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The United States has clashed with the Group of 77 (G77) over the need to create more centres of research excellence in the developing world, financial support for research efforts aimed at development needs, and the value of traditional knowledge.

The clash took place in Bali, Indonesia on the opening day of the fourth preparatory committee (Prepcom) meeting for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

The G77, backed by China, has been proposing that the text adopted at the end of the WSSD, which opens in Johannesburg in late August, should include a proposal to create a network of scientific centres of excellence in developing countries.

It has also proposed wording in the current draft of the Johannesburg declaration, which is the main focus of negotiations during the Bali Prepcom, supporting measures to provide "new resources for publicly funded research".

However the US delegation, which is being led by Paula Dobriansky, the Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, expressed its opposition to both of these. On the first proposal, it suggested that the declaration merely speak about supporting existing networks, and on the second, about "encouraging research".

Furthermore the delegation argued that local and indigenous knowledge is not always beneficial. It therefore suggested including the words "the beneficial use of" local and indigenous knowledge in improving policy and decision-making.

A separate clash took place over proposals contained in the draft text of the proposed Johannesburg declaration referring to the transfer and diffusion of environmentally sound technology.

The G77 and China are keen that the declaration encourage the developed countries who currently own much of this technology to allow developing countries access to it on concessional terms. However the United States is insisting that the declaration merely refer to "mutually agreed terms."

Earlier in the day, Thomas Rosswall, the executive director of the International Council for Science (ICSU), had proposed that one of the outcomes of the WSSD should be the decision to create a new advisory panel on science and technology to the Commission on Sustainable Development, the main UN advisory body set up to follow through on the recommendations of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Speaking on behalf of the ‘scientific and technical community’ — one of the stakeholder groups recognised as having an official input into the proceedings — Rosswall also pointed out that unsustainable patterns of production and consumption are often caused by the increased commercialisation that drives production.

He called for improved collaboration between scientists and policy makers, and for more capacity building to bridge what he described as “the scientific divide”.

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