The Future is Now: Science for Achieving Sustainable Development

The Independent Group of Scientists appointed by the UN has assessed the state of global sustainable development as worrying. The Group of Scientists has identified six key issues and the means necessary to improve the direction. The Global Sustainable Development Report 2019 was published on 11 September 2019 in New York.

The Finnish Expert Panel on Sustainable Development is preparing a proposal for further national actions. The Independent Group of Scientists comprises Professor Eeva Furman from the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE). 

Barriers to sustainable development are global 

 The key observation of the Independent Group of Scientists is that the 17 goals of sustainable development of the Agenda2030 are interlinked and should therefore not be promoted separately from each other. System-level changes and targets are needed to achieve individual goals. According to the researchers, four problematic phenomena prevent positive actions from having a sufficient impact.   

"Inequality, climate change, biodiversity loss and the growing waste problem are four significant reasons why global development does not progress towards a sustainable direction as a whole," says research professor Eeva Furman from SYKE.  

Six spearheads for change 

In addition to these phenomena, the Independent Group of Scientists has identified six crucial areas in which action can steer the change into a more sustainable direction. It is essential to: 

  • promote human well-being and opportunities for action 
  • build a sustainable and fair economy  
  • create sustainable food systems and support healthy food habits 
  • ensure the supply of sustainable energy for all 
  • develop the sustainability of cities and periurban areas 
  • secure global commons. 

According to Furman system-level changes are needed and means must be used consistently.  

The position of sustainability science must be strengthened 

According to the Independent Group of Scientists, the role of sustainability science must be strengthened when setting targets and making decisions. Especially in developing countries, the entire value chain of research must be strengthened and access to scientific networks and material must be ensured.   

“When facing difficult and complex societal challenges, the significance of research-based knowledge and multidisciplinary collaboration is highlighted. It’s important to understand the changes taking place in our environment, as well as their complex backgrounds and effects. Furthermore, it’s necessary to investigate how transformation towards an increasingly sustainable society can be promoted in various sectors of society. This requires not only substantial investment in research but also cooperation between researchers representing different fields of science,” says Tuuli Toivonen, one of the panellists on the Finnish Expert Panel on Sustainable Development and associate professor of geoinformatics at the Department of Geosciences and Geography, University of Helsinki.  

“Sustainability matters are complex and contradictory, making it necessary for experts from a range of scientific disciplines to engage in a dialogue to gain an overview of the subject.  At the University of Helsinki, an enormous amount of research related to sustainability is being conducted in a number of disciplines and under the umbrella of the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science HELSUS. Being a member of the expert panel gives me the chance to contribute to the discussion through my personal expertise, but also by making research conducted at the University of Helsinki visible in the panel’s work,” Toivonen says. 

Finland could become a pioneer in sustainable development  

The Expert Panel on Sustainable Development encourages parties active in society to strive towards an increasingly sustainable society, on the basis of research-based knowledge. Its activities support in particular the work done by the National Commission for Sustainable Development, which, in turn, is responsible for the implementation of the UN’s global Agenda 2030 programme and its facilitation in Finland,” notes Toivonen. 

The Finnish Expert Panel on Sustainable Development has launched a project in which it assesses Finland's role and opportunities to make sustainable development more efficient.  Like other wealthy countries, Finland is placing a burden on the environment and thus bears responsibility for the progress of climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the generation of waste.  According to the panel, however, in many respects Finland operates in accordance with the principles of sustainable development, and several actions mentioned in the report have already been launched in Finland. For example, the current government programme has been built on the basis of sustainable development, and the state budget is monitored from the perspective of sustainable development. The assessment of the Finnish Expert Panel on Sustainable Development regarding Finland's situation and need for change will be completed in early 2020.  

On the video Academy Research Fellow Matthew Robson comments on the sustainable development goals from his research perspectiveRobson is a member of the UN panel assessing the Environment Effects of Climate Change, UV-B and Ozone Depletion since 2017 . 

In the beginning of 2019, the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS), the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) and the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) started to host  The Finnish Expert Panel for Sustainable DevelopmentVisit their home page. 

Further info: