A brief history

ICSU was founded in 1931 to promote international scientific activity in the different branches of science and its application for the benefit of humanity. It is one of the oldest non-governmental organizations in the world and represents the evolution and expansion of two earlier bodies known as the International Association of Academies (IAA; 1899-1914) and the International Research Council (IRC; 1919-1931).

Three consecutive Secretaries General of the Council pictured in this photo of the Wireless Telegraph Section of the Cambridge University Officers Training Corps, 1912.

In 1998, Members agreed that the Council’s current composition and activities would be better reflected by modifying the name from the International Council of Scientific Unions to the International Council for Science, while its rich history and strong identity would be well served by retaining the existing acronym, ICSU.

ICSU’s strength and uniqueness lies in its dual membership of National Scientific Members and International Scientific Unions. The wide spectrum of scientific expertise in the membership, allows ICSU to address major, international, interdisciplinary issues which its Members could not handle alone.

ICSU seeks to accomplish its role in a number of ways. Over the years, it has addressed specific global issues through the creation of Interdisciplinary Bodies, and of Joint Initiatives in partnership with other organizations. Important programmes of the past include the International Polar Year (2007-08), International Geophysical Year (1957-58) and the International Biological Programme (1964-74). Major current programmes include the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), DIVERSITAS: An International Programme of Biodiversity Science and the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP).

In 1992, ICSU was invited to act as principal scientific adviser to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro and, again in 2002, to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg. Prior to UNCED, ICSU organized an International Conference on an Agenda of Science for Environment and Development into the 21st Century (ASCEND 21) in Vienna, in 1991, and ten years later, ICSU mobilized the scientific community even more broadly by organizing, with the help of other organizations, a Scientific Forum in parallel to the WSSD itself. ICSU also actively participated in the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva, 2003 and Tunis, 2005.

In 2006, ICSU celebrated its 75th anniversary and published several documents that explore the history and achievements of ICSU in: climate science, sustainable development, polar research and universality of science.