Comments on the Sustainable Development Goals post-2015 Zero Draft


Between the 4th and 12th of June 2015 Future Earth opened a short survey to seek input from the science community on the Sustainable Development Goals Zero Draft. The survey was promoted by Future Earth and the Earth System Governance Project and featured on the Future Earth website and social media channels.  Below are the consolidated comments by paragraph. (This text has not been formally edited nor agreed by Future Earth committees).

Overall comments
a.    Environment and human development are treated as independent almost in the whole declaration text (see para.12). Even though recognized in para. 13, by para. 15 the integration aspect is lost and that environmental/planet is regarded as separate. It should mention that all development efforts now depend on a healthy planet. To minimise risk, this will require adhering to the precautionary principle, for example using a  planetary boundaries type framework.  The text should go beyond  balancing the three dimensions of sustainable development, but rather the environment and natural resources being the base for all other development. The social aspects are our goals, while the economy is the means to reach the goals.

b.   Further comments:  The declaration text should mention somewhere too, the importance of policy measures to come to terms with environmental degradation issues,  such as global carbon tax, stop subsidies to fossil fuels etc.

c. Concerns over the the nine selected introductory themes in the preamble:

-       Sustainable agriculture is dropped out, even though being part and parcel of the first goal on “end poverty and hunger”, this might not be recognized by governments unless explicitly expressed. It risks putting us on a path of intensified agriculture that is not environmentally sustainable nor adapted to climate change.

-       The goal “promote safe and inclusive cities and human settlement” misses out on important aspects and should be “Promote safe, sustainable, inclusive, productive and resilient cities and human settlement”

-       A great pity over the decision to communicate all planet-related goals in one. It fails to communicate its interdependence and crucial connections and direct linkages to all other social and economically related goals, and thereby risks governments seeing it as a separate area and in silo, the opposite of what the SDGs are supposed to achieve (integrating developmental and environmental issues). Either include the words environmentally sustainable in other goals and/or change the goal to:

“All development to be achieved within a safe planetary operating space by fighting climate change, use environmental resources sustainably, stop the loss biodiversity (or strengthen ecosystem services)”


“(We) want to heal and secure our planet for present and future generations”. Query over “heal and secure”. Alternative wording aligning with evidence on the state of the planet, for example “we want to safeguard Earth’s life support system for present and future generations”.


1. SDGs have been renamed the “Global Goals”. This is a significant communications improvement.

6.  “It is the first ever global compact for human development and preservation of the planet”. This is unclear. The planet is not in the kind of jeopardy indicated here. It would be clearer to say “and safeguarding Earth’s life support systems upon which human societies depend.” Note, the edit does not say “human development” as this might indicate only developing countries are at risk.

7. “Heal and secure our planet for future generations”. The word “protect Earth’s life support systems” may be more appropriate.

12.  “The survival of many societies, and of the planet itself, is at risk”. The planet is not at risk from humans. Human activities are altering Earth’s major cycles, reducing biodiversity and driving a major shift in Earth’s climate. The planet will remain, but it is being profoundly altered. Perhaps change the wording to “The survival of many societies, and the stability of the planet’s life support systems upon which we depend, are at risk”.

13. “Preserving the planet”. See previous comments. Suggest also adding the need for a “precautionary approach to further changes to Earth’s life support system, greater commitment to increasing knowledge of global change, and sustained efforts to understand the risks of crossing natural planetary boundaries.

14. This paragraph articulates the 3 dimensions of sustainable development. It articulates the integrated nature of these dimensions would be useful to reframe this.

21 could include vulnerable groups

15. This paragraph lacks any reference to the ambitions set out in Goal 11, for example in Target 11.1. Whilst it is recognised that this provides only examples of the world to which we aspire, ‘a world of adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services’ should be added. This would reflect the ambitions set out in not only Goal 11, but also Goals 6 and 7.

22 should mention education for Sustainable Development.

24 Refers to the adoption of policies to increase modern energy provision. The terms 'modern energy’ is not defined and as such does not necessarily entail low-carbon energy. It is important to ensure that modern energy supplies draw from low carbon sources in terms of not only combatting climate change (paragraph 27, p. 5) but also environmental sustainability and public health, and their associated economic impacts as a result of the air quality issues associated with fossil fuel sources of heat and electricity. To this end we recommend referring to modern and sustainable energy provision, reflecting the language of Goal 7 and the need for transition to low carbon societies. In the development of the indicator framework for Goal 7 it is important that an indicator for Target 7.3 should address country-specific business models to increase and deliver energy efficiency.

25. It would be useful to list science and technology as a tool to inform the goal of sustainable consumption and production. This paragraph could include "...recognizing the fundamental role of biodiversity in providing these goods and services."

26 “We will work to minimize the impact of cities on the global climate system”. This should encompass more than climate and include global biodiversity . It should include resources and Earth’s natural cycles. Urban issues should preferably include green spaces. Again environment seen as separate from other urban solutions. The words “Resilience” and “sustainable” is missing in the text.

26 refers to ‘more efficient use of water and energy’ but it is clear that in order to tackle the impact of these services on the planet and its ecosystem we should aim to be ‘more efficient and transparent in both the provision and use of water and energy’. For example, If we are to ‘ensure available and sustainable drinking water and sanitation for all’ as stated in Goal 6, we will need to guarantee provision of access to safe water and sanitation infrastructure even for the large share of the world population that cannot afford to pay the full cost of these services. With respect to ‘modern energy’ and the aspirations of Goal 7, the goal focuses on global access to sustainable energy supply whilst the largest energy demands come from cities. To balance supply with demand requires digitally-enabled solutions to providing sustainable energy. In making the low-carbon transition, cities will not only be able to increase energy efficiency, but reduce air pollution, improve public health and well-being, and create new forms of economy based on innovation.

26 could specifically reflect the inequalities suffered by low-income urban dwellers. These are people that often face issues of urban poverty, food insecurity along with lack of access to energy, water and sanitation. In incorporating such language, paragraph 26 (p.5) expresses the aspiration of the - interlinked - Goals 1, 2, 6, 7 and 11.

27 Include the need to halt deforestation and use fertilizers more sustainably. This paragraph could articulate the scale of human impact and recognize the profound new responsibility we now have in the Anthropocene. This paragraph might benefit from the inclusion of a commitment to decarbonize the global economy. A little piece at the end mentions biodiversity and oceans in passing. This should also be strengthened to “halt loss of biodiversity” not only “protect biodiversity”.

28 could make clearer the impact environmental degradation has on conflicts, and that the solutions thus are integrated Social-ecological.

29 recognises the intrinsic value of diversity, culture and sport as enablers of sustainable development. However, it is clear that culture also acts to influence the means by which the goals and targets should be implemented. For example, with reference to Goal 7, we must be careful in assuming that all people of all cultures want the same type of access to affordable and reliable energy. ‘Energy for all’ should be attuned with local cultural values and needs of individual countries.

30. This would benefit from the inclusion of the need for support from the scientific community and scientific knowledge to implement the goals.

33. Explicit mention of science and technology in this paragraph but it is striking that the word is mostly used in a context of industry, R&D, and technology. The first sentence acknowledges the role of science in enabling sustainable development but already the second sentence shifts the focus to technology. It would be useful to articulate more specifically the role of science for example: “solutions-focused research linking global change, development and transformations is urgently required to locate a safe operating space for humanity”.

Science is rarely  linked to knowledge, knowledge creation or sharing, or indeed to scientific communities.

37. An emphasis is placed on ‘the critical importance of engaging all relevant stakeholders in implementation of the new Agenda. Governments and public institutions will work closely in this regard with national parliaments, local authorities, international institutions, business and the private sector, civil society, academia, philanthropic organizations, voluntary groups and others.’ However, rather than ‘working closely’, Governments and public institutions need to collaborate to find local, integrated solution to global problems. Indeed, all relevant stakeholders need not only to engage but should also be encouraged to collaborate. In this way the agenda will be genuinely inclusive, avoiding the exclusion of - or creation of - marginalised groups. Similarly paragraph 7 of the MoI section, p. 22 should read ‘successful implementation will also depend on the resources, knowledge, ingenuity and collaboration of business, civil society, the scientific community, academia, research institutions, philanthropists and foundations, parliaments, local authorities, volunteers and other stakeholders.’

39   Indicators to operationalise SDGs are still to be developed and should be based on state‐of‐art knowledge on the issues but also on the design and use of indicators.

Future Earth could immediately provide valuable input. Introduction p39 is an entry point in this direction. This could usefully highlight the vital role of the scientific community in developing indicators and realising a 'data revolution for sustainable development'. UN Resolution 67/290 resolves (in para. 20) to "strengthen the science-policy interface", commits to "enhancing evidence-based decision-making at all levels", and "ongoing capacity-building for data collection and analysis". These commitments could be reflected in para 39 (and also in the section on follow up and review - see below)

41. “Saving the planet”. This needs rewording to reflect more precisely the future trajectory of the planet.

44. “The future of humanity and of our planet lies in our hands”. This is a direct articulation of the new responsibility we have in the Anthropocene.


SDGs and targets

3. Here is an opportunity to highlight how internationally coordinated research can support the development and implementation of the indicators

We welcome p. 4 recognizing the link with other existing ongoing relevant processes and convention. Important not to create double burdensome structure, or parallel reporting systems. Much of the Aichi Targets under CBD for cover and link to several of the SDGs, not the least sustainable consumption and production.


Means and implementation

This should explicitly mention the requirements for internationally coordinated research relating to integrated challenges of the SDGs.

7. This is by far not as strong as we wished for (i.a. proposed language by ICSU et al.) and just lists the scientific community in between many others and without a specific role or specific expectations. In UN language, this kind of lists are mainly to satisfy various interests and agendas (similar to the frequently used “(…), in particular, LDCs, SIDS, children, minorities (…)” phrases).


Follow up and review

A related challenge and opportunity for the scientific community, is the question of monitoring and data over the next 15 years in which the scientific community could play a major role, especially given that the review should be “rigorous and evidence based” (§III/3/e). As monitoring and review will be mainly nation state driven (complemented by regional and global reviews and using existing mechanisms), efforts to influence and contribute to this seem best targeted to national level:

9: Resolution 290 committed to reviewing 'implementation of sustainable development commitments and objectives' (para. 8). However, the current proposal aims only to review 'progress', and this commitment should be changed to reflect the stronger wording of Resolution 290. This weakening from the more concrete “implementation of commitments” is significant, and undercuts the evidence-based, policy-guiding value of follow up.

12. Disappointment that the SDG progress report will be based only on data from national systems rather than other sources such as scientific bodies, like Future Earth.This would benefit from more explicit articulation of the science-policy interface, for example inclusion of internationally coordinated research in support of the Global Sustainable Development Report.

12-14 should reinforce the content of resolution 67/290, para 20 on strengthening the 'science-policy interface' and committing to 'evidence-based decision-making.'

Also specifically include Future Earth to engage in the “Global Sustainable Development Trends” Report.

Important to strengthen the accountability aspects and ensure a multi stakeholder engagement where science plays a crucial role.

 3: The interlinkages between Goal 16 and the multi-level system of follow up and review should be reflected in the section on follow up and review. In particular, targets 16.6 and 16.7 apply to institutions and decision-making processes at all levels. Prima facie, the same commitments should apply to the institutions and processes that constitute the multi-level follow up and review mechanism. This could, for example be reflected in new wording for paragraph 3, principle 3c: - as an example: “3c: They will be responsive, inclusive, participatory and transparent, supported by an enabling environment…"(wording taken from goal 16 - 16.6 and 16.7)

Revised targets

The suggested revision of targets in Annex 1 is welcome, and important for implementing the goals successfully.

The Technology Facilitation Mechanism

Annex 2

Generally, the mechanism proposed could be adapted to incorporate a coordinated approach international research in the mode of Future Earth. Future Earth is already creating global knowledge hubs and information-sharing platforms. The issue with the existing text is the almost complete focus on technological solutions. Research can also elucidate social solutions.

In addition to ”facilitate access to and exchange of information and knowledge to support the development, transfer, dissemination and diffusion of technologies to achieve the SDGs” a proper Technology Facilitation Mechanism should have a task to undertake regular integrated robust technology assessment. An idea of such a capacity for technology assessment arose already in the lead up to the Rio +20 Summit 2012, where UNEP´s Foresight report ”21 issues for the 21st century” noted that the pace of introducing new technologies has increased, while the role of regulatory bodies in protecting the public from the consequences of new technologies has diminished. Therefore, the report suggested policy makers to ”consider, for example, organizing a new international governance system which would produce, and potentially oversee new international procedures to identify dangerous side effects of technologies and chemicals before they are produced” (UNEP, ”21 issues for the 21st century: result of the UNEP Foresight process on emerging environmental issues”, 2012, p.40.)

The technology facilitation mechanism could then have a role to assist the LDCs in horizon scanning, assessing specific technologies, and evaluating the most appropriate technology partnerships. Furthermore, it could monitor trends and advice on risks and opportunities. Specifically, technologies that are new to an LDC and that might be expected to impact employment, health or environment.

Science would play a crucial role in such global technology assessments work, and Future Earth in particular.

THE MOST IMPORTANT is that the mechanism will hold an annual meeting that is multi-stakeholder based. ETC group has further developed these ideas.