The need for scientific understanding of key issues, reliable data in the poorest countries, and effective means to convey scientific findings to decision-makers, present major challenges to the implementation of the sustainable development agenda that countries are expected to adopt this September, according to a new report issued by the United Nations today.
The Global Sustainable Development Report, an intergovernmental-mandated report on the science-policy interface for sustainable development, was presented to UN Member States at the High Level Political Forum, the new body that is expected to be tasked with the monitoring the implementation of the new sustainable development agenda, anchored by 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals.
“The successful implementation of the new sustainable development agenda requires a strong scientific foundation that is understood by policymakers,” said Wu Hongbo, UN Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs. “This report shows us how we must sharpen our collective scientific understanding and presentation so that we can make informed decisions that improve people’s lives.”
In line with this, the report assessed the state of the science on oceans, seas and marine resources, finding that while 3 billion people depend on these resources for their livelihoods, they are increasingly threatened, degraded or destroyed by human activities. Although there are estimates that the global oceans-based economy is estimated at between $US 3-6 trillion/year, experts say there is a real lack of scientific information on how improvements in human well-being can reduce further ocean degradation. They suggest that further research needs to be undertaken on the effects of changes in lifestyle, such as a reductions in consumptions, on the sustainability of marine resource use.
Findings from the Global Sustainable Development Report
The 2015 Global Sustainable Development Report provides a survey of scientific findings on a range of pressing sustainable development issues that includes oceans and livelihoods, natural disasters, industrialization, sustainable consumption and production, and use of “big data” in Africa.
· Effective disaster risk reduction measures will need to play a key role for disaster-prone countries in implementation of the post-2015 development agenda in order to prevent hard won development gains from being eroded. The problem is all too real – the Report cites estimates that, since the year 2000, natural disasters have caused the loss of life of over 1.1 million and affected another 2.7 billion people.
· All countries that remain poor have failed to achieve structural change. Over the past two decades the global industrial landscape has been reshaped by profound structural transformations—the ability of economies to take advantage of new value-adding opportunities. The Report cites research that all countries that have enjoyed decades of high growth rates have exhibited structural change. An inclusive and sustainable industrial development strategy that targets simultaneously the development of domestic production and innovation capabilities and long-term sustainable development objectives can be a cornerstone of a transformative sustainable development agenda.
· Countries in special situations – least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small-island developing States– face a range of difficulties in achieving growth and poverty eradication. The least developed countries represent the poorest and most vulnerable group of countries, and as a group they have made the least progress of all developing countries in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Landlocked poor countries continue to be marginalized in world trade, as their exports account for just 1.2% of global exports and on average they face transport costs 45 per cent higher than a representative coastal economy.
· Using crowd sourcing techniques within the scientific community, the Report attempted to identify new and emerging issues, based on scientific evidence that policymakers need to be aware of. In the present exercise, energy topped the list, followed by natural resource management, governance and climate change.
· Big data can complement and enhance official statistics in informing sustainable development decisions, especially where there is a premium on getting reliable data in real time. Crucial data is often missing, particularly in countries facing special situations. Although most of these countries are able to conduct censuses, data from those are typically available only every ten years. In many countries, reliable administrative records do not exist and surveys are scarce.
· New ways to get health and livelihood data – In the Drought Early Warning Program in southern Ethiopia, women use Android smartphones and tablets to collect data on water, health, food security, and livelihoods indicators every month from their communities using an app that captures audio, photos and GPS data, supports a range of question types, and enables quick analysis and geographical mapping of the data. Cell phone records have also helped to estimate population flows and design targeted policies against Ebola. As the virus spread rapidly via local and regional travel, the data collected allowed modelers to assess the likely travel routes of infected individuals, so as to identify where new outbreaks or increased local transmission might occur.