the sustainability of development. The digital revolution symbolizes the convergence of many innovative technologies while supporting and threatening the ability to achieve the SDGs.

The main difference introduced by the document guiding dialogues ending this afternoon is the broadening of the list of transformations, highlighting the also determining role of conservation of the commons, the “Global environmental commons”. We are calling on governments to assess externalities affecting such goods accurately and to change patterns of use through pricing, transfers, regulation, and other mechanisms.

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