Prof. Mohamed H. A. Hassan
Executive Director, Third World Academy of Sciences

on behalf of the Scientific and Technological Community

at the

World Summit on Sustainable Development

Johannesburg, South Africa

29 August 2002

Your Excellencies, 
Ladies and Gentlemen

Building and maintaining adequate scientific and technological capacities in all countries and harnessing these capacities to address critical economic, social and environmental issues are essential prerequisites for the transition to sustainable development. Such capacities in S&T can help nations better understand their current development needs as well as devise effective responses to meet future challenges.

A worldwide shortage in scientific and technical skills and leadership, particularly in developing countries, calls for designing more effective national, regional and international research and training programmes in S&T at all levels, utilizing fully the powerful tools of information and communication technologies.

Increased priority, moreover, should be given to promoting S&T education and training for women. Women remain an under utilized intellectual resource worldwide, particularly in science and technology.

Professional education programmes that include the goals of sustainable development are also needed for scientists and engineers throughout their professional careers. We must also develop a science literate civil service capable of technology management and a civil society that understands these challenges and their importance to human welfare and sustainable development. All of this means that national and international organizations must invest in life-long learning programmes for their citizens and that such programmes must weave together a broad understanding of science with knowledge of the social sciences and economics.

Because of the wide gap among countries and regions in their S&T capacities, different priorities and strategies should be designed to address the needs for capacity by different regions.

In the North, where 85 percent of the current S&T knowledge is produced, capacity building is part of a larger effort to modify existing scientific agendas and institutions to address long-term sustainability issues.

In the South, meanwhile, capacity building must focus on nurturing homegrown research skills and building research and training institutions, including universities, to a level of excellence that would enable them to attract talent, curb the brain drain and participate effectively in global efforts to harness S&T for sustainable development.

One of the prime lessons we have learned is that capacity building efforts in the South have been too fragmented and uncoordinated to build the critical mass of scientific expertise that is necessary for many developing countries to take advantage of S&T to accelerate their own sustainable development goals.

Coordinated efforts - through the strengthening of South-South and North South institutional partnerships - would help foster the mobility of scientists and technologists as part of a larger strategy for promoting the exchange of knowledge and experiences to advance the transition towards sustainable development.

Responsibility for building and maintaining S&T capacities for sustainable development resides first and foremost on the shoulders of national governments and must be guided by strategies and policies that are fully integrated into national development goas. It is critical, therefore, for governments worldwide to adopt sustainable development strategies that recognize the tradeoffs between short and long-term economic development strategies. Indeed this challenge is particularly critical for the North where consumption patterns place global efforts to promote a sustainable future at risk.

The S&T community calls on national governments and international funding agencies to recognize the central importance of capacity building for S&T in the transition toward sustainable development. Increasing the role of S&T in sustainability initiatives should focus on:

  • Expanded efforts to build and maintain centres of scientific excellence, especially in the South, through additional investments in university  departments and research institutes that have displayed research and training capabilities on a national and regional scale.

  • Additional investments in programmes designed to assist women, especially in the developing world, to acquire the scientific and technical training  that they need to participate in the global scientific community. 

  • Greater sensitivity and acknowledgement in the S&T community of the potential  value of indigenous knowledge in addressing critical sustainability issues, especially in the developing world.

  • Strengthening of South-North cooperative programmes that recognize the growing capabilities of S&T in the South to forge partnerships that are truly equitable and global in scope.

  • Better integration of scientific knowledge and skills with other sources of knowledge, including the social sciences and economics, as a prerequisite for devising multidisciplinary strategies to address sustainability issues.
The strategy boils down to this: the S&T community has called upon governments and funding agencies to provide sustained and reliable funding for S&T initiatives, especially in the South. The S&T community, in turn, has pledged to focus a greater portion of its research agenda on issues of direct concern to the societies in which its scientists live and work. By agreeing to such shared responsibilities and commitments, we believe that both the S&T community and the larger society will be better able to advance their shared goals for a sustainable future.