Difficulties on the road toward SDGs depend both of the state of the scientific knowledge and social and political agreement.
Let’s continue our reading of the chapter 3, Science for sustainable development, of the report The Future is now. We have not finished with the introduction.
It goes on with some classification, illustrated by the figure at the top of this page. Possible progress toward the SDGs depends both on what science (and experience) enables us to know, and what is socially possible.
Science for sustainable development must provide the evidence to support breaking through the current social, economic and, especially, political impasses to enable creative and transformative solutions that bring forth far-reaching, if not permanent, changes. Achieving the 2030 Agenda cannot be left to chance; it requires deliberate transformations. The political scope for action largely depends, however, on the interplay between the factual certainty that science can produce and sociopolitical factors that can be more difficult to delineate and demand negotiation.
As illustrated in the figure, challenges can be categorized as follow.
- Simple challenges – Largely uncontested scientific evidence forms the basis for decision making and planning, such as recycling.
- Complex challenges – Evidence is not contested, but there are many gaps in knowledge. The way forward can be illuminated by increasing the understanding of coupled social and ecological systems, such as more environmentally friendly farming practices that both local and transnational companies find economical to adopt.
- Complicated challenges – Sufficient evidence is available, but implementation requires societal consensus. For example, policies of modest carbon taxation and income redistribution. Those challenges require communications efforts to raise awareness, mobilize responses, spur negotiations, circumnavigate vested interests and create adequate societal demand for action.
- Wicked challenges – Not wicked in the sense of evil, but rather wickedly difficult. Here low factual certainty is combined with low societal support. Purely factbased decisions no longer seem possible, which can make those challenges appear insurmountable. They include decarbonization, for example, or ways of creating sustainable food systems.
- Chaos – The issues are unknowable and nonnegotiable. Those include the turning of religious fundamentalism to terrorist violence, for example, or the full harm of crossing ecological tipping points.