Scientists call for urgent, targeted, action to avoid reversing the development gains of recent decades
New relationship between people and nature is needed as climate change and
biodiversity loss threaten progress
New York, 11 September—Achieving human well-being and eradicating poverty for all of
the Earth’s people—expected to number eight and a half billion by 2030—is still possible,
but only if there is a fundamental—and urgent—change in the relationship between people
and nature, and a significant reduction in social and gender inequalities between and inside
countries, according to a new United Nations report by an independent group of scientists
to be launched at the 2019 SDG Summit, but made available today.
The Report, requested by all countries to evaluate progress on the 2030 Sustainable
Development Agenda, is the first of its kind since the landmark Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs) were adopted four years ago. Entitled “The Future is Now: Science for
Achieving Sustainable Development,” the report finds that the current development model
is not sustainable, and the progress made in the last two decades is in danger of being
reversed through worsening social inequalities and potentially irreversible declines in the
natural environment that sustains us. The scientists concluded that a far more optimistic
future is still attainable, but only by drastically changing development policies, incentives
The report argues that understanding the interconnections between the individual SDGs
and the concrete systems that define society today will be essential to devise policies that
manage difficult trade-offs.
A need to transform
Creating economic growth just by increasing consumption of material goods is no longer a
viable option at the global level: Projections indicate that the global use of materials is set to
almost double between 2017 and 2060, from 89 Gigatons to 167 Gigatons, with
correspondingly increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and other toxic effects such
as those from mining and other pollution sources.
The present model of development has delivered prosperity to hundreds of millions. But it
also has led to continuing poverty and other deprivations; unprecedented levels of
inequality that undermine innovation, social cohesion and sustainable economic growth;
and it has brought the world close to tipping points with the global climate system and biodiversity loss. To change course, the scientists say the world must transform a number of
key areas of human activities, including food, energy, consumption and production, and
These transformations can come about through coordinated action by governments,
business, communities, civil society and individuals. Science has a particularly vital role to
play—a role that can be further strengthened by increasing investment in science for
sustainability and in natural and social science institutions based in developing countries.
The report emphasizes that achieving the SDGs fundamentally requires decoupling
economic growth from environmental degradation, while at the same time, reducing social
and gender inequalities in wealth, income and access to opportunities.
As not all countries are starting from the same place, the scientists say that higher levels of
growth will continue to be needed in poorer countries, to ensure quality social services and
infrastructure, at the same time stressing that growing first and cleaning up later is not an
option. The report also highlights the need for increased access to appropriate technologies
Developed countries need to change their production and consumption patterns, including
by limiting the use of fossil fuels and plastics, and to encourage public and private
investments that align with the SDGs.
The scientists suggest that the UN could promote a new sustainable development
investment label, with clear parameters and guidelines, to encourage and reward
investment in industries and financial markets that advance sustainable development and
discourage investment in those that do not.
The extensive transformation that is needed will not be easy, and the report suggests that a
deep scientific understanding is needed to anticipate and mitigate the tensions and tradeoffs
inherent in widespread structural change. For example, those losing jobs in the shift
away from fossil fuels and other industries at odds with a sustainable future should be
supported towards alternative livelihoods.
The authors emphasize that strong political will and commitment will be required to make
the needed transformations, that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and the
interventions in developed countries will look very different from those in developing