‘Science must have a place at the policy table,’ world leaders urge at special UN meeting

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses event marking the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). UN Photo/Evan Schneider

20 October 2014 – Science, technology and innovation are central in forging development policy and solving some of the world’s most pressing problems including in education, health care and peace and security, eminent scientists and world leaders said, marking today at United Nations Headquarters the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Organized by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and CERN, the event “60 Years of Science for Peace” held in New York, highlighted the role that science has played in peaceful collaboration, innovation and development, as well as decades of cooperation between the two organizations.

CERN was established after the Second World War to give Europe a laboratory for basic research on particle physics that would promote peace. Since 1954, several achievements have been made at CERN, some of which have been rewarded with the Nobel Prize in Physics.

The CERN laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, where its physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. Over the years, the organization has grown into a model for global scientific and technological collaboration, demonstrating how science can unite nations by bringing scientists together for the benefit of all.

In his opening remarks to today’s 60th anniversary event, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recalled how science at times has been used for harmful purposes and discoveries about the atom were used to create nuclear weapons.

“The arms race absorbed scientific talent and financial resources that could have been used to address the pressing problems facing humanity,” he said.

Fortunately, science is far more often a powerful force for progress and human well-being, especially in developing countries. Now science must be used to accelerate achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the future sustainable development goals.

“Whether we are trying to address climate change, stop the Ebola virus, deal with cybersecurity threats, or curb nuclear proliferation, we need scientists with a clear vision and a commitment to work together to find solutions,” Mr. Ban said.

He also made a plea for greater efforts to attract more women and girls to science and technology-related fields. “Unleashing women's innovation potential must be a priority,” he added.

Indeed, ECOSOC’s President Martin Sajdik said, science has the potential to significantly impact all three dimensions of sustainable development– economic, social and environmental.

“I urge all Governments to channel their collective creativity to address these gaps in the final push to achieve the MDGs and in fashioning a new sustainable development agenda,” said Mr. Sajdik, who chaired the event.

Promoting science for development requires the investment of significant resources including for essential infrastructure, education and capacity-building, financing research, including basic research and scaling up innovations.

The ECOSOC President underscored that the “science-policy-society” interface must be strengthened in order to ensure that scientific and engineering education, scientific research, technological development and policy making combine to adequately respond to the needs of society.

“The success of scientific strategies and policies will require an ongoing dialogue between scientists, policymakers and society,” he said.

Also delivering opening remarks, the President of the General Assembly Sam Kutesa stressed that greater investment in basic scientific research, to “unleash the vast untapped” human potential particularly in developing countries.

“There are still big gaps in basic research and innovations on a number of issues critical to human welfare and sustainable development,” Mr. Kutesa said.

In the health sector, he said, the Ebola outbreak has reminded us of all the hard work that lies ahead. Efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, as well as other communicable diseases and non-communicable disease, also remain a big challenge for science and technology.

“We must continue to invest in scientific and technological innovation to fight poverty and to move towards a sustainable development pathway. We must invest in technologies to ensure food security,” he added.

CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer said that for society to rise to its various challenges, science must take a place at the policy table. Additionally, people must be educated and science literate, he said, adding that “we cannot have sustainable development goals if we do not have educated people to perform them.”

At a later segment, keynote speakers included: Mr. Kofi Annan, Chairman and Founder of the Kofi Annan Foundation and Nobel Peace Prize winner; Professor Carlo Rubbia, Nobel Physics Prize Laureate, and former CERN Director-General; Professor Hitoshi Murayama, Director of the Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, University of Tokyo, and professor at the University of California, Berkeley; and H. E. Ms Naledi Pandor, Minister for Science and Technology, Republic of South Africa.

Mr. Annan said ours is a messy world: we face enormous challenges. In a world of plenty – 1 out of 9 people go to sleep hungry and more than 6 million children die each year from diseasing that we have figured out how to cure long ago.

Unsustainable production and consumption patterns continue to put a strain on our resources. Meanwhile, rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and extreme weather events are a clear danger to our societies.

Every person using the World Wide Web can attest to the scientific innovation of CERN. Hence it is crucial to continue facilitating the decimation of knowledge around the world. In collaboration with UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization (UNESCO), researchers in developing countries are able to access digital libraries. By harnessing the unique strengthen of governments, research institutions, and charitable foundations, children living even in the poorest countries have access to vaccines.

The Ebola “heartbreak” is a tragic reminder that not even the “marvels of science and technology” can prevent such a crisis with its devastating effects on the world’s poorest populations.

He said the international community today needs leaders that can focus on bridging the technological gap and strengthen dialogue between the world of science and the world of politics.

The wealth of the scientific community must guide policy, said Mr. Annan, welcoming the recent General Assembly decision to grant Observer Status to a scientific institution like CERN.

“Science must be put at the service of society, and rooted in the culture of peace and development,” Mr. Annan added.


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