Friday, June 26, 2015

Interview with IOC-UNESCO's new Chair: Peter Haugan from Norway

On 24 June 2015 the Norwegian scientist and former vice-Chair of the European Marine Board Peter Haugan was elected Chairperson of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC). We spoke about his vision on IOC’s future and its relevance for the Dutch government and oceanographic society.

IOC is now again chaired by a person from our Group of Western countries. Is that an opportunity?

Yes I think so. The Norwegian chairpersonship is a good opportunity to raise awareness about ocean challenges in Norway, but also in Europe as a whole. It will certainly strengthen Norway’s involvement in the IOC and help us align IOC priorities with our national priorities. This can apply to the Netherlands as well.

What are IOC’s biggest achievements?
IOC enabled the establishment of the tsunami warning systems (TWS) that can save thousands of lives. First in the Pacific Ocean (1965) and then in the Indian Ocean after a tsunami had killed over 200.000 people there in 2004. These two systems are working now, so the IOC’s mission of convener is mostly completed there. However in Europe  and in the Caribbean the TWS are still under construction and IOC is still crucial to keep this process going. Another achievement is the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS). It’s an impressive network of research vessels, satellites, tide gauges and Argo buoys that collect data in the ocean. Without this network we would not be able to understand the “pauses” in global warming that were measured on the land. Thanks to GOOS we know now that global warming continues and that the heat “disappears” in the oceans, that continue to warm up. This information is crucial for understanding the climate problem.

Peter Haugan (right) and Stein van Oosteren (left)

The IOC is currently having its biennial Assembly that launched the Second Indian Ocean Expedition. Could this project also be beneficial for the Netherlands?
Absolutely. The Netherlands could send a scientist with some equipment to participate in one of the missions. This contribution would be beneficial to both the Dutch oceanographic community and to the multilateral scientific undertaking itself. And when you study ecosystem dynamics it’s indispensable to study in different environments. The Indian Ocean could be an excellent opportunity for the Dutch scientific community. Lastly, these missions are also opportunities for the Netherlands to present its knowledge and technology to the world.

Sometimes scientists and policy-makers complain about a disconnect between them. Do you recognize this?
Yes I recognize this. But first of all I don’t want to create false expectations: I think it’s very difficult to make high level policy-makers attend the almost two weeks of the biennial IOC Assembly. On the other hand I do think IOC can improve the science-policy dialogue.

For example by organizing more informal meetings in between IOC Assemblies where policy-makers can express their needs to scientists. This could focus science and at the same time raise political interest for ocean science. A second example is the World Ocean Science Report that IOC just initiated. It will help decision-makers focus their science policy by informing them on the state of our ocean science capabilities. And lastly IOC could make a useful connection with another important report: the World Ocean Assessment Report. These two reports – about the state of the oceans and our knowledge of it – can provide key input for a comprehensive discussion on what Member States can do in the regions given their scientific capacities. IOC could initiate and host this discussion.

Many UN organizations deal with oceans like FAO, IMO and WMO. What is IOC’s added value in this busy playing field?
Each of the organizations you mention have a specific role related to their specific theme: food and agriculture (FAO), maritime traffic (IMO) and weather patterns (WMO). IOC is different in that it addresses ocean science in general. This makes the IOC relevant for all these organizations. It also makes the IOC relevant as a neutral broker when it comes to international sea conventions. For example with regard to the UN Law of the Sea, for which IOC is already the expert body. This general scientific role is a difficult role, but a very important one.

What about other partners like the private sector? The UK Policy Brief on the future of IOC (see this link) suggested to involve them more, for example by giving them some sort of associate status. What do you think?
I’m not sure the best way of involving the private sector is by giving them a formal status. We must not forget that IOC is and remains an intergovernmental organization. But it’s true that IOC must keep close track of the technology and knowledge that is developed in the private sector. IOC has to think of new and better ways to involve these capacities that are crucial for quality oceanic research.

Nice moment: Peter Haugan elected by acclamation as Chair of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission on 24 June 2015

What other ideas on IOC’s future will you take home after the debate on the UK Policy Brief?
First of all the need to focus IOC’s funding on its key mandate, which is to secure long-term ocean observation with help from both governments and civil society. Secondly IOC should become better at informing experts and the public about the state of the ocean and IOC’s work.

Could social media be an option to boost this communication?
I’m on twitter already (@PeterMHaugan) and I would like to consider using twitter for communication about IOC’s work. But it’s a very quick and volatile medium. This could entail risks because my tweets would engage the whole of IOC. For the moment I prefer to continue to tweet on a personal title, but I might open a special account for the IOC Chairperson in the near future.

The Dutch Kingdom has six islands in the Caribbean ocean, three of which are Small Island Development States (SIDS). What can IOC do for SIDS?
Good point. Many members of the IOC are SIDS. Although they can’t always afford to come to IOC meetings, the IOC should focus on them. They are the first ones to be impacted by climate change. They should expect to benefit from IOC via the tsunami warning systems, ocean services and capacity building.

Do you have a message for the Dutch oceanographic community?
Your Belgian neighbors are very active in IOC. Belgium leads IOC’s International Oceanographic Data and Information Exchange Programme (IODE) in Ostend. They share their knowledge with the world via an “Ocean Teacher” programme for ocean data managers on all continents. My advice: ask the Belgians why they chose to cooperate so closely with IOC. The Netherlands with its strong oceanographic community could also gain from using IOC as a gate to the rest of the world in the same way as Belgium does. It would be good for the Netherlands and for the IOC.

By Stein van Oosteren (@Oosterenvan), Attaché at the Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to UNESCO 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

You are UNESCO

In meetings about UNESCO’s programmes I often hear the following question: “How is UNESCO going to implement this?” This question is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. It supposes that UNESCO is an organization on its own that goes to countries to help them build their educational system, protect their cultural heritage etc. But on its own UNESCO would never be able to do this because UNESCO simply doesn’t have the means for that. First, it has only 1,500 staff members: that’s less than 8 people for each Member State and less than the staff of one single ministry in my country, the Netherlands. Second, it has an annual budget of only $650 million: this is less than the annual budget of an average university in Europe. It’s clear that with so little means UNESCO is not going to change the world.

But still UNESCO can change the world because it is not just an "organization on its own". UNESCO is rather a commitment between 195 Member States to cooperate in the fields I mentioned above: education, science, culture, communication and information. To translate this commitment into concrete activities and international cooperation, UNESCO was given the above mentioned Secretariat of 1,500 staff members. The common mistake here is to think that UNESCO is nothing more than this – relatively small – Secretariat.

In reality this Secretariat is not UNESCO itself – UNESCO refers to cooperation between Member States – but a unit that supports UNESCO. It enables consultations between Member States, coordinates international operations, finds the right (cultural, educational or scientific) experts for the right challenges, organizes meetings where experts can discuss solutions for these challenges, etc. It is also the coordinating link between the numerous global networks that UNESCO represents: UNESCO centers, UNESCO schools, UNESCO chairs, UNESCO water networks, Creative Cities, to name just a few. In sum, the Secretariat is not the “UNESCO engine” itself, but the “spark plug” that keeps it going.

In conclusion, it’s misleading to think that UNESCO is an organization that does things for Member States like a company or an NGO does. UNESCO is not an external service provider. It is the opportunity for 195 Member States themselves to meet and cooperate, including all stakeholders in these Member States like governments, NGOs, companies, universities, schools, water professionals, private companies, municipalities and citizens. So the right question is not “how is UNESCO going to implement this?” but “how are we going to implement these plans we made thanks to the convening power of UNESCO?”

So if you want cultural heritage, freedom of speech and scientific cooperation to be protected and promoted, then don’t sit and wait for UNESCO to come to you. Because whether you’re a student, a diplomat, a CEO, a water expert, a scientist, a policy worker or a journalist, the implementation of UNESCO’s programme (see link) depends on your participation too. In fact, you are UNESCO.

Twitter: @Oosterenvan

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Oceans require scientists and policy-makers to learn each other's language

Some thought that 1993 would be the end of UNESCO, the UN organization for Science. The reason: UNESCO decided then that members of its Executive Board no longer needed to be expert in all UNESCO’s fields of work (education, culture, science, communication and information) but only in one of them. This meant that a UNESCO Board member with no experience in the field of science still had full decision power with regard to UNESCO’s oceanographic strategy and activities.

In the eyes of experts this meant the downgrading of UNESCO from a key scientific forum of experts to a talk-shop of bureaucrats who don’t really know what they’re talking about. The scenario was considered catastrophic: as if in the hospital decisions were no longer taken by the Chief Heart Surgeon but by the Financial Director! Science – a long-term and winding process by nature – would become the victim of short-term cost-benefit analyses and political whims.

The decision-makers on the other hand seemed to be happier because they received more freedom to appoint Board members. However many kept complaining about a disconnect between science and politics: they felt that scientists kept on doing too much “their own thing”. As a consequence they also experienced a lack of accountability.

How can we overcome this gap between those who do (scientists) and those who decide (policy-makers)? I think this can be done if both parties are willing to learn each other’s language.

Decision-makers need to learn the scientific language of serendipity and patience. Without these concepts it is impossible to understand that it takes decades of research to provide society with “societal relevance”. Three examples. Firstly, nobody knew that the microchip – present everywhere in our environment – would be a byproduct of a scientific project that was launched…. to put a man on the moon! Secondly, nobody knew that the invention of the mobile phone would totally revolutionize the way we live and interact with each other. It’s even funny to see how Dutch people reacted in this video from 1999 when they were asked if they wanted a “mobile phone”. They were surprised and not interested at all. Imagine what policy-makers would have written if they had to assess a scientific project launched to create “mobile phones”. And lastly, when UNESCO created CERN in 1954, nobody knew that 45 years later CERN scientist Tim Berners-Lee would invent the world wide web which allows all computers in the world to communicate via the internet. Nobody ordered the world wide web, it just popped up and it changed the world forever. 

Scientists need to learn the political language of changing winds and impatience. Not to accelerate science or to adapt it to changing political winds, but to be better motivated and equipped to explain how science really works and what can be expected from it. Instead of blaming policy-makers for their impatience, scientists must explain to them why it’s a bad idea to be impatient with science and foremost what this means in terms of infrastructure investments and performance indicators. What are the right performance indicators according to scientists?

Once policy-makers and scientists will speak each other’s language, a constructive dialogue can follow. Policy-makers will understand better that it takes more than counting publications to capture the true value of science. Scientists will understand that their help is needed to design more sophisticated indicators to describe the value of science better. For example: are scientists invited to participate in relevant decision-making bodies? Does their research contribute to debates in society? Does it provide relevant advice to the government? Does it spark new insights and developments, contribute to innovations, improve interdisciplinary cooperation, or increase our data monitoring capacity? Does it help the international community?

This policy-science dialogue will help policy-makers to communicate better to scientists about their needs. What are the challenges they face in running the country? Together with scientists they can identify the corresponding knowledge gaps. This is where UNESCO’s 5 scientific programmes can be especially helpful to the international community. Because they address challenges that can’t be solved by one country, not even by one continent on its own. Examples are the rise and acidification of our oceans which will be addressed during the upcoming General Assembly of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission from 18-25 June 2015. If scientists and policy-makers can find a common language in Paris to agree about the political need to take action and about the scientific (and economic!) consequences of this action, the world might remain a safe place for another couple of decades.

This blog is a plea for a meaningful dialogue between scientists and policy-makers, nothing more and nothing less. It doesn’t pretend that the value of science can be measured exactly, let alone be predicted for the decades to come. But this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to at least indicate the value of science and that consequently science-policy can only mean “carte blanche”. We can indicate the value of science if only we make the effort to develop the right language to discuss it: a language that expresses intellectual perseverance, real world challenges, performance indicators (yes) and, to quote former Dutch Ambassador Dirk-Jan Van den Berg, some “adequate free space to foster the unimaginable in order for the science system to work”.

Twitter: @Oosterenvan


Cynisme is als een pantserwagen
die door muren breekt
een dof soort gemakzucht
op rupsbanden

De cynicus heeft zich gewikkeld in een deken
lekker warm
en pluizig
de tonnen energie die verspild worden in de wereld
nog meer cynisme produceren
want het helpt toch niet

Pas op
cynisme trekt het tapijt onder je vandaan
waar jij net op was gaan staan
zo werkt het nu eenmaal jongen

En dan die kalme toon
zo cynisch
met half open ogen uitgesproken
in de verte turend met wangen zo bleek
als opgedroogde levenslust

Cynisme kan gortdroog zijn
druilerig en triest
maar ook agressief
als het komt uit kaken die jouw suggesties vermalen
tot pulp

Als cynisme spreekt, spreekt altijd het Grote Gelijk
een discours omringd door kasteelmuren met spleten
om door te schieten op mensen die blijven krabbelen
als baby-ratjes

Cynisme is een pact met de zinloosheid
waarvan niemand het kan winnen
ook jij niet
zelfs God niet

Ik ben de cynicus uiterst dankbaar
voor de geboden bescherming
tegen de nutteloosheid

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Het menselijke

Het menselijke schuilt in de dingen waar we op afstuiven
in wat ons bij elkaar houdt
in wat ons verblindt.

Het menselijke zit deels verborgen in onze genen en ingewanden
deels in wat we snappen van ons bestaan
in wat het met ons doet.

Het menselijke doet ons vergeten dat alles eigenlijk heel raar is
dat we op doorreis zijn
door een verzonnen samenhang.

Het menselijke is de intieme draad die elk van ons spint
en die we tijd noemen, ik, of mijn leven
een serie losse foto’s die ik aaneenrijg als bij toverslag
als ik terugblik.

Maar het menselijke is ook wat morgen gebeurt en nu nog uit schimmen bestaat
de kar vol met vage plannen die op ons staat te wachten
met draaiende motor

Het menselijke zit tussen zinloosheid en joie de vivre in
tussen stoppen en doorlopen
een soort aarzeling maar zonder dat het zo voelt
een vloeiende maar broze beweging.

Het menselijke is alles ter discussie kunnen stellen
de vrijheid royaal tegemoet kunnen springen
zelfmoord plegen
zomaar een lied voor iemand gaan staan zingen.

Het menselijke is wat ons raakt
niet het cadeau maar de geste
de betrokkenheid van jullie bij mij
wat mij zin geeft om hier te blijven.

Het menselijke is de stroom gedachten die nergens heen gaat
die alleen maar ontspringt
en maar kronkelt.

Het menselijke is ook de stof waaruit we opgebouwd zijn
de combinatie van cellen die aan elkaar gehecht zijn
een samenraapsel van vlees, vloeistof en botten
dat lief voor iemand kan zijn.

Het menselijke kun je onder meer zien als je door de onverschilligheid heen prikt
als je verrast wordt door de levenslust van iemand
of door de seksualiteit die we ademen.

Het meest menselijke is misschien wat opborrelt als we de pijp uitgaan
als het menselijke weer verdwijnt