UNESCO 35th General Conference: Major Programme II, Natural Sciences (Oct 2009)
Two years ago, much of the focus in this Commission was on the external review of Major Programmes II and III. UNESCO has responded positively to some of the key recommendations from this and the new C5 indicates an increasing level of cooperation between the natural science divisions, the two science sectors and between them and the other sectors. ICSU is particularly pleased to see the continuing and increased emphasis on science policy, which is embedded in several main lines of action – UNESCO is uniquely positioned to play a critical role in this area.
The cross-sectoral approach is a necessity not a fad or a whim. It is driven by the shared challenges that both ICSU and UNESCO face in strengthening international science for the benefit of society. I would illustrate this by highlighting just two areas:
ICSU has recently launched a new interdisciplinary Programme on Ecosystem Change and Society (PECS), which is co-sponsored by UNESCO. The aim of this programme is to provide solid scientific evidence to inform better policies for managing ecosystem services. This entails the full integration of knowledge from both natural and social sciences. It is a new paradigm (which is exactly what the science review challenged UNESCO to address).
ICSU has also recently launched a new international programme for Integrated Research on Disaster Reduction (IRDR). This is co-sponsored with the International Social Sciences Council and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). We look forward to welcoming UNESCO and its IOC as an additional co-sponsor in the near future. Again, the challenge is to integrate natural and social sciences to influence policy.
These two examples illustrate that we are moving into a new era. In order to address the major challenges that face our global society, science will need to be even more cooperative and interdisciplinary. We need to look forward, with open minds, to address new issues in novel ways. This has major implications for how we approach capacity building and science education. We need to strengthen the Universality of Science and ensure that all countries have the scientific capacity to generate the integrated knowledge that addresses their needs.
I know from my experience with ICSU that it is not always easy for long-established institutions to be flexible and take on board constructive criticism and change. It is a challenge for both of our organisations and we need to work together, at both the global and regional levels, and in a true strategic partnership, to meet this challenge:- to ensure that science really does enable sustainable development in all nations across the globe.
ICSU Deputy Executive Director
10 October 2009