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Strong support for efforts to place science and technology at the heart of policies to promote sustainable development has come from the secretary-general of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), Nitin Desai.

Nitin Desai,
secretary-general of the WSSD

Speaking in Johannesburg on Tuesday (27 August), Desai said that in the 21st century, “the greatest danger that we face is the growing gap between those who have access to knowledge and those who do not.”

Avoiding this, he said, requires increased efforts to build linkages between scientific activity in the developed and developing world, and also a major strengthening of scientific and technological capacity in developing countries.

He also stressed the need to strengthen the scientific basis of decision-making at all levels, in particular to use scientific insights to help apply the ‘precautionary principle’ to decisions that might have a significant impact on the social and natural environment.

Desai was speaking at the opening ceremony of the Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation that has been organised by the South African government as a parallel event to the WSSD.

He described how he had personally suggested that such an event should take place during the Summit, on the grounds that unless focused attention was provided to the scientific and technological dimension of sustainable development, “it would get lost in a jungle of discussion of a lot of other things”.

Desai said that it was essential to relate the world of science to the world of policy. “We have recently seen separate international conferences on development and on science”, he said, referring to the World Conference on Science in Budapest in 1999. “I felt that it was important to bring the two together”.

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