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Scientific diplomacy

International scientific cooperation is necessary to foster research and sustainable development, but first of all to build peace in the world.

This is the purpose of UNESCO’s work in this field, in its capacity of sole UN Agency mandated for science.

UNESCO helps Member States steer their scientific and technological investments, fosters national research policies and capacity-building activities for measuring results by means of statistics and indicators.

There are three main fields of action in UNESCO’s science sector:

  • Science and technology, which focuses on the reform of science-related policies and strategies;
  • Environment, which fosters the sustainable management of biosphere and water resources and strives to raise awareness about these issues;
  • Oceans, which deals with marine research, observation systems, coastal resources management.

UNESCO implements its work by means of several scientific international programmes (ISPs):


International Hydrological Programme (IHP)

The International Hydrological Programme (IHP) is a UNESCO intergovernmental programme devoted to promoting scientific knowledge, technical training and water resources management. IHP is increasingly involved in the definition of developing strategies and policies to prevent water-related conflicts on a local and international scale.


Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)

The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) is the only UN body dealing with marine research; it was founded in 1960 and counts 148 Member States. The IOC is responsible for promoting international cooperation and coordination of oceanographic research programmes in order to foster the sustainable management, development and safeguarding of the marine environment. Its main decision body is the Executive Council, which is composed of 40 Member States representing each regional group and are renewed every two years.

In June 2017, during the 29th General Assembly of the IOC, Italy was re-elected to the Executive Council after 10 years and is represented by the President of the Italian IOC and Research Director at the Italian National Research Council (CNR), Rosalia Santoleri.

Italy is also a member of the Intergovernmental Coordination Group for the Tsunami Early Warning and Mitigation System in the North-eastern Atlantic, the Mediterranean and connected seas (ICG/NEAMTWS), which was established in 2005 under IOC’s umbrella. The Tsunami Warning Centre of the Italian National Institute for Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV) is IOC’s Tsunami Service Provider for the Mediterranean.


Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB)

UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) is an intergovernmental scientific Programme that aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environments on a global scale through the protection of biodiversity and sustainable development.

MAB is namely engaged in promoting scientific cooperation and cross-cutting research to improve resource management; the sustainable management of urban and natural ecosystems and the establishment of natural parks and reserves.

Biosphere reserves comprising terrestrial, marine and coastal ecosystems have been established in the framework of the MAB programme. Biosphere reserves promote scientific cooperation and integrated environmental management in full cooperation with local communities. They represent a concrete example of best practices in the field of sustainable development and living together between man and the environment.

The World Network of Biosphere Reserves currently counts 748 sites, including 20 Italian Reserves.


International Geoscience Programme (IGCP)

Better understanding the Earth is essential for the diversity of life and future of human society. The Earth sciences hold key answers to the challenges we must overcome to preserve our environment and develop sustainably.

For over forty years, UNESCO has worked with the International Union for Geological Sciences (IUGS) to mobilize global cooperation in the Earth sciences through the International Geoscience Programme. This Programme has provided a platform for scientists from across the world to push the frontiers of knowledge forward through concrete projects.

In the early years, the Programme enhanced scientific exchange through the correlation of geological strata and research data, focusing on basic geoscientific research and on making connections between events throughout the Earth’s history.

The Programme supports work on five themes:

  • Earth Resources: Sustaining our Society
  • Global Change: Evidence from the geological record
  • Geohazards: Mitigating the risks
  • Hydrogeology: Geoscience of the water cycle
  • Geodynamic: Control our environment


International Basic Sciences Programme (IBSP)


The International Basic Sciences Programme (IBSP) is an international multidisciplinary programme established by UNESCO Member States in order to reinforce intergovernmental cooperation and co-operation between partner organizations in science to strengthen national capacities in the basic sciences and science education. The Programme focuses on fostering major region-specific actions that involve a network of national, regional and international centres of excellence or benchmark centres in the basic sciences. Promoting North-South and South-South co-operation is at the root of the strategy of the Programme that is being carried in partnership with the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), scientific unions of the International Council for Science (ICSU), the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and other science centres, IGOs and NGOs.

The International Scientific Board of IBSP set up by the Director-General of UNESCO, recommends projects to be carried out and supported by the IBSP world-wide. Since the beginning of IBSP’s activities in 2005, some 40 projects have been launched and carried out within the Programme. These projects focused on capacity building in selected key areas of the physical and biological sciences and on promoting experimentation in science education by using Microscience kits for teaching of different basic science disciplines in schools and higher education institutions. Currently, opportunities for a limited number of new major IBSP initiatives are being explored through continuing dialogue and consultation with Member States and partner organizations within the basic sciences programme.


World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP)

Founded in 2000 and coordinated by UNESCO, the United Nations World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP) is the United Nations programme for freshwater resources around the globe. Ever since 2007 its Secretariat is located in Perugia, at la  Villa La Colombella, thanks to the cooperation between UNESCO, the Italian Government, the Umbria region and the University of Foreigners of Perugia. The WWAP is responsible for coordinating the World Water Development Report (WWDR), which is the key UN annual review providing an authoritative picture of the state, use and management of the world’s freshwater resources. The WWDR harnesses the work of 31 UN-Water members and partners.