International Council for Science
or International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU)


ICSU is a non-governmental organization, founded in 1931 to bring together natural scientists in international scientific endeavour. It comprises 98 multi-disciplinary National Scientific Members (scientific research councils or science academies) and 26 international, single-discipline Scientific Unions to provide a wide spectrum of scientific expertise enabling members to address major international, interdisciplinary issues which none could handle alone. The Council seeks to break the barriers of specialization by initiating and coordinating major international interdisciplinary programmes and by creating interdisciplinary bodies which undertake activities and research programmes of interest to several members. The Council acts as a focus for the exchange of ideas and information and the development of standards. The principal source of ICSU's finances is the the contributions it receives from its Members. Other sources of income are the framework contracts from UNESCO and grants and contracts from UN bodies, foundations and agencies, which are used to support the scientific activities of the ICSU Unions and interdisciplinary bodies. Recognition that scientific questions about the ocean often require an interdisciplinary approach led the International Council for Science (ICSU) to form its first interdisciplinary body, the Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) in 1957.

Four major research programmes, organised through ICSU and its partners, provide a framework for Earth System Research. They identify scientific priorities and develop standard methodologies that are widely used in national programmes, thereby helping to foster and integrate research collaborations. The results of these programmes help to provide policy makers with the best available scientific knowledge for setting strategies for sustainable development. The following programmes are covering these aspects of Earth system science:

  • International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) - the global interactions between living and non-living processes; together, these systems underpin the habitability and productivity of our planet

  • World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) - the physical climate system, comprising the dynamics of the atmosphere, the oceans, the land surface and ice sheets.

  • DIVERSITAS - the structure and function of biological diversity; covering plant, animal and microbial life, on land, in freshwater and at sea.

  • International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) - the interactions between human society and its environment on a planetary scale.

 Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) 


The Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research (SCOR) was the first (1957) interdisciplinary body formed by ICSU, when it recognises that scientific questions about the ocean often require an interdisciplinary approach. SCOR is the leading non-governmental organization for the promotion and coordination of international oceanographic activities. SCOR does not have the resources to fund research directly; therefore, SCOR science activities focus on promoting international cooperation in planning and conducting oceanographic research, and solving methodological and conceptual problems that hinder research. The first two global-scale projects resulting from SCOR activities were primarily physical studies: the World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE) and the Tropical Ocean-Global Atmosphere Study (TOGA). Both grew out of SCOR's former Committee on Climatic Changes and the Ocean, which was a joint activity with the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO. Since the late 1980s, SCOR has played a major role in fostering the development of two newer global change programs, both of which now form part of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP). These are the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS) and the Global Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics (GLOBEC) project, which differ substantially in their goals. SCOR is presently working with IGBP to launch the international Surface Ocean - Lower Atmosphere Study (SOLAS) and in defining the next generation of research on biological and chemical aspects of the ocean in relation to global change.


International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP)


IGBP's mission is to deliver scientific knowledge to help human societies develop in harmony with Earth's environment. The scientific objective is to describe and understand the interactive physical, chemical and biological processes that regulate the total Earth System, the unique environment that it provides for life, the changes that are occurring in this system, and the manner in which they are influenced by human actions. IGBP is an international scientific research programme built on interdisciplinarity, networking and integration that adds value to a large number of individual, national and regional research projects.
Achieving global sustainability requires scientific knowledge about how Earth works, and what we are doing to it. The growing recognition that global change is a reality has brought into sharp focus some fundamental questions about our planet. How does it function as a system? How robust is Earth in the face of growing human-driven pressures? Are we in a transition to a new, stable 'state'? If so, what will be the climate of this new state? What will be the responses, and feedbacks, of Earth's biosphere? How can, and should we return to the pre-industrial state of the Earth System? How can human societies - our industrial systems, institutions, cultures and values - respond to this challenge? Acquiring the scientific understanding to answer these questions is well beyond the scope of individual countries and regions. It is also well beyond individual disciplines, and beyond the traditional divide between the natural and the social sciences. Gaining the knowledge base needed to underpin the transition to global sustainability demands an unprecedented international and interdisciplinary scientific research effort.
The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) was established by the International Council for Science (ICSU) in 1986 to help meet this challenge.


back home top