Statement by the Science and Technology Major Group at the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly

Delivered by Mr Stephen Stec


Statement by Major Group “Science and Technology” to UNEA 4

Thank you, Chair.

The theme of this United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) highlights the important role that the Science & Technology Major Group (S&T MG) plays in the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) work.  Science presents clear evidence of the various negative impacts of unsustainable production and consumption and confirms the need to act with urgency on a sound scientific basis to address these challenges if we are to have a sustainable future.  Science and technology are fundamental in the shift away from our current unsustainable way of production and consumption, including through the development of innovative social and economic models, with the aim to propose solutions that are environmentally and socially appropriate.

Sustainable Consumption and Production has until now been interpreted mostly as: transition from fossil fuels to renewables, energy conservation and eco-efficiency, moving from products to services, responsible consumption, a shift toward sharing, and longer lifespans of consumer products.  But these efforts have not achieved significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, plastic, ocean noise and chemical pollution, loss of biodiversity and other environmental stressors.

New approaches to transforming consumption and production patterns are therefore needed - approaches that address consumption and production as part of cultural, economic, and political systems and that promote accountability of different stakeholders. This implies a renewed focus on human and ecological wellbeing that requires new infrastructure designs and deep reforms in governance arrangements, corporate accountability and responsibility, financial institutions, sustainable lifestyles, economic models, and business practices to build social capital, equity and trust.

Knowledge from across the natural and social sciences is needed to identify, assess and monitor new technologies for their environmental and social impacts, along the whole life cycle/value chain in a holistic and integrated way applying the precautionary principle and polluter pays principle, to ensure that proposed solutions are environmentally sound and socially appropriate. Social sciences including conservation psychology, communications science and social marketing help us understand how transitions to sustainable lifestyles can be implemented.

We emphasize the value of scientific exchange and rapid technology transfer from the global North to South and use of traditional and indigenous knowledge.  The latter is now well established through Convention on Biological Diversity decisions and Inter-Governmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services deliberations.  In addition, South-South mobility of scientists and engineers is vital to promote the exchange of experience and capacity that will benefit all parties and work toward gender parity in science and technology fields.  As a rule, capacity building should be request-driven by demands from the South.

We wish to stress the importance of relevant and reliable data to support evidence-based decision-making and advocacy and we encourage Member States to cast the net widely in harnessing data from a wide array of sources – both official and unofficial.  In today’s interconnected world, science is increasingly working in partnership with concerned citizens to increase scale and resolution through the growing field of citizen science. Citizen science emphasizes collaborative intelligence and co-creation to facilitate scientific and community-based solutions. Citizen science also acts across cultures and worldviews to provide active and meaningful ways to integrate local, traditional and indigenous knowledge. 

We emphasize the importance of public and private investment in independent scientific research and the systematic, transparent and inclusive integration of scientific knowledge in policy-making at all levels of government. Governments need to create opportunities for researchers to inform policy agendas and priorities, and to provide evidenced-based, rigorous and independent research as substantial contributions to decision-making processes.

Currently, there is a great focus on technological innovation and on business opportunities. Technological innovations should contribute measurable improvement in the environmental footprint and performance, with a strong foundation in rigorous, independent, scientific and evidence-based assessment and validation.  Greening innovation and encouraging investment in sustainable technological innovation should deliver co-benefits. We must be cautious about Greening “business as usual,” proposing false solutions to complex problems, or neglecting the role of rigorous independent science in the validation of environmentally clean innovative technology.

The focus on business at UNEA3 and the change from a Science Policy Forum to a Science Policy Business Forum should be reassessed to ensure that the Forum prioritises and aligns with public, rather than private interests.  UNEP is uniquely positioned to strengthen the science-policy interface as cited in “The Future We Want,” paragraph 88, and the Forum can be a driving force in ensuring that the science-policy interface is strengthened globally for the public interest.  We were disappointed in the Forum’s lack of cooperation with and involvement of the Major Groups and Stakeholders this year but acknowledge the efforts of the UNEP Chief Scientist to resolve the situation.  We call on UNEP to guarantee that representatives of the Science and Technology and Business Major Groups are included in all future organizing committees of the Forum. 

S&T MG continues to strongly support the GEO process, Global chemicals outlook and similar global assessments. Projects like The Earth System Governance project, Future Earth and The Sustainable Development Solutions Network are just a few other examples of ongoing scientific research that can also be instrumental in monitoring and setting science-based targets and indicators to address unsustainable consumption and production.

S&T MG supports the resolution with the working title: Environment Under Review:  Enhancing UNEP’s Science-Policy Interface and Endorsement of the Sixth Global Environment Outlook report, and fully expect the future assessment processes to include representation from Major Groups and Stakeholders, including on the proposed Steering Group for Geo7, in accordance with the principles approved in Resolution UNEA1/4 and UNEP/EA.1/INF/14 in June 2014.  

We welcome the spirit of cooperation expressed by the Chief Scientist of UNEP and look forward to this additional avenue for cooperation.  We have held consultations with the Chief Scientist in the Green Tent during this UNEA.

Finally, the critical role of the scientific community, including the providing of facts that may sometimes be inconvenient, cannot be overemphasized in supporting the building of a sustainable global community.  We count on UNEA for the full engagement of the global scientific community, including scientists from the developing world and citizen science - so that no scientist is left behind.  The scientific and technological community stands ready to work with UNEA 4 and future UNEAs, in the spirit of trust and mutually-supportive collaboration.

Thank you