Science for global sustainability: interconnectedness, collaboration, transformation

This year’s theme, ‘Science for global sustainability: interconnectedness, collaboration, transformation’ shines a light on our increasingly interconnected and interdependent economic, social, cultural and political systems, both in terms of the pressure these place on the Earth system and of the potential for solutions that they provide.

Scientific evidence shows that humanity has put the functioning of the Earth system at risk. Current development paradigms and economic patterns are responsible for many of the interlinked and growing social, environmental and economic crises facing the planet. The defining challenge of our age is to safeguard Earth’s natural processes to ensure the well-being of civilization while eradicating poverty, reducing conflict over resources, and supporting human and ecosystem health.

 We must open a new chapter in scientific integration. Innovation and social transformation depend on our capacity to combine disciplines and create synergies among all sciences, natural, human and social, including local and indigenous knowledge.        

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, on the occasion of World Science Day for Peace and Development 2012

These are interconnected, just as the planet’s systems are interconnected, but our governance systems often act independently and are slow to respond. Nations must work together to devise effective ways of protecting such globally common resources as the atmosphere, the ocean, freshwater, biodiversity and natural cycles.

Science and sustainability are two sides of the same coin

The solutions are rooted in science, but disciplinary research alone will be insufficient. A new, transformative approach is needed spanning all disciplines across the sciences and engineering, including the social, health and agricultural sciences and local and indigenous knowledge systems.

In the context of sustainability, however, the creation of new knowledge is not enough. A strong interface between science, society and national, regional and international policies is necessary for global sustainability and social transformation.

This can only be achieved through the collaboration of the wider international community, including governments at all levels, international organizations, civil society, the scientific community and the private sector.

Source: modified from Rockström et al. (2009) Researchers recently identified nine planetary boundaries, which collectively delineate a safe operating space for humanity. 3 have already been crossed. this concept has the potential to develop into a useful tool for policymakers.

UNESCO’s work in promoting science for sustainability

UNESCO’s institutional mandate is at the crossroads of knowledge creation, preservation and dissemination and their interconnections with policies. The organization has played an important role in making the case for this new approach in international fora such as the United Nations Conference in Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and in identifying a practical path to follow. Because of the Organization’s comparative advantage in dealing with novel approaches to meet the challenges of sustainability, the United Nations Secretary-General has entrusted UNESCO with leadership roles in three key initiatives following Rio+20:

  • Education First, aiming to renew and reinvigorate global commitments to education,
  • The creation of an International Scientific Advisory Board on Sustainable Development to advise the Secretary-General and UN agencies, for which UNESCO will also provide the secretariat, and
  • The Oceans Compact, an initiative to strengthen United Nations system-wide coherence to deliver on its oceans-related mandates.

UNESCO has longstanding programmes addressing the interconnected dimensions of sustainability in hydrology, ecological sciences, marine sciences, geoscience, social sciences and education, to name a few. Given their transdisciplinary character and their position at the interface of research and policy-making, these programmes are pioneers in the true sense towards sustainability.

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Previous celebrations

Established by UNESCO in 2001, World Science Day for Peace and Development is celebrated worldwide on 10 November each year.

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World Science Day for Peace and Development 2012 - Message of UNESCO Director-General

Source: UNESCO Multimedia Archives

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10th celebration

This year marks the 10th celebration of the World Science Day for Peace and Development.