By Daniel Otunge

The International Scientific Board of the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) convened its 15th session on May 6-7, 2024, at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy.

According to Article 1 sub-article 1.1. of the Statutes of the Scientific Board of the International Basic Sciences Programme (IBSP), the Board “aims at the reinforcement of intergovernmental cooperation in strengthening national capacities in the basic sciences and science education through major region-specific actions involving a network of national, regional and international centers of excellence or benchmark centers in the basic sciences.”

Sub-article 1.2 establishes the Scientific Board as a category V Advisory Committee to monitor the IBSP and to advise the Director-General of UNESCO.

Thus, the meeting not only appraised the members of the Board’s achievements but also underscored its pivotal role in addressing pressing global challenges. It was a strategic planning session aimed at fortifying the link between basic sciences and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a testament to the Board’s crucial contribution to global scientific development.

The Board’s proactive approach, as demonstrated in this meeting, is a clear testament to its commitment to shaping the future of scientific development at both the global and national levels. This approach should inspire and motivate all stakeholders in basic sciences and education.

 From left to right: Dr. Najat A. Saliba, Board Member and Board Chair, Prof. Merieme Chadid comparing notes during a joint dinner in Trieste.

The chairperson, Prof. Merieme Chadid, said, “This unique scientific board for UNESCO’s basic sciences program provides scientific expertise for policy and decision-making, oversees program implementation, and evaluates projects.” This mandate is well outlined in Article 5 of the Board’s Statute.

Sub-article Article  5.1, for example, says,  “…the Board shall be responsible for supervising from the scientific and from the monitoring points of view, the implementation of IBSP, for studying proposals concerning developments and modifications of the programme, for assisting in the development of national, regional and international projects related to IBSP, for evaluating project proposals received, and for making recommendations on new IBSP projects and IBSP projects being implemented, and for any measures that may be required for the successful implementation and development of the programme.”

During the meeting, the Board formulated action plans to align with the 17 SDGs outlined in the UN’s 2030 Agenda, addressing sustainable development through basic sciences.

This strategic alignment to the SDGs underscores the Board’s commitment. It emphasizes the need for national and international authorities to prioritize basic sciences to tackle pressing global challenges, such as climate change and food security.

The thirty members of the Board are pioneering scientists, communication and legal specialists with expertise in a variety of fields, including chemistry (e.g., Prof. Christian Amatore, Prof. Christopher Brett, Prof. Nana Browne, and Prof. Alexei Khokhlov, and Prof. Najat Saliba). Others include mathematics and physics (e.g. Prof. Shohini Ghose and Prof. Phil Mjwara), Life Sciences (e.g. Prof. Fernan Federici, Prof. Gonzalo Moratorio, and Prof. Rosana Pelayo), and Science Communication (e.g. Ms. Sandy Ong and Mr. Daniel Otunge), hailing from different regions of the world. Mr. Otunge is a Science Communication and Legal specialist with Science Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Board’s Secretariat is based at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, and is represented by Ms. Lidia Brito, the UNESCO Assistant Director-General.