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Address delivered during FORUM III

by Harold A. Mooney
Secretary General of International Council for Science (ICSU)
International Programmes in cooperation with
Intergovernmental and UN agencies

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As the human population grows we are stressing to an ever-greater degree the life support systems that support us all. To the extent that this is true has been amply discussed at this meeting. Our great challenge is how to develop new ways of building the capacity for societies to continue to reap the benefits of our natural world without harming its self-renewing capacity as well as strengthening those programs and practices that are already directed toward this aim.

How are we progressing in this quest and how is science contributing to this goal? I address my remarks to the international dimensions of this issue knowing full well that, of course, local actions are an important key to success in building a sustainable world.

There are several trends that give me hope. The scientific community is becoming more and more engaged in these larger issues of society. They are contributing an increasing fraction of their energies and thought to solving the human predicament. This is an enormous force that is being harnessed in many important international programs. Scientists are giving freely, in the spirit of their professions, their specialized knowledge of those processes that control the operation of the Earth System. They are doing this in many venues. In recent years we have seen the development of integrated science assessments that provide the most up-to-date information for use by policy makers on many issues including ozone depletion, climate change and biological diversity. The sociology of these scientist/policy interactions is very fragile and many new experiments are in progress. We are beginning to see greater attention by scientists to solving the problems that have been posed by the international conventions of our time. They are becoming involved in this process through many different avenues---working with the intergovernmental organizations as well as non-governmental entities. They have forged new partnerships to get the work done no matter what the institutional framework. In many cases they are self organizing where scientists think that issues need attention that have not yet reached to the level of inter-governmental actions and conventions. These are extraordinary gifts but they need nurturing. The small amounts of resources that are needed for keep the interactions viable are not easily obtained even though they represent an enormous added value to the research efforts of individuals to the needs of societies. There has been considerable attention to new funding mechanisms at this meeting. The need is there, the value is demonstrable, but the resources to make it all happen need to be found. A small increment, termed "glue money" by some, added to the efforts of the global coalition of scientists working toward a sustainable world is a very sound investment.

Finally, I would like to point to another trend that is a hopeful sign that we are working in a realistic way to accomplish of goal of sustainability. Many of the global programs on the environment that are natural science based are beginning to interact with one another but also with social science initiatives. The walls of disciplinary boundaries are truly tumbling down. Seeing the real time interaction among these efforts, and their coalescence into building new programs for achieving sustainability, is a wonderful development. We are also beginning to see social scientists and natural scientists representing many institutions beginning to work on assessment constructs that cut across the conventions and fully deal with the holistic nature of the problems that face us all.

Concluding, the world community of scientists is becoming more fully engaged in working toward a sustainable world. We need to provide them with the rather modest means to most fully reach their potential.


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