Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability

In 2022, the Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability, established at the end of 2021, issued an emergency warning on sustainability inaction and the urgent need to mobilize support for mission-oriented science as part of the UN Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals. Composed of political leaders, scientists and influential personalities, the Commission is co-chaired by Irina Bokova, former Director-General of UNESCO, and Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and previous administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability

The Commission, backed by the Council’s ‘Unleashing Science: Delivering Missions for Sustainability’ report, makes a compelling case for stepping out of ‘business-as-usual’ approaches in the way we structure, fund and do science.

A technical advisory group (TAG) was set up to advise the Commission on advancing the science missions for sustainability. The TAG, co-chaired by ISC Governing Board member and Co-Director of Stanford University Change Leadership for Sustainability Program, Pamela Matson, and Director-General of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Albert van Jaarsveld, gathers experts in sustainability and complex systems from around the world, as well as representatives from the science funding community.

Over the year, the Commission and the TAG met several times to deliberate on complex issues, with the TAG tasked with proposing a model for advancing missions science for sustainability. The report and a proposed model will be launched in the second quarter of 2023.

From cooperation to innovation: How scientific diplomacy can drive our pathway to sustainability

Irina Bokova

ISC Patron and Co-Chair of the
Global Commission on Science Missions for

Scientific diplomacy in the 21st century has emerged as a crucial tool for addressing our global challenges and fostering international cooperation. As former Director-General of UNESCO and now as a patron of the International Science Council, I have seen first-hand how science and diplomacy can, and must, work together to promote peace, security and sustainable development. The ISC now has a unique opportunity to forge itself as a credible ‘track two’ diplomacy organization to meet these challenges, especially at the multilateral level and through initiatives like the newly established Group of Friends on Science for Action by UN General Assembly Member States.

Scientific diplomacy has the power to bring people together across borders, fostering mutual understanding and trust.
The response by the scientific community to the war in Ukraine, and the many ongoing conflicts around the world that force scientists into exile, are a testament to this – by continuing to share knowledge and expertise, scientists can help address some of the world’s most pressing challenges, such as climate change, food insecurity and threats to public health. We must do all we can to future-proof scientific collaboration, at local national and international levels, through the strengthening of voices in our scientific unions, academies and research councils and the convening power of organizations like the International Science Council.

One of the key drivers in future-proofing scientific collaboration and strengthening the track two diplomacy model will be the ability of scientists and researchers to work together regardless of their governments’ policies or ideologies. This is particularly important in today’s world, where geopolitical tensions are high, and international cooperation is often strained. By focusing on science, we can build relationships based on shared goals and mutual interests, rather than political differences. In a world where misinformation and disinformation are ever present, knowledge brokerage driven by transdisciplinarity will both inform and transform policy decisions that ultimately improve outcomes for all.

This is where the Council’s Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability, which I co-chair with Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former administrator of the UNDP, will become a critical mechanism in this decisive decade, where science must be empowered to support societies that build dignified futures for humanity and the planet. Supported by its Technical Advisory Group, the Global Commission will propose a co-design process to set priorities for mission-led science for sustainability that will be a call to arms for funders, ISC Members and policy-makers alike. We will launch this process at the High-Level Political Forum in July 2023.

In order to fully realize the potential of scientific diplomacy, and to generate the outcomes we desire through such innovations as the Global Commission, we will need investment. This doesn’t stop at financial investment in our science missions for sustainability; it includes investment in science education and the promotion of scientific literacy. Critical thinking will help to ensure that more people understand the value of science and its role in shaping the world around us. Investing in scientific literacy is an antidote to misinformation and disinformation in science – it paves the way for enabling policy-makers and the broader public to understand the scientific method, how scientific research is conducted, and how to interpret scientific results – with the ultimate reward of creating trust in science. Critical thinking means questioning information, evaluating sources and considering alternative viewpoints; when people have these skills, they are less likely to fall for false information and are more likely to seek out accurate information from reliable sources.

The International Science Council is therefore crucial in driving international collaborations and partnerships between scientists, institutions and governments. This includes promoting open access to scientific data and research, and ensuring that scientists from all countries have equal access to funding and resources. In this regard, we must ensure that scientific diplomacy is inclusive and equitable, promoting diversity and inclusion within the scientific community itself. By bringing together scientists with different perspectives and experiences, we can foster creativity and innovation, bridge knowledge gaps and find new solutions to global challenges.

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