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7 November 2017

"Global solidarity" for strong science

The World Science Forum opened in Jordan, with nearly 3,000 science and policy leaders from some 140 countries hearing an urgent call to pursue "science for peace". In a troubled world, they said, complacency is not an option.

At the opening ceremony of 2017 World Science Forum (WSF), a panel of global thought-leaders declared renewed commitment to fight poverty and promote just, equitable and inclusive social development based on sustainable development and protection of the environment. These values are essential to support greater peace and social harmony, they said.

His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the patron of the Forum, opened four days of plenary sessions, short seminars and individual lectures, addressing a large international audience of science leaders, diplomats and educators. The ceremony was broadcast live on Jordanian television.

King Abdullah called upon delegates to do more to accelerate the accumulation, use and diffusion of scientific knowledge and its application in technological innovations capable of benefitting the health of the planet and human communities.

“Today, our future depends more than ever on scientists working together in a spirit of tough inquiry and mutual respect," King Abdullah said. "For a resilient, sustainable future demands science at its innovative best. Jordan is proud to host the World Science Forum, an accelerator of global scientific collaboration, opportunity and peace.”

The World Science Forum, held every two years, was initiated in 2003 by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, working with UNESCO, the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Organisers later agreed to hold every other meeting in the developing world.

This year's Forum runs through 11 November at the Dead Sea in Jordan. Nearly 3,000 participants from about 140 countries are expected to attend, with speakers from 50 countries. Panels comprised of leaders of the world’s largest research infrastructures and membership bodies, science ministers and their advisers. Experts from academia, entrepreneurship and civil society, along with young researchers and journalists, are expected to join in the discussion of critical global issues.

The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and its associated organisation, the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), have a significant presence at the Forum, with a range of sessions and presentations focused on challenges especially relevant to the developing world ­– including brain drain, refugee scientists, and the effectiveness of development to Africa. Each reflects the "Science for Peace" theme, which was set by the steering committee and its chair, Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan of Jordan.

The opening ceremony featured leading thinkers about science policy, from both the developed and developing worlds. The day was opened by Princess Sumaya bint El Hassan, chair of the World Science Forum and president of the Royal Scientific Society of Jordan, and by László Lovász, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

A keynote address was delivered by Prince El Hassan bin Talal, who for decades has been an influential advocate for Jordanian science and international scientific cooperation. Among other speakers were Hungarian President János Áder; Naledi Pandor, minister of science and technology in South Africa; Rush D. Holt, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS); and Gordon McBean, president of the  International Council for Science (ICSU). Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, delivered remarks by video.

The session was moderated by Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, bestselling author and renowned futurist. Indeed, the opening session also had a strong element of public engagement. It featured a message from the orbiting International Space Station, an appearance by Jordan's first humanoid robot, and lively musical performances.

But the joy and excitement of such spectacles were leavened by a serious message: Especially at a time of global tension, science is essential for sustainable prosperity, and for peace itself.

"No country, no region can afford isolation," said Pandor. "Our problems are also our neighbour’s problems. HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis are on the rise in regions previously considered to be safe from their disease burden, whilst non-communicable including lifestyle diseases now have a devastating impact in the developing world. More than ever we need greater global solidarity to confront rising, unacceptable and very dangerous inequalities.

"Science has a crucial role to play in our responses to all these societal challenges and strong international cooperation will be essential," Pandor added. "The World Science Forum is a critical platform to foster intensified collaboration, also ensuring the science contributions from developing countries play their much needed, rightful part.”

This year’s Forum programme offers eight plenary sessions. A main theme is a ‘sustainability development goals update and critique’, bringing together leading decision-makers to take stock of progress made towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) enumerated in the UN’s 2030 Agenda. For example, plenaries deal with the energy-water nexus and the role of science in food security.

What is new in 2017 is a strong focus on science business and the innovation ecosystem to achieve the SDGs. For example, plenaries on the ‘opportunities and challenges of digital transformation’ or ‘building resilience in an inter-connected world’ bring these discussions to the fore.

Confidence in science and communicating with society remain central concern at the Forum, with sessions that focus on issues of ethics, science diplomacy and scientific integrity. One focuses on "Promoting inclusion through science education, outreach and engagement", and another on rebuilding broken societies. For the first time, the Forum also features a miniature Gender Summit.

[This article is based on a release from the World Science Forum, with additional reporting from the TWAS Public Information Office.]

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