This text is a considerably expanded version of the notes I used to give a short address to the Inter-Academy Seoul Science Forum (IASSF) on "Global Cooperation in Science and Technology". The conference was hosted by the Korean Academy of Science and Technology (KAST) November 11 and 12 2015.

It is trivial to state that science and technology are universal. A significant part of the research is performed in multi-national organisations or in well interconnected universities and research centres, the results of publicly funded research are, at least in principle, generally freely accessible,  and knowledge once acquired by any individual or  group can be understood, again in principle, by anybody anywhere. All this notwithstanding science and technology are considerable economic and strategic assets for enterprises small or international and for nations. Access to large parts of knowledge is therefore often severely limited and restricted by state or industrial policies, and commercially protected by patents. Open cooperation is hampered as soon as particular strategic, economic or industrial interests are at stake.  

Today the world population is confronted with a set of global challenges. Individuals anywhere on the planet see their living conditions influenced not only by local, regional or national conditions, but also by phenomena occurring everywhere on the planet. The climate anywhere is the local response to atmospheric phenomena that know no boundaries, and that are nowadays influenced by chemical emissions ensuing from decisions taken everywhere. The local climate then determines the local weather patterns, influences the proliferation of organisms, including pests of all sorts, it also influences agriculture. Pests propagate illnesses for crops, animals and humans. Travel of goods and people cause the voluntary or involuntary transport of macro- or micro- organisms that influence bio-diversity, food security and directly and indirectly human health. Bio-diversity losses influence crop fertility that in turn has a direct impact on human wellbeing. Climate evolution also impacts directly on social and political tensions and contributes to the large movements of populations that are now taking place. These are some illustrations of the global  to local interconnections that shape our lives. Other examples could be drawn from the global circulation of water or from a number of public health questions related to the increasing resistance of pathogen bacteria to treatment, or to the emergence of new diseases and possible pandemics.

It is certainly true that not all consequences of the changes in the earth natural system related to human activity are negative. Some in cold regions can for example rejoice at the perspective of milder living conditions; navigational routes may become practicable that were not before. Altogether, however, expectations are that globally more problems are emerging than are being solved, this will be the point of view adopted here. It is also certain that whatever the assessment of the value of human induced changes on the earth, adaptation will be essential in the coming years.

Efforts to limit human induced evolutions as well as adaptation require extensive knowledge of the phenomena taking place, from the physics  and chemistry of the atmosphere and sun-earth interaction; the  dynamics of the earth surface and the oceans; to the biology of plants, animals and humans;  to agriculture; and to the sociological, psychological, physiological and political response to real or perceived modifications of the local environment. Mastering the science needed to describe these phenomena represents a massive challenge for the scientific community as a whole.

Human activity anywhere on the earth having an impact everywhere, one cannot accept that the mitigation and adaptation efforts be hampered by considerations of particular interests. Populations that see their living space destroyed by raising sea levels caused by greenhouse gas emissions in highly industrialised regions far from the sea shores cannot accept that industrial interests limit the development of possible solutions, to give but one illustration of the point. It may be somewhat naïf to request that all knowledge needed to adapt or mitigate or prevent the human caused modifications to the environment be made available to all, irrespective of the origin of that knowledge and without consideration of particular interests. But this necessity must be stressed loudly.

It is the role of the science academies nowadays to synthetize the available knowledge, to express the synthesis in a form that can be understood by non-scientists and to ensure that the necessary knowledge is injected in the political decision-making processes. Academies fill this role as independently as possible  from economic, political, financial or religious interests. In a time when a large body of knowledge is needed to respond to changing ecological conditions, this role is of  paramount importance. Assuming that governments not only regulate public actions, but also provide the legal and social frame in which the private sector acts within their jurisdiction,  they have the heavy responsibility to decide on the measures that our societies must take to meet the challenges caused by the human induced modifications to the environment. The interaction of science academies with governments must, therefore, be seen as essential to ensure informed decisions. The global nature of the problematic implies that all governments are involved in this process.

That informed decisions can lead to the solution of global problems created by human activity is very powerfully illustrated by the decrease of the stratospheric ozone hole that has been achieved through a global ban on halogens. The present atmospheric problems due to massive injections of a number of chemical compounds related mainly to the transformation of energy are much more difficult to deal with. Much broader aspects of our civilisations are impacted now than was the case when the limitation of halogen emissions was considered. Nonetheless the success achieved by the international community in dealing with the ozone hole shows that action is possible.

At the present epoch decision-making is very heavily national. National governments consider that their role is primarily to protect and develop the interests of their populations. Seen in the light of search for global responses to planet wide questions, this attitude is a manifest case of defence of particular interests. Almost the whole political power worldwide is in the hands of national governments. Supra national entities exist in the frame of the United Nations and the European Union for example. In the former case the authority is, however, exercised by a council of national governments, so that <em>in fine</em>, the nations remain the prime power holder. In the European Union nations do delegate to the commission and the European parliament a --small-- fraction of their power.

Academies are also for the vast majority associated with national governments. They are providing scientific evidence for use in their country. The knowledge academies use is, however, global, and they formed continental and global networks. The aim of these organisations is to consider the earth problems on a scale that seems much more appropriate than the national one, and that, in addition to being free of industrial or economic interests, are also free of national interests. EASAC, the European Academies Science Advisory Council, is designed in this way to serve as a scientific partner for the European Union. The IAP, the Inter Academy Partnership, is a global institution, it works with a small number global scientific organisations.

The global nature of the environmental problems, be they atmospheric, oceanic or biological, requires that a comprehensive view of the solutions devoid of particular interests be developed. There is a strong need for a global approach that  often cannot be approached as the sum, or some combination, of national interests. The national interests are necessarily divergent and it is in no way evident that a competition between national interests modulated by the respective weight of the nations on the global power scene will result in a set  of decisions that are optimised to keep our habitat livable for all of us.  The development of truly continental and global decision making structures is therefore to be encouraged. The academies are prepared for this evolution.