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Science needs in implementing Sustainable Development Goals

  • Gruppe SDG
  • Diskussion SDG
  • Gruppe SDG2
  • VV SDG

In the fall of 2015 the UN general assembly has agreed on the new 2030 Development Agenda and established 17 universal sustainable development goals (SDGs). The new framework will provide guidance to the development of all nations and strengthen cooperation for human welfare and the global commons. It will be influential as a framework on local, national, regional and global levels.

The foresight workshop addressed the need for a better understanding of the key interlinkages, synergies and trade­offs embedded in the SDGs to contribute scientific knowledge for policy decision­making during the implementation of these goals on a national, regional and global level. More specifically, it focused on the central question: Can we establish a foresight process that enables such issues to be identified more quickly as they emerge, so that solutions requiring new and more in­depth upstream fundamental research can be explored in a more timely manner?

About 40 leading researchers from around the globe and stakeholders, including decision­makers and practitioners from the United Nations, participated in the four­day foresight workshop ( see list of contributors) . The interdisciplinary team brought together different views on identifying potential technical and political challenges to the implementation of the SDGs. Through several keynote talks, panel discussions and break­out groups, participants engaged in finding answers about how to establish a foresight mechanism that incorporates co­design between the science and policy communities. They drew on three nexus topics as a concrete starting point. For these important areas where tough choices will be likely, upstream research questions of high priority were identified to address challenges and research needs for SDG implementation over the next several years. 

The workshop focused on the following three nexus topics (as examples) for concrete points of departures: ​

Socio­economic & biophysical dynamics of the humanity ­ nature nexus: 

This topic addresses the economic paradigms, systems and business models that enable transitions to and preservation of a sustainable future. In this area, workshop participants identified research questions aggregated in five research clusters, two of which are listed below:

  • Co­designing sustainable pathways that embrace biophysical and social systems dynamics
  • Harnessing the power of businesses and providing SDG­compatible business model designs 

Food security & sustainable production and consumption ­ ocean and land: 

Since this topic is interrelated with at least five of the SDGs, attaining a policy coherence will be challenging. In this regard, participants posited high priority research needs in several areas, including the following:

  • Integrating environmental and ecosystem services into agricultural decision­making
  • Informing a global regulatory framework to ensure food security 

Migration and its impacts on or relevance for the implementation of the SDGs: 

In accordance with the workshop’s findings, migration is interrelated with several SDGs. Thus, migration could likely affect and/or be an indicator for the SDG implementation. In the workshop, initial research questions in this area were conceptualized for further investigation. They include:

  • How can researchers analyze interrelations between migration patterns and the SDG framework?
  • How can researchers analyze behavior patterns in the context of migration and environmental change?



Program Committee Members, Keynote Speakers, Panelists:

  • Tanya Abrahamse, South African National Biodiversity Institute & Scientific Advisory Board UN Secretary General, South Africa
  • Paul Burger, University of Basel, Switzerland
  • John Connell, The University of Sydney, Australia
  • Roger Cremades, GER|CS, Germany
  • Sabine Fuss, Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), Germany
  • David Griggs, Monash University & ClimateWorks, Australia
  • Lori Hunter, University of Colorado, USA
  • Maria Ivanova, Univ. Massachusetts & Scientific Advisory Board UN Secretary General, USA
  • Pavel Kabat, International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA), Austria
  • Norichika Kanie, Keio University, Japan
  • Hartwig Kremer, UNEP, Denmark
  • Wolfgang Lucht, PIK Potsdam, Germany
  • Jörg Mayer-Ries, BMUB, Germany
  • Jens Newig, Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany
  • Måns Nilsson, Stockholm Environment Institute, Sweden
  • Martin Quaas, Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel, Germany
  • Belinda Reyers, Stockholm University, Sweden
  • Jakob Rhyner, United Nations Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), Germany
  • Guido Schmidt-Traub, Sustainable Development Solution Network (SDSN), France
  • Imme Scholz, German Development Institute (DIE), Germany
  • Paul Shrivastava, Future Earth, Canada
  • Priya Shyamsundar, SANDEE, USA/Nepal
  • Mark Stafford Smith, CSIRO, Australia
  • Hinrich Thölken, Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the UN Organizations in Rome, Italy
  • Farooq Ullah, Stakeholder Forum, UK
  • Martin Visbeck, GEOMAR Helmnoltz-Zentrum für Ozeanforschung Kiel & German Committee Future Earth, Germany
  • Christina von Haaren, Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany
  • László Zsolnai, Corvinus University of Budapest, Hungary




Date and Venue: 

18-21 April 2016, by invitation
download program 
organised by German Committee Future Earth Secretariat



SDG report

Download report PDF
(updated 21.12.2016)



RELATED DOWNLOADS, ARTICLES, Follow-up activites, Others:

COP 24 UNFCCC Side Event "From science to policy: achieving the SDGs in a 1,5 degree warmer world" (Katowice, Poland, 4 December 2018)

New website "Science Platform Sustainability 2030" in Germany: WPN2030 (October 2018)

"Forum Nachhaltigkeit" of the German Federal Government: Wo steht die deutsche Nachhaltigkeitspolitik (June 2017) 

COP 23 UNFCCC Side Event "Catalysing climate action, realizing the SDGs: science, interconnections & implementation" (Bonn, 6 November 2017)

Session on SDG interactions at DNC 2017 (Dresden, 17-19 May 2017)

New ICSU report released "A Guide to SDG interactions: from Science to Implementation" (12 May 2017)

Launch of "Science Platform Sustainability 2030" in Germany. A collaborative project of SDSN Germany, German Committee Future Earth and IASS Potsdam. (Berlin, 9 May 2017)

FONA Forum: What is to be done with 2030 Agenda 2017 (Berlin, 9-10 May 2017)

Call for contributions in Economics: Special Issue on SDGs and interlinkages (Deadline 31.5.2017)

Birkmann, J., Welle, T., Solecki, W., Lwasa S., Garschagen, M. Boost resilience of small and mid-sized cities. Nature 537, 605-608, 2016.

UN report "The future of scientific advice to the United Nations" (Paris, 2016)

​Nilsson, M., Griggs, D., Visbeck, M. Map the interactions between Sustainable Development Goals. Nature 534, 320–322, 2016.

ICSU: Working paper “A draft framework for understanding SDG interactions.” International Council for Science (Paris, 2016). 

Lecture Series: Global Solutions for Sustainable Development with members of the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Bonn, 2016)

DFG Magazin: Research on SDGs (2016)

Joint Conference of the DFG and UNU in New York (2015)

ICSU/ISSC Report on Targets for SDGs: The Science Perspective (2015)

Future Earth Knowledge-Action Network on SDGs



Dr. Bettina Schmalzbauer
German Committee Future Earth Secretariat
E-Mail: schmalzbauer@dkn-future-earth.de

Twitter: #SDGscience, #SDGinteraction



SDG workshop

updated, 23.11.2017

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