The Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations and EASAC, the European Academies Science Advisory Council

Thierry J.-L. Courvoisier

EASAC president

Seoul, April 2019

Providing science advice in the frame of the SDGs is to make complex, non linear, uncertain phenomena and models clear to policy makers who are most of the time as far from science as can be. It is difficult, requires competence not only in science but also in communicating it, and INDEPENDENCE from any vested interests, but recognising that it is value laden. This is why science academies have or should have a preponderant role in this task. They are knowledgeable, capable of synthetizing complex issues, are learning about communication and are as devoid of vested interests as can be.

EASAC Academies of EU, Norway and CH, founded in 2001 is designed to provide science advice to European decision makers, primarily, but not exclusively in the European Union. It does so by producing high quality reports and by the making all efforts it can afford to bring their conclusions to the place at the right moment. It can be noted here that the means available to academies to make their synthesis work known and bear fruits are in no way comparable to the funds invested in lobbying work by large industries.

Topics are, therefore, selected so that they are on the political agenda and require extensive knowledge to be usefully tackled by society.

This is not specific to SDGs. But if you look at what EASAC produces, as well as what most academies produce, you will see it is always relevant for the harmonious development of societies, and hence to SDGs. This illustrates a major strength of SDGs: to encapsulate a large fraction of the questions pertinent to development issues –which by the way makes them complex and highly non linear-. A further strength of SDGs is the way in which they have penetrated a large number of administrations and decision making processes.

The SDGs’ strengths should be exploited and are exploited by academies in their communication with policy: Being aware of SDGs and seeing that academy work can fit in this frame, decision makers may be more prone to act.

This point and the strengths of SDGs have been widely discussed at an IAP sponsored meeting of EASAC’s academies. This provided an excellent opportunity to reinforce mutually the dynamics that was seen to exist already in a number of places.

It is important, though, to remember that solutions to societal problems can come from unexpected corners and that research, often fundamental, does contribute to the development of societies even if not designed with this aim in mind. A prime, but possibly extreme example, is the general theory of relativity and GPS. The former was developed to solve fundamental inconsistencies in physical theories but is now found essential to reach the required precision of the latter. Academies are a stronghold of intellectual strength in our societies, they therefore should keep their eyes wide open, also beyond the SDGs jargon.