Science for Sustainable Development

The global population is forecast to reach 8.5 billion people by 2030. The international community has set itself the challenge of achieving sustainable change together by 2030 so that these 8.5 billion citizens of Earth – together with future generations – can live a good life with equal opportunities for development, in peaceful and just societies and in an intact environment.

The member states of the United Nations committed themselves to making this vision reality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with its 17 interlinking Sustainable Development Goals. Delivering on the promise of this global agreement will require that every state does its part. The German Government works towards this goal within the scope of the German Strategy for Sustainable Development.

At the same time, a number of trends that undermine efforts to achieve sustainable development are on the rise worldwide. Instead of using natural resources more sustainably, humankind continues to grow its ecological footprint. In the political sphere, special interests are hampering efforts to safeguard the interests of future generations as policymakers seek to reconcile the needs of present and future generations.

Assessments of humankind’s predicament and possible solutions have also become increasingly controversial as modern communication technologies and the sheer volume of information available has made it ever more difficult to weigh their quality and credibility.

Guidance, innovation, and cooperation are critical: Science plays a central role in the complex policy landscape for sustainable development. With its analyses and testing procedures, science can provide valuable guidance for policy development, decision-making, and political action. Innovations developed within the science system also provide the basis for technical, social and economic solutions.

Resolving the complex challenges raised by sustainable development will require broad and deep thinking and debate. Transdisciplinary research will play an important role in this process by linking knowledge from diverse scientific disciplines with societal knowledge that is grounded in practice.

Each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals raises complex questions and people and institutions worldwide are testing new ways of thinking, organising, and taking action across the social, economic, and environmental dimensions to achieve them. The challenges are enormous, because each goal calls for action across a range of diverse and complex issues, requiring policymakers to negotiate conflicts of interest at the local, national and global levels.

The Science Platform and its Goals

The Science Platform Sustainability 2030 provides a central forum for science to engage with representatives from politics, business, and society on urgent issues pertaining to sustainability policy. Knowledge relevant to the challenges of sustainable development and the implementation of the German Strategy for Sustainable Development will be collected and disseminated through the Science Platform.

The Science Platform Sustainability 2030 was established as an independent organisation and is integrated within the official steering, dialogue, and implementation processes for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, ensuring its ability to act effectively. The platform is open to all actors wishing to strengthen sustainability policy through science.

The Science Platform:

  • Promotes cooperation in order to activate science for sustainability
  • Strengthens transdisciplinary exchange on knowledge relevant to sustainable development
  • Gathers together knowledge for sustainable development to support political implementation processes and communicate research needs to science
  • Monitors sustainability policy from a critical and constructive scientific perspective

The Science Platform in action

The Science Platform brings scientists from a wide variety of disciplines together with representatives from business and civil society to gather knowledge for sustainable development. Its findings are fed into policymaking processes, science, and society.

Gathering sustainability knowledge: Urgent issues are addressed through the platform’s working groups. A steering committee determines the platform’s key areas of focus on the basis of the following criteria:

  • Scientific relevance, dissemination to the scientific system, need for orientation knowledge
  • Political relevance, topicality and needs for action for the 2030 Agenda and the German Strategy for Sustainable Development
  • Global relevance and international impact – transformation needs and potential
  • Avoidance of duplication of comparable work by other parties and processes

The working groups are transdisciplinary and comprised of representatives from science, policymaking, business and society. They collect existing knowledge relevant to a specific issue, and bundle and process this knowledge to develop actionable policy recommendations. Input is elicited from representatives from different areas of society at various points throughout this process in order to appraise the relevance, resilience and potential application of these recommendations.

Transferring sustainability knowledge: Knowledge generated through the Science Platform is fed into relevant scientific and political processes, where it is translated into action for sustainable development. The Science Platform contributes to policymaking in a critical yet constructive role by highlighting actionable policy options, for example. It also serves the scientific community by identifying urgent research needs in areas relevant to sustainable development. This is facilitated by the platform’s integration within the political steering, dialogue and implementation processes around the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These activities serve to strengthen transdisciplinary dialogue between various actors, including the scientific advisory boards of the German Government, on issues relating to knowledge for sustainable development and sustainability governance.


The mandate of the Science Platform

The German Government recognises the central role of science for sustainability. The most recent iteration of the German Strategy for Sustainable Development (2016) emphasises the role of science in addressing sustainability challenges and monitoring efforts to advance sustainable development pathways.

The German Government subsequently proposed that an independent science platform be established that would be systematically integrated into the steering, dialogue, and implementation process of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The scientific community took up this challenge and founded the Science Platform Sustainability 2030 in May 2017.

The latest international peer review of the German Sustainable Development Strategy confirmed the vital importance of science and the Science Platform for the strategy’s implementation. The peers note in their report that transformations towards sustainability require a high degree of systemic thinking and cooperation and that the interface between science and society must be strengthened to facilitate this.

The Bodies of the Science Platform

The Steering Committee

The Steering Committee is responsible for the broad operational design of the research and other activities carried out under the auspices of the Science Platform. It consists of members from science, the business sector, and organised civil society. The Steering Committee formulates the programme of work and initiates work processes as well as networking with other parties in order to establish an effective and representative platform with strong ties abroad.

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The Research Coordinators

Research activities undertaken through the Science Platform Sustainability 2030 are coordinated by the international scientific networks Sustainable Development Solutions Network Germany (SDSN Germany), the German Committee for Sustainability Research in Future Earth (DKN Future Earth), and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), which also hosts the platform’s secretariat

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Supporting government ministries

The Science Platform works closely with the Federal Ministries of Education and Research (BMBF), for Environment and Nature Conservation (Umwelt), for Construction and Nuclear Safety (BMU), and for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). These ministries accompany and support the platform’s work through a roundtable that is open to all federal ministries.


The Secretariat

The secretariat of the Science Platform Sustainability 2030 is located at the offices of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, one of the three sponsors of the platform. The secretariat coordinates the platform’s scientific and administrative operations.

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More about the work of the Science Platform

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