The Rise of Advisory Systems for Science and Technology
International cooperation on scientific and technological matters has a long history that predates the United Nations. When the UN technical assistance programs were created, many of the cooperation mechanisms were merged into specialized United Nations agencies such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Educational Organization (UNESCO). In addition, the United Nations is now emerging as a central forum for harmonizing international practices in a wide range of fields related to science and technology.
Science and international cooperation
International cooperation in the planning and execution of scientific observations and experiments was raised to a new scale in 1957–1958 with the International Geophysical Year (IGY), an observation and research program of 18 months duration. Scientists working in 67 nations, by prior international agreement, made meteorological, seismic, and upper atmospheric measurements—many of them simultaneous and coordinated—at observatories that extended from the North Pole to the South Pole. They explored the oceans and traversed the Antarctic continent. Data were freely shared and archived in three centers that made them accessible to scientists everywhere. The remarkable aspects of the IGY, in retrospect, were the broad scale of its vision and the fact that it was planned and took place at the height of the Cold War, proving that scientific cooperation could transcend political tensions and national boundaries.
The success of the IGY led to a great number of collaboratively planned research programs, initially in the geophysical sciences, that were soon extended to other areas that transcend national boundaries, such as space and ecology. Some international scientific organizations, including the Scientific Committee on Oceanographic Research (SCOR), the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), the WMO, and the agencies carrying out cooperative planning in the hydrological sciences that formed the basis of the International Hydrological Decade, have carried the planning and coordination of cooperative research programs forward over several decades. Although the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) was formed alongside SCOR and SCAR in the late 1950s, cooperation in planning in the area of space research has been less successful at times because of continuing tensions between the Cold War powers over the
civilian and military, or dual, use of space technology. But, in recent years, the promise of true cooperation in space has also expanded as the Cold War opponents have become partners and more nations have attained the technical capability to build and launch satellites and share in both the excitement of discovery and the cost of space-based platforms.
As the world has gained increased experience in international planning of research programs, there has appeared a new form of cooperation explicitly related to policy questions, often described by the term “scientific assessments.” These are surveys and analyses of the status of important global problems, often with recommendations for global cooperative action. Some of today’s international science organizations—intergovernmental and nongovernmental—are the products of scientific assessments and date their origins to the programs started in the post-IGY period. Environment, ocean, and climate assessments that are updated periodically to provide information on trends or changes have been particularly useful to decision makers (IPCC, 2001).
Evolution of Science Advice in the United Nations System
Since the 1950s, the United Nations organizations have steadily increased their interest in scientific and technological issues and their need for science advice, especially for the planning of sustainable agricultural, forestry, and fisheries programs and for capacity building in developing nations. But the trend for use and acceptance of science advice from the 1960s to the present has not always been positive. Indeed, there simultaneously have been advances in the development of science advisory mechanisms and setbacks in the use and application of the resulting advice.
There was an early optimism in the 1970s that “technology transfer” was the key to the solution to underdevelopment and that it could be readily accomplished. It was thought that solutions to developing country problems could be easily taken “off the shelf” from industrial nations, and that the owners of the intellectual property would be happy (or could be forced) to share their knowledge with earnest and deserving colleagues in developing countries. Several UN organizations based on this premise were established in the 1960s, some of which were attached to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), but they were not successful and disappeared or were reorganized and redirected (Sagasti, 1984; 1999).
The UN Conference on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD) in Vienna, 1979, marked a conceptual shift in the views of both industrialized and developing nations (Wilkowski, 1992). The meeting brought into the open many of the key issues, and it forced many in developed countries to confront seriously the valid aspirations of developing country scientists and governments. However, even serious consideration did not in most cases lead to agreement, and many imaginative UNCSTD creations, such as a financing system for science and technology for development, did not endure. UNCSTD sharpened the conviction in industrialized nations and developing nations alike that the building of endogenous scientific and technology capabilities in developing nations was central to their future prosperity. Growing recognition in the industrializing nations of the importance of market forces and the role of the private sector also heightened interest in the contributions of science and technology.
Box 1.1: Science and technology diplomacy
The role of science and technology in international diplomacy is increasingly being recognized as a key element in the functioning of the United Nations system. This trend is illustrated by the emergence of programs that specifically focus on the interface between science and diplomacy. For example, in July 2001, the United Nations Economic and Social Council adopted Resolution 2001/31, which established the Science and Technology Diplomacy Initiative under the leadership of the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), following a recommendation of the UNCSTD in consultation with the Secretary-General of UNCTAD.
The resolution asked UNCTAD to “develop special programs and organize workshops…to contribute to ongoing programs for training scientists, diplomats and journalists in science and technology diplomacy, policy formulation and regulatory matters to assist developing countries, in particular least developed countries, in international negotiations and international norms and standard-setting.”
In another effort, the United Nations University, through its Institute for Advanced Study (UNU/IAS), has launched a research program on biodiplomacy as an effort to clarify the relationship between international diplomacy and the biosciences. Other decisions in the United Nations also illustrate the growing recognition of this topic. For example, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed former Costa Rican President Jose Maria Figueres as his special envoy on information technology, a task that involves addressing diplomatic issues associated with the role of information technology in society.
Interestingly, one of the major arguments for creating viable scientific communities, even in countries that were unlikely to be major contributors to new scientific and technological knowledge, was the need of every government for science and technology advice. In other words, for developing countries it appeared that a main purpose of science was to produce scientists, multipurpose assets whose advice is needed. Every government has to make decisions regarding education, procurement of technology, agricultural development, health, industry, natural resources, and mining that require reliable knowledge of the state of the art in science and technology. But, even so, the UN and most of its subsidiary organizations did not evolve an effective science and technology advisory system at that time, either for themselves or for their member countries, although, as described in Chapter 2, some advisory mechanisms in the UN system have played useful roles. Over the decades, the use of “science advisers” has increased, and the countries themselves often select delegates to the assemblies who have considerable understanding of complex science and technical issues in environment, agriculture, and fisheries.
Box 1.2: Science and technology for sustainable development
The role of science and technology in sustainable development is clearly articulated in the reports of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. Principle 9 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development codified this theme by calling on States to “cooperate to strengthen endogenous capacity-building for sustainable development by improving scientific understanding through exchanges of scientific and technological knowledge, and by enhancing the development, adaptation, diffusion and transfer of technologies, including new and innovative technologies.” Agenda 21, the work program of the conference, identifies science and technology (together with finance) as the central means for implementing the transition toward sustainable development. This recognition is reflected in nearly all the 40 chapters of the work program.
The 1963 United Nations Conference on the Application of Science and Technology for the Benefit of Less Developed Countries provided the early beginning of discussions on science and technology advice. The conference was convened on the assumption that technology transfer from the industrialized to the developing countries could spur rapid economic transformation in regions most in need of it (Juma, 2002a).
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, after the UN had established its original science and technology advice system, global development theories shifted from those of modernization, whereby the problems of the world’s poorer nations were to be solved through technology transfer and the dissemination of technological advancements, to a pattern of economic and social restructuring. This shift was associated with the growing recognition of the role of science and technology for international competitiveness as well as development. Multilateral lending agencies, rather than scientific research institutions, became the centers of development initiatives. The task of development was defined largely in terms of macroeconomic theories embodied in structural adjustment programs (Binswanger, 2001). Developing countries pressed for greater access to technology, as well as investment in science and technology capacity development.
Box 1.3: History of science and technology advice in the United Nations
SOURCE: Juma (2002a), adapted from Sagasti, F. “Science and Technology in the United Nations System: An Overview”. Report prepared for United Nations Development Programme, New York, 1999.
This shift was reflected in a changing agenda for the UN system. As industrial countries continued to press for macroeconomic reform, developing countries sought to put in place policies aimed at attracting foreign investment. The UN science and technology advisory apparatus, which had been designed to promote technology transfer to developing countries, became increasingly irrelevant to the dominant patterns of international relations. As the gap between science and technology experts and policy makers grew, critics of the UN system called for a stronger social component together with a broader, more interdisciplinary approach to science advisory processes (Sagasti, 1999). While development policy stressing structural reform and investment was being promoted through institutions such as the World Bank, the United Nations continued to champion the traditional role of science and technology for development, and much of the diplomatic activism shifted to issues like intellectual property protection. The growing diplomatic conflict in these areas led to the convening of the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development in 1979 in Vienna (Wilkowski, 1982).
The Advisory Committee on Science and Technology for Development included experts from business, government, science, technology and other areas. The new science and technology advisory mechanisms had the capacity to deal with crosscutting issues of development and the importance of science and technology for understanding and mitigating or advancing these issues. The UNFSSTD, the funding mechanism that was put in place by the UN in 1979, was an important improvement over the old system. It was to be a voluntary fund aimed at capacity building in science and technology and enhancing technology transfer.
These developments were complemented by other important strands related to science advice on environment and natural resources, championed through institutions such as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and specialized agencies such as UNESCO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). These organs would later be the locus of a wide range of scientific activities that not only informed decision making but also helped to create a new generation of environmental treaties that incorporated some of the principles of science advice. UNEP played a particularly important role in bringing science to bear on decision making. For example, the conventions dealing with climate change, ozone depletion, biodiversity, desertification, and chemical pollution have clear provisions for scientific assessments and technology transfer similar to those advocated for the general development purposes. The global environmental movement has been an important source of experience on the use of science advice in international diplomacy.
The recognition of the growing pervasiveness of science and technology and the need for wise and informed advice on scientific and technical matters by all governments led the world’s academies of sciences to form two collaborative organizations during the past decade. The InterAcademy Panel (IAP) is an organization of approximately 80 national and regional science academies of the world. It was organized in 1993 to prepare
common statements on major issues of international concern, and its central focus has become mutual support among member academies in building capabilities to provide science-based advice to national and international policy makers. The first example was a statement on population growth, prepared for the United Nations Population Conference in Cairo in 1994 (NRC, 1994).
In 2000, the IAP created a second organization, the InterAcademy Council (IAC), to undertake science policy studies and offer real science advice to governments and organizations. The IAC is intended to advise intergovernmental organizations on policy questions with a high scientific and technological content, bringing to bear the world’s best experts drawn from all regions. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has welcomed the IAC with a request for an urgent study on how agricultural productivity in Africa can be increased.
Over the course of the twentieth century, science became a truly international activity through the creation of organizations such as the International Council for Science (ICSU) and its disciplinary unions. In the last half of the century, scientists mobilized themselves and their governments for the initiation of global-scale studies. More recently, the world’s science academies have created mechanisms to provide science advice for governments and international organizations, and ICSU is also moving in that direction.
The United Nations system has made use of science advice since its founding. Viewed over the five decades since the creation of the UN, the incorporation of science advice into decision making has steadily increased, albeit with setbacks from time to time. Today, science, engineering, medicine, and health services are central to the resolution of most of the social and political issues that confront the world community of nations. It is imperative, therefore, that the UN system continues to strengthen its science advisory mechanisms. The next chapter will describe the nature of science advice and offer some principles derived from the best practice of the world’s scientific organizations.