25 June 2012 | EN
The new board will advise the secretary-general on issues ranging from agriculture to engineering
Flickr/United Nations Photo
[RIO DE JANEIRO] The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has agreed to set up an international scientific advisory board to provide him with guidance on science-related issues, and enable him to provide advice to UN member states on such issues.
The move was announced last Friday (22 June) at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) by Irina Bokova, the director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
She said that UNESCO had been asked to take the leadership in setting up the council, and also provide its secretariat.
The board will bring together eminent specialists from the natural sciences, the social and human sciences, and engineering, and representing diverse backgrounds and regions.
One of its key functions will be to promote cooperation on science-related issue between UN agencies, and with the international scientific community.
This article is part of our coverage of preparations for Rio+20 — the UN Conference on Sustainable Development — which took place on 20-22 June 2012. For other articles, go to Science at Rio+20
Earlier this year, a high level panel on sustainability — established by the secretary-general — proposed either creating a scientific board or appointing a chief scientific adviser.
A small group of experts, from organisations such as UNESCO and the International Council for Science (ICSU), began investigating how to take these recommendations forward.
Gretchen Kalonji, assistant director-general for natural sciences at UNESCO, told SciDev.Net that it was still too early to say how much the advisory board would cost, who would fund it, or how the proposed chief scientific adviser would liaise between the board and the secretary-general.
Amina Mohamed, UN assistant secretary-general and deputy director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), told SciDev.Net that she hoped UNEP would be part of the panel.
"We have a mandate for a new science and policy interface coming out of [Rio+20], and intend to invest in the mandate and make sure we put in place the mechanisms and resources to take this forward."
It was hoped that funding for the council would be supplied by the UN, donors, foundations and other institutions, she added.
Mohamed emphasised the importance of developing countries being adequately represented on the panel. "Any panel set up at the UN has to be representative of the membership of the UN, otherwise it would face issues of legitimacy," she said.
Bob Watson, chief scientific adviser at the UK's Department of Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), told SciDev.Net that the cost of providing advisors would be "peanuts" compared to the magnitude of the decisions facing the UN.
There would inevitably be "some level of politics" in appointing regional representatives, Watson added.
But he said that he was "very optimistic" that it would be possible to put together a panel that would be "truly scientifically independent", warning that "otherwise it has no credibility".
Arthur Makara ( Uganda )
26 June 2012
This outcome of Rio+20 Makes my day. Whenever I compare UNESCO and other UN agencies, I notice a deliberate relegation of Science and Technology. It tends to pay more attention to Cultural issues than scientific and technological issues. The nature of implememntation and operationalisation of UNESCO country offices also makes it toothless, resource constrained and with less impact. Why did the treaty pass on the responsibility of funding National Commissions for UNESCO to Countries?? Most resource constrained countries do not value, let alone put funds into science.
It is my considered opinion and hope that the establishment of the Advisory Board should be seen as the first step towards establishment a fully-fledged UN body responsible for matters of scientific and technological development--quite separate from cultural issues. This is my dream, it may take many years to realise, but this is a good first step.
SCIFODE, Kampala, Uganda
Michael A. Osborne ( Oregon State University | United States of America )
28 June 2012
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Mr. Makara, but it is often difficult or impossible to disentangle cultural and scientific elements of environmental and other problems. This is especially so because funding streams for science are usually subject to oversight and to the whims of financial markets and politics. Moreover, projects such as dams, railways, and plantations all have cultural impacts, so it's very hard to narrow development to only scientific issues.
Prince Awele Odor ( Nigeria )
3 July 2012
This is nothing but the globalisation of nations, as it is the imposition of means and methods for existing and living as the globalisers— chiefly, the USA government — want on sovereign, independent and free nations, in violation of their nativity, history, and developmental experiences, and in violation of their rights and freedom to compete and excel, by using their own ideas, models, practices, strategies, morals, standards, and values.
Mikbak ( France )
21 January 2013
I thought UNESCO had already had Scientific Advisory Boards ..... or have they ALL fallen by the wayside? Of course "it is often difficult or impossible to disentangle cultural and scientific elements of environmental and other problems". It is much more difficult when you add Financial elements. For example if you ask questions about the effects of run-off of pesticides into major rivers and the sea you immediately run into the financial interests. The more elements (and the more 'players' there are the greater the difficulties, but this should not stop efforts to create a UN body............... but would it not be duplicating the work of UNEP, insofar as it concerns the environment, and of other appropriate existing international bodies such as the UN Educational, SCIENTIFIC and Cultural Organisation and existing international scientific organisations ?
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