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[CAIRO] Arab scientists want their countries to undertake regionally coordinated research into sustainable development, saying that policies established almost 20 years ago, after the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, have largely failed.

At a workshop held to discuss Arab scientists' approaches to the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, to be held in Brazil next June, they also expressed fears that the conference's emphasis on the green economy might leave science on the sidelines.

About 40 natural scientists, social scientists and engineers from the Arab states attended the workshop in Egypt, last week (12–14 October), jointly run by the International Council for Science (ICSU) and UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Their conclusions, presented at the Rio+20 Intergovernmental Regional Preparatory Meeting for the Arab Region this week (16–17 October) — also held in Egypt — consisted of a call for policymakers to recognise, support, and facilitate the work of scientists in the region, and make better use of their knowledge.

"The science community in the Arab region has been observing for the last 20 years an empty promise from the governments to achieve sustainable development, and the institutional framework that was set failed to achieve the goal," Nazar Hassan, senior programme specialist at the UNESCO Cairo Regional Bureau for Science and Technology in the Arab States, told SciDev.Net.

He was referring to post-1992 measures such as establishing ministries of the environment in some Arab states as well as the Supreme Council for the Environment and Natural Sanctuaries in Qatar.

Hassan said scientists are calling for a change in thinking that would have three dimensions: knowledge management in all strategic economic sectors to enable a shift to green technologies; stronger links between scientists and science institutions through improved governance; and socio-economic research to better understand people and their surrounding environment.

Peter Bates, a science officer at ICSU, said: "From what I heard in this meeting there is a lot of capacity in the Arab region, but it is fragmented and not well utilised or supported by policymakers".

Prof Boshra Salem, of the environmental sciences department at Alexandria University in Egypt, said that scientists should stand against sustainable development being turned into primarily an economic issue at the Rio+20 meeting.

The Regional Science and Technology Workshop for the Arab States was one of five regional workshops for Asia Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe organised by ICSU and UNESCO.