A renowned physicist from India, Menon was elected President of ICSU at its General Assembly in Bern in 1986. In 1989, he was nominated to be India’s Minister of State for Science and Technology and for Education and was a member of the Indian Parliament from 1990-1996. He served for two terms as ICSU President from 1988 to 1993, and during this time contributed greatly to the beginning of ICSU’s involvement in providing scientific input into policy processes.
It was Menon who in 1990 convinced the Executive Board to accept the invitation to serve as principal scientific adviser to the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), now remembered as the Earth Summit. This work launched ICSU into a new area of work that ultimately became a core part of its strategy and focus, including up to the present day in its work on the Sustainable Development Goals.
ICSU nominated scientists to contribute to each chapter of Agenda 21, ensuring that the voice of science was heard across the document. Thanks to Menon’s influence, ICSU was also able to convince the UN to include a chapter on Science for Sustainable Development in Agenda 21, representing ICSU’s view of the key role of science in the important journey toward sustainability.
In preparation for ICSU’s input to the 1992 UN Conference, ICSU organized a major scientific meeting in Vienna on An Agenda of Science for Environment and Development into the 21st Century, also known as ASCEND 21. It stressed “a new commitment on the part of the international scientific community as a whole to work together so that improved and expanded scientific research, and the systematic assessment of scientific results, combined with a prediction of impacts, would enable policy options in environment and development to be evaluated on the basis of sound scientific facts.”
In his address to the Plenary Session of the Earth Summit in June 1992, Menon called on science to “forge partnerships with other sectors of society”, recognizing that “it is part of society and must contribute to the needed societal transformations that bring about sustainable development”. After the summit, ICSU followed through on its commitment and became involved in the work of the new UN Conventions on Climate and Biodiversity and in global observation systems.
M.G.K. Menon was also vocal about the need for ICSU to deepen its relationships with the scientific community in the developing world, as well as the need to reach beyond the community of natural scientists. For example, a meeting in Visegrád, Hungary, focused on International Science and its Partners, including industrialists, engineers and social scientists, took place shortly after the fall of the Iron Curtain.
After handing over the Presidency to J.C.I. Dooge in 1993, Menon continued his involvement in ICSU’s activities, as Past-President and member of the Executive Board, and as the president of the ICSU Committee on Science and Technology for Development.
Goku (as he was known to all his friends) Menon died on November 22nd, aged 88. He is survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.