Achieve a Much More Equitable Access to and Use of Knowledge
Education is an essential element of all aspects of a transition to sustainability. Yet the quality of education worldwide is inadequate. Continuation of global progress in the reduction of illiteracy is vital for the world of the 21st century. Even in relatively rich countries, the quality of education is quite uneven, and investment in education is in many cases inadequate. Science is often not taught in an exciting, effective way that gives students the ability to think analytically, with the tools and desire to continue their learning throughout their lives.
Education, particularly in natural and social sciences, is the basis for much productive and innovative economic activity. It is needed for successful adjustments to changing economic opportunities, and thus directly determinative of whether people have jobs and an improved quality of life.
Education of women is extremely important, including literacy in linguistic, scientific, technological, and legal areas. Women's education also contributes to the success of public health efforts, and to learning by the next generation. It is closely connected with choices concerning the size and timing of families, and therefore with the speed of the demographic transition.
There are critical roles for the scientific and technological community in education. The natural and social sciences must be present as an integral, core element. Literacy as a practical concept increasingly includes scientific and technical components. The scientific and technological community must be engaged as active partners with educational systems to assure inclusion of quality, exciting, and effective science education at all levels, and to provide a continued assessment of the effectiveness of learning from diverse educational experiences.
Strengthening Worldwide Scientific and Technological Capacity
Use of scientific knowledge and best-available technologies will be essential elements of a transition to sustainability. They can contribute to new energy sources, more efficient methods of food production, better quality products, improved human health, options for institutional changes, and environmentally benign technologies. Science and technology also can provide the tools needed to gauge how well human needs are currently being met and the extent of progress toward sustainability.
A centerpiece of any strategy to achieve sustainability must be the accelerated development of local capacities in science, engineering, and health throughout the world. The ability of a society to benefit from the continuously expanding store of the world's scientific knowledge depends on human capacities. Citizens, the science and technological community, non-governmental organizations, private enterprises, and local, regional and national governments must all contribute to definition of these needs, and to the ability to use and generate knowledge.
Building a Global Information Network
Much knowledge, know-how, and capacity for improved decision making are now available throughout the world. However, there is a great need for mechanisms that can find and modify what one person, group, firm, or nation knows into something that another person, group, firm, or nation needs and can use. We now have remarkable new tools and opportunities for collaborations and partnerships, and for needs-based interactive efforts, rather than the unidirectional technical assistance of earlier programs.
New forms of communication technologies make possible a global electronic network that connects scientists, engineers, and health professionals to people in all countries and occupations. This network will allow people to access and assess the scientific and technical knowledge that they need to solve local problems and enhance the quality of their lives, as well as to communicate their own knowledge, insights, and needs to others. Scientists then must use these initial connections as a tool for spreading their knowledge, skills, and values throughout their own nations, including their local communities. By taking full advantage of new information technologies, while strengthening worldwide scientific capacity, the scientific community has an unprecedented opportunity to help close the vast "knowledge gap" among peoples.
Expanding the Contribution of National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Meeting the potential of science and technology to contribute to human welfare will require high standards of quality. This includes objective assessments of scientific knowledge and its uncertainties, pursuit of best practices, and development of a fuller understanding of the implications of technological directions. The academies, because of their merit-based peer selection process and independence, can help provide those standards of quality at all levels of the science and technology enterprise.
Many academies are now engaged in the organized provision of independent advice to their governments on policy matters that have important technical content. As more and more academies develop the capacity to provide such advice, they can increasingly be a force for wise decision making.
In many cases, effective decisions often must be reached and implemented by countries in cooperative ways. The academies are now engaged in working together, through the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the InterAcademy Panel (IAP), to build our individual and collective capabilities for understanding and meeting global challenges. We also intend to work in cooperation to provide common inputs to international agencies and other decision-making international bodies.
Actively Generate New Knowledge
The current store of knowledge, while it can and must be much more broadly applied, will not be adequate to meet projected and as-yet-unforeseen challenges to sustainability. The successful production and application of new knowledge is necessary. For example, global health challenges present severe challenges that require new fundamental understanding, as well as new tools arising from that understanding. Social sciences will have an increasing role to play in many areas, such as behavior-related health problems. Making a science of education, so that we much better understand the learning process and how to provide more successful teaching and learning throughout life, is also essential. Fundamental research in environmental and earth sciences, including ecology, biodiversity, climatology, seismology, and new interdisciplinary fields, will help our capability, now very limited, to predict or lessen the consequences of natural disasters and ecological change. Moreover, the global information network and its underlying technology can and certainly will rapidly evolve to provide new possibilities that we cannot now foresee.
More generally, the worldwide research enterprise must be significantly strengthened in four areas: sustaining long-term basic research and linking it to societal goals coupling global, national, and local institutions into effective research systems linking academia, government, and the private sector in collaborative research partnerships integrating disciplinary knowledge into interdisciplinary, locally focused, problem-driven research and application efforts.
The worldwide scientific community also needs to develop indicators that inform society over the coming decades how and to what extent progress is being made in moving toward a transition to sustainability. Leading indicators should include: global assessments of human needs and environmental support systems regional measures of environmental vulnerability local evaluations of land use and ecosystems measures of progress in key areas such as health, water and air quality, and energy efficiency.
Apply the Values of the Scientific and Technological Community to Build Sustainability
Science is, in a very fundamental sense, the process of seeking the truth. The values of the scientific enterprise--openness, community, quality, and respect for evidence--are of great importance and application to the search for sustainability. The scientific community must be involved in the broad interactive process of establishing societal priorities, of understanding the implications of policy directions, and in fostering the public understanding and the political will to ensure that progress moves in directions that correspond to those priorities. That involvement is all the more important since we recognize that applications of science and engineering can sometimes produce harm rather than benefit.
During the past century, conflict--ranging from civil violence to world wars--has consumed or destroyed tremendous amounts of human, institutional, and physical resources. Military programs, even in periods of peace, have consumed resources that could otherwise be devoted to meeting such needs as food, housing, and education. During the decades ahead, conflicts could arise from competition for resources such as food, water, and information. A better understanding of how these events can be mitigated, or made less probable, is essential for a successful transition to sustainability. The natural and social sciences, engineering, and health communities can, together with the many other societal sectors, make important contributions in building international understanding and cooperation, as well as in alleviating the root causes of conflict.