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image European Research News Centre > Environment > Sharing knowledge
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image image image Date published: 28/08/02
  image Sharing knowledge
RTD info 34
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  Act two in a historic global process which began ten years ago in Rio de Janiero will be played out at the Johannesburg Summit. Europe has had a determining influence on establishing a shared global vision of sustainable development. To understand better how Europe sees the issues at stake at the upcoming summit, RTD info spoke to Christian Patermann, director of the European research programme on the environment and sustainable development.
   
     
   

You were at Rio in 1992. You will be in Johannesburg this summer. What is the backdrop to this new world summit?

Christian Patermann: Throughout the 1990s there was considerable growth in research and reflection on environmental and sustainable development policy, especially in Europe. More than anything else, Rio sounded the ‘alarm’. It was essential to convey the message that threats to the planet are very real. The main success of this first event of its kind lay in winning recognition for environmental protection at global level as an international priority to be shared by the community of nations.

Today, the vision of sustainable development is much broader. In Johannesburg, Europe will be defending the idea that the state of the environment cannot be isolated from other vital issues such as the fight against poverty, the integration of the least developed countries into the global economy, and the fight against major infectious diseases and education. We believe that global problems must be tackled in their globality.
This position was approved explicitly last year in Gothenburg by European heads of state and government. Since then the Commission has summarised this policy in the document Towards a global partnership for sustainable development, which was published in February 2002.

The subjects on the agenda at Johannesburg depend crucially on what science and technology are able to offer by way of sustainable solutions. What progress has been achieved since Rio?

Knowledge has advanced a great deal, but the world scientific community is currently facing a problem which goes far beyond the question of advances in knowledge. Equal attention must now be paid to sharing this knowledge.

This is an entirely new dimension and the developing countries have now generally become aware of the fact. The main obstacle to sustainable development at global level is the existence of a ‘knowledge divide’ which threatens increasingly to separate areas where science and technology are continuing to strengthen from those where the urgent need to apply their results is so cruelly apparent. This knowledge divide leads to a veritable impasse, which threatens to halt the necessary dynamic for a better management of major global problems.

Isn’t this knowledge divide gradually closing?

The emerging countries - such as Brazil, China, India, Argentina and part of South East Asia - are now making a considerable effort to join the global knowledge society. They are constantly seeking increased scientific and technological co-operation with the world’s major knowledge production centres. The challenge for Johannesburg is to extend this global partnership to the developing world as the risk of exclusion of many poor countries which are facing acute social problems has become a major concern. It is a matter for the entire world community. A major priority must be to help these countries to acquire the necessary infrastructure for education, access to knowledge and the implementation of measures guaranteeing their sustainable development.

What can Europe do in this field?

It must commit itself 100%, and sharing science and technology must become a priority in our relations with the Third World. Europe today is one of the very best laboratories where the scientific and technical tools for sustainable development are being forged. This label of excellence is a formidable opportunity to strengthen the influence of Europe’s knowledge.

We have a lot to offer thanks to our good practices in the use of resources and the management of tools, technologies and know-how. Over the past four years I have noted a genuine explosion of contacts between our researchers and researchers in the developing countries. They are interested in the results of our research on the city of the future, soil conservation, water management, coastal protection, early-warning systems for natural disasters, best practices for sustainable development, etc.

It must also be stressed that this opening up to co-operation is not only to be seen in terms of North-South relations. There is also North-North co-operation, in the context of the adhesion of the candidate states and, more widely, our relations with Russia and the other independent states of the former Soviet Union.
This further opening up to new partners is moreover laid down in the new Framework Programme which is currently on the starting blocks. There will be no exclusivity, and non-European scientific teams will be able to participate in projects approved for future programmes.

Our stated policy is very clearly to make the European Research Area more attractive to researchers - both young and not so young - who choose to work with us, but also to support researchers in the South working in their own countries. The acquisition of knowledge for sustainable development - in areas such as biodiversity or health where there are huge problems in tropical regions - is a global question which transcends borders.

Is there any rivalry with the United States when it comes to this field of influence?

In many fields we work in partnership with the US scientific community. Do not forget that we are neighbours. The North Atlantic, which separates us, is the site of phenomena which are important for the climate and which we are studying together. But it is also true that there is an element of competitiveness in co-operating with scientists in the South so as to improve our research on global phenomena.


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A dialogue between scientists and decision-makers

In making the political preparations for the Johannesburg Summit, right from the start the European Union defended the need to seize this opportunity to give scientists and research programme coordinators the chance to express their views and engage in dialogue with local political and economic decision-makers. This dialogue could shed useful new light on future prospects in a number of key areas, such as:

  • the role of science and technology in sustainable development;
  • the position of the developing countries in terms of scientific development (capacity building)and partnerships;
  • policy-making and networking.

With this in view, the Commission has offered to assist the South African authorities in organising a ‘horizontal’ forum dedicated specifically to Science, technology and sustainable development

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Christian Patermann

Christian Patermann

 


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