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TWAS Newsletter
The Academy's quarterly magazine. Download PDF files of individual…

Closing the South-North gap

Closing the South-North gap

Science diplomacy can help close the enormous science and technology gap between developed and developing nations – but only if the North recognizes that the South has a different perspective on science diplomacy.

To support sustainable growth and solve global challenges, developed nations and developing nations should collaborate to build strength in science diplomacy, TWAS Executive Director Romain Murenzi told a high-level meeting in Washington, D.C.

While many developing nations now embrace science and technology as drivers of economic and human prosperity, the concept of science diplomacy still is not widely known, Murenzi said.  But, he added, it will be essential for helping the South to participate effectively in research projects or diplomatic negotiations on such areas as climate change, ocean health and space exploration.

"The science divide between South and North is wide and keeps widening, with the exception of countries such as Brazil, China and India," he said. "Aid focused on building science capacity can help to reduce this divide.... Developed nations, emerging nations and developing nations all have an interest in building global strength in science diplomacy."

Murenzi spoke 29 April at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), during a high-level, day-long conference, "Science Diplomacy 2015: Scientific Drivers for Diplomacy".

Hosted by the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy, the conference attracted an international audience of more than 200 people. Conference sessions focused on scientific cooperation during times of political tension; the role of institutions and networks in advancing science diplomacy; transboundary issues and shared scientific resources; and the diplomacy needs and impact of the earth and environmental sciences, health and biomedical sciences, and physical sciences.

The day opened with talks by AAAS Chief Executive Officer Rush Holt, a physicist and former U.S. congressman, and Flavia Schlegel, assistant director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

In his presentation, Murenzi emphasized that history has created not only a science gap between South and North, but also a gap of trust. Science diplomacy can be a crucial instrument in closing both gaps, he said.

"But for science diplomacy to flourish, nations must cultivate science diplomacy relationships that are balanced and fair," he suggested. While developing and developed nations must cooperate to build capacity, richer nations must respect the need of developing nations for self-determination. Toward that goal, research partnerships should be as equal as possible, with shared benefits.

"Science and engineering organizations, including academies, can play a leading role in this process," Murenzi said.

TWAS is working with partners such as AAAS, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) to advance science diplomacy in the developing world. TWAS is especially focused on two areas:

Leadership dialogues. Working with key partners, TWAS has helped organize a series of high-level events. In 2014, TWAS worked with the Italian Ministry to organize Italy-Africa Day, convening more than 100 African and Italian diplomats, members of Parliament, scientists and business leaders in Rome for a meeting focused on mutual scientific and diplomatic interests. In 2013, TWAS worked with the Ministry and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on a roundtable that convened 50 science and policy leaders from 12 nations in Northern Africa and Central Europe.

Lectures and workshops. TWAS, AAAS and other partners have organized workshops in such areas as energy, climate change and fisheries, convening early-career scientists and diplomats with experienced senior colleagues. The AAAS-TWAS summer course in science diplomacy brings together senior diplomats and scientists for a week-long course with early-career colleagues.

Edward W. Lempinen