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Federal Foreign Office

United nerds. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, along with other U.N. and German officials, attended today’s inaugural meeting of the U.N. Scientific Advisory Board.

U.N. Scientific Advisory Board Inaugurated in Berlin

Kai Kupferschmidt
2014-01-30 13:30

BERLIN—What do Malaysia's chief science adviser, Abdul Hamid Zakri; Barbadian historian Hilary Beckles; and Italian nuclear physicist Fabiola Gianotti have in common? They all serve on the United Nations' new Scientific Advisory Board, which was inaugurated this morning at the German Federal Foreign Office in the presence of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The board, first announced in October, consists of 26 scientists from around the globe. "This Board represents some of the world’s best scientific competence," Ban said at the ceremony. "It will provide indispensable advice on the interface between science and policy for sustainable development." What exactly the output of the board will be is still unclear, however. "This is what we are going to discuss starting this afternoon," Gianotti says.

The panel will discuss its agenda for the coming 2 years today and tomorrow. One good idea, Zakri says, is to come up with a list of goals for sustainable development that the United Nations can focus on after the so-called Millennium Development Goals, agreed on in 2000, which run out in 2015. "We need early wins to prove that we are relevant," Zakri says. Gianotti agrees that it is important "that the panel puts out a number of very clearly spelled recommendations."

Anne Glover, who became chief science adviser to the president of the European Commission in 2012, says she's "delighted" that the United Nations gets its own science advisory panel. "More and more governments and organizations are recognizing the value of systematic integration of science advice into their decision making and, given the quality of the members, this board will have a lot to contribute," Glover says.

Others are cautious about the board's relevance. "I have seen many committees and they do not always end up delivering anything concrete," says Israeli chemistry Nobel laureate Ada Yonath, also a member of the new board. A first short meeting on Wednesday evening showed how diverse the group was and lowered Yonath's hopes for reaching a concrete result. "But I am skeptical by nature."

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