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When it comes to environmental and development problems, poorer nations are forming institutes that enable them to think for themselves.

In this Nature article, Ehsan Masood talks to the founders of four such 'think tanks' in the developing world.

Spurred on by the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Saleemul Huq, Christian Samper, Calestous Juma and Tariq J. Banuri set up science policy institutes in their respective countries of Bangladesh, Colombia, Kenya and Pakistan.

They had seen in Rio and elsewhere that research could inform and reform environmental policy, that consensus of environmental issues was needed from scientists — not just politicians — and that politicians in developed countries had advisors in industry and academia.

From humble beginnings the centres faced many challenges, including financial crises, a small pool of expertise, and scepticism from donors, scientists and politicians — who couldn't see how science could, or should, inform policy.

But the centres were soon in demand from policymakers, and found that — unlike developed nations where the attention of politicians is fought over — their work was quickly noticed and could make an immediate difference.

Link to full article in Nature