22.06.2012 - Social and Human Sciences Sector

Public policies need social sciences to build a green sustainable society

This was the main message of the Rio+20 side-event “Social Science support to policies promoting the social dimension of sustainable development” organized by the Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO and the UNESCO Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme in Rio de Janeiro on 20 June 2012. The event, the main objective of which was to raise awareness about the need for social sciences to help create the Future we Want, brought together around 100 decision-makers and renowned researchers, including Baard Vegard Solhell, Minister of Environment of Norway, and Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO.

Interest in the event was high, as shown by a full conference room and active discussion with the audience. It was chaired by Jan Monteverde Haakonsen, special advisor of the Research Council of Norway, member of the Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO, and Vice-President of the Bureau of the Intergovernmental Council of the MOST Programme.

Pilar Alvarez-Laso, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, stressed in her opening words that the idea of sustainable development depends on the availability of a knowledge base and the capacity to make use of it. She pointed out that UNESCO will be working to strengthen the social and human sciences knowledge base and to enhance its contribution to policies informed by scientific knowledge.

Baard Vegard Solhell, Minister of Environment of Norway, stressed that the mission of our generation should be to focus on climate change, which has major social impacts, including its differential effects on women and men.  This is why the Minister attributed high importance to the social sciences, and to the role UNESCO should play in this area. As he put it, concluding his intervention, “the MOST Programme is a MUST”. 

Heide Hackmann, Executive Director of the International Social Science Council (ISSC), insisted on the need to have a new contract between science and policies, and the need for interdisciplinary research, including the Future Earth Initiative.  She spelled out factors which are necessary for making knowledge work.

Sarah Cook, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), quoted from the Nagoya Declaration adopted jointly in December 2010 by the ISSC and by the International Council for Philosophy and Humanistic Studies: “Global Environmental Change is not something external to the social sciences, on the contrary, it is a domain par excellence of our disciplines”.

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, reemphasized in her closing words that the social sciences are vital to develop better policies. This point is also clearly made in the Report of the United Nations Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Global Sustainability “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing”. Recommendation 51 of the Report calls for strengthening of the interface between policy and science. Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary-General, tasked Irina Bokova to convene an Ad Hoc Group to advise him on the science-related recommendations of the Report. He has also requested UNESCO to take the lead in creating a Scientific Advisory Board and to provide the secretariat for it. 

“We must address difficult new questions today – about the societies we wish to create, about new approaches to sustainability. The challenge we face is to better understand ourselves and the world we inhabit. The social sciences are vital here -- to develop better policy in response to needs and challenges. This is a core issue for sustainability in the century ahead. (…) Public policies must draw on the social sciences to build the green, knowledge societies we need for the century ahead,” the Director-General said.

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