My first encounter with Chile did not quite go to plan.  In fact the reception was rather frosty, chilly even, on account of my having inadvertently smuggled 0.12kg of plantain illegally into the country.  I had forgotten that I had a banana, in rather sorry state at the bottom of my bag,  that I had failed both to consume on the plane and to declare in my customs paperwork.   After an hour or so of questioning, and not a little humiliation, I was let off with a caution; the banana fared less well.

Things got much better after that.  I was in Santiago, Chile, accompanying the Society’s Foreign Secretary and representing the Society at the InterAcademy Panel’s (IAP) biannual executive committee meeting.   IAP is a network of 104 of the world’s science academies; its mission is threefold:  (1) to provide high quality, independent global science advice to governments and international organizations; (2) to support major programmes on scientific capacity building, science education and science communication; and (3) to play a lead role in efforts to improve the effectiveness and impact of international cooperation in science.

Representatives from Australia, Canada, Chile, China, France, India, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico and the US also participated.  Our Chilean hosts, the Chilean Academy of Sciences and its charismatic president, Professor Juan Asenjo, laid on a superb social programme, and one couldn’t help but be impressed by Santiago itself.  In fact, had the programme been a public relations or tourism marketing exercise, it would have passed with flying colours.

The mood at the meeting was one of ambition and expectation, following the interacademies’ high-profile, independent review of the IPCC for the UN.  The IPCC review has helped place the world’s science academies very much in the public eye, by demonstrating their collective role in critically important international issues.  IAP’s ability to convene the best scientific minds in the world is very powerful, and one that it hopes to continue to exploit.  In a New Scientist article earlier this year, the IAP was described as the “United Nations for Science”.  In a more recent article in Nature, it was tasked with promoting science as “both a magnificent adventure for mankind and a necessary force for [international] development”, and in doing so to provide “a source of hope for the most deprived people on the planet”.

High expectations indeed, but ones that this week in Chile we continued to pursue:  we agreed the next round of funding for member academies and their regional networks to collaborate on science education, science communication and capacity building; water, energy and sustainability; and planned for ongoing and future policy related work.

The Royal Society is a proactive supporter of interacademy networks, helping build capacity in weaker science academies in Europe and around the world, as well as using them to scale up the reach and potential impact of its own work on policy issues. Recent interacademy statements on subjects ranging from ocean acidification to biosecurity highlight where the world’s leading scientists reach consensus, and so are very powerful tools in international governance.   Discussions of the science around global challenges – such as climate change, food, water and energy security and health – are imperative if we are to deliver evidence-based policies to tackle them.  This global approach to global problems must be more useful than one that is delivered in national or regional silos, and the continued development of a global forum for science academies creates room for these important discussions. Watch this space.

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