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From Antarctica to Space: updates from Affiliated Bodies on Day 3 of ISC Mid-term meeting

The International Science Council concluded its Mid-term Meeting of Members, “Capitalizing on Synergies in Science,” in Paris, with discussions on the future of the ISC and updates from its network of affiliated bodies working on an array of joint science initiatives.

The final day ended with clear messaging from the ISC’s Patron, Irina Bokova, and ISC President, Peter Gluckman – the world needs science more than ever.

“Humanity is searching for a new equilibrium,” says ISC Patron Irina Bokova. “Science can drive a fresh wave of humanism, rooted in knowledge, cultural diversity and a genuine sense of empathy, bringing people together and promoting understanding on a global scale.” 

The ISC Global Commission on Science Missions for Sustainability, for which Bokova co-chairs along with Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, aims to coordinate and gather support for science-based mission-led solutions that will rise to humanity’s challenges. The Commission will release its latest report at the UN’s July 2023 High-level Political Forum. The annual event, held in New York, is the main international forum to monitor progress on the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Updates from Affiliated Bodies, “keen to strengthen networks” of global scientists

The day started with ISC Affiliated Bodies, which include scientists working across dozens of disciplines around the world – and in space – updating Members on recent work, aiming to open up new opportunities for collaboration.

The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR), which advises the UN on planetary protection, satellite dynamics and activity in space that could damage the environment, is focusing on fostering cohesion between scientists and engineers working on space research, says associate director Aaron Janofsky.

The Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) is preparing for the fifth International Polar Year, which will bring together scientists worldwide for coordinated research in 2032-33. SCAR provides independent scientific advice to international organizations and has been “a valuable contributor to policy discussions and also decision-making processes,” says project officer Johanna Grabow. 

“We’re keen to strengthen networks within the international research community,” Grabow says. SCAR is looking for scientists working on topics related to the Antarctic to join its research programs and working groups – as well as to share ideas about sustainability and reducing organizational carbon footprints. 

Far from the mountains and ice of Antarctica, members of the Scientific Committee on Frequency Allocations for Radio Astronomy and Space Science (IUCAF) are continuing crucial work to keep radio spectrum bands open for science. 

Committee Chair, Harvey Liszt, acknowledges “our work is highly specialized and often regarded as arcane… Recruitment is tough.” He emphasizes that the tasks can be laborious, demanding a steep learning curve and offering little recognition. However, Liszt remains hopeful that more scientists will join the cause, particularly due to the escalating frequency of satellite launches in low Earth orbit, intensifying the strain on radio-based research. Liszt explained that commercial constellations unintentionally interfere with scientific research, akin to “photo bombing” in the realm of astronomy.

At stake is nothing less than humanity’s ability to continue to do radio astronomy, remote sensing and remote meteorological research, as well as measuring important climate indicators like soil moisture, surface wind and ocean salinity Liszt stressed.

The Scientific Committee on Solar-Terrestrial Physics (SCOSTEP) focuses on education about Earth-Sun connections and supporting global interdisciplinary research. President Kazuo Shiokawa updated ISC members on the Committee’s scholarship programme for graduate students and capacity-building work in Spain, Bulgaria, Côte d’Ivoire and Argentina. 

The World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) coordinates global climate research and provides evidence to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is used to guide action on climate change. Its ongoing work includes climate modelling, gathering data on climate patterns and changes, and encouraging collaboration between scientists worldwide.

See all the ISC Affiliated Bodies

The ISC co-sponsors a number of science initiatives or programmes, and lends its support to joint initiatives that have multiple sponsors and/or partners.

Future Earth is looking for applicants for its ongoing program to support early career researchers doing work related to sustainability. The wide-ranging program aims “to deepen our understanding of the Earth system and human dynamics,” explains Xiao Lu, deputy director of Global Secretariat Hub China. 

Scientists at the Urban Health and Wellbeing (UHWB) project are looking forward to restarting more of their collaboration networks, which were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The programme is also looking for nominations to its expert committees and for a permanent executive director. 

“We want to jointly build international networks for urban health and sustainability science,” says executive director Yupeng Liu. “We are so lucky to have so many leading scientists and experts in our scientific community to guide us and help achieve our mission.” 

ISC Members also heard from the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) and Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), which coordinate data collection and collaborate with international organizations. Their work helps to measure biodiversity, inform climate policy and disaster preparedness and measure the impact of climate change measures. 

“We have one ocean and we need to collaborate across many countries,” says GOOS acting director Emma Heslop. “The ocean is absorbing 90% of the excess heat produced by human activities and 25% of anthropogenic carbon per year, and yet we don’t really have the models yet or all of the observations to fully understand carbon science in the ocean.”

Science’s critical role in policy-making

Later in the day, ISC members heard from Terrence Forrester, Chair of the ISC Fellowship Programme Foundation Council, who gave an update on future growth and objectives of the Fellowship, which added another 57 members in December 2022 bringing the total to 123 Fellows. The programme recognizes scientists around the world who are committed to advancing science as a global public good through engaging their publics and policy-makers to build open and knowledge driven societies.

Affiliates and Fellows are an essential part of the ISC’s mission to provide crucial data and analysis to inform policy-makers – a vital role for science, says ISC President Peter Gluckman: “It’s critical to the world that the voice of science is heard at every level of decision-making, in honest and trustworthy ways.” 

“Science, whether it’s natural or human or social sciences, has one objective: to better understand the world around us, within us, the society we live in, the planet we live on, and the universe. By providing the information of what we know, what we don’t know and the implications, we can help the world make better choices,” he says. 

The next major meetings for the ISC will include the Global Knowledge Dialogues in Malaysia for the Asia and the Pacific region, Latin American and the Caribbean in 2024 and the General Assembly in Oman in January 2025.

Delegates attending the Mid-term meeting, Capitalizing on Synergies in Science, can provide their feedback to the ISC secretariat until 26 May 2023.

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