We approve of your recommendation that Unesco should focus more closely on its core goals (Nature 404, 109; 2000). And we wish to go further with some concrete suggestions. Within the UN system, Unesco is unique in having a double representation. Each member State has a permanent diplomatic delegation representing its government, and, in addition, a national commission representing the academic and scientific community and ‘civil society’ — the grouping of all kinds of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that exist to promote the interests of citizens.

The worldwide rise in influence of civil societies shows the way forward for Unesco. In all possible ways, Unesco should improve its relations with civil society organizations, and foster their development: closer cooperation with NGOs, universities and so on could actually lead to useful savings and increased efficiency.

Unesco should apply to its own functioning the principles of ethics and good governance. Its recurrent drifts into double standards (proclaiming lofty ideals while carrying out dubious internal practices) are no longer acceptable: Unesco should dedicate itself to promote a culture of evaluation.

Lastly, if we are serious about our social responsibilities, we scientists should see that science and technology remain firmly anchored inside Unesco.

Britain's return to Unesco in 1997 after leaving during the 1980s was a welcome move, but, for a proper implementation of the previous points, we do hope that the British National Commission for Unesco will be promptly reconstituted. From the French side, we eagerly look forward to fruitful discussions and stimulating debates with our British colleagues and partners. The pioneering contributions of Joseph Needham and Julian Huxley, at the birth of Unesco, have not been forgotten.

Our conviction is that the full restoration of this distinguished British tradition will be an important element in the renovation process of Unesco.