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Annual Report 2013

Message from the President

In early November 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) struck the Philippines. Horrific as the destruction was, it was for many but a taste of “the new normal”, a future in which escalating human pressures drive environmental changes beyond known thresholds. What does this mean for the actions and programmes of the International Council for Science?

The ICSU family has the potential to propel humanity towards a sustainable future. Scientists involved in our programmes have always produced excellent science. And a host of new programmes are poised to continue this legacy – Integrated Research on Disaster Risk, Urban Health and Wellbeing, World Data System, Future Earth, and many more. Future Earth, in particular, offers an exciting vision for what sustainability science can do: fully involving stakeholders, mobilizing all regions, and driving better policies at every level – from defining a set of global Sustainable Development Goals to those of nations and cities.

But if we wish to fulfil our potential, we will need to strive even harder, especially on three fronts:

First, let us better harness the tremendous power of our membership. This echoes my words in last year’s Annual Report. The April 2013 Unions Meeting in Paris offered a plethora of ideas, suggesting concrete projects where National Members, Unions, Programmes and Regional Offices could collaborate to strengthen research, boost science education, influence policies and more. These should serve as a model for our future efforts: ICSU’s core strength lies in its diverse global membership.

Second, let us examine our true impact rigorously. At the General Assembly in August 2014, we will receive early results from the External Review, the first since 1996. This is a tremendous opportunity for ICSU to examine what has been achieved since the 1996 Review and make sure that it is on track for the challenges of the coming decades. I will also pass the Presidency to Professor Gordon McBean, an excellent scientist and leader who has played an active role in ICSU programmes and activities throughout the years. In the five years since my election, humanity marched on in an unsustainable direction. Sustainable development is still an aspiration rather than a reality. We must therefore ask: has ICSU trod the right course? What have we achieved? How can we do better?

Third, we must be much more action-oriented. As Future Earth’s vision states, science should have a sense of urgency to contribute to solving real-world problems, to bring about different ways of doing things. That means actively connecting knowledge to action, also by stepping up our communication and engagement with decision-makers and stakeholders. Only then will the evidence we scientists provide make a real difference and ultimately transform the world for better.

A world in which Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) is the “new normal” is not the future we want for our children and grandchildren. For humanity to be able to respond to the challenges posed by anthropogenic environmental changes, it needs to rely on solid scientific information providing pathways for humans to adapt to and mitigate these changes. It is our duty as scientists to deliver that knowledge in a timely and useable manner. Let us harness the strengths of our membership, honestly examine the impacts we make, and work relentlessly to connect knowledge to real, tangible action.

Yuan Tseh Lee


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