The formation of the UN Scientific Advisory Board in Berlin marks one of the first outward signs of a quiet international revolution that is building new bridges between science and policy.
According to Owen Gaffney, “the inclusion of political scientists is a bold move reflecting a growing awareness that the governance arrangements of the twentieth century are struggling to cope with the challenges of the twenty-first.”
“This board has its origins in the UN report Resilient People, Resilient Planet, published for the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in 2012, but it can also be seen as a response to another 2012 UN report, the damning 21 Issues for the 21st Century, which highlighted what it called broken bridges between science and policy. As a result, the link between science and society becomes strained and public confidence (…) is weakened”, says Gaffney.
Gaffney also points out that “a significant strength of the new advisory board is that it will form a bridge between the UN and international research. As Future Earth develops its science plan, the advisory board has within its remit to identify “knowledge gaps” that could be addressed by “international research programs, e.g., the emerging ‘Future Earth’”.”
“It is early days for Future Earth, but the ambition is clear: its architects argue that there needs to be an urgent shift in international science. This is not so much bridge repair as construction of an entirely new bridge”, says the author.
Gaffney concludes that “traditionally, international science programmes have had few links with engineering, technology and business, but this is where the solutions to modern problems will be found. […] Taken together, these initiatives and the appointment of the UN scientific advisory board will inject energy into a tired system.”
Opinion piece retrieved from Nature 505,587 (30 January 2014) doi:10.1038/505587a (link).
Owen Gaffney is director of communications at the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme in Stockholm.