Image credit: UNESCO - Photo: 2012

UN Stresses Role of Science for Peace and Development

By J C Suresh
IDN-InDepth NewsReport

TORONTO (IDN) – A greater global focus on scientific development would help find the answers to seemingly “insurmountable” challenges the world is confronted with, according to the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“Science is our best asset for supporting inclusive and equitable development, and for building global sustainability at a time of uncertainty, and faced with biophysical limits of the planet,” said UNESCO‘s Director-General Irina Bokova marking the World Science Day for Peace and Development.

“We must also place science at the service of all, while observing the fundamental rights of the individual. Above all, we must open a new chapter in scientific integration,” she said in a message to the World Science Day on November 10.

Established by the UNESCO General Conference in 2001 with the purpose of renewing a global commitment to science as a tool to benefit society, the World Science Day also seeks to raise public awareness of science’s importance and to bridge the gap between science and societies.

In her message, the UNESCO head noted that an increasingly complex and interconnected global community required more cooperative and better integrated approaches combining the progress made in separate scientific fields. “Innovation and social transformation depend on our capacity to combine disciplines and create synergies among all sciences,” she stated, adding that “sustainability will come through multidisciplinarity.”

UNESCO has been playing a leading role in promoting transdisciplinarity as a cornerstone of the world body’s global push on sustainability and, ten years after the first World Science Day for Peace and Development, the UN official emphasized that the agency remained committed to its mission.

It is that spirit that she called on government, civil society, public and private actors, well beyond scientific circles, to mobilize so as to release the full potential of all sciences for development and peace, “which are inseparable and essential for the future that we want”.

The theme of this year’s World Science Day – ‘Science for global sustainability: interconnectedness, collaboration, transformation’ – indeed throws light on 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. It is widely admitted that 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,” stresses UNESCO.

It adds: “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

In fact science and sustainability are two sides of the same coin. The solutions are rooted in science, but disciplinary research alone will be insufficient. That’s why 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.

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.

World Space Week

The World Science Day comes with weeks of the United Nations observing the World Space Week from October 4 to 10, with the presentation of a navigation satellite model, donated by Russia, for display at the world body’s offices in Vienna, while also highlighting the contribution space science and technology has made to human development.

“Effective satellite navigation benefits users worldwide. While many of us are familiar with satellite navigation systems for cars, this is just one of the many applications of this technology,” said the Director-General of the UN Office at Vienna (UNOV), Yury Fedotov, at the presentation of the satellite model.

“Satellite navigation-related technology supports many civil, scientific and commercial functions,” he added. “It is widely used in the areas of telecommunications, transportation, meteorology and disaster forecasting.”

Thanking Russia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Vienna, Ambassador Vladimir Voronkov, and along with Anatoly Shilov, the Deputy Head of the Russian Federal Space Agency – known as Roscosmos – Fedotov unveiled the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) satellite model at the permanent Space Exhibit of the UN Vienna International Centre, in Austria.

The donation of the satellite came on the first day of World Space Week, the largest annual space event in the world, which was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1999, to celebrate the contributions of space science and technology to the betterment of the human condition.

The dates recall the launch, on 4 October 1957, of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik I, and the entry into force, on October 10, 1967 of the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.

“This Week has become a world-wide celebration of science and technology, and their contribution to the betterment of the human condition,” said the Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), Mazlan Othman.

“UNOOSA, together with its partners,” she added, “has been working to bring the benefits of space to Earth, to make the seemingly remote and abstract world of outer space of concrete use to people worldwide.”

In a message for the Week, the UNOOSA chief said that coupled with advances made in other fields of science and technology, space science and technology and their applications offer a wide range of specific tools and solutions that can enable and support States in overcoming obstacles to sustainable development.

“To be able to benefit from all aspects of science and technology, space science and technology represent a vital component and thus it is very important to have a well-planned space and educational programme tailored to meet the requirements according to the resources available,” she said.

UNOOSA, together with the International Astronomical Union, organized a capacity-building workshop on astronomy for secondary teachers in Ethiopia, in cooperation with the Ethiopian Space Science Society, held in the African country’s capital, Addis Ababa in mid-October. A similar workshop was held in 2011 in Bangladesh.

The aim of the workshops is to enhance capacity of secondary school teachers in their teaching of basic and modern astronomy and introducing it to the school curricula. The workshops cover basic and modern astronomy, including hands-on sessions with access to the telescope.

“UNOOSA supports countries in their actions and programmes aimed at attracting young people to this field by making them aware of the importance of space science, technology and applications and, in doing so, inspire the future generations to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” Othman said.

In addition to the GLONASS satellite model on show at the permanent Space Exhibit in Vienna, UNOOSA displayed, during World Space Week, a series of images taken by a fleet of Earth-observing satellites that form part of the so-called Landsat programme, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Landsat monitors changes caused by natural processes and human practices, for example marine algal blooms and desertification, and is managed jointly by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the US Geological Survey. [IDN-InDepthNews – November 10, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters


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