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The European Commission plans to use the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) as an opportunity to negotiate a substantial increase in the linkages between European researchers and those in the developing world, particularly in Africa.

Discussions, for example, are expected to take place on how more developing-country scientists can become involved in research projects funded through the commission’s Framework Programme, and how to share Europe’s experience in building sustainable-development criteria into industrial processing and government decision-making.

The possibilities for creating such arrangements will be explored both formally and informally during a two-day meeting in Johannesburg on 2 and 3 September. This meeting will form part of the ‘Science Forum’ that is being organised by the South African government to run in parallel with the main WSSD meeting.

Details of the commission’s participation in the Science Forum were outlined last week by Christian Patermann, head of the environment section of the science directorate of the commission, to a meeting at the School of Environmental Studies at the University of East Anglia.

Patermann pointed out that the sixth multi-year Framework Programme (FP6) — the main programme through which the European Commission supports research involving members states of the EU — contains a strong commitment to research relevant to sustainable development.

In addition, he said, with a few exceptions (such as North Korea and Libya), the four-year FP6, which came into force last month, will be open on a cost-sharing basis to the participation of researchers from “every country in the world”.

Patermann emphasised that many new opportunities for collaboration with developing-country scientists have been made possible by the decision of the European Union to specify that, out of the €17 billion allocated to FP6, €600 million must be spent outside the EU.

“This is something of a revolution,” said Patermann. “It means an enormous leap forward. We will have to do a lot to find the right customers, colleagues and partners,” adding that he is looking to organisations such as the Third World Academy of Sciences and the International Council for Science for help in achieving this.

Some of the specific research priorities that have been identified as targets for FP6 relate directly to concerns being addressed at WSSD. These include research on tropical diseases, clean and efficient technologies, and on monitoring the global environment.

“We are convinced that much sustainability work can only be achieved if we have a sustainable monitoring system on our planet,” said Patermann. In order to achieve the latter goal, for example, the commission has launched a programme known as Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES).

Patermann says that the commission has three goals in participating in the Science Forum: to give higher visibility to the role of science and technology in sustainable development; to demonstrate the openness of the 6th Framework Programme and the European Research Area to the rest of the world; and to understand the specific needs of developing countries in this area.

“We want to have a better understanding of the needs of our colleagues and friends in the developing word, and to promote partnerships and capacity building,” he said.

To achieve this, the discussion in Johannesburg will be focussed on a number of specific areas, from the operation of clinical trials for new medicines to industrial processing, in which the commission feels that Europe has experience that it would like to share with developing countries.

“We feel that we can offer a lot in these areas, and see important brokerage possibilities with our colleagues in the Third World,” says Patermann. “We want to bring a variety of very concrete proposals and projects to Johannesburg to show what can be done. In addition, I can be pretty sure that there is also a lot of adaptive innovation in these countries that the ‘North’ can learn from.”

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