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Ministers responsible for science and technology policy in the world's leading industrialised nations have given their support to calls for a "dedicated conference of specialists" (or another "appropriate event") to explore ways of enhancing the application of science and technology for sustainable development.

The aim of such an event would be to build on the consensus established at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on the need to pursue this objective.

Meeting in Paris last week as representatives of member states of the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), the ministers declared that greater international cooperation in science and technology was "vital" to meet a broad range of global challenges related to economic growth — including both better health and sustainable development.

They called for closer scrutiny of patent regimes by those responsible for science, technology and innovation, warning that governments "must remain vigilant in ensuring that patenting does not unnecessarily hinder access to knowledge, reduce incentives to disseminate knowledge, or impede follow-on innovation".

And, stating that coordinated efforts at national and international levels were needed to broaden access to data from publicly funded research, they called for the adoption of international guidelines to facilitate this in a cost-effective manner.

The ministers' announcements were made in a communiqué issued at the end of a two-day meeting of the OECD's committee for science and technology policy, held under the title 'Science, Technology and Innovation for the 21st Century'.

The meeting focused on three issues: how to promote stronger links between science and innovation systems; how to ensure sustained development of human resources in science and technology; and global-scale issues requiring enhanced international cooperation.

At the end of the meeting, the ministers endorsed a 'Declaration on International Science and Technology Cooperation for Sustainable Development', which emphasises the importance of transferring knowledge and technology both among member countries and to less-developed ones.

They reaffirmed their commitment to the objectives adopted by the WSSD, and welcomed the conclusions of the 2003 G8 Summit in Evian regarding science and technology for sustainable development.

The ministers also recognised that scope exists for providing developing countries and economies in transition with "best practice frameworks" in the development and implementation of science and technology policies for sustainable development.

Finally they invited concerned countries and "relevant stakeholders" to convene, "if possible in collaboration with the OECD", an appropriate event such as a dedicated conference of specialists on the issues raised by their declaration.

Such a move is being strongly supported by the government of South Africa. Although not a member of the OECD, South Africa has observer status on the science and technology policy committee, allowing it to participate in debates (but not to vote).

The meeting was chaired by Australia's science minister, Peter McGauran. Claudie Haigneré, the French minister for research and new technologies, and Jaime Parada Ávila, director general of Mexico's National Commission of Science and Technology (CONACyT), acted as vice-chairs.

One topic that gained unexpected attention during the two-day meeting was the need to boost science education. The final communiqué invites the OECD to investigate ways — including the use of its own interdisciplinary strength — "to make science and technology more appealing and attractive from the early stages of education".

 Full text of communiqué