UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network

UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network
(2012; New York, Paris, New Delhi; 32 staff; unsdsn.org)

SDSN seeks to mobilize scientific and technical expertise from academia, civil society, and the private sector in support of sustainable development problem solving at local, national, and global scales.  The network’s secretariat is hosted by Columbia University. Is building a network of universities, research centers, and other knowledge institutions. The over 1,200 members are organized around national or regional SDSNs to promote Solutions Initiatives, develop educational materials, and work towards the Agenda 2030.

In 2015 the Agenda 2030, which includes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), was set up and succeeded the Millennium Development Goals. The 17 SDGs are the guiding principles of SDSN and provide a holistic framework, applicable to all countries, aiming to eradicate poverty and deprivation, but also to grow our economies, to protect our environment, and to promote peace and good governance.


  • Solution Initiatives promote new technologies, business models, institutional mechanisms, policies, and combinations thereof that can dramatically accelerate progress towards sustainable development.
  • The SDG Academycreates and curates free, graduate-level online courses on sustainable development that are offered through org. So far there are 20+ courses that are built around the 17 SDGs and look into topics like planetary boundaries, global water crisis, sustainable cities, climate actions, oceans, sustainable food production, etc.
  • Financing for Sustainable Development – Working with leading organizations, government agencies, international institutions and businesses around the world to support the financing of Agenda 2030.

Solution Initiatives:

  • One Million Smartphone-Enabled Community Health Workers in Sub-Saharan Africa – A global campaign to train and deploy 1 million professional community health workers (CHWs) in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project – An initiative with the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) in Paris, seeking practical national pathways to keep global warming under 2°C by 2050.
  • Agricultural Transformation Pathways initiative – Aims to provide support to countries in choosing realistic targets that are congruent with the new SDGs and developing technology and socio-economic roadmaps for meeting selected targets.
  • USA Sustainable Cities Initiative (USA-SCI) – Building on ongoing municipal sustainable development planning efforts, they are supporting SDG achievement strategies in three pilot US cities: New York, Baltimore, and San Jose.
  • Data Reconciliation – The process of data reconciliation, which stitches together multiple related datasets, can increase the efficiency and achieve a level of specificity hitherto unavailable to most statistics offices.
  • Rio Sustainable Cities Initiative: SDG Implementation in a Metropolitan Context – Recognizes that comprehensive sustainable urban development necessitates local and national cooperation. Holistic planning cannot be confined to local boundaries.
  • The World in 2050 – A global research initiative in support of a successful implementation of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda. The goal is to provide the fact-based knowledge to support the policy process and implementation of the SDGs.
  • The Local Data Action Solutions Initiative (LDA-SI) is a crossover project between the USA-Sustainable Cities Initiative (USA-SCI) and the Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics (TReNDS).
  • Open Algorithms project (OPAL) – Led by the DataPop Alliance with partners Orange, World Economic Forum, Agence France du Developpement, PARIS21, and SDSN. OPAL demonstrates a pathway to harness private data for the public good while maintaining the dataset’s privacy, security, and proprietary value.
  • Plastic Busters Initiative – Monitors the impact and reduction of marine litter in the Mediterranean Sea and promotes policies to reduce plastic pollution.
  • Virtual Open School – Aims to identify and test a model for large-scale, online provision of quality secondary level education in rural areas in an economically sustainable way.

Thematic Groups:

Involve experts from around the world to lead SDSN technical work and highlight priority actions.

  • The World in 2050: Macroeconomics, Population Dynamics and Planetary Boundaries
  • Humanitarian-Development Linkages
  • Challenges of Social Inclusion: Gender, Inequalities, and Human Rights
  • Education, Quality, and Learning for All
  • Health for All
  • Deep Decarbonization Pathways
  • Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems
  • Forests, Oceans, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
  • Sustainable Cities: Inclusive, Resilient, and Connected
  • Good Governance of Extractive and Land Resources
  • Redefining the Role of Business for Sustainable Development
  • TReNDS, Thematic Research Network on Data and Statistics


  • A blog and news
  • A library of reports, data, briefs, working papers, etc.
  • A monthly Newsletter
    • The Age of Sustainable Development – This free online MOOC is part of SDSN taught by Jeffrey Sachs. It is based on a book of the same title published by Columbia University Press (2015, 543p). The 14 lectures/chapters cover sustainable development, economic development, the Millennium Development Goals, ending extreme poverty, growth within planetary boundaries, human rights and gender equality, education, health, food, cities, climate change, biodiversity, and the new Sustainable Development Goals.
    • Sustainable Development Report (Bertelsmann Stiftung & SDSN; June 2019, 478p, digital executive summary) An annual global report of country indicators that presents the SDG Index and Dashboards. Measures SDG starting points at the country and regional level, to help identify priorities for action to achieve goals by 2030. The top 10 consists solely of European countries. Denmark is ranked #1, Germany #6, Canada #20, USA #35, China #39, Brazil #57, India #115, and Nigeria #159.
    • Six Transformations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (Sept 2019, 12p) – Introduces the concept of six transformational “building-blocks of SDG achievement: (1) education, gender and inequality; (2) health, well-being and demography; (3) energy decarbonization and sustainable industry; (4) sustainable food, land, water and oceans; (5) sustainable cities and communities; and (6) digital revolution for sustainable development.”
    • Pathways to Sustainable Land-Use and Food Systems (2019, 330p) – Presents “preliminary pathways towards sustainable land-use and food systems prepared by the 18 country teams from developed and developing countries, including the European Union. The aim of these pathways is to determine and demonstrate the technical feasibility of making land-use and food systems sustainable in each country.”
    • SDG Costing & Financing for Low-Income Developing Countries (Sept 2019, 79 p) – Proposes a plausible portfolio of financing actions that would increase budget revenues for SDG outlays by $430 billion—enough to close the SDG financing gap in all LIDCs and end extreme poverty.
    • Mapping the Renewable Energy Sector to the Sustainable Development Goals: An Atlas (June 2019, 128p) – Aims to “create a shared understanding of how the renewable energy sector can contribute to the SDGs. For each SDG, the Atlas explores potential opportunities and impacts from renewable energy project development, and provides recommendations for companies to better align conduct to the Sustainable Development Agenda”
    • Roadmap to 2050: A Manual for Nations to Decarbonize by Mid-Century (Sept 2019, 144p) – Includes the “expert input from more than 60 engineers and industry leaders who participated in an April 2019 workshop organized around power, industry, transport, and buildings decarbonization.” Outlines six pillars (1) Zero-Carbon Electricity, (2) Electrification of End Uses, (3) Green Synthetic Fuels, (4) Smart Power Grids, (5) Materials Efficiency, (6) Sustainable Land-Use.

Leadership: Prof. Jeffrey Sachs (Director), Guido Schmidt-Traub (Executive Director)

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