Post-2015 development goals need science

2 October, 2013

Professor Duncan Wingham, NERC Chief Executive and UKCDS Chair

A United Nations High Level Panel co-chaired by David Cameron recently recommended five transformative shifts in the approach to development.

As the world debates the content of the post 2015 development goals, I grow increasingly assured of just how vital science is for the future of global development. In my opinion, it’s really important to the success of the post 2015 goals that they are informed by strong scientific evidence.

A United Nations High Level Panel co-chaired by David Cameron recently recommended five transformative shifts in the approach to development:

  1. leave no one behind
  2. put sustainable development at the core
  3. transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth
  4. build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions
  5. forge a new global partnership.

It seems clear that to achieve these transformative shifts, we must draw on the vast amount of knowledge that we have accumulated over years of scientific research, and if the post 2015 goals are going to provide inspiration and direction for the foreseeable future, the development of them must lead by example.

For those of you that haven’t been involved with the post 2015 discussions, the new goals will replace the Millennium Development Goals (which expire in 2015), and are intended to inspire the world to achieve significant global changes. The overall vision is ‘to end poverty in all its forms, in the context of sustainable development and to have in place the building blocks of sustained prosperity for all’. The goals and their targets provide the means to achieve this vision – all detailed in the High Level Panel report.

It’s great to see so many organisations contributing to the post 2015 discussions and I feel the scientific community now has a real opportunity to show how research and evidence can help to address poverty and global sustainability challenges.

An event in June of this year saw UKCDS, the Royal Society, the British Council and SciDev.Net working together to engage funders and scientists to raise awareness of opportunities and stimulate discussions about how science can contribute to the development of post 2015 goals. Attended by 100 people, the discussion was chaired by Sir John Beddington, former UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser. Other panel members were Amina J Mohammed, who is Ban Ki-moon’s Special Adviser on post-2015 development planning; Dominic Haslam, a Steering Committee Member for the BOND Beyond 2015 UK Group and Director of Policy and Strategic Programme Support at Sightsavers; and Duncan Green, a Senior Strategic Adviser at Oxfam.

The panel suggested that science has an immediate role to play, and there seemed general agreement that science should not be relegated to ‘a review of what has already been decided’. Indeed, during the development of the post-2015 agenda, science has already been useful in understanding the impact of the MDGs, and comparing the goals that were delivered with those that were not fully achieved.

As UKCDS Chair, I have committed to working with the 14 members, the Secretariat and leading experts to understand whether there are existing scientific methodologies, tools and solutions that can contribute to the development of the post 2015 goals. We will also provide a clear view on where new research needs to be commissioned to ensure the evidence, tools and solutions are available to those implementing the new goals.

Partnerships and collaboration will be crucial to achieving the UN vision which was updated at the UN General Assembly at the end of September, and I look forward to exploring how future UK research investment strategies and programmes can help to answer the enormous science challenges that the world faces.

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