17th Meeting of UNCCD Science-Policy Interface: Opening remarks by Ibrahim Thiaw
2 May 2023
Dear SPI Co-chairs, Members, Observers, and Early Career Fellows of the SPI,
I would like to extend a very warm welcome to all of you who have ventured from near and far to join us at the UN Campus in Bonn, and to some that have joined online.
It is not only the distances involved. It is your time. Your effort. Your commitment. I cannot begin to tell you how much that means to this Convention. But I can assure you that every minute of your time and effort makes a difference.
And the need could not be greater.
Among other things, you are all working on an analysis of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report contributions on climate change adaptation and mitigation with respect to UNCCD priorities. From this you will know that the IPCC concluded that:
“…the pace and scale of what has been done so far, and current plans, are simply insufficient. This is why the choices made in the next few years will play a critical role in deciding our future and that of generations to come. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.
If land is part of the climate change solution – and the past work of the SPI and the IPCC make it very clear it must be – we therefore need to provide our Parties the policy options necessary to make it so.
And indeed, these should be policy options that are firmly grounded in science.
The urgency I am trying to convey does not stop with your IPCC AR6 analysis. Both of your scientific assessment objectives address critical bottlenecks.
The first is guidance on pursuing Sustainable Land Use Systems. This will help our Parties optimize what they do where, with the aim of navigating the trade-offs among competing demands for land and achieving multiple benefits.
The second is understanding aridity trends, projections and impacts. This will help Parties plan for a future where even more land and even more people may well be impacted by desertification and drought.
Responding to the COP mandate for the SPI will require more urgency among all of you. With such tight timelines for delivering the work programme for the biennium 2022 to 2024, it may well require doing things differently.
Doing things differently does not come easy for anyone, particularly after years of experience. Which is why I am so encouraged to see new and younger faces among the more senior scientists in the room!
It’s going to be a two-way beneficial process – they will learn so much from the rest of you. And you, the experienced scientists will also benefit from new perspectives and fresh ideas.
Bear in mind the IPCC focused on ensuring a liveable planet. Those of us closer to my age will not experience the worst of the projections. But all of us have children or other relatives who most certainly will. Which is why the perspectives of the younger generations must figure into our calculus and actions.
It is also why I thought you might like to know the views of Ijad Madisch, one of Germany’s most innovative and influential young scientists on “the need to move fast and break things”.
You may know him as the founder and CEO of ResearchGate, a tool many of you use to track scientific output and impact, or to network with other scientists.
Two things you may not know:
- First, he is a Syrian refugee who has lived what far too many more will experience in the coming years.
- And, secondly, after a telephone request from then German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he joined the 10-member Digital Council of the Cabinet of Germany. At 38 years of age.
Part of the reason Chancellor Merkel chose him was an Op Ed he wrote for the Scientific American calling for a revolution in scientific transparency and accessibility he dubbed the “Science in Real Time; For a Move Fast, Break Things and Talk about It Mentality”.
You will be here for the next three intense days. Debating, drafting and redrafting. With your sleeves rolled up, I urge you to move fast, break things and talk about it.
I urge you to make things happen in your work with a sense of urgency that will ultimately influence policy makers to take bold, necessary and evidence-based action.
To get there on such tight timelines, you may wish to consider Ijad’s suggestion that you find a way to share your results, methods, questions, failures and everything in between as early as you can. Perhaps through some form of preprint that can lead to greater insights before things are finalized.
As Ijad argues, whether or not it is right early on in the process is not the issue. Rather, failures are discoveries in disguise. Looking at everything that hasn’t worked will inevitably eventually lead to something that does. And maybe something far more relevant to policy makers since the feedback you may receive will become part of the results you obtain.
In the domain of high tech start-ups, they say “Fail, and fail fast”. Failure is not a risk to be avoided. It is the basis for disruptive progress that could move your work from confirmational science to something that helps drive much needed change in the world.
But this will only happen if you consider this work as a vital part of the solution, working with the same sense of urgency that the IPCC has requested of all of us.
With this, I thank you again for stepping up to help us all bridge science and policy. And I wish you a disruptive but productive week!