Interview with Felix Dodds by Science X HLPF

ICSU Science X newsletter for UN High Level Political Forum (HLPF) republished - signup below
Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Only a few more weeks until the start of HLPF, and last week the zero draft of the HLPF ministerial declaration was published. In its final shape, this will be the outcome document of the conference. Before that, however, it will undergo a lengthy consultation process with the UN member governments and, importantly, stakeholder groups. These are called „Major Groups“ in the UN system (scroll down for an interview with UN expert Felix Dodds to learn more about them). We at the International Council for Science (soon the International Science Council) are the organizing partner for the Science & Technology Major Group, and as such will be coordinating feedback from the science community.
This is where you come in. We’d love to hear your feedback on this document from a scientific perspective. Could this document include stronger calls for involvement of the scientific community? Does the document take into account the latest scientific evidence on sustainable development? Where could science help achieve the SDGs and how can member states use it best?
We would like to know. Your feedback will help us in preparing talking points for the speakers that will address the HLPF as well as a position statement from the Major Group. We will publish the statement ahead of HLPF and of course circulate it through this newsletter. Please send your feedback to
Last time we wrote, the Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs was in full swing – we held and participated in several side events. The outcomes of the forum will be discussed at the HLPF on Tuesday, 10 July — and you can also read the report of the Forum's co-chairs summarizing the discussions.
There is also a call out for expert contributions on VNRs, the Voluntary National Reviews. These are reviews of progress in implementing the SDGs at the national and sub-national levels, and we'll explain them in more detail in a future issue of this newsletter. If you are familiar with the situation on the implementation of the SDGs in one of the 47 countries that are contributing a VNR this year, then this call is for you. Specific comments about VNRs are accepted via this form until 25 June (deadline extended from 18 June).
That's it for today, best wishes from Paris,
Johannes from the International Council for Science (ICSU).

Key events

There is an opportunity next week to join a webinar on how engage with the SDGs review process at the HLPF. This is organized by Action for Sustainable Development and the NGO Major Group. A good opportunity to learn more about advocacy at the UN if you are new to the process. The webinar will be held in three languages:
  • Webinar (in English): How to engage with the HLPF. 26 June, 09:00 NY/15:00 Brussels/18:30 Delhi
  • Webinario (en Espanol): ¿Cómo involucrarse con el FPAN? 27 de junio, 09:00 NY/15:00 Bruxelas/18:30 Delhi
  • Webinaire (en francais): Comment participer au FPHN. 28 Juin, 10:00 NY/16:00 Bruxelles/19:30 Delhi
To sign up for the webinar, follow this link.

How to contribute

If you have insights and tips that will help scientists who want to engage with HLPF, if you are organizing an event during HLPF that would be interesting for scientists to join, if you’ve read an unmissable paper, let us know—e-mail

Three questions with Felix Dodds

Thomas Roswall with Felix Dodds at ICSU Habitat X
In every edition of Science X HLPF, we speak to a scientist or expert involved in the implementation of the SDGs. This week, we speak to Felix Dodds, Global Research Institute Senior Fellow at the Water Institute and a prominent observer of UN processes, about the "Major Groups" — which are a system for stakeholder groups to participate in UN processes.

Could you tell us about the history of the Major Group for Science and Technology? Why was it created and what was it supposed to do? Was this a first in the UN system?
In the runup to the Rio Earth Summit (1992), Maurice Strong, who was the Secretary General for the Summit, recognized that it was important to have ‘different stakeholder’ views – not only in developing Agenda 21, but also in helping to deliver it. This approach was a departure from the default model of grouping all NGOs together as “civil society”.  
ICSU at Habitat III
The Earth Summit recognized nine stakeholders, including the Science and Technology Community. For the first time, science and technology were given a seat at the table to ensure that member states could hear the latest scientific evidence. But the new system also  enabled women to have a chance to explain the gender aspect of policies. It ensured that the next generation – youth and children – and Indigenous Peoples would have a voice. It also brought in local government as a stakeholder, recognizing that in many cases they would be important partners in delivering the outcomes.
Most of these ‘stakeholder groups’ organized global conferences to develop input for the Earth Summit’s main outcome document. In particular, the scientific community gathered in November 1991 to develop input for the Earth Summit at the Vienna International Conference on an Agenda of Science for Environment and Development into the Twenty-first Century (ASCEND 21). The conference was organized by the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) and the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS).
After the Earth Summit, as governments established their Councils of Commissions for Sustainable Development, nearly all of these started by engaging the national leaders of each of the Major Groups. These bodies then played a key role in the years after the Rio 92 conference in ensuring effective follow-up at the national level.
Broadly speaking, how has the S & T Major Group evolved since its creation?
The Major Groups have developed in interesting ways since 1992. The approach has expanded to many of the environmental conventions, UNEP, and conference processes related to sustainable development. This has enlarged the space for different and, in many cases, unique views from the different stakeholders to be heard.
Some of the most successful outcomes in policy terms driven by Major Groups since 1992 occurred during the years 1998-2002 of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). The introduction of the multi-stakeholder dialogues was revolutionary at the time. Member states gave up two days of negotiations at the beginning of a two-week CSD for four three-hour sessions where three or four stakeholder groups presented their views and had a dialogue with member states on issue that CSD would address. These processes helped build trust and understanding and, therefore, a better set of policies for the CSDs. Since then, this approach has been replicated in a number of different fora.
The scientific community’s input to Rio+20 included a series of policy briefs released at the Planet Under Pressure Conference, as well as the outcomes of the conference itself. The conference was positioned a little late in the preparatory process. If the preparatory process had been going well (it wasn’t), it would have provided an important contribution to the Future We Want. I would always advise that stakeholder conferences need to take place at least 18 months in advance to generate substantive inputs for the agenda.
What is the role of the Major Group for Science and Technology in SDGs process? And at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF)?
The role of the Major Group for Science and Technology should be all about ensuring that the best science is put forward and challenging things when it isn’t. It’s about helping policy makers understand science and where to find information so that it can inform decisions, and proposing other views on solutions without being prescriptive.
With regards to the HLPF, the key problem is that the outcome document – which is meant to be based on learning and discussion of what has happened in implementing particular goals – is negotiated before the HLPF meets. It’s done through an informal process during June, which requires lobbyists to be in New York for a month to secure the kind of outcome that reflects the interest of the scientific community. This is not just a problem for the Major Group of Science and Technology, it’s a problem for all the Major Groups.
The HLPF needs to be reformed, and that issue will be addressed in October 2019. In the meantime, it would be great to have the Science and Technology Major Group come forward with suggestions on what this reform should look like.

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