An event organized by the International Council for Science will discuss ways of forming a new relationship between science and society. The agenda also includes the launch of a research program for global sustainability

Forum to debate new scientific agenda related to RIO+20

May 30, 2012

By Fábio de Castro

Agência FAPESP—The international scientific community has already determined that after the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO+20), it will be necessary to establish a research and technology agenda and inaugurate a new relationship between science and society.

The path to this goal will be defined during the week preceding RIO+20 at the "Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development”, to be held from June 11 to 15, also in Rio de Janeiro.

The forum will bring together some of the world’s foremost scientists and public policy makers to explore the key role of interdisciplinary and innovative science in the transition to sustainable development, in the green economy and in the eradication of poverty—the central questions to be discussed at RIO+20 from June 20 to 22.

The forum will be organized by the International Council for Science (ICSU), together with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO), the International Social Science Council (ISSC), the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC).

According to Alice Abreu, ICSU regional coordinator for the RIO+20 Initiative, the forum—which will be transmitted in its entirety via the Internet—will discuss topics that are central to inclusive sustainable development.

“The forum will be an important opportunity to try and generate a dialog between the scientific community and civil society. We are expecting international-level governmental leaders to discuss absolutely central topics for RIO+20,” said Abreu to Agência FAPESP.

The forum’s objectives follow the lines of the State of the Planet Declaration, which consolidated the scientific community’s position in relation to the RIO+20 debates. The Declaration was produced shortly after intense debates involving over 3,000 scientists specializing in socio-environmental fields during the Planet Under Pressure meeting held in London during the last week of March.

The Declaration’s main conclusion is that Earth’s systems are undergoing an unprecedented crisis. To avoid a humanitarian emergency on a global scale, actions must be taken through the establishment of a new pact between science and society that involves greater connectivity between the leadership of all sectors.

Abreu says that the organizers of the forum are proposing to reflect on ways in which the relationship between science and society can be transformed after RIO+20.

“We are really emphasizing that governments need to recognize that they must base their sustainable-development policies on scientific conclusions. But we think that science must also play its part: make closer ties with society, favor interdisciplinarity and engage in seeking solutions for social problems without prioritizing basic science,” said Abreu.

Scientists and policy makers at the forum will debate how science could better serve society and therefore provide the knowledge necessary to face the challenge of sustainable development. They are also expected to debate ways to guarantee economic sustainability and human well-being in the context of rapid environmental and social change.

Another key aspect of the forum will be discussions about balancing food and energy security in a world of economic and population growth, without exhausting natural resources or surpassing the limits of the planet.

The discussions will be divided into 11 topics: “Human well-being and populational tendencies”, “Sustainable consumption and production”, “Climatic and environmental change”, “Food security”, “Water security”, “Urban well-being”, “Ecological services and biodiversity”, “Indigenous wisdom”, “Disasters”, “Energy” and “Green economy”.

According to Abreu, the process of choosing lecturers was very complex and decentralized, guaranteeing the variety and representation necessary for the event to have a global character. Each of the six institutions that organized the forum recommended two session coordinators for each topic, people who do not necessarily belong to their faculties.

“These coordinators were chosen so as to balance North and South, women and men, developed and developing countries, and so forth. They were responsible for proposing a list of lecturers that was later approved by an international committee composed of six directors from the partner universities,” Abreu explained.

Future Earth and parallel sessions

Aside from the discussions, the forum’s programming includes the launch of a new ten-year global initiative: Future Earth – research for global sustainability.

“The new program is the result of an initiative by ten international organizations that will try to innovate the way science is done. Future Earth’s objective is to establish a truly new contract between science and society in the sense of involving all scientific fields—including engineering and the social sciences—in search of a conversation between all the actors in society and with the goal of establishing a research agenda,” said Abreu.

Beyond the 11 sessions, the forum will have 20 parallel open-access events. One of these events is the FAPESP Research Programs on Bioenergy, Biodiversity and Climate Change, which will be organized by FAPESP on June 12.

To open the session, FAPESP’s scientific director, Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, will speak on science and technology for sustainable development at FAPESP.

Presentations will then be made by the coordinators of three important FAPESP initiatives: the FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change, BIOTA-FAPESP and the FAPESP Bioenergy Research Program (BIOEN).

On June 13, a symposium titled “Unanswered key questions for biodiversity conservation” will be held under the coordination of the BIOTA-FAPESP program.

Other parallel sessions will be “Belmont Forum Collaborative Research Actions to  foster international environmental research most urgently needed to remove critical barriers to sustainability” (also coordinated by FAPESP), “Global Change and Social Transformation”, “Oceans in Focus: Science and Governance for Global Sustainability” and “Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development of Amazonia: a Brazilian Perspective”.

Registration to participate in the parallel sessions and other events at the forum is available through www.icsu.org/rio20/science-and-technology-forum.