Options Winter 2020: Q&A with Heide Hackmann, CEO of the International Science Council and IIASA Distinguished Visiting Fellow.

woman © International Science Council

Q Why is there a need for a consultative
platform like the one established by IIASA and the International Science Council (ISC)?

A COVID-19 has revealed the devastating realities
of an increasingly complex and cascading global risk
landscape. Those realities call for urgent, transformative responses: for radical shifts in thinking away from business-as-usual approaches and for action towards profound changes in the interconnected social, economic, political, cultural, and technological systems that sustain our unsustainable, unequal lifestyles, and humanity’s continued assault on the planetary system. Understanding what our options for transformative thinking and action are, and what it will take to realize them in practice, requires international, multi-stakeholder engagement in processes that harness knowledge, insights, and expertise for the development of tractable pathways to a postpandemic world. The IIASA-ISC consultative platform has been established to convene such engagement.

Q Can you outline why the four selected themes were chosen and elaborate on the importance of the interdisciplinary nature of these themes?
A The selected themes for the IIASA-ISC consultations speak to essential cornerstones of the transformations now needed. Robust, interdisciplinary scientific understanding and evidence is essential to their design and delivery. But to effectively inform, catalyze, and help navigate processes of transformation, science itself must change: this is the moment for scientists – from all fields, all disciplines, and all parts of the world – to embrace the open science movement, to recommit to international, interdisciplinary collaboration and meaningful engagement with policy and the wider public.

Q How can systems thinking contribute to ensuring a sustainable post-COVID world?
A COVID-19 is more than a global public health crisis. Systems thinking allows us to understand the causes and consequences of the pandemic, revealing how a biological hazard is one of multiple risks embedded in the complexity of today’s interconnected global ecology, including its social, environmental, and economic dimensions. Systems thinking will ensure that as we rally towards recovery from the pandemic, our attention will not be diverted away from climate and the broader ambitions of the 2030 Agenda and its integrated framework of Sustainable Development Goals. The UN Secretary-General’s call to “build back better” from COVID-19 is a call to recommit to that agenda. Promoting systems thinking is essential to any policy and public action in response to that call.

Q In what ways will the platform encourage policymakers to make choices other than those purely driven by economic recovery?
A The IIASA-ISC platform will serve as a lever of change by heightening awareness and understanding of the systemic nature of the crisis and of the pathways to recovery. It will provide a global resource of systemsbased expertise to inspire greener thinking away from
business-as-usual approaches of restarting the hydrocarbon based economy.