Remarks at the High-level Political Forum: "How to Improve the Conversation between Science and Policy: Scope and Methodology of a Global Sustainable Development Report"

Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens
U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council 
New York, NY
July 2, 2014


Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. The Global Sustainable Development Report is an extremely important idea, which has great potential, in our view, not just to strengthen the science-policy interface, but also to help inform and set the sustainable development agenda and drive transformative choices at all levels.

The origins of this idea are worth briefly recalling. It goes back several years to an individual who first articulated this idea in a blog, developed the idea in papers and various fora, it then got picked up initially by the World Bank as an interesting proposal, from there to the Secretary-General’s Global Sustainability Panel who proposed it, it then migrated to Rio+20, and here we are today. This I refer to because it’s a concrete example of how a good idea from civil society – indeed from one individual -- can make its way into the bloodstream of our conversations here at the United Nations, and it’s a powerful reminder of the value of exchange of ideas among all stakeholders which remains crucial for sustainable development.

I want to express our thanks to the Secretary-General for his substantive report on options for taking the Global Sustainability Report forward. We appreciate the intensive work that went into his analysis.

We look forward to reviewing the prototype closely that has just been circulated as one possible model. There are of course other models. The Secretary-General has identified three, and there may be others as well as hybrid options that combine different features. The key, in our view, is to assess these options in relation to the core functions and impact we want the report to have.

Let me just raise a few issues that we believe it will be important to consider:

First, audience – who is this report for, and how will it be used? In our view, the report should aim at an informed but wide audience, of citizens as well as scientists and decision-makers. This is part of our larger ambition of raising awareness about sustainable development challenges, linkages, and choices.

Second, accessibility – In our view, this report should be accessible, while also being substantive. It will have to grapple with complexity of sustainable development trends while not being complex itself, while being clear and compelling in how it communicates. We will need to strike the right balance

Third, synthesis and integration – Rio+20 explicitly spoke to the need for this report to “bring together dispersed information and assessments.” This, in our view, is perhaps the most important function of this report. To look across various existing outlooks and assessments – on economics, energy, food, ecosystems, climate, development – and draw out of them the implications for sustainable development, the linkages – “connecting the dots,” as some say.

In fact, we see important scope for this report to be something that could be jointly produced among leading institutions, and we welcome more practical exploration of that possibility.

Finally, some have asked for this report to be a vehicle for monitoring or tracking progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. We think this needs further discussion indeed. The issue of monitoring the SDGs is a vital conversation that we have just begun barely to have – about monitoring, review, and accountability. We may well end up needing a variety of dedicated instruments for that reporting, analysis, and accountability.

However that discussion proceeds, we believe we need to give scope for it to unfold, while also being able to proceed developing options for this report that fulfills a distinct, if related, function. Again, we believe that the core function is about “connecting the dots” – looking across issues and sectors at major trends, challenges, and opportunities at the nexus of the three pillars of sustainable development. This is a distinct purpose of this report of which we would not want to lose sight.

Thank you very much for this opportunity for a first engagement on this issue. We believe it is truly important and look forward to further conversations with colleagues in the days ahead.


PRN: 2014/151