27.06.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Preparing the way to sustainable development after Rio+20: Forum on Science Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development

With most of the environmental indicators on our planet flashing red and warning signs of a critical transition of planetary-scale as a result of human influence, leading international scientists and policy-makers came together during a 5 day Forum ahead of the Rio+20 Conference to help establish the research, technology and policy agendas that will be needed to reverse this trend.

The Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development provided a platform to strengthen dialogue between researchers, governments, policy-makers and civil society to produce the knowledge and technology needed to build sustainable, green societies. They shared the latest scientific knowledge on sustainable development issues and drafted a set of thematic recommendations to prepare the way for the implementation of a new global agenda after Rio+20.

All agreed that as environmental aspects must be integrated into the economy, sound scientific data must underpin policies. This requires further research and sustained observation, but also aligning research and policy objectives.

There is a need for a new approach to research that is inter-disciplinary, solutions oriented and policy relevant, with a stronger social science component. The world has now entered a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene; many Earth-system processes and the living fabric of ecosystems are now dominated by human activities. This reflects the reality that people are part of the ecosystems that they shape, and that ecological and societal systems are mutually dependent. Social sciences have a vital role to play in understanding planetary pressures and in establishing the basis for sustainable development, as do basic and environmental sciences. Together, they combine to form the DNA of the sustainability driven science that is needed today.

The Future Earth initiative aims to further this goal. This bold new 10-year initiative on global environmental change research for sustainability was launched by an alliance of international partners from global science, research funding and UN bodies during the Forum. The initiative will coordinate scientific research which is designed and produced in partnership with governments, business and, more broadly, society.

UNESCO is proud to be part of this major effort to mobilize science for sustainable development.” Said Gretchen Kalonji, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, pointing out that the challenges posed by sustainable development are multi-faceted which requires interdisciplinary science. UNESCO has much to contribute in this respect through its multidisciplinary mandate in education, culture, social and natural sciences, which is completely unique on the international stage.

The need to mobilize knowledge from several disciplines is particularly apparent in the field of disaster risk reduction. When setting up tsunami warning systems, for instance, the scientific aspect is primordial, but education, culture, social organization and communication are just as important in saving lives. This panel’s recommendations also include integrating risk education into various curricula and raising awareness through evidence-based disaster risk initiatives.

The panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services emphasized the need to better integrate the natural and social components of biodiversity science to predict the impacts of societal change and respond by contributing to good policies and education. (Full recommendations)

The panel on Indigenous Knowledge noted the expanding recognition of indigenous and traditional knowledge as an essential building block for global sustainability in numerous domains such as biodiversity conservation and management, food security, natural disaster preparedness, climate change assessment and adaptation, amongst others. Recommendations include moving beyond an approach of validating and integrating indigenous knowledge, towards embracing knowledge co-design and co-production that bring scientists and indigenous knowledge holders together on an equitable and mutually-respectful basis.

The panel on water security highlighted the key role of water in achieving sustainable development goals and moving towards a green economy. Their recommendations include integrating water resources management through all sectors (economy, land use, agriculture, energy, transportation) and adopting participatory planning and management approaches.

A side event gave the floor to leading women scientists, who stressed the crucial role that women scientists could play in sustainable development during the Rio+20 negotiations. The side event stimulated discussions on the role of scientific women in contributing to viable solutions for human wellbeing, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

The side event Ocean in Focus: Science and Governance for Ocean Sustainability provided the very first entry point to discuss and present a number of initiatives towards the sustainable use of the ocean in support of the Future Earth initiative and the Rio+20 outcomes. Participants recognized that the governance of oceans is fragmented along both sectoral and geographical lines that ignore the interconnectivity and scale of ocean issues. They agreed that there is an urgent need for an international framework of cooperation for both ocean research and governance, which will define the conditions for scientist to prepare accurate scenarios for the future.

To achieve sustainable development, the Rio+20 Outcome Document clearly recognizes the important contribution of the scientific and technological community, the importance of technology transfer to close the technological gap between developed and developing countries, the need to strengthen the science policy interface, the need to strengthen national scientific and technological capacity and the need to foster international research collaboration on sustainable development.

This Forum has put forward a set of recommendations to respond to the challenge, defining a new approach to research that is integrated, international, solutions-oriented and policy relevant across all domains of research as well as local knowledge systems, across the North and South, and must be co-designed and implemented with input from governments, civil society, research funders, and the private sector.

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