as well as the creation of appropriate institutional arrangements such as the office of Science Advisor. Such an office would be responsible for designing the procedures needed for science advice as outlined in Chapter 2.


The United Nations system operates through a wide range of organs including the General Assembly, commissions, programs, research institutes, agencies, treaty bodies, forums, and conferences. Science advisory mechanisms of one sort or another are found throughout the system. However, executive heads of UN agencies, including the United Nations Secretary-General, have no systematic mechanisms that govern science advice for their operations. This is particularly important because these officers are responsible for alerting governments on emerging issues in their areas of jurisdiction, although decision making is reserved for intergovernmental processes. The various organs of the United Nations are autonomous and respond to their governing bodies rather than to other UN organs.

Many of the advisory committees of the United Nations provide scientific input into decision making but have no specific procedures that ensure quality and balance. Treaty bodies dealing with a variety of environmental and sustainable development issues have started to establish subsidiary bodies to incorporate science advice in their functions. However, the advice provided by these bodies is usually framed in the context of negotiating positions. There are a few quasi-independent science assessment processes in the United Nations that provide status reports on global scientific problems and recommendations to governments. The best known of these is the IPCC, which serves as a model for other assessment processes.

The agencies use a wide range of approaches to provide science advice depending on the functions of the various organs. Many of them rely on science advisory committees, staff reports, and consultancy studies, and the credibility of such reports varies considerably. Much of the advice provided in the United Nations system is undertaken indirectly through various deliberative bodies or through subsidiary advisory bodies. IPCC offers one model for fairly independent science advisory bodies within the UN system, but, as an intergovernmental body, its results already reflect a degree of government input, and it is not entirely independent. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) is an alternative approach designed to preserve the independence of the advisory process.

There are presently considerable efforts by several organizations to improve the role of science advice in United Nations activities. The focus of the efforts has been to find institutional arrangements to improve the balance between scientific credibility and the need to promote interactions between policy makers and the scientific community, many of them inspired by IPCC. The recommendations provided in this report aim to support current efforts to improve science advice in the system.

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