UKNC Science Director joins expert panel to consider how science can help UK meet new Global Goals

Global Goals

Dr. Beth Taylor, the UKNC’s Vice-Chair and Natural Science Director, joined an expert panel at Royal Society’s Policy Lab last month to explore “How can science help the UK meet the Sustainable Development Goals?”

The panel was chaired by Professor Dame Anne Mills, Deputy Director & Provost and Professor of Health Economics and Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and other speakers included Derek Osborn, President of the Stakeholder Forum, Professor Virginia Murray, Consultant in Global Disaster Risk Reduction, Public Health England and Dr Tim Leunig, Chief Scientific Adviser and Chief Analyst, Department for Education.

Dr Taylor’s presentation focused on the work of UNESCO and on the energy goal in particular – “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all”. Here Dr. Taylor highlights some of the themes that were discussed throughout the evening.


The individual SDGs are all interconnected: The energy goal in particular reinforces – or in some cases conflicts with – almost all of the other goals. For example, it contributes directly to the health-related Goal to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. This is because with access to the right energy, people should be able to lead healthier lives. But the strongest link of all lies between the commitment to ensuring access to sustainable energy and the commitment to “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”.

The SDGs have clear implications for developed nations like the UK, in contrast to the Millennium Development Goals which were more focused on developing countries. The UK Government is to be commended for signing up to these ambitious new global goals and it is great that the UK is committing to achieving them.

There is a key role for scientific research in delivering many of the SDGs With reference to the energy goal, specific targets are set for renewable technologies and energy efficiency. In order to achieve these, there needs to be more research into reliable renewable energy sources. Some forms of renewable energy in particular have more scope for scientific exploration. Solar power is one such area where there is potential to make a big difference. For example, there are many more possible materials that solar panels could be made with, which have not been tested – leaving plenty of room for possible innovations to emerge out of the UK science sector. A key development would also be improved technologies for energy storage, allowing the grid to cope with an increasing percentage of renewable electricity.

Science alone is not enough – the political and economic structures must make changes to support the scientific advancements Whilst the scientists may be able to come up with technical solutions, these can only go so far – a ground-breaking invention cannot change the world unless implemented in the right way, and with the right incentives. Take the economics of our energy market for instance; with certain changes to the way in which we structure our spending as a nation, we might be able to change our relationship to energy. While we are not going to be able to change our habits of using energy – we are not going to choose to live in cold houses with no lights on – we might be able to change the way in which the market buys and sells energy. If the market in which we operate could be restructured, then decisions to invest in energy efficient technologies would be able to compete more fairly with investment in additional energy supply.

The scientific community also has a social and political role to play in achieving these goals through advice to government, for which the Royal Society would be an excellent focus.   The science community also has the potential to address other more socially focussed SDGs – such as “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”. By ensuring that more women are able to access key roles in science – just as the L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science prize seeks to do- the UK science community can empower women and girls.

UNESCO and the UK National Commission for UNESCO have key roles to play, in achieving the SDGs and in giving scientists a voice. UNESCO’s global network can bring scientists together, as well as running programmes which work directly to achieve the new SDGs. The International Oceanographic Committee, for example, works to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” The UKNC’s expert network gives UK-based scientists a voice, and our policy brief series provide a platform through which to engage with policy both in the UK and at UNESCO. We welcome the involvement of as many members of our expert network as possible, to influence the way in which the new Global Goals are progressed.

More information on the evening can be found here