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II.9  Joining Forces for a Sustainable World


The challenge of researching the interaction between natural and socio-economic systems. Research on sustainability in terms of environment and sustainable development including food security, public health, urbanization and poverty. The need to develop problem-oriented interdisciplinary research between natural, social and economic sciences. Research agendas to be planned with political and economic decision-makers.

Chair: F. Sherwood Rowland Foreign Secretary, NAS, USA
Rapporteur: John P. Campbell Director, InterAcademy Programs, NAS, USA

Session co-ordinator: John Campbell Director, InterAcademy Programs, NAS, USA
Local secretary: G. Náray-Szabó Eötvös Lóránd University, Hungary


Sustainable consumption: visionary or illusory?

Brian Heap
Foreign Secretary, Royal Society, UK

Such is the availability of food, energy and manufactured goods in many Western countries that humankind is faced for the first time in its history with a prolifically of consumer products and a deficiency of mechanisms to defend against excessive consumption. Humans have evolved strong physiological mechanisms to defend against body weight loss, but only weak mechanisms to protect against body weight gain when food is abundant. One example is the current epidemic of obesity in Northern countries which is caused largely by an environment that promotes high intake through excessive consumption coupled with a lifestyle that discourages other forms of energy expenditure such as physical activity.

If defensive evolutionary mechanisms are lacking it is not surprising that many politicians and officials do not think in terms of sustainable consumption which is seen as an implied threat to competitiveness and profitability. Citizens are encouraged to aspire to high and unsustainable levels of consumption. One of the recurrent themes of the next century, therefore, will be to understand better the drivers of consumption patterns, the underlying behavioural mechanisms and how the efficiency of resource consumption could become more efficient.

The drivers of consumption are complex and do not depend on a single factor but on a range of interacting components including population, economic activity, technology choices, social values, institutions and policies. But the potential severity of the problem is emphasised by the understandable expectation that less developed countries have the right to a standard of living comparable to that of the more developed countries. As China, for example, improves its standard of living to a level comparable with that of more developed countries the impact on global supplies will be immense. Two aspects will be examined - food and energy - to see the prospects of how science and technology could improve outputs, the efficiency of consumption and the creation of new resources in the next century.

Any attempts to move towards sustainable consumption will demand that scientists, technologists, economists and social scientists take each other more seriously because the challenge ahead is not for scientists alone. It is difficult to foresee how instruments of policy and fiscal management can be devised and implemented effectively to address unsustainable consumption without joining forces. An informal network of the World’s Academies, the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (IAP), has been formed and will report at a special meeting to be held in Tokyo in May, 2000. It will focus on the Transition to sustainability, one of the great challenges of the next century.

World population growth: issues and
policy implications of demographic change

P. Tandon
Indian National Science Academy, India

June 16, 1999 will be observed as the day world population exceeds six billion. The Population Summit of the Science Academies of the World (1993) at New Delhi and the UN Conference on Population and Development (1994) at Cairo unequivocally warned the global community of the unabated growth of population, specially in the developing world, its consequences on health and development of nations, its effects beyond national boundaries and remedial measures to stem the tide.

No doubt there are encouraging trends of falling fertility and family size from most countries in the world. The important question still remains, if the global population will stabilise in time to prevent irreversible damage to the global eco-system.

In spite of the current national and international efforts, the yet uncontrolled population growth and increasing adoption of high consumption styles in countries in developmental transition on one hand and lack of perceptible determination to control their unhealthy and unmindful consumption by the developed world threaten to perpetuate the current trend towards sustainability.

There are a number of other deleterious consequences of the current demographic trends. Increasing number of young people in the developing countries and the medical and socio-economic burden of the aging population in the developed ones pose complex management issues. There is continued unmet need for fertility regulation where it is urgently required. Unsafe abortion results in nearly 20 per cent of the half a million maternal deaths and more than 20 million women suffer from serious complications of child birth. If only unwanted births could be prevented, the global rate of population growth will fall by 19 percent.

It must, however, be realised that population control programs are not only about fertility control and the undesirable trend to unsustainability just a matter of numbers. As pointed out at the Population Summit it is a result of complex interplay of a large number of intertwined factors which need to be considered in a holistic manner rather than tackled in isolation.

No doubt S & T hold no magic wand but can certainly provide the necessary tools, which coupled with sensible socio-economic, culturally sensitive policies and a will to cooperate globally and act locally may yet avoid the pending disaster.

Among many areas in which S & T can help is to augment and accelerate R & D efforts to provide new, safe, affordable contraceptives specially for males and keeping in mind the need for combined, contraceptive and bactericidal (specially antiviral, against HIV) agents.

Science, a learning model for development

Yves Quéré
Foreign Secretary, Académie des Sciences, France

Development of societies entails an absolute prerequisite, often forgotten, which is the intellectual and moral development of Man, the contribution of science being, here, essential. Indeed, science is tirelessly educating us, certainly addressing our knowledge and intelligence, but also both our personal and social behaviour. What does this instruction, teach us ? What does it tell, especially, to those, in fact the majority, who are not destined for science ?

1. The idea of truth Science certainly does not teach us the truth. Science does however at least tell us that there is truth buried away there in the Universe, revealed at its minimum by the effects, the laws or theorems it teaches us, against some fashionable scepticism or ancestral beliefs. Humanity cannot develop if it does not learn to introduce, in its vision of the world, this idea of truth, a truth conceived as fundamentally polyphonic, including harmonics (poetic, religious, artistic or philosophical) other than scientific.

2. Humulity With Galileo, science becomes humble in that Man decided to seek the answer to his questions at the very heart of Mother Nature – by questioning her by experimentation – rather than from the subtle depths of his own thought.

This modesty is one of the hidden forces (generally we celebrate more its power than its efficiency !) that drive development ; it is by patient observation of Nature, and the ways in which she functions, that humans can sharpen their own creativity and invent objects, devise processes, elaborate structures – in both the physical and intellectual sense – able to operate in favour of development.

3. The spirit of research By unveiling some of the laws that govern Nature, our learning of the sciences reveals to us the immensity of what we do not know. They teach us therefore to say " I don’t know " which generates the spirit of research, and thus the taste for undertaking it and, therefore, the ability to progress. In this way science is indubitably a space which, although not the only one, is a privileged theatre for imagination and liberty.

4. The spirit of freedom If science is a space for freedom, then it constitutes a humus for development. How would this be possible in the long term in a society that would keep man confined by prohibitions of his thought, speech, writings, or liberty to circulate or publish ? Science, by its history and its practice, teaches us liberty. This spirit of freedom establishes the two major prerequisites for development which are the human creativity and the dignity of societies. Therein lie undoubtedly the two ingredients crucial for a kind of development which will be sustainable and will escape the deadly hold of dictatorships of all kinds, as well as specious illusions of easy money and financial adventures.

Conclusion In the deep complicity which is shown in the spirits of truth, humility, creation and freedom, science shows itself as a powerful factor in human growth and maturation, an essential prerequisite – well upstream of innumerable applications and inventions, industries and techniques, that it conveys for a smooth, steady development of populations and societies.

Food in sustainability transition

Lee Yee Cheong
Secretary-General, Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Malaysia

The latest trend estimates of world population indicate a possible levelling off at 9-10 billion persons around the year 2050. This poses the sustainability challenge of a transition in two generations from a world of a few billion, largely agricultural, through the present world of 6 billion to a world with a growing urban majority. In that context, crucial global `goals' in the coming decades are to feed, house, educate, nurture and employ many more people, to reduce hunger and poverty, and to maintain the life-support systems of the natural environment. One of the critical issues is Food.

Over the next fifty years, worldwide demand for food is expected to triple. The challenge of meeting this demand requires dramatic advances both in food production, in food distribution and access, and food security.

During the last half-century gains in crop production have come from four interrelated sources: expansion of cultivated land; increased use of fertilizer and pest control chemicals; expansion of irrigated area; and the introduction of high-yielding varieties.

To sustain growth in agricultural production, new knowledge and information systems will be required. These include local agricultural research capacity, local public and private capacity to make knowledge, technology, and materials available to producers, and the schooling or in formal education of farmers and farm workers, and regional and international cooperation and networking.

Scientific and technology breakthrough, particularly in the area of biotechnology, could over the long term lead to a lifting of the yield ceiling that have been set by the green revolution technologies.

Many other opportunities also exist to increase and sustain food production while decreasing environmental consequences. Integrated nutrient management and integrated pest management take advantage of ecological processes. In breeding programs, increasing attention to flexibility and genetic diversity of crop plants and animal breeds can increase the ability of the agricultural sector to respond to climate and other environmental surprises.

Taking advantage of these opportunities will help to satisfy the needs for feeding future populations.

The above are the arguments and solutions advanced by the scientific community and establishment in favour of increasing food supplies by new scientific discoveries and technological innovation.

In view of the agitation over GM food raging in UK and Continental Europe, the world scientific community cannot merely look at the supply side, but must take greater pains to allay the fears and concerns of society to make solutions based on scientific advances in biotechnology, etc acceptable to the consuming public. This is a greater challenge with global alarm over increasingly frequent incidence of large scale infection and contamination of human food endangering life such as mad-cow disease in UK, chicken flu in Hong Kong and the Nipah virus outbreak affecting pigs in Malaysia.

International health:
changing patterns and policy implications

Erding Norrby
Secretary-General, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden

Ever since the 1950ies there has been a pronounced improvement of health also on a global scale. This is reflected in the markedly increased average life span. However, the developments of health paralleling the accumulation of wealth is distributed in a highly uneven way. The gap between industrialized and developing countries when it comes to resources seems to widen with time. A number of evolving problems are of critical significance to the diverging global health problems. Examples are population dynamics, accentuated urbanization, environmental threats and food and water supply.

Presently there is a major difference between the disease panorama in industrialized and developing countries. Infectious diseases with involvement of the respiratory or enteric tract dominate together with parasitic diseases in developing countries. In addition there are conditions arising during the perinatal period which may have dire consequences for both mother and child. Most likely the impact of such predominantly infectious diseases will be reduced with time. Effective development of vaccines, in some cases applied for complete eradication of diseases, as well as antimicrobial agents, including new drugs to circumvent problems of drug resistence will influence this development. Progressively the disease panorama of industrialized and developing countries will become more similar. In parallel there will be a development in the former countries towards a more effective handling of non-communicable diseases. New techniques and materials will have a major impact and conditions for providing organic spare parts may improve much by development of stem cell techniques besides the conventional use of organs or bone marrow cells. However, the major impact will come through new advances in molecular genetics drastically expanding the field of molecular medicine. The impact on medicine of the forthcoming knowledge about the 70,000 plus genes products in man will be discussed.


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