Science recognition in Rio+20 talks ‘uphill struggle’

A global innovation system for green economy is called for ahead of the Rio+20 summit Copyright: Shutterstock

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[PARIS] A senior UNESCO official has complained that science is being left out of key parts of the negotiations on the draft conclusions of UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to be held later this month (20–22 June) in Brazil.

Hans d'Orville, assistant director-general for strategic planning at UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), told SciDev.Net that despite rising acknowledgement of the importance of science in tackling global problems, it was failing to make an impact on negotiations over what will be agreed at Rio+20.

Speaking on the sidelines of a UNESCO press briefing on Rio+20 this week (30 May), he said: "Science has become much more important for judging the state of the planet, and at the same time showing which direction to take.

"Why the politicians are not picking up on that is a cause for concern," he told SciDev.Net, adding that it was a "constant uphill struggle to get science recognised".

"The nexus of science, technology and sustainable development is not currently reflected in the draft," it told national delegations at negotiations on the outcome statement that will emerge from Rio+20 this week (29 May–2 June), according to Canada's International Institute for Sustainable Development reporting services.The Science and Technology Major Group, one of nine official communities inputting into the Rio+20 negotiations, also expressed frustration that a real commitment in the draft conclusions to science and innovation in sustainable development was fading away.

Gisbert Glaser, coordinator of the Major Group on science, and a senior adviser at the International Council for Science, told SciDev.Net there was a "vacuum of political commitment".

The group wants decisions made that would allow a "global innovation system" to emerge after Rio+20 that harnesses the forces of science, technology and engineering for sustainable development.

To this end, it wants Rio+20 to commit to large-scale, solutions-oriented research projects; contributions from the private sector; unprecedented levels of international scientific and technological cooperation; and support for capacity building.

It is also seeking a global mechanism to facilitate international scientific collaboration for sustainable development, and an international knowledge-sharing platform on green economy innovation.

d'Orville told the UNESCO meeting that the crucial agreement science should get out of Rio+20 was to establish an intergovernmental body with a mandate to integrate science with policy so that it could be heard better in the future.

"If you have such a council, of course science will play a big role. The science footprint is everywhere, it is just the challenge of putting it to policymakers precisely."

But not everyone at UNESCO is as disappointed with the negotiations in relation to science.

Han Qunli, UNESCO's director of the executive office for natural sciences, welcomed the fact that there were many explicit references in the latest negotiations document to the need to work more closely with the scientific community to further research and policymaking.

And, he said, there were notable increases in scientific content across a range of issues, such as climate change, forests and green economies.

"In general, science has not taken a back seat in Rio," he argued. "Lots more needs to be done, but we are happy that science as a whole has a much clearer role than before," he told SciDev.Net.

This article is part of our coverage on Science at Rio+20.