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Annual Report 2006

Message from the President

First and foremost, as the new President of ICSU, I would like to express my sincere and heartfelt thanks to my predecessor, Jane Lubchenco. As many ICSU Members witnessed for themselves, her chairing of the General Assembly in Suzhou in October was truly outstanding. Her vision and leadership over the past triennium, during the development of the first ever ICSU Strategic Plan, have left me with a difficult act to follow. Thus, it is with both trepidation and exhilaration that I take over the baton. In so doing, it seems opportune to repeat here a few of the reflections from my inaugural speech in Suzhou.

A World in Transition

The world is in a major transition that it has seldom, if ever, seen before. The new era of a knowledge driven world is suddenly upon us. We have arrived at this stage through an evolutionary process involving spectacular developments in science and technology, unparalleled economic growth and uncontrolled exploitation of the earth’s resources that has now run for nearly a century. While the pivotal role of science & technology in advancing human development, industrial growth and material wealth in the 20th century, in certain regions of the world is undisputed, its role in the 21st century needs to be recalibrated without diminishing its centrality.

The need for Greater Synergy

This has become necessary on two counts: firstly, the scientific revolution has outpaced social transformation for over a century now and secondly, progress in science and technology in the recent decades has been somewhat insular and unitary. It is partly for these reasons that the major challenges confronting the world today relating to environment, energy, health, natural hazards, loss of species, unsustainable consumption and, most importantly, of growing inequalities, did not come into sharper focus soon enough. A lack of timely policy interventions and lack of sensitivity to these issues at both national and global levels has exacerbated matters. The need for greater synergy between scientific and societal progress and broader engagement of natural sciences with other knowledge streams, in particular social and human sciences, is a matter of urgency and prime importance. Such cohabitation will enable the scientific community to better understand the full implications of new discoveries in the context of moral and ethical values and societal concerns on one hand and the sustainability of our planet on the other.

Fairness and Responsibility

Leonardo da Vinci, a renaissance legend wrote in a letter to the Duke of Milan about his idea of building a submarine: “I do not want to precisely describe my method to stay under the water for a long period because people are so ill-natured that they would use it to destroy the keel of boats and to sink the crew”; words whose relevance is not lost in present times as concerns about bioterrorism, proliferation and human cloning among others stare at us. We scientists must ponder over our inability to transfer the sense of fairness and responsibility that we so effectively deploy in our scientific experiments and search for truth to the other side, namely society’s evolution.

It is my conviction that the strong endorsement of the new Strategic Plan in Suzhou marks a critical milestone in the history of ICSU. As the Council enters its 75th year in 2006, it has much to celebrate and a clearly defined role in addressing some of the key challenges that lie ahead. I am personally committed to doing my utmost over the next 3 years to lead ICSU in this endeavour.

Goverdhan Mehta

ICSU President 2005-2008
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