IFS’s Mission Echoed Yet Again: Guest Blog

Published: 2020-09-30

Our new IFS strategy for 2021-2030 has the theme of Investing in Future Scientists. This year of 2020 is one of transition, where we are continuing with elements of the “old” strategy as we begin incorporating parts of the “new”. Yet another affirmation of IFS’s role in the capacity enhancing of early career scientists happened yesterday: the 29 September webinar on Transformations within Reach, organised by the International Commission for Science, ICU and the Institute of System Analysis of Vienna, and funded by the Norwegian and South African governments. Our Board member Kjell Havnevik of Norway participated in the webinar and offers these reflections as a “guest blogger”.

Professor Emeritus Kjell Havnevik

I find it important that institutions and researchers are addressing the urgency for transformative change in light of COVID-19’s impact and the need to move away from unsustainable business-as-usual practices. The Transformations study emphasises directions for reflection and action about how, when and on what basis we can act, individually and collectively, in the short run to reach sustainable and equitable outcomes for our societies. The draft study that was the basis for the webinar identified four potential areas where transformational outcomes are reachable in the short run: governance, science, food systems and energy systems.

As to the area of governance, the importance of international and national collaboration to promote policies and strategies that are fact- and science-based to address the compound risks facing our planet is imperative. This is all the more important, in my opinion, in a world where facts and truth increasingly have become substituted by impressions and fake news, even at the highest level of some governments and their leaders.

COVID-19 has revealed the inadequacy of current social safety nets and the problems of large groups, in particular living in dense and poor areas, to implement social distancing and sufficient hygienic practices. There was an argument for investigating whether and to what extent the promising current stimulation initiatives can be transformed into longer term efforts at the same time as the business as usual is abandoned.

In his presentation, the representative for the private sector, Peter Bakker, expressed the need to abandon business as usual and to launch a forward-looking systemic approach for business that addresses climate change, the loss of nature and social inequality. Bakker argued for the need to attack the economic system itself and to integrate natural and social capital in performance indicators. This statement was however somewhat contradicted by his willingness, later in the webinar, to equate citizens with consumers in need of being educated so that the demand structure could be shifted towards sustainable and healthy products. To equate citizenship with consumers is in my assessment missing the huge need in many areas of the world for promotion, restoration and protection of people’s rights to live a decent and dignified life, including access to necessary products and services.

The overall impression from the presentations as to the content of required transformations in the direction of sustainability and equality was, however, that it was sound and well founded on research and science. Mary Robinson argued along the lines of Bakker for the need for a systemic transformation of the present economic system focusing on production and efficiency towards resilience based on equality, justice and promotion of a circular economic system. The concept of global citizen was emphasised by several presenters, not least Ban Ki-moon.

The study showed the need for overhauling the UN and international institutions to address the compound risks and uncertainties facing the planet by moving from more specialised agencies to a system that has a more holistic approach. The study also showed that research and science should enable the linking of areas, problems and challenges through more comprehensive approaches so that areas of transformation can be identified and acted upon on different scales.

I think IFS can relate well to many of the points put forward in the presentations of Mary Robinson Ban Ki-moon on the organisation and role of research. Ban Ki-moon argued for the importance and to establish an enabling environment for young researchers to contribute to their societies, with a major role for international organisations. Mary Robinson stated the need for understanding better when and where the opportunities for transformation lie and to act on them. Certainly, I think, research conducted in developing countries by local researchers, as promoted and supported by IFS, will have an important contribution to make in identifying the new research frontier as outlined above.

Mary Robinson, like Ban Ki-moon, also underlined the need to strengthen the local capacity for research as well as strengthening interdisciplinary research approaches. She also underlined the need to strengthen the science-policy interface at all levels, and the communication of scientific results, and to increase the capacity of science to address and enhance our knowledge of the compound risks facing our planet.

I am happy that IFS was a part of the process leading up to the webinar and I look forward to reading the report in full when it comes out before the end of 2020. The report and its findings are an encouragement of IFS’s role and contributions.

Nighisty Ghezae, IFS Director

With thanks 

Nighisty Ghezae



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