GESDA was developed to anticipate those future breakthroughs and their impacts. By leveraging the Geneva International ecosystem and the diplomacy community at large, GESDA aims to accelerate the ways in which we can derive collective benefits, making the most of opportunities to translate proposals into concrete initiatives, and creating new ways for different stakeholders to contribute to a better future. In doing so, we can move from scientific anticipation to anticipatory science diplomacy --- always with the concern of being honest brokers of such a process --- in order for the international community to:
- respond more effectively and more quickly to emerging and future challenges.
- help multilateralism adapt to the acceleration of science, ensuring that its benefits are co-developed and enjoyed by all of the world's inhabitants equally.
The GESDA Summit
In this spirit, the annual Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipation Summit examines the most anticipated scientific disruptions in order to build consensus around potential initiatives for addressing practical problems.
The inaugural GESDA Summit took place 7-9 October 2021 in Geneva, at Campus Biotech, where GESDA is headquartered. This hybrid event attracted more than 900 participants, both onsite and online, including 108 speakers from 33 nations. Scientists and academics, diplomats, executives, investors, philanthropists and citizens gathered to participate based on GESDA's vision: “Use the future to build the present.”
This vision was enhanced by Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis, 2022 President of the Swiss Confederation, which co-founded GESDA, and head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, in his welcome address: “There is a growing feeling that a new 'Cold War' is about to be fought over science and technology and the power they confer to the states, who master them. We must, therefore, reflect on how we can adapt, evolve, and respond to the challenges and opportunities of our time. We need to build the global governance of the 21st century which can only succeed if it is far-sighted, evidence-based and equitable. In this spirit, GESDA is designed as a new tool at the service of effective multilateralism, as a resource we wish to offer to the legitimate actors of international governance.”
Sixteen plenary and parallel sessions formed the core of the 2021 GESDA Summit programme – of which the proceedings of 13 sessions are presented in this document, directly linked to the 18 initial emerging topics and 216 breakthrough predictions identified in the 2021 Science Breakthrough Radar. Organised across the five scientific Platforms, they provide the space for all relevant communities — science, diplomacy in the broad sense, the private sector, philanthropy and civil society — to discuss the implications of those advances and identify first concrete and practical actions.
Anticipation to renew multilateralism
The summit made it clear that anticipation in science and diplomacy can help renew multilateralism. As Alondra Nelson, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told the gathering, “President Joe Biden has described our time as one of great perils and great promises. For those of us in government, to truly be of service, we really have a responsibility to be forthright about both those realities at once. And to be honest both about the risks of innovation and partnership, but also bold in addressing them head-on. And I think that GESDA is a fantastic possibility for working this through. Anticipation is filled, of course, with both enthusiasm and yet unease.” Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and chairman of United Nations Sustainable Development Group, further added that: “One interesting question to explore is: 'Can we make the transition from where science enabled us to understand the challenge, to how diplomacy can accelerate that capacity to act, notwithstanding different interests and geopolitics?' I think multilateralism is absolutely fundamental to that.”
However, as argued by Sir Peter Gluckman, President of the International Science Council, meeting that target will be possible only under one essential condition: “One of the things that this debate is highlighting is the need to make sure that all the sciences, in particular social scientists, are part of the discussion right from the start, rather than allowing the technological sciences to run ahead of the social considerations.”
The cost of non-anticipation
During a Public Plenary Session held at the Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies Geneva (Graduate Institute Geneva) in a joint event organised by the GESDA Foundation, the Institute and the Diplomatic Club of Geneva, another distinguished guest, Enrico Letta (Secretary of the Italian Democratic Party; President of the Jacques Delors Institute; former Prime Minister of Italy; former Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs at Science Po - PSIA; and Member of GESDA Diplomacy Forum) reiterated the necessity of anticipation, but made his point with a distinctive argument: not anticipating will induce huge costs, as he showed with the example of the 2008 economic
crisis, against which his country fully reacted only four years later: “In this precise example, the cost of non-anticipation has been disastrous in terms of human lives taken, of financial resources collapses.” For him, the same applies to non-collaboration, as demonstrated by the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Trust at the core
A first of its kind, the 2021 Geneva Science and Diplomacy Anticipation Summit reached its objective: to create an event as a unique opportunity to bring the most essential scientific issues out of the laboratories and to the attention of world leaders, politicians and diplomats. “We had invaluable inputs. We had creative and motivating comments and messages. They were full of knowledge and of wisdom. And all with intention to help GESDA to find its way into the future,” said Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, GESDA Chairman of the Board of Directors, in his Closing Address. “GESDA can be and should be relevant for all stakeholders. But I also know very well that the relevancy will only last as long as you all have trust in our work. Trust in GESDA as an honest broker which works in a fact-based, transparent and inclusive way. Those are the fundamental conditions at which GESDA can perform its duty as a builder of bridges, between the scientists and the politicians, but also with the involvement of the civil communities from all over the world and in the respect of cultural diversity.”
This section provides a description of the sessions related to the topics discussed in the radar as well as their main conclusions. They provide the basis for the concrete initiatives supported by GESDA, as presented in the introductory sections. The full summit proceedings, including programmes and speakers is available at: https://gesda.global/summit/.