Scientists as useful idiots.
CSIRO director Mark Stafford Smith calls in the March 22 issue of Nature for an IPCC-like group of scientists to advise policy makes on implementing Agenda 21:
<blockquoteAs the world heads towards the next big environmental summit — the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June — officials and politicians are calling for further assessments of our global ecological plight. In January, for example, a panel on global sustainability set up by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon recommended a “periodic global sustainable development outlook report that brings together information and assessments currently dispersed across institutions and analyses them in an integrated way”.
This is a response to research that shows how global society is increasingly interconnected and interdependent. The cascading effect on land availability and food security of a switch to biofuels, for example, demonstrates how actions to address carbon dioxide emissions can rebound on other goals.
But, in these difficult times, can the thinly stretched scientific community support a new assessment process? And is that really what policy-makers need from research?
Scientists are already busy on policy-makers’ behalf. There is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, assessments of international waters, mountains and fresh water, the Global Marine Assessment and the important new Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Each has a crucial role in consolidating knowledge about individual sectors. But how to connect the dots?…
All of this builds on existing trends in the activities of bodies such as the IPCC, but we need a rapid step change in the evolving relationship between science and decision-making. Countries such as Australia already talk about ‘national innovation systems’ — the totality of their pure and applied research efforts and the interactions of these with decision-making in industry and government.
It is time to embrace a global innovation system to support bettercoordinated and more nimble decision-making on global sustainability at all scales. Much work needs to be done on the details, but if science is to be genuinely useful to society, this is what we must fight for.