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
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
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.
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
- 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