Science diplomacy for sustainable development


Irene Castellano Pellicena is a Scientific Project Officer in Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) where she manages the Sustainable Development Goal Challenge. In this article, Irene summarises the main issues surrounding the role of science diplomacy for sustainable development.

The Marie Curie Alumni Association is an active member in the science diplomacy field and as such it is part of the EU Science Diplomacy Alliance since its conception in 2021.

The Marie Curie Alumni Association (MCAA) has been involved in capacity building and training of members in science diplomacy (SD) since 2018. A session on 'Science Diplomacy for Sustainable Development' was organised during the 2022 MCAA Annual Conference. In this session, Mostafa Moonir Shawrav (former MCAA chair), moderated a panel of three experts in SD: Peter Gluckman, Julia MacKenzie and Melody Brown Burkins.

Peter Gluckman is the President of the International Science Council. He gave his point of view on the important role of SD for sustainable development by showcasing several examples:

• The weak state in which health diplomacy was before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic made the response to the crisis extremely difficult. The world witnessed the clash between private and public good, the low authority of the World Health Organization as well as the weakness of international health regulations and institutions.

• Climate diplomacy is key to persuade society to do assessments on climate-related risks and vulnerabilities, which will develop resilience and will support decision-making in a complex scenario (Gluckman & Bardsley, 2022). The world cannot rely on technological advance alone anymore, but environmental and societal transitions need to be considered too. Otherwise, issues such as reducing emissions in the global north versus the global south will continue to be recurring topics in the climate change agenda. The encouragement of real transdisciplinary research could be a way to finally tackle the current climate crisis.

• The high speed of technological development in today’s world represents a challenge for SD. Transdisciplinarity research will enable a fast adoption of new technological developments to solve current challenges. However, transdisciplinarity represents a challenge in itself for the research community. Intergovernmental bodies, such as UNESCO, national agencies and different actors interested in addressing big challenges such as the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, are developing new mechanisms to encourage transdisciplinarity research. One of these mechanisms is the challenge and/or mission oriented research and innovation, (Miedzinski et al., 2019) which is a solution-focused approach to direct research and innovation towards addressing ambitious societal problems collaboratively.

• Finally, SD will have to respond to new challenges while others are still not solved. Nowadays, this new challenge is the war in Ukraine. While there is an immediate need to support refugees, SD should develop a strategy on how to interact with scientists in Russia. Maintaining the dialogue with scientific organisations in Russia could be instrumental to ensure a sustainable future in the region and in the world, similar to what happened during the Cold War.

Julia MacKenzie is chief program officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She focused on the increasingly important role of informal (or track 2) diplomacy for sustainable development. Informal diplomacy is a type of SD led by non-state actors who could influence SD practices at the state level. The AAAS is an interdisciplinary scientific society with many international members which deploys informal SD actions. AAAS ensures high quality science is placed at the heart of actions taken on behalf of society. Some practical examples of AAAS actions as a non-state actor in SD shared by Julia can be found below:

• The tensions between US and China highly influence the weak response of the US government to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, while scientific evidence was pointing towards the need of a much more serious approach. Scientific journalists of the AAAS did a lot of work to showcase the scientific evidence coming from China as well as the opinions of scientists working in China. The use of masks as a health prevention measure against COVID-19 was introduced by the US Government just after an interview done by the AAAS, where Chinese scientists showed their shock in relation to the lack of policies or rules about mask wearing in the US.

• The AAAS have developed a much more local focus in the context of climate change to deliver more practical actions. In this local context, AAAS promotes a bidirectional dialogue between scientists and civic intermediaries and hopes to end the traditional dialogue between scientists in their ivory tower. As part of this new Issue 28 - September 2021This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. 20 Science Diplomacy Issue 31 - June 2022strategy, the AAAS created a programme to connect journalists with local scientists, ensuring well-informed news. This is a high priority and a big challenge due to the rise of nationalist movements guided by feelings instead of facts.

Melody Brown Burkins is the director of the Institute of Arctic Studies where she specialises in inclusivity in SD.

She exposed that we live in a system where researchers share science unidirectionally. The exclusivity of both science and SD makes it difficult to practice inclusivity in these two fields. While challenging, the only way to have a more equitable and inclusive future for all, is to develop an inclusive approach to sustainable development today.

• As the director of the Institute of Arctic Studies, Melody is trying to ensure sustainability of the north by including all types of knowledge. In particular, she focuses her efforts on the inclusion of indigenous communities of the north in the plans for the future of the region.

• The voice of youth is also a critical one for sustainable development. SD needs to be open to younger generations to engage with novel ideas. Melody has also worked with UNESCO on a report on inclusivity in higher education (Parr et al., 2022). This report concluded that higher education has a very important role to play in developing more inclusive approaches for global sustainability and to develop a more inclusive knowledge system.

The audience’s interest in different topics encouraged a rich discussion. In conclusion, the panel highlighted the importance of real transdisciplinary research to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs), the relevance of SDGs in every country – independently of national characteristics, the requirement of an increased coordination between stakeholders (governments, industry, financial services and/or international organisations) in order to increase preparedness for future challenges as well as to optimise current outcomes on the SDGs, the opportunities towards inclusivity that the COVID-19 pandemic brought, mainly in the form of hybrid working and the increase in open science practices. Finally, all panel members suggested that both a top-down and bottom-up approach are needed to achieve the SDGs.

Irene Castellano Pellicena
MCAA Task Force on Science Diplomacy and
MCAA Research Funding Working Group
Scientific Project Officer, Science Foundation Ireland


Gluckman, P., & Bardsley, A. (2022). Policy and political perceptions of risk: The challenges to building resilient energy systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 380(2221).

Miedzinski, M., Mazzucato, M., & Ekins, P. (2019). A framework for mission-oriented innovation policy roadmapping for the SDGs: The case of plastic-free oceans (Working Paper Series, IIPP WP 2019–03). UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose.

Parr, A., Binagwaho, A., Stirling, A., Davies, A., Mbow, C., Hessen, D. O., Bonciani Nader, H., Salmi, J., Brown Burkins, M., Ramakrishna, S., Serrano, S., Schmelkes, S., Tong, S., & McCowan, T. (2022). Knowledge-driven actions: Transforming higher education for global sustainability. UNESCO.

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