Secretary-General’s Board Advises on Future of Science in UN System
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Science "deserves to be valued more highly, employed more widely, and used more effectively by decision-makers at all levels,” stresses the final report of the UN Secretary-General's Scientific Advisory Board.

The authors urge all nations to invest more in science, technology and innovation (STI), saying they “can be a game changer" in dealing with "nearly all the most pressing global challenges” and that STI should play a key role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

united_nations18 September 2016: Science “deserves to be valued more highly, employed more widely, and used more effectively by decision-makers at all levels,” stresses the summary report of the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board. The authors urge all nations to invest more in science, technology and innovation (STI), saying they “can be a game changer” in dealing with “nearly all the most pressing global challenges” and that STI should play a key role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) in 2014 to formulate recommendations on STI for sustainable development for the UN system. UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Irina Bokova chaired the 25-member Board, which included scientists from all regions of the world, and which held five meetings before finalizing its report. The Board also produced documents on the role of science in achieving the SDGs and the data revolution, among others.

Presented to the Secretary-General on 18 September 2016, in New York, US, ‘The Future of Scientific Advice to the UN: A Summary Report to the Secretary-General of the UN from the Scientific Advisory Board’ analyzes the role of science, the data revolution, the science-policy-society interface, and efforts to reduce inequalities and makes recommendations on addressing them. It stresses that the world has a right to expect the UN to set global priorities, promote and coordinate research and action to address the most challenging problems and enable the use of all data. The report recommends the UN facilitate collection of all types of data and oversee data quality and access.

The report finds that only 12 countries invest over 2.5% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on research and development (R&D), and it calls on all countries, including the poorest, to invest a minimum of 1% of their GDP on research. The most advanced countries should spend at least 3% of their GDP on R&D, it argues, underscoring the role of such investment in reinforcing science education and improving girls’ access to science courses. In addition, the Board observes that science can help narrow economic and opportunity gaps, and recommends bringing together indigenous and local knowledge with science to provide appropriate solutions for sustainable development, particularly when implementing the SDGs at local levels.

The Board recommends that political leaders give science more consideration in decision-making, pointing out that nearly 25 years elapsed between the scientific community’s first warning about climate change and the adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change. The report states, “Decisions are often taken in response to short-term economic and political interests, rather than the long-term interests of people and the planet.”

Receiving the report, Ban said the Board’s advice has helped him, the UN System and Member States to better understand the “challenges and opportunities of sustainability.” To achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he said, “We need stronger science, more connected science. We need science that is more deeply integrated with policy-making.” He stressed the role of science, in particular, in meeting goals on ending poverty and addressing climate change, which correspond to SDG 1 and SDG 13.

In its report, the Board recommends establishing a focal point for ongoing work of the SAB, within the UN Secretary-General’s office, to foster communication with the UN system, and a well-resourced secretariat to ensure its continued work. The report concludes that “solutions to many of the most pressing problems are essentially known now, and these problems can be mitigated effectively if approached cooperatively and if world powers contribute the resources required to implement the solutions.” [UN Press Release] [UNESCO Press Release] [UN Secretary-General Statement] [Publication: The Future of Scientific Advice to the UN] [SAB Website]

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