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Annual Report 2003

Message from the President

Exciting scientific advances 2003 was another exciting and challenging year for science. Scientists uncovered startling new insights and provided important new understanding about the universe and our world.

The confirmed existence of high-density dark matter indicates that the Universe is stranger than previously imagined. Yang Liwei temporarily became the most celebrated person in China, when he piloted the country’s first manned space flight. ‘Beagle’ and ‘Spirit’ became household terms late in the year as Europe and the USA competed to land explorers on Mars.

Closer to Earth, the year witnessed major advances on multiple fronts including identification of factors controlling cell behaviour and embryonic development and conclusive evidence that a new drug limiting blood supply to tumors can prolong the life of cancer patients.

An overwhelming amount of evidence accumulated that human actions are affecting climate, modifying fundamental biogeochemical cycles, transforming the land and sea, and disrupting the flow of environmental goods and services to society.

New understanding of complex adaptive systems is providing insight into different approaches to managing human activities to minimize adverse impacts and move toward a transition to a more sustainable way of living.

Global political uncertainties

The global political situation, especially concerns about terrorism, has begun to impact the practice of science. Science has flourished in recent decades due to the free flow of people, information and ideas. The Universality of Science, as embedded in ICSU’s own statutes, has been an exemplary model of what can be achieved when a truly international community, with common goals is allowed to develop.

Recent restrictions on visas, increased controls on scientific information and proposed embargoes on collaborations threaten to undermine the universality and therefore the progress and usefulness of science.

Challenging economic conditions

The global economic situation underwent dramatic shifts in 2003 with the US dollar weakening significantly against other major currencies such as the Euro and the Yen.

As ICSU members will confirm, the currencies of many poorer countries, particularly in Latin America and Africa fared even worse. ICSU was not immune to these fluctuations; the dip in the US dollar wiped out more than 20% of ICSU’s annual budget. Current challenges include both belt-tightening and increasing revenues.

ICSU – building on the past, serving the future

Scientific progress has the potential to illuminate and help alleviate many of the world’s most pressing problems. Now more than ever there is a need for international collaboration across disciplines, for universal and equitable access to scientific data and information, for increased scientific capacity – particularly in the poorer countries, and for better interactions between science and society.

These elements form the cornerstone of our new initiatives, ranging from the International Polar Year to our developing 6-year strategy that will be presented to our membership at the General Assembly in 2005. Strengthening international science for the benefit of society is even more relevant and urgent at the end of 2003 than it was at the beginning.

Jane Lubchenco

ICSU President 2002-2005
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