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Science academies call for action on global challenges

10 May 2012

National science academies of 15 countries - including the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science -  issued joint statements today calling on world leaders about to meet at the upcoming G8 Summit and other international gatherings this year to give greater consideration to the vital role science and technology could play in addressing some of the planet's most pressing challenges.

The "G-Science" statements recommend that governments engage the international research community in developing systematic, innovative solutions to three global dilemmas: how to simultaneously meet water and energy needs; how to build resilience to natural and technological disasters; and how to more accurately gauge greenhouse gas emissions on a country-level basis to verify progress toward national goals or international commitments.

It is generally well-understood that water and energy are key considerations in global food security given the large demand agriculture places on both.  However, one of the G-Science statements says insufficient attention is being paid to the links between energy and water or, in other words, to the fact that energy requires water and water requires energy.  Without considering water and energy together, inefficiencies will occur, increasing shortages of both, the statement warns.  It recommends that policymakers recognize the direct interaction between water and energy by pursuing policies that integrate the two, and emphasize conservation and efficiency.  Regional and global cooperation also will be required.

The costs of disasters have been increasing in recent years, in part because more people live in vulnerable areas with poor infrastructure and an inadequate institutional capacity to warn of or respond to disasters.  Furthermore, the earthquake in Japan last year was a reminder that even developed nations are susceptible to the cascading effects of disasters.  Although recent disasters offer useful lessons, a second G-Science statement emphasizes that systematically assessing future risks and reducing exposure to them is a more effective guide to developing disaster resilience regardless of the cause.  In addition to regular risk surveillance, the G-Science statement recommends building resilience to catastrophic events by improving public health systems and building standards, integrating resilience capacity into development assistance programs, and employing information technologies for quicker warning and response.

More accurate and standardized methods for estimating human and natural sources and sinks of greenhouse gases are needed as a prerequisite for an international climate treaty and to determine the effectiveness of national emission-reduction programs, according to the third G-Science statement.  It recommends steps that can be taken to fill key gaps in knowledge within a few years.  Annual reports by all countries of their greenhouse gas emissions and sinks, international cooperation to share new technologies and data, wider deployment of measurement instruments, and standardized assessment methods will be needed for emissions to be accurately monitored at a national level.  International research programs should also be established to study the potential for large-scale or rapid releases of greenhouse gas emissions, the statement adds.

The G-Science statements were signed by the leaders of the national science academies of Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which is hosting this year's G8 Summit.  For the past seven years, science academies representing countries attending the summit have issued statements in advance to inform delegates to the summit of important science and technology matters.  This year, for the first time, the academies used the term G-Science to describe their statements because they are intended to inform not just leaders attending the G8 summit but also the G20, the Rio+20 environmental summit, and other important events.

"G-Science" also reflects that the statements are signed by the leaders of national science academies from countries beyond the so-called G8+5.  Many other national science academies have expertise in the areas addressed in the statements, and academies around the world also collaborate and inform policymaking via their participation in groups such as the Global Network of Science Academies, the InterAcademy Council, the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World, and the International Council for Science.