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National delegates put the case for more funds

30 June 1999

[BUDAPEST] As the drafting group for the final conference documents met behind closed doors yesterday, delegates in the main plenary hall witnessed the first of two days of speeches and recommendations from ministers and heads of national and international delegations.

By far the most common theme to emerge was the need to set up some sort of international funding mechanism to promote research, research cooperation, and research training for developing countries.

Ismail Serageldin, for example, a vice president of the World Bank, called on countries to consider contributing to a $10 million annual fund for the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which he chairs.

He said that the CGIAR was suited to execute such a fund, given its strong presence in poor countries, conducting research which the private sector will not do. Serageldin said that the fund could be channelled through Unesco; he is among the front-runners for the director-general of Unesco, and Sweden used the session to support his candidacy.

Mali reiterated that some developing country debt relief - agreed by G8 nations last week - could be directed to fund science and technology in the South. Russia called for a new international fund to coordinate science and enhance the free spread of knowledge. And Cuba lamented the absence in the draft documents "of any reference to the necessary contributions to be given by the more developed countries".

Many of the countries to address yesterday's plenary highlighted their own achievements in science. Costa Rica, for example, argued that not having an army allows it to devote 6.2 per cent of gross domestic product to science. Meanwhile, Cuba told the audience that more than half of its scientists are women, and that no Cuban child dies from measles, malnutrition, or pneumonia.

Many of the themes were familiar. For example, New Zealand and Canada stressed the need for greater participation in science from indigenous groups. Japan emphasized, among other things, sustainable develop-ment, basic res-earch, and a commitment to continue "more actively" its con-tribution to in-ternational research and sci-ence education.

There was no explicit reference to Japan's candidate for the job of director-general, Koichiro Matsuura, its ambassador to France, and former head of Japan's aid programme.

Germany was strong on correcting the inequality of women in science, and Italy wants "a comprehensive biodiversity data bank, global in character".

Thailand invited international participation in its electronic Ashram for enabling "global discussion on science, culture and ethics". A moral and spiritual element also featured in the presentations from India and from countries from the Muslim world.

Meanwhile, revisions to the draft declaration under the chairmanship of Rapporteur-General, Peter Tindemans of the Netherlands, proceeded largely without challenge. Of the 42 paragraphs, 33 have been settled, with the remainder, as well as revisions to the framework document scheduled for completion tonight.

Tindemans says that the most difficult issue so far - now resolved - has been the influence of business interests on research. He adds that there was "some heated debate" on issues relating to gender and minorities. This, he says, has been dealt with "to some degree", along with the recommedations on indigenous knowledge.

ICSU and the International Social Science Council were charged with writing new text to cover the integrated view of science, technology and social sciences.

More controversial issues about ethics and intellectual property rights are to be considered this morning. Non-governmental organizations are expected to press for naturally occurring DNA not to be patentable.

Tindemans is reported to be driving the process firmly, sometimes pulling the plug on politically powerful nations represented on the drafting group. He says he aims to make printed copies of both documents available to all delegates an hour or two before the end of the drafting session tonight.

Tindemans is expected to address the plenary on what he sees as the essence of the documents. While he would not be drawn on his choice of content -- as much work has yet to be done -- observers say his address is likely to include the inter-relationship between sustainable development and the environment; gender balance; equity between North and South; biotechnology and genetic modification; and, possibly, two-way communication between scientists and public.


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