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A new board of scientists for the United Nations

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How to deal with the huge number of informations provided by scientific research today? And, how these informations can be transformed into political decisions? These could be the questions that brought the Organization of United Nations (UN) to create a new board of scientists, which will refer directly to the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki Moon, and to others heads of the main organizations of the Un system. The Board, announced on 18th September by Ban Ki Moon, will be charged with helping political decision makers by ensuring up to date scientific point of views on a wide range of scientific fields dealing with sustainable development. The first session of the Board will be held in the beginning of 2014.

The Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) will be composed by 26 outstanding scientists, among which there are the Italian physicist Fabiola Giannotti, the Israeli Nobel Laureate Ada Yonath, the Egyptian Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail and Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The SAB is meant to provide up-to-date scientific rigorousness into the high-level policy discussions. Its work will be generally divided into three areas: first, SAB will provide recommendations on priorities for panels such as the IPCC; it will identify scientific gaps to be explored by scientific research inside or outside the UN system; finally, it will advise on public understanding of science. This means that the SAB will deal with several scientific and cultural fields, such as engineering and technology, social sciences and humanities, ethics, health, economic, behavioral and agricultural sciences, and, of course, the environmental sciences.

Someone had raised the issue of the necessity of another advisory board in the UN system. To them Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, answered positively, as she stated that “the creation of the Scientific Advisory Board follows on a wide-ranging consultation work entrusted to UNESCO by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon”, adding that the Board “brings together scientists of international stature, and will serve as a global reference point to improve links between science and public policies.” Jörg Hacker, president of the German National Academy of Sciences and one of the board's designated members, said that “this is a further sign that scientific expertise is becoming more and more important in political decision-making”. The members of the Board will serve pro bono for two years, renewable for other two years, upon the decision of the Secretary-General.

The idea of a Scientific Board to help heads in the Un system comes through a document, the “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: a future worth choosing”, issued by the High level Panel on Global Sustainability and addressed to Un Secretary-General in January 2012, which had recommended a “major global scientific initiative to strengthen the interface between policy and science. This should include the preparation of regular assessments and digests of the science around such concepts as “planetary boundaries”, “tipping points” and “environmental thresholds” in the context of sustainable development”.

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