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Whether they are attending next week’s World Summit on Sustainable Development or watching from the sidelines, scientists should not lose sight of their capacity to make a difference.

Although scientists have started to address the challenges of achieving sustainable development, there remains much more that individual researchers and their institutions can do, says this week’s Nature editorial.

Scientific expertise is especially needed in deploying existing know-how in the places where it is most needed, for example. Researchers should also foster relationships with colleagues in poor countries, and looks for ways to apply their research to sustainable development.

At the same time, however, Western governments must remove some of the obstructions to the sustainable-development agenda. The US resistance to treaties such as the Convention on Biodiversity and the Kyoto Protocol is a serious impediment to progress. And, although the European Union is increasing its funding for research in developing countries, the Common Agricultural Policy still undermines agriculture in these areas.

Progress towards sustainable development will continue with or without effective guidance from next week’s summit. Scientists, working in concert with others, are showing that they can help to steer the world towards a more sustainable future.

Link to full Nature editorial

Reference: Nature 418, 803 (2002)