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Ocean Health, Biodiversity Loss Among Top Challenges Facing Humanity

UN Secretary-General Scientific Advisory Board meet to outline key Sustainable Development GoalsCooperative governance in conserving and protecting the world’s oceans, stemming the tide of “wild” ecosystems and biodiversity loss, and crafting a global strategy to address the risks of the spread of infectious agents are the top three greatest scientific challenges facing world society today, according to the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board. A group of leading scientists assembled by UNESCO at the request of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UN Scientific Advisory Board released its list of the greatest scientific challenges to sustainable development on May 26 upon conclusion of its third meeting in Kuala Lumpur.

“Humanity has already crossed several planetary boundaries. Only an immediate stop to ecosystem destruction, large-scale restoration of ecosystems, and effective family planning might restore global biotic regulation and prevent the collapse of ecosystems, including the human species,” the board states in a May 26 news release.

In addition to highlighting the vastly increased reach and capacity of today’s information and communications technology to gather, store and process scientific data, the board’s report also highlights the increasingly collaborative and multidisciplinary nature of scientific research and its potential to be used as the basis for better, more informed decision- and policy-making by government, civic and business leaders.

Harnessing scientific research, “Big Data” for sustainable development policy-making

The UN Scientific and Advisory Board’s latest meeting and report comes as the UN prepares to establish its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the strategic blueprint that is to guide and inform the entire UN organization in the wake of the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) this year.

The eight Millennium Development Goals

The crossing of critical ecological boundaries now threatens the foundations of economies and societies the world over, according to the UN Scientific Advisory Board, which only heightens the need for more and  better scientific knowledge and understanding. “Never before has the world faced such a need for sound scientific knowledge and expertise, to better understand and tackle rising global challenges,” UNESCO Director General and conference co-chair Irina Bokova stated.

As the board explains in a news release, it “brings together the collective capacity of all relevant scientific fields, with due regard to social and ethical dimensions of sustainable development.

“The Scientific Advisory Board brings together a range of disciplines, crossing thematic boundaries and policy lines. We need precisely this kind of 360° vision to better understand the challenges the world faces today and to craft new – vision-driven – solutions to tackle them.”

Following is the list of the top concerns the UN scientific experts identified as most important in terms of fostering sustainable development globally:

  • One Ocean, Many Countries: Building a “Blue Economy” Sustainably
  • Addressing threats to biodiversity and establishing a new paradigm for the global tropics
  • Developing a Comprehensive Strategy Against Infectious Agents, Including a Global System for Immediate Response
  • Investing a Fraction of GDP in Research and Education in Basic Science
  • Averting Enormous Human Disasters Through Prediction
  • Emissions Free Technology: Changing the Fossil Fuel Paradigm
  • Providing Drinkable Water for All
  • Finding Solutions for a World Overwhelmed by Unequal Resource-use and Continued Population Growth

Opening up access to the tremendous amount of data now being collected and already stored via the Internet, along with fostering greater international cooperation and making greater use of “Big Data” analytics holds great prospects in terms of rectifying the “digital divide” between rich and poor nations.

Much of the world’s people lack access to information and communications technology and networks, the board points out. It’s urging UN and world leaders to make efforts to “reduce rather than entrench the data divide between rich and poor” and on “enhancing the equity of access and use of data/information, among countries and stakeholders” a priority.

“The Scientific Advisory Board of the Secretary-General is a reflection that science is global, increasingly interconnected and multidisciplinary. The challenge for us now if how to reap maximum benefit of global science; how to ensure that the fruits of science are best used to address current and global issues, and to prepare for the opportunities and challenges of the future,” Prof. Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid, Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia and co-chair of the Board stated.

*Images credit: UN

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