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Future of science: Voices from our partners

This is the first in a series of interviews with leaders from international partner organisations. We asked them to weigh in on the importance of our proposed merger with the International Social Science Council (ISSC) for a fast-changing scientific future.

We will publish this as a regular series between now and the historic joint meeting of our members in Taipei this October. If agreed, the merger will mark the culmination of several decades of debate about the need for more effective collaboration between the natural and social sciences, and drive new ways of thinking about the role of all the sciences in responding to the complex challenges of the modern world .

The new organisation will be formally launched in 2018. To find out more about the proposed merger visit the gitbook page.

Q: What do you think science is essentially for in the present age, and in the coming 30 years?

Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment: The short answer is for sustainability of human life and its life-supporting system, the ecosystems, within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set to be reached by 2030.

The next 30 years will witness the growth of world economy by 2 or 3 times as high as it is now. And world population will increase by approximately 3 billion, with increasing consumption of the resources and environment capacity. The big question is whether the world environment could sustain such a life and production style.

Given the dire situation/scenario, we suggest that science should be for green solutions in the next 30 years, and it has to start from now.

Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO: Today and tomorrow, just like when UNESCO was established, science is essential to provide a systematic and organized body of knowledge acquired through the scientific methods, which can be relevant to sustainable, inclusive and peaceful development.

Science is a crucial means to generate evidence through high-quality and autonomous research and make use of it in the formulation and choice of policies resulting from participatory policy-making processes which may be relevant to the attainment of the SDGs. We need to reshape the relationship between science and society to deliver the integrative knowledge needed to tackle the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The magnitude of the task, and the underlying sustainability challenges, require the contribution of all the sciences, including the natural, social and human sciences, as well as of local and indigenous knowledge.

Science is essential for sustainable development of all countries; for the empowerment of people worldwide, in particular women and youth; and for building peace through what we now call science diplomacy.

Guido Schmidt- Traub, Executive Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network: The traditional purpose of science, namely to expand human knowledge, understand natural and social phenomena, support the development of new technologies, and to devise solutions to societal challenges remains unchanged.

Over the next 30 years, the environmental and social pressures on countries will increase. So there will be a greater demand for science to contribute to diagnosing society’s long-term challenges, to propose goals for sustainable development, to identify metrics, and to devise long-term pathways. I do believe that countries will increasingly gravitate towards global goals and shared objectives, as enshrined in the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. So science will be called upon to support their implementation.

Mohamed Hassan, TWAS Founding Executive Director: There is a central mission for science today and in the next 30 years: to efficiently and effectively address the SDGs. For some of the goals, there is a direct, obvious science input: eliminating hunger, providing clean water, ensuring good health and addressing climate change. But in SDGs such as education, gender equality and even good governance, science and the social sciences will make vital contributions. Each one of these is critically important for improving the standard of living in low-income countries. In that way, scientific research is a means of giving hope to people in every region.

Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC): To develop knowledge we can use to make the best of our great challenges and opportunities related to increased population, consumption and digitalisation. We know we will have three billion more people on the planet and that average incomes will be higher, which means pressure for both consumption and migration, so research on sustainability in all its forms will be crucial, and I think new technology will be a success factor.

InterAcademy Partnership: The goals and purposes of science and scientific research will be similar to what they currently are, perhaps with some shifts in priorities and emphasis. Science must make increasing efforts to improve public understanding of the scientific process and of results from scientific work in all areas of science and for all people around the globe.

Science education, support of curiosity and methods of rational problem solving should be taught at the earliest age possible and continued through the K-12 and university levels. They are critical to building an informed global citizenry whose members are capable of understanding the challenges facing their societies and of contributing to effective solutions.

Science must continue to increase humanity’s understanding of the natural world in areas such as the nature of matter and the universe, earth systems and processes, life and living organisms, and humans and human societies. Science has to continue working on and propagating at all levels the rational approach to the unknown and unanswered questions of humankind, including those addressed by religions, and thereby provide a humanistic, tolerant basis for open discussions and peaceful cooperation in the quest for a better future for all.

Science, including biomedical and engineering research, should also continue to expand its contributions to meeting human needs in areas such as improved health, food security, environmental protection, natural disaster resilience, poverty reduction, sustainable energy and many others where the SDGs provide a consensus global framework.

Scientific understanding and approaches are increasingly essential to the well-being of human society at several levels. At the national and global levels, science should inform and provide an evidence base for policy debates and decisions in areas such as addressing climate change among others. This still requires developing a critical mass of scientists in many countries that have yet to invest in their research communities, structures and institutions.

Marlene Kanga, President-Elect of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations: Science provides us with an understanding of our world. It has enabled us to use this understanding to develop the rich resources around us to improve our quality of life.

In the next 30 years we will need science to solve some of the most critical problems that the world is facing, to use its rich diversity of resources responsibly and sustainably. This is going to be essential for us to not only meet the basic necessities of food, clean water, sanitation and energy for everyone but also for better economic, social and environmental outcomes.

Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida): To produce reliable knowledge to address necessary global transformations that help eradicate poverty. Based on facts, science informs policy making and can bridge political differences.

Chao Gejin, President of the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH): Science is essential for human beings today and the forthcoming decades in particular because we human societies are unable to move forward without the sciences.

About the respondents

Erik Solheim is head of UN Environment @ErikSolheim

Irina Bokova is Director General of UNESCO @IrinaBokova

Guido Schmidt-Traub is Executive Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network @GSchmidtTraub

Mohamed Hassan is TWAS Founding Executive Director @TWASNews

Charlotte Petri Gornitzka is Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) @CharlottePetriG

InterAcademy Partnership (IAP)

Marlene Kanga is President-Elect of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations @WFEO

Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) @Sida

Chao Gejin is President of the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH)

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