18 Jul 2023

Call for UN sustainable development goals to be science-led

7:48 pm on 18 July 2023
Science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman addresses Parliament's Epidemic Response Committee.

International Science Council president Sir Peter Gluckman Photo: Parliament TV

The International Science Council's global commission is calling for UN sustainable development goals to be science-led.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark, film director James Cameron, and International Science Council president Sir Peter Gluckman are among the commissioners.

Its new report Flipping the Science Model: A Roadmap to Science Missions for Sustainability says progress on the goals, and the 2030 Agenda, was "unacceptably slow".

It calls for investment in a "big science approach" which prioritises sustainability as part of a bid to speed up progress.

The slow pace of progress could not be excused by Covid-19 and conflict, Gluckman said.

"There is a manifest gap between words and action. There is a large gap between technical risk assessments and how policy makers and politicians react. We have seen this in almost every aspect of the agenda - from climate change to issues in mental health. We need to close that gap."

Transdisciplinary methods were needed, including natural sciences and humanities and engages with other knowledge systems, he said.

"This is not at the expense of traditional science, which is needed. But we need actionable knowledge applied now and this requires a very different way of funding and doing science.

"The global community can find billions for a big science approach to build telescopes. Why can it not find a billion to fund the kind of research and properly engage communities and stakeholders that is desperately needed to address complex, wicked problems?"

Gluckman told Morning Report at the moment, science was done in a linear way.

"That is, scientists set out to address a problem, report it, and it's either taken up or not taken up by society."

Engagement with stakeholders, including the public, indigenous knowledge, business and policy makers right from the start, was needed.

"We are failing terribly on the sustainability development goals, well beyond climate change, we're failing virtually on every one of the goals.

"We use big science approaches to study the origins of the universe, to study particle physics, why are we not using big science approaches to address issues of existential risk to our societies."

An integrated approach was desperately needed, he said.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs