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A Scientific Method for the SDGs

With a roadmap for understanding where different Sustainable Development Goals do and do not align, national leaders can make better policy decisions. Scientists are well-positioned to provide such a roadmap, because they know how to ask the right questions and draw evidenced-based conclusions.

PARIS – In just the latest example of popular support for science, tens of thousands of people around the world recently marched to advocate for a worldview based on facts, not fiction. They understand that science could actually save the world, because it can help us solve our greatest health and development problems.

Those problems are at the heart of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which the international community agreed to in 2015, with the aim of creating a more prosperous, equitable, and healthy planet by 2030. The 17 SDGs, which include 169 individual targets, constitute an ambitious agenda to address everything from gender equity to sustainable cities and climate change. All told, they provide an inclusive vision of sustainable development for the twenty-first century.

But comprehensiveness can come at the expense of effective action. Few people can actually name all of the SDGs, much less explain how every country can achieve them over the next 13 years. Experts around the world – including all of those who have gathered in New York this week for the UN Ocean Conference – are wrestling with individual targets or goals. And yet integrating these efforts remains a formidable challenge. If our leaders are ever to realize the world envisioned in the SDGs, they will need a roadmap for navigating the complex policymaking terrain.

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