Grand Challenges of Sustainable Development: Encouraging Integrated Approaches

Grand challenges represent opportunities for collective efforts to work towards common goals. Historically, these grand challenges have presented themselves across various disciplines including medicine, space flight, energy, and development. For American physicist and policy advisor Lewis Branscomb, these grand challenges are extremely complex and stubborn in definition, requiring comprehensive solutions in which the scientific community, members of government, civil society, and public population must cooperate closely to focus their efforts. For Branscomb, accurately defining the Grand Challenge is crucial to finding an effective solution. In the realm of sustainable development, defining Grand Challenges of sustainable development has been achieved in the creation of a comprehensive frameworks like the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the creation of the SDGs, which expanded upon the Millennium Development goals, the development community effectively established measurements and indicators to track progress at specific challenges that make up the larger grand challenge of global sustainable development. The creation of this framework is landmark because it provides a concrete mechanism through which the international community can focus their ambitious vision of a sustainable future into practical, achievable measurements and indicators.

Since the end of the 20th century, it has become overwhelmingly apparent that global grand challenges of sustainable development are fundamentally intertwined with one another. For example, to address the issue of global food insecurity, issues of economic opportunity, agricultural sustainability, as well as peacebuilding must also be considered in strategies of improving food security. The interconnected nature of these issues of sustainable development has resulted in a need for integrated approaches to development. If we, as a society, are to achieve these grand challenges of sustainable development, a segmented approach in which actors in development operate independently of one another is not sufficient. In order to make the ambitious goals of the sustainable development community’s “moonshot thinking” a reality, then an integrated approach in which civil society, governments, private sector, and expert researchers can effectively implement initiatives and policies that navigate the intersections within issues sustainable development is required. In doing this, actors working within sustainable development can better ensure that the design of sustainable development initiatives work to advance multiple goals of sustainable development in addition to fostering an inclusive environment that does not discriminate along the lines of gender, ethnicity, economic status, or disability.