Science at the centre of the agenda

2022 opens a new cycle for science. 36 countries, including Spain, submitted a proposal to the UN General Assembly to declare it the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development. It was unanimously approved on 2 December.

This decision inaugurates a new era in which the political agenda will no longer be able to ignore scientific criteria and the fulfilment of the SDGs will depend on the ability to listen to and heed those who develop and apply the tools of knowledge. He tells the story in this article published in Matter/El PaísThe Rafael del Pino Foundation professor, Javier García.

UN General Assembly

Article by Javier García

"So far this decade, we have learned - I would like to think - that evidence-based decisions, scientific research and international cooperation are our best allies in tackling the challenges ahead. Science will not solve our problems, but it allows us to understand their causes and gives us a better understanding of their causes. tools to combat them effectively. Moreover, science also has a very important role to play in the design, definition and evaluation of the most appropriate public policies. That is why more than thirty organisations from all over the world, including the main Scientific Unions, are leading this International Year with the aim of putting science at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. Dozens of academies, research centres and universities around the world have joined this effort.

Making the Sustainable Development Goals a reality is a matter of political will and individual commitment. Regulation, tax incentives and our behaviour play a key role in building a better future. However, in many cases, generous public support or well-intentioned actions do not have the desired effect because, all too often, they do not have the desired effect, that which brings us closer to one of the Sustainable Development Goals distances us from others.. For example, the use of fertilisers in drylands allows us to reduce hunger, poverty and inequality where it is most needed. But it contributes to CO2 generation (produced in the manufacture of ammonia), water pollution (which loses dissolved oxygen when fertilisers reach rivers and lakes) and the use of fossil fuels (needed to make the hydrogen used in the production of ammonia, which is the basis of most fertilisers).

This is precisely why we need a new, evidence-based approach to define the most effective public policies and actions, not those that are more intuitive on the surface. Professors Francesco Fuso and Ricardo Vinuesa, both from the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, have published a paper in Nature Communicationsin which they analyse how Artificial Intelligence can help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. In this study they have found unexpected positive and negative relationships that are key to designing better public policies. But mathematics offers us many other tools that help us make better decisions, eliminate biases and make better use of our resources.

European recovery funds

This International Year coincides with a time in which science is playing a major role in the fight against the pandemic. But we are also in the midst of rebuilding a battered economy. The European Recovery Funds, and in particular the Next Generation programme, are a unique opportunity to invent and implement a new and innovative approach to the recovery of our economy. new economy more aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. To make this new paradigm a reality, we will need new materials that allow us to produce, store and use renewable energy. Several research groups are working on new catalysts that allow us to reduce waste generation. Other colleagues are developing technologies capable of transforming CO2 in high value-added products. They are also creating alternatives to plastics which have the same light weight, low cost and excellent properties, but which can also be reused indefinitely.

The science of the future will be done by multidisciplinary teams.. In fact, this is a trend that has been consolidating over the last few years, as was highlighted at the recent Youth, Knowledge and Agenda 2030 organised by the Young Academy of Spain. Large companies hire people with different profiles and complementary skills. In the same way, the best laboratories are made up of researchers from various disciplines who work to solve the most complex problems using alternative approaches.

But working in multidisciplinary teams is neither easy nor something that is taught in science faculties. Precisely for this reason, one of the objectives of this International Year is to reinvent education so that creativity, critical thinking and entrepreneurship are promoted and developed from the earliest stages of the educational process. The gap between science and science education is growing. Scientific advances in recent years have blurred the boundaries between disciplines and opened up unimaginable possibilities. However, scientific careers are highly compartmentalised and the syllabuses are largely the same as those we studied decades ago.

Spain for certain

Because of the pandemic, the proclamation of this International Year has been delayed so long that it will, in fact, straddle two years. It will start in mid-2022 and last until the summer of next year. By then, there will be barely 7 years left to make the ambitious 2030 Agenda a reality. Precisely to put science at the centre of the agenda, some of the best researchers in our country have written, Spain a Ciencia a CiertaThis is a real roadmap for the technologies at our disposal to boost our country's economy, employment and sustainability.

Spain has promoted the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development which has received the unanimous support of the United Nations. The real work begins now. Our country can lead this new era in which those who offer solutions will set the international agenda. Just as dangerous is the well-known "let them invent" as "let them lead". This new type of leadership does not seem to be on our political agenda, but an opportunity is now opening up for Spain to put science behind the wheel of its international, economic and environmental policy.

Javier García Martínez is president of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) for the 2022-2023 biennium, member of the working group of the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development and president of the Young Academy of Spain. Professor of inorganic chemistry at the University of Alicante and professor of the Rafael del Pino Foundation. Trustee of the Gadea Foundation for Science.