At a recent appearance, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that he is going to promote the idea of a core science body at the U.N. possibly headed by a core scientist. From the article:
In a video address to the conference, Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the UN, said that he is taking forward a recommendation to appoint a chief scientific adviser or scientific board, as suggested to him by a panel of experts on global sustainability. “Policy-makers often fail to turn to scientists for advice, or discount it too easily owing to electoral or other political considerations,” he said.
The U.N. as an organization lacks many of the things that can make it valuable: no military, no independent funding, no power. It’s primary role is that it deals in legitimacy. Ideas come to the fore in the U.N. and with time and pressure they began to have significant effects throughout the world system. Sustainable development, human rights, etc. are exactly ideas that worked in this way. They got articulation in the U.N. as broad ideas and took 10-15 years each to begin trickling down to practice. If this is its role for the U.N., the more role for science and active deliberation, the better.
And yet for years there has not been any science panel or authority within the U.N. system. The UN Environment Programme has them, Food and Agriculture Organization has them, UNESCO has them significantly, etc., but at a UN level there is no clear body dealing with science. In the past 2o years, it is hard to imagine an international organization without a clear science body, whether they are ignored or not. The creation of a Sustainability Science Advisory Panel at the high levels of the U.N. would seem to be an essential component of progress on the green economy over the next decade.
Will this be a part of the institutional overhaul to be discussed at Rio+20? Chances seem that this may be a relatively easy least common denominator solution to negotiation problems at Rio+20. If states can’t agree on strengthening UNEP, if states can’t agree on new funding for sustainable development, if states can’t agree on key aspects of the green economy…what can they agree upon to show progress? Create a sustainability panel in the U.N. However, this may be one of those contexts where agreement leads us further away from dealing with global environmental problems.
It is the right idea; however, without other reforms it will make the governance problems worse on environmental issues. A UN Sustainability Science Advisory Panel at the U.N.? Yes. Only a U.N. Sustainability Advisory Panel out of Rio+20? No.