Nathalie Risse, Ph.D.
The independent group of scientists for producing the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) released a draft version of the report to UN Member States on 17 May 2019. The group’s co-chair, Peter Messerli, then provided a briefing on its process and selected messages on 20 May. Following a comment period for Member States, key findings of the report will be presented during the July 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).
The GSDR was called for in the outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012. In 2015, the 2030 Agenda said the GSDR should inform the HLPF by strengthening the science-policy interface and providing a strong evidence-based instrument to support policy-makers in promoting poverty eradication and sustainable development. In July 2016, the ministerial declaration of the HLPF (E/HLS/2016/1) called for the GSDR to be produced once every four years, rather than annually, and be timed to inform the HLPF when it convenes under the auspices of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). This declaration also called for an independent group of scientists to be established to draft each report. The group for drafting the 2019 report was appointed later that year.
In April 2019, the scientists provided a briefing to UN Member States and others, presenting the report’s preliminary findings. At that time, it was announced that the first draft of the report would be posted for comments by Member States and other stakeholders before its finalization in July.
Following the release of the draft report to Member States, a briefing took place on 20 May 2019, in New York, US, convened by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. She said the GSDR and the UN Secretary-General’s SDG progress report, which is released annually to help UN Member States prepare for the HLPF, are “landmark reports” that provide a stocktaking of the 2030 Agenda and SDG implementation. Based on both of this year’s reports, she said, the world is off track for meeting the SDGs, as not enough is being done, and an urgent, more ambitious response is required. Mohammed called for investing in better data in order to explain how countries are doing on the Goals, and for individual and collective behavioral changes.
Peter Messerli, co-chair of the independent group of scientists, said via videoconference that the report will include 20 calls for action. He stressed the importance of looking at synergies between the SDGs, and at ways to create co-benefits in order to manage trade-offs between the Goals.
Providing an overview of the process for drafting the report, Messerli reported that the group of scientists started its work at the end of December 2016, and received support from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Bank, as part of a UN Task Team.
He said consultations and presentations took place throughout the process of preparing the report, including at the regional level, and involved UN Member States, the scientific community and other stakeholders. Messerli also noted that approximately 100 scientists have reviewed the conclusions of the report.
On timeline, Messerli said: the latest version of the report was made available to UN Member States for comments on 17 May; their comments will start to be incorporated on 5 June; and the report’s key findings will be presented to the July HLPF. The official final version of the report is expected to be formally launched at the UNGA-convened session of the HLPF (also known as the SDG Summit) in September 2019.
On contents, Messerli noted that the GSDR considered, among other documents, the SDG progress report and 65 international scientific assessments. Saying “we have to ring an alarm bell” and “business as usual is not possibility,” he added that the report identifies six entry points for transformation, related to: human wellbeing and capabilities; sustainable economies; energy decarbonization and access; food systems and nutrition; urban and peri-urban development; and global commons. In addition, the group of scientists identified “levers of change” that should be considered in combination to manage the needed transformations, namely: strong institutions; economy and finance; behavioral and collection action; and science and technology.