The science that was left out of the Pacific Plan review

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Copyright: Jocelyn Carlin / Panos

Speed read

  • Some see the review as a missed opportunity to use science to drive development
  • Scientists called for a greater say on development policy
  • They also wanted to improve science capacity to tackle regional challenges

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Later this month leaders will be heading to Palau for the 45th Pacific Islands Forum starting on 29 July to consider the recommendations of a major review of the Pacific Plan — but the review has come under fire for its omissions of science, technology and innovation (ST&I).  

The Pacific Plan is a master strategy drawn up in 2005 to strengthen cooperation and integration across the region.

SciDev.Net reported yesterday that academic institutions that fed into the review of the plan were disappointed that no mention of science is made in the review and its recommendations to the leaders, despite their advice.

The original Pacific Plan was itself light on science, they say, and now some see its review — which proposes creating a new and improved framework for regional cooperation — as yet another missed opportunity to put science at the heart of development in the Pacific.

Seini O'Connor, Pacific Plan Adviser at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, says that “the strong cases put forward in public submissions help us to see what’s important to people in the region, but we really need to make sure that we have a strong implementation plan, available funding, and a case for doing the work at a regional level before we make it a priority for Leaders”.*

“There’s no doubt that scientific research will continue to be important for the region,” she says. “The fact that it is not highlighted in the Review report does not mean it’s not important. The Review was focussing on priorities for Leaders’ oversight. Scientific research is probably better overseen by the experts, guided by good policy.”

“Not everything has to be put on the table at the annual Leaders’ Forum,” O’Connor adds.

And she says that the proposed new framework will be more about establishing a strong process for identifying regional priorities.

Here, we outline what the research community called for, such as giving scientists a greater say on development policy and improving the region’s capacity in science relevant to the challenges facing the Pacific.

‘Inadequate’ knowledge base

The Pacific Senior Health Officials Network, for example, asked for health research, and disease monitoring and surveillance, to be given higher prominence in the plan because “health is a critical priority for Pacific regional development”.

And the submission to the review by the Pacific Europe Network for Science & Technology (PACE-Net) addressed what it sees as the “lack of recognition” in the current plan of the “fundamental importance of science, technology and innovation in the sustainable development of Pacific island countries and the betterment of its peoples”.

Making wise decisions in addressing the many complex and challenging problems for sustainable development in Pacific island nations requires a solid and reliable knowledge base, it says.

It adds that, in many cases, “our knowledge base is inadequate” and yet the plan does not recognise the importance of increasing such understanding by investing in regionally appropriate science, technology, innovation and research.

“The absence of an ST&I goal is also mirrored in the absence of ST&I policies in many Pacific island states,” the submission says. “Without that goal and those policies, the Pacific is in sharp contrast to other regions in the world and gives the appearance of being unaware of the fundamental importance of ST&I to the future.”

Need for science task force

It urged the revised plan to include goals to “invest in and develop appropriate science, technology and innovation to underpin sustainable development and improved planning and management of the Pacific region and the betterment of its people in the face of global change”.

In addition, it called for a goal to “increase regional capacity in relevant science, technology and innovation to better inform policy development, [bring] improved planning and management, augment development opportunities and improve adaptation to global change within the Pacific region”.

To achieve these goals, PACE-Net called for the creation of a task force from regional bodies including the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, the Pacific Islands University Research Network, the Pacific Science Association and regional research organisations, and international agencies and aid donors.

The task force would assess regional ST&I priorities relevant to sustainable development and improved planning and management, and strategies to address them, it said.

It would also identify funding opportunities to support ST&I priority strategies and capacity building, and develop mechanisms for monitoring progress.

All of this, it said, would bring benefits such as: better knowledge-based policies for sustainable development; greater resilience in adapting to global change; improved health; wider use of renewable energy; and an enhanced ability to cope with natural hazards.

Science omission ‘detrimental’

Similarly, in its submission, the Pacific Islands University Research Network criticised the plan for making no reference to ST&I, which it sees as important for sustainable development and green economic growth as well as for dealing with climate change; energy, food and nutrition insecurity facing the region.

“We […] believe that this omission in the region’s key strategic planning document is a detriment to the future growth and aspirations of the Pacific,” it said. “The complexity of attaining sustainability in a region as diverse and vulnerable as the Pacific requires science, technology and engineering capacity.”

It called for ST&I’s explicit inclusion in the new Pacific Plan — which is now to be replaced with the Framework for Pacific Regionalism — as an engine of sustainable development and green economic growth, and for the elaboration of an ST&I policy framework for the Pacific.

The submission also called for universities and researchers to be given a more active role in addressing development challenges.

“The universities of the Pacific, being responsible for higher education and research in the region, are ideally positioned to initiate and lead processes that strengthen the capacities and skills required for the Pacific to address the development challenges that the region faces,” it said.

Its proposal called for Pacific universities and research organisations to help prepare, implement and review national and regional development strategies and frameworks to ensure that research priorities align with the region’s development needs.

Science needs support

And, it said, there should be a call for “governments to adequately fund national universities and research programmes so that they can deliver a well-trained, highly skilled and sufficiently motivated talent pool as well as products and services from targeted research which can provide the basis for innovation in all economic spheres, with special emphasis on the agriculture, fisheries and mining sectors”.

The scientific community needs to develop diverse research approaches to provide development solutions tailored to the region — and draw on the strengths of the Pacific’s traditions, knowledge and environment, it said.

But it added: “This will not happen by itself.”

“A teaching, research and entrepreneurship agenda that contributes effectively to the Pacific’s development aspirations — and draws upon the particular strengths of the Pacific, including its local and indigenous knowledge — will only emerge if science, technology and innovation is considered in the region’s strategic planning discourse and coordinated in a results-oriented, independent and uniquely Pacific framework.”

Link to Pacific Plan Review
Link to review submissions

*This article was ammended on 2 July to clarify the quotes from Seini O'Connor.