Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipator

Photo by Michael Chiribau, UNITAR Division for Multilateral Diplomacy 

Greetings and welcome to a brief news update on the first day of Geneva Science Diplomacy Week 2023. With this second edition, GESDA and its 17 partners from Geneva, Swiss and global institutions welcomed an impressive cohort of 30 leaders from 25 countries.

The day began with intros inside the UN’s European headquarters at the Palais des Nations, where GESDA’s Head of Science Diplomacy Capacity Building Marga Gual Soler, noted the “incredible diversity” of the participants and the still-experimental nature of the weeklong program that is striving to scale into a global curriculum for science and diplomacy.

“This is really a collective impact exercise,” she told the participants. “All of our sessions are derived from the GESDA Science Breakthrough Radar.” The “captain” of the Radar, GESDA’s Executive Director of Science Anticipator Martin Muller, explained how more than 700 scientists contributed to its overview of science trends and breakthrough predictions.

GESDA’s CEO Sandro Giuliani emphasized that Geneva has been “embodying the science and diplomacy spirit from the beginning” and now offers “a unique ecosystem” of multilateral governance. “There is a huge phase of acceleration and the key driver of this acceleration is science. We are in this phase where we need to ask how we can cope with this,” he said. How can multilateral governance keep up with this acceleration?”

GESDA can’t follow up on all the hundreds of “dots” on the Radar – anticipated trends and breakthrough predictions – but “we’re going to activate you, so you can,” GESDA’s Executive Director Solution Accelerator and Deputy CEO Daria Robinson told the group. She compared the goal of the global curriculum to creating a level of certification in science and diplomacy that would be like “a pilot license you renew every two years.”

The Geneva Science-Policy Interface conducted a workshop to help participants understand their role as ‘boundary-spanners’ between the scientific and diplomatic worlds. After a UN guided tour led by UNITAR, the day concluded with high-level roundtable discussions and a reception at the World Meteorological Organization, where WMO’s Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said the world will soon be “very close to 1.5 degrees of warming at least on a temporary basis” which is the preferred limit under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

GESDA Board Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said the weeklong science and diplomacy program began as an experiment and now is a real success. “It’s a sign of the growing interest and the need, I would say, for science diplomacy,” he told more than 100 people gathering inside the U.N. weather agency.

It’s a human right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress, he noted, but there are major challenges to ensuring that happens. And it’s hard to keep up with the acceleration of technology, such as the explosion of AI tools in recent months, and the challenges cross borders and are beyond the capability of any single country to address entirely alone.

“The outcome of your week is going to be very important for the outcome of the curriculum,” he said.

Inter-Parliamentary Union Secretary-General Martin Chungong said he was “very heartened by the renewed evidence of interest” in the weeklong program, which his global organization supports because “we need to nurture debate” among policymakers, lawmakers and scientists. “We are keen to promote that dialogue,” he added.

The panels included officials from UNITAR, the University of Geneva, Geneva Centre for Security Policy, DiploFoundation, University of Zürich, and INGSA, WMO, and Japan’s UN Mission in Geneva.

WMO Observing Systems’ Director Lars Peter Riishøjgaard introduced the WMO Global Greenhouse Gas Watch, which aims to establish internationally coordinated monitoring of greenhouse gas fluxes that helps prod nations to concretely cut emissions.

The Paris treaty focuses exclusively on anthropogenic greenhouse gasses, he said, but “nature does much more than we do” to eliminate the buildup of carbon dioxide, methane and other heat-trapping gasses. And the greenhouse gas fluxes that are driven by natural processes are not only often much larger than we realize but also not explicitly taken into account, he said. “We are not doing what we claim to want to do,” he said.

The anthropogenic buildup of carbon in the atmosphere needs to be reversed by getting to zero carbon emissions by 2040. “It is not that life is going to end but we are moving into a territory where we have never been,” he said. “I think it’s fair to say that we do not have a plan for how we are going to remain at 1.5 degrees.”

Ambassador Honsei Kozo, Deputy Permanent Representative at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Geneva, and Daniel McGinnis, Associate Professor of Aquatic Physics at the Faculty of Science of the University of Geneva then joined the follow up conversation looking at the science and diplomacy challenges of the implementating such an initiative

Ambassador Alexandre Fasel, Switzerland’s Special Representative for Science and Diplomacy, closed the event telling the group that in the end “clarity and action” are essential. He encouraged participants during the week to always keep in mind what’s relevant to coming up with an action-oriented solution. “Above all what it needs is the doing,” he summed up.