Global scientific networks

The Global Research Programme on Inequality

2019 marked the official launch of the Global Research Programme on Inequality (GRIP) by the University of Bergen (UiB) and the International Science Council.

The establishment of GRIP followed a process to re-orient the long-standing Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP) towards a broader focus on the multi-dimensions of inequality. GRIP aims to make substantive contributions to global policy processes such as the 2030 Agenda.

Following the advice of an international group of experts on inequality who gathered in Bergen, Norway in March 2019, the newly launched programme will help to further understanding of the interactions between various dimensions of inequality in cities around the world. Over the next 18 months, the new programme will lead activities and develop an agenda for multi-year research on that topic. The agenda will be reviewed by UiB and the ISC.

“For several years, UiB has contributed to SDGs and Agenda 2030. Through its focus on inequality and its truly global approach, GRIP deepens this commitment significantly.”

Dag Rune Olsen, Rector, University of Bergen

Two monographs were also published in CROP’s International Poverty Studies series.

The World Climate Research Programme

2019 marked the 40th anniversary of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). To celebrate this milestone, the WCRP Climate Science Week was held as part of the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco, on 7–13 December 2019.

The WCRP 40th Anniversary Symposium brought together more than 200 researchers from around the world to showcase the successes of its community over the past forty years, and to highlight some of the challenges and opportunities for climate science now and into the future.

Watch a short film capturing 40 years of international climate science at WCRP.

“Our social and economic life is vulnerable to periods of climate stress. Human activity may itself influence local, regional and global climate. These are problems which the international community should address through a World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) which will attempt to determine why, how and where climate changes and variations occur, and thereby attempt prediction of their future occurrence.”

Proceedings of the World Climate Conference, 1979

“In its relatively short life, the WCRP has played a key role in the transformation of climate science, transformation which has contributed to change the perception of our environment and societal priorities. Coordination methods developed by WCRP serve as examples in other domains where science–society interface is important, such as biodiversity and oceanography.”

From a special article on the history of WCRP and its achievements, by Gilles Sommeria,formerly of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and WMO, Geneva, and Ludovic Touzé-Peiffer, Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique, CNRS, Paris

Looking ahead, the WCRP Strategic Plan 2019–2028 outlines four scientific objectives that the international climate science community needs to address in the next decade:

  • Fundamental understanding of the climate system.
  • Prediction of the near-term evolution of the climate system.
  • The long-term response of the climate system.
  • Bridging climate science and society.

The process of developing the implementation plan needed to achieve these objectives is now underway and will include many more discussions, both within WCRP and with its sponsors – including the ISC – its partners and the wider climate science community.

The International Network for Government Science Advice

2019 saw the regional chapters of the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA) in Africa, Asia and Latin America swell in outreach and influence.

All three chapters worked with regional INGSA capacity-building workshop alumni to run a competitive award programme for essays, workshops and articles to address the state of science advice to regional, provincial, municipal or national legislative and executive branches of governments. Read the winning submissions from Africa, from Latin America and from the grassroots science advice promotion award winners in Asia.

The importance of the Country Research Associate programme was validated again in 2019 by the sheer volume of applications to its second round. Two hundred and twenty highly competitive applicants competed for seven grants. INGSA asked submitters to consider “What are the challenges in your country/region/organization limiting the use of scientific evidence by policy-makers?” and “How will your research contribute to overcoming them?”.

INGSA’s two science diplomacy divisions are moving from strength to strength. The Foreign Ministries Science & Technology Advice Network (FMSTAN) was invited to an influential meeting in Oman in early March. This was a key element of relationship building with the Sultanate of Oman ahead of the 2021 ISC General Assembly. The Oman meeting launched a second science diplomacy division: The Science Policy in Diplomacy and External Relations (SPIDER) network. The SPIDER network focuses on the role science can play in fostering collaboration between nations, for the advancement of society. The network is open to anyone with an interest in the practice, theory or discussion of science diplomacy.

In November, FMSTAN and SPIDER were invited to undertake a joint meeting in Vienna with the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Keynote speakers included the economist Jeffrey Sachs and Martin Lees, the former Secretary General of the Club of Rome. Both FMSTAN and SPIDER are developing ideas for international research projects to share their expertise in science diplomacy.

Future Earth

In 2019 Future Earth made significant progress in providing scientific guidance to develop local and global targets that help maintain Earth systems such as land, water and biodiversity. A critical part of this effort was the official launch of the Earth Commission, a group of leading scientists that aims to establish scientific guardrails, at global and regional levels, for Earth’s life support systems, working with the broader Global Commons Alliance. Similarly, Future Earth convened around 120 interdisciplinary participants to launch the Science-Based Pathways for Sustainability initiative to contribute to knowledge-based decision-making that supports achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

A successful second round of funding for Future Earth’s Programme for Early-stage Grants Advancing Sustainability Science (PEGASuS) took place in 2019. The programme is supporting two working groups and two postdoctoral researchers focusing on ocean sustainability. 

During the second half of 2019, Future Earth advanced its Sustainability in the Digital Age initiative to examine the opportunities and challenges of leveraging digital capabilities for societal transformation to sustainability. In October, the first ever Global Risks Perceptions Survey was launched, gathering views from more than 200 global change scientists from 52 countries – with more than 50% of respondents from the Future Earth community. Surveyed scientists identified climate-extreme weather–biodiversity–food–water as a critical nexus of risk that could lead to a global systemic crisis.

Finally, Future Earth wrapped up the year with another edition of 10 New Insights in Climate Science. This report was launched by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa at the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) of the UNFCCC. It summarizes recent advances in climate research across disciplines and is based on the scientific expertise of many global research projects and knowledge–action networks in the Future Earth community. The 2019 list focuses on equity and equality, nutrition, impacts on the most vulnerable and social tipping points.


The Ocean Decade

In 2017, the United Nations proclaimed that 2021 to 2030 would be the ‘UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development’, or the ‘Ocean Decade’ for short. The Ocean Decade is a major effort to boost ocean science, to share knowledge on the ocean, and to work together to meet Sustainable Development Goal 14 (healthy oceans) and the other SDGs with an ocean dimension.

The ISC supports the aims of the Ocean Decade, and in 2019 developed a memorandum of understanding with UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC). This MoU sets out a framework of cooperation, include promoting the Ocean Decade among the scientific community, contributing to Ocean Decade preparations, accelerating scientific initiatives, and exploring opportunities for joint fundraising for scientific research. The MoU was signed in early 2020.

One of the main aims of the Ocean Decade is to develop innovative ways to communicate ocean science, and to promote ocean literacy to a broad audience. Towards this aim, in 2019, the ISC and IOC launched a series of blogs. The blogs aim to feature new voices that we need to hear from – across human, natural, social and indigenous science and traditional knowledge – if the Ocean Decade is to be truly inclusive and multidisciplinary.

“Ocean data and information should be considered a ‘public good’ in the same way that weather observations are.”

Martin Visbeck, a member of the Ocean Decade’s Executive Planning Group

The MoU developed with UNESCO’s IOC is another chapter in a long collaboration between the two organizations. The ISC and IOC helped found, and remain at the helm of, two key international ocean science initiatives: The Global Ocean Observing System, and the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research. The IOC–ISC partnership on the Ocean Decade illustrates the importance of collaboration between international scientific organizations, which together can mobilize key national, regional and global actors across the science–policy–society nexus to generate knowledge for the benefit of humankind.

Integrated Research on Disaster Risk

A major focus for Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) has been to work with its scientific committee and undertake broad consultations at different international and regional scientific conferences in order to identify priority actions for concluding its current programme phase (2010–2020). Priorities that have been identified for work in 2020 are preparing a new global integrated research agenda on disaster risk reduction, compiling the main achievements and lessons learnt through the programme, and soliciting scientific and technical input towards an IRDR conference.

The IRDR programme has been active on many different fronts in 2019, including launching the first volume of the IRDR Working Paper Series. This series anchors the IRDR contribution towards the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the SDGs and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change from its International Centres of Excellence (ICoEs), national committees, Young Scientists Programme and main partners. IRDR continued its Young Scientists Programme throughout the year, bringing the number of young disaster risk professionals supported to a total of 162 (from 46 countries). In October to November, IRDR – together with WCRP and Nanjing University of Science and Technology – organized a three-week advanced course entitled ‘Institute of Advanced Studies in Climate Extremes and Risk Management’ for 39 participants from 17 countries. In December, IRDR co-organized the International Workshop of Youth and Young Professionals in disaster risk reduction research with U-INSPIRE, Sichuan University, to promote international collaboration among young disaster risk reduction professionals.

The Urban Health and Wellbeing programme

In 2019, the Urban Health and Wellbeing (UHWB) programme strengthened its recognition as a key actor in the area of urban health, within both scientific and policy communities, through networking activities such as the ‘International Conference on Urban Health – People Oriented Urbanization’, which gathered 300 international experts in Xiamen, China, and included a workshop for exchange and debates between a group of mayors from Latin American cities, researchers and other stakeholders in urban health.

In partnership with Future Earth, the programme developed The Xiamen Call for Action – a set of universal principles for urban health and an international call to cross the gap from knowledge to action. The programme was also invited to sit on the jury of WWF’s One Planet City Challenge.

The ISC signed an agreement with the Institute of Urban Environment at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in May 2019, to allow the UHWB programme to support the implementation of the UN-Habitat International Guidelines on Urban and Territorial Planning and the National Urban Policy Programme. As contribution to this partnership, the UHWB programme published The Little Book of the Health of Cities, which is available with open access.


Enhanced collaboration with UN-Habitat and United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) on urban health and well-being and disaster risk reduction

In 2019, the ISC signed agreements with two UN agencies, in order to strengthen collaboration on urban health and well-being and disaster risk reduction.

“There is a growing recognition by governments that the implementation of the Habitat Agenda and Sendai Framework must be informed by the latest scientific evidence. The ISC stands ready to ensure that this happens. We are pleased to strengthen our long-standing collaboration with UN-Habitat and UNDRR, and to have identified multiple paths for increased partnership in the years to come.”

Mathieu Denis, Science Director, ISC

The Committee on Data for Science and Technology

The Committee on Data for Science and Technology (CODATA)’s major efforts and contribution to international science in 2019 aimed to help address limitations in our ability to access and combine data.

In September 2019, through its International Data Policy Committee, CODATA produced the Beijing Declaration on Research Data. The text was the result of wide consultation and an intensive two-day workshop with more than 100 participants preceding the CODATA 2019 Beijing Conference, which was attended by 350 people. The UN’s Beijing Declaration argues that data produced by research and for research must be FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable), as open as possible on a global basis, and wherever possible automatically processible, at scale, by machines. The Declaration emphasizes the need for a global FAIR data commons and international cooperation on ‘open science’ platforms.

In 2019, CODATA continued to mobilize its global expert community to prepare the foundations for its contribution to the ISC Action Plan project for the Decadal Programme ‘Making Data Work for Cross-Domain Grand Challenges’. Significant progress was made as the result of an intensive, week-long Dagstuhl workshop, co-organized with the Data Documentation Initiative, and attended by experts in data and metadata specifications. The workshop allowed CODATA to make significant progress with the design of the Programme and the scope of four initial working groups, which together will apply technical and semantic solutions to a range of policy and cross-domain research questions, including those of infectious diseases and resilient cities.

In addition to its Beijing conference, CODATA continued two important series of scientific meetings. The second and third workshops in a series allowing research institutions and universities to share knowledge and insights into how improve the way they look after research data took place in Philadelphia and Helsinki in April and October respectively, each with 120 participants. The second edition of the VizAfrica series, sharing knowledge and expertise on data visualization, particularly for vital research in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals, took place in Gaborone, Botswana in November. Finally, we have continued the CODATA-RDA School of Research Data Science, providing foundational training in data skills for nearly 200 early career researchers in events in Trieste, Italy; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Beijing, China; and San José, Costa Rica.

The World Data System

2019 was a significant year for the World Data System (WDS), as the initiative marked its tenth anniversary, and launched its new Strategic Plan for 2019–2023. This document, produced in consultation with the ISC Governing Board and ISC members, sets out three strategic targets at the core of the WDS mission: to improve the sustainability, trust in, and quality of open scientific data; to support active disciplinary and multidisciplinary scientific data services communities, and to make trustworthy data services an integral part of international collaborative scientific research. In parallel with its five-year strategic plan, a rolling two-year implementation plan has been developed that outlines the activities that WDS will achieve towards realizing these strategic targets.

On 7–8 May 2019, over 120 participants from 14 different countries gathered in Beijing at the Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, for the WDS Asia–Oceania Conference 2019. The principle objective of the Conference was to strengthen data-oriented alliances in the Asia–Oceania region through the building of a network to share data policies, technologies and practices, as well as to promote education and training in research data management (RDM). The Conference highlighted that there is still work to be done involving all disciplines and countries in the region, particularly those in Southeast Asia. In support of this aim, WDS plans to increase collaboration with the ISC Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, and with ISC co-sponsored programmes.

In October 2019, Libby Liggins was awarded the 2019 WDS Data Stewardship Award in recognition of her work as founder and a director of the Ira Moana – Genes of the Sea – Project, which is enabling a collaborative network of scientists to deliver a searchable meta-database for marine genetic and genomic data.

On 6–8 November 2019, WDS held an RDM Training Workshop at Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris for 23 early career researchers and scientists (ECRs) from 14 different countries. The Workshop was sponsored by the European Geosciences Union and enabled the ECRs to gain practical skills in data curation and management. Training took the form of lectures and group discussions, plus working on individual problems, with content tailored to the needs expressed by participants. Feedback showed that the Workshop was highly successful, with the ECRs stating that the training was relevant and meaningful to their future careers.


Photo: Jason Sung on Unsplash.

Next up: 3. Increasing evidence-informed decision-making in policy, discourse and action ▶

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