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A call to action: 20 interventions that will matter. The report’s Call to Action identifies 20 points where interventions can create transformative and accelerated progress towards multiple goals and targets in the coming decade. These targeted actions are based on the recent scientific literature analysing the deeper systemic interconnections that identify synergies and trade-offs between individual goals and targets.

Decisions based on science. Science must play a major role in advancing sustainable development. Universities, policymakers and research funders must increase support to research guided by the 2030 Agenda. Simultaneously, researchers in sustainability science and other disciplines, must work together to solve development problems and strengthen the science-policy-society interface, providing society and policy-makers information they can use to solve development problems.

Achieving land degradation neutrality can contribute to accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Restoring the soils of degraded ecosystems has the estimated potential to store up to 3 billion tons of carbon annually. Climate-smart land management practices, including low-emissions agriculture, agroforestry and restoration of high-carbon-value ecosystems, such as forests and peatlands, nearly always come with adaptation co-benefits.  

The report makes the case for shifting current research priorities and supporting innovative approaches to sustainability science, emphasizing cross-disciplinary partnerships, and committing support and resources to scientific institutions, particularly in the global South. Development aid budgets should prioritize boosting scientific capacity and access in the global South. UN Member States, research consortia and libraries should work together to improve cross-border and inter-disciplinary collaborations in science for the SDGs

The report also highlights the need for increased access to appropriate technologies and knowledge. Developed countries need to change their production and consumption patterns, including by limiting the use of fossil fuels and plastics, and to encourage public and private investments that align with the SDGs. The scientists suggest that the UN could promote a new sustainable development investment label, with clear parameters and guidelines, to encourage and reward investment in industries and financial markets that advance sustainable development and discourage investment in those that do not.

The extensive transformation that is needed will not be easy, and the report suggests that a deep scientific understanding is needed to anticipate and mitigate the tensions and trade-offs inherent in widespread structural change. For example, those losing jobs in the shift away from fossil fuels and other industries at odds with a sustainable future should be supported towards alternative livelihoods. The authors emphasize that strong political will and commitment will be required to make the needed transformations, that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and the interventions in developed countries will look very different from those in developing countries.