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[CURITIBA] Brazilian scientists have joined forces to ask for part of the royalties from newly discovered oil fields to be invested in science, technology, innovation (ST&I) and education.

They started a public petition that calls for seven per cent of total royalties be invested in ST&I and a further 30 per cent in education. The request is supported by science minister Aloizio Mercadante, the vast majority of Brazilian educational institutions and even by some state governors.

The petition was launched last week (12 September) and has gathered around 20,000 signatures.

The Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science (SBPC) and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC) — representing more than 100 national scientific communities and associations —  have set themselves an ambitious target of one million signatures by 5 October, when a draft bill on sharing oil royalties will be voted on in the lower house of parliament.

If accepted, the bill will go to the upper house and then to the president, giving the campaigners a few more months to push for their demands.

"If I thought it was unrealistic I wouldn't be fighting for it … It's the first time I have seen a mobilisation like this, so it's already a victory," Helena Nader, president of SBPC, told SciDev.Net.

The current draft bill does not include the scientists' demands, and is mainly preoccupied with sharing oil royalties among states and the federal government.

Over the past five years massive oil reserves deep below the Atlantic seabed have been found. Known as the pre-salt layer, it is believed to contain up to 80 billion barrels of oil. According to the SBPC, the 15 per cent in royalties that the government would get from such fields is expected to reach US$1.2 trillion in the next 40 years.

Nader said that the sharing of the oil benefits is an opportunity for Brazilians to reflect on the role they want to play globally. Oil revenues could help fund science, which could, in turn, fuel the economy. "It's time for us to decide whether we want to be forever attached to our colonial past, or to look at promising years to come."

Jacob Palis, a mathematician at the ABC, said that "it's weird to think that we are the seventh economy in the world but only [in] thirteenth place for scientific production" and added that it is crucial to start investing more in education.

André Luis Bridi, a lawyer at the Federal University of Paraná, said that the petition's requirements are fair and legitimate.

"The oil royalties should be shared with every citizen," he said.

Luis Bridi added that, although Brazil is a scientific leader in South America, its science investments are far behind those of developed nations — and even behind other BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries.

According to the World Bank, over the past decade Brazil has spent around one per cent of its GDP (gross domestic product) on science and technology — just half of the world average.

Link to the petition (in Portuguese)