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Annual Report 2008

Message from the President

First and foremost, as the new President of ICSU, I would like to express my sincere thanks to both my predecessor, Goverdhan Mehta and the retiring Executive Director of ICSU, Thomas Rosswall. They have conspired over the past three years to take ICSU to new heights in terms of achievement and vision as was recognised at the General Assembly in Maputo in October. It is a tough challenge for myself and Deliang Chen, the new Executive Director, to ensure that the expectations generated in Maputo can be satisfied at the 30th General Assembly in Rome in 2011.

In the context of ICSU’s overall role to promote the universality of science, there are two particular topics that I would identify for particular attention over the next three years. One of these, scientific data, is already high on ICSU’s agenda, the other, which I highlighted in my address to the General Assembly, is technology.

The ambitious plans for a new ICSU-World Data System can be compared with the development of the networks of World Data Centres and data analysis services that arose out of the International Geophysical Year, 50 years ago. Then, as now, the pressing need was to establish an infrastructure to ensure the long-term stewardship and availability of key data for research and education purposes. The ongoing International Polar Year (IPY) has helped to highlight the weaknesses in the current infrastructures. A critical measure of success for the new World Data System is whether the invaluable data legacy of IPY is still fully and openly available 50 years from now. Achieving this requires a concerted effort from multiple stakeholders at the national and international level and ICSU has a critical role to play in brokering this effort.

Technology is an area that ICSU has not traditionally been overtly involved with. However, nowadays, technology is integral to science. Many areas of experimental science are completely dependent on technological development and technologies arising from science will be essential for providing solutions to many of today’s major societal challenges. The links between science, technology and society are critical for the future of our planet and, as we move from increased scientific understanding of problems to mitigation and corrective actions, these links need to be optimised. The role of ICSU and its Members in achieving this is something that we need to explore together with some urgency if our efforts in strengthening international science are really going to be optimised for the benefit of society.

Catherine Bréchignac

ICSU President 2008-2011
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