According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature more than 30,000 species worldwide are threatened with extinction, including 34% of conifers, 33% of reef building corals, 25% of mammals and 14% of birds. Introduction of alien and invasive species, overexploitation and landgrabbing are among the major threats –– and all of them are the impact of humanity.
But a question remains. With all the problems that the world is currently facing, why should we worry about the fate of the Crimean rowan tree (Sorbus tauricola), the fan mussel (Pinna nobilis) or the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei)? The answer is: Because their extinction could alter the global food chain, and have an impact on biodiversity at large.
"For many people living in towns and cities, wildlife is often something you watch on television. But the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat all ultimately rely on biodiversity. Without bees to pollinate there would be no fruit or nuts," said Abdul Hamid Zakri, the former science adviser to the Prime Minister of Malaysia who is currently the chairman of Atri Advisory, an international consultancy company advising international organisations. Zakri was among the speakers at an Islamic Development Bank-TWAS workshop.
The workshop was held in Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from 16 to 18 December 2019. The event brought together more than 25 high-level participants, including ministers of science, policy-makers, scientists from IsDB member states and others.
Among the attendees were His Excellency the IsDB President, Bandar M.H. Hajjar; Hayat Sindi, Senior Advisor to the IsDB president; TWAS President Professor Mohamed Hassan from Sudan; TWAS Executive Director Professor Romain Murenzi from Rwanda; Professor Hamid Zakri, former Science Advisor to Malaysia's Prime Minister; Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), from Burkina Faso; Mr. Vaughan Turekian, executive director, policy and global affairs at the US National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine; and Chaudhary Fawad Hussain, Minister of Science and Technology from Pakistan.
The workshop was the first in a series of four TWAS-IsDB high-level Science Diplomacy initiatives. It was set in motion by a recent ambitious agreement endorsed by IsDB and TWAS in July 2018. The goal is to advance scientific research and capacity building activities in the IsDB member countries, especially among the Bank's Least Developed Member Countries (LDMCs).
The workshop addressed four major topics relevant to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): the importance of international scientific infrastructures, food security, public health and air quality, and the water-energy-land nexus. A closing session examined “Bringing Science Advice to Foreign Policy.”
In her welcome address, Hayat Sindi praised the inaugural IsDB-TWAS Science Diplomacy workshop and its importance for the IsDB itself. She pointed out that the IsDB is not a commercial bank, but it is a multilateral development bank operating in 57-member countries, of which 21 are Least Developed Countries, besides operations in non-member countries as well. "The partnership with TWAS and the participation in the science diplomacy workshops will act as a driving force for IsDB, making its impact among member countries even more relevant," she said.
In his keynote address, TWAS Executive Director Romain Murenzi reviewed the role that TWAS has played since its inception in 1983 in bring together the countries of the South via a series of programmes designed to build scientific capacity and promote South-South collaboration in science that can be considered as a prime example of science diplomacy.
The relevance of science, technology, education and cooperation for global development was highlighted by His Excellency Bandar M.H. Hajjar, president of IsDB. He cited the breakthroughs that countries such as South Korea, Myanmar, Singapore and Rwanda achieved through science diplomacy initiatives and high standards for quality of education. "Many other problems such as climate change cannot be solved by individual countries: they need cooperation," he said.
Hajjar also offered a view over the Bank's role to drive development among its members. On one side, he said, the Bank's member countries should connect their science, technology and innovation (STI) ecosystems by engaging universities and research centres. On the other side, the Bank itself should be more active in integrating STI into its activities, supporting entrepreneurs to provide contributions to develop their countries and to attain the SDG targets.
Zakri, who is founding chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), was among the distinguished speakers who gave a keynote lecture. He addressed the Science Diplomacy of biodiversity loss.
The rise of newer challenges at the global level and changes in today's dynamics of politics call for different approaches and strategies. Greater connectivity among peoples and nations could be both a problem and a solution.
"Science and technology are evolving rapidly and intertwine with economics and development," said Vaughan Turekian, the executive director of the Policy and Global Affairs Division at the US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.
"Science diplomacy itself has evolved since its birth, in the 21st century,” Turekian added. “Today, one of its key roles is to fuel science interactions as a basis for addressing key global challenges, and to bring scientists together to build international links, especially between countries where official political relations are limited. In this respect, initiatives such as the one from IsDB and TWAS are pivotal in paving new avenues for the future."
Science is needed in the first step towards the achievement of the SDGs by the U.N.’s deadline of 2030, participants agreed. But science can only express its full potential if all countries, at all levels of development, have access to science and create a world-class of S&T experts with long-term strategic thinking, said high-level attendee Lassina Zerbo.
Zerbo is the executive secretary of CTBTO, the world’s centre of excellence for the nuclear test-ban verification. His commitment within the organization has promoted a culture of transparency and professionalism, allowing the inception of the CTBTO youth group, with over 750 young professionals from 91 countries working to promote the entry into force of the Treaty.
Regarding the role of science diplomacy, Zerbo mentioned the success achieved in building the International Monitoring System (IMS), a crucial infrastructure able to detect a nuclear test conducted by any country.
"IMS stations are generally located in remote, often inhospitable, areas, and present logistical difficulties ... which represent one of our challenges," he said. And to explain the importance of science diplomacy he added: "Challenges were complex political-diplomatic situations that varied from one country to the next, and each required a tailored approach."
The language of science can reach beyond political differences, Zerbo added, and help build confidence and understanding. "Science brings countries together to address cross-border challenges that exist across the Earth, but science has to be ready for when the political moment is ripe," he said.
In another session, food security took the stage through a presentation by Moctar Toure, TWAS's vice president for Africa and a former executive secretary of the Special Programme for African Agricultural Research (SPAAR), hosted by the World Bank.
Toure reminded the audience that world hunger is on the rise for the third year in a row. He focused on hidden hunger, a condition whereby people's caloric intake is adequate but lacks essential nutrients. He also discussed nutrition security, the right balance between under- and over-nutrition, a condition common in the IsDB member countries.
"Almost 30% of the world's food insecure people live in IsDB member countries, where resource competition, market failure, and climate-related extreme events are part of the problem," Toure observed, adding that food insecurity is one of the major causes of conflicts worldwide. He also added: "IsDB and TWAS, with their investments and wide-ranging programmes, and through their science diplomacy programmes could help devise a long-term agricultural model and help governments to refine their pro-poor economic and social policies." Participants agreed that ‘Agriculture for Peace’ could be a suitable theme for a regional or global science diplomacy programme.
Chaudhary Fawad Hussain, the minister of science and technology from Pakistan, emphasized the importance of digitalizing the economies of IsDB member countries, which will help in their growth and development. He said digitalization will provide data from different sectors, which will enable the IsDB member countries to make good policies and control their economies. Digitalization will also help increase trade among the IsDB member countries. The IsDB should consider this while making policies for its member countries, he advised, and guide them accordingly.
The workshop was chaired by TWAS Executive Director Romain Murenzi, while Peter McGrath, coordinator of the TWAS Science Diplomacy programme of the InterAcademy partnership (IAP) was responsible for the smooth-running of the event and managing the various rapporteurs.
The final word of the workshop, however, went to Mohamed H.A. Hassan, TWAS's current president, who served 26 years as the Academy's executive director.
Science diplomacy is a facilitator of international cooperation, confirmed Hassan, adding that academies like TWAS and organizations like IAP, the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), which brings together some 140 national and regional member academies of science and medicine, cooperate to support science’s role in seeking evidence-based solutions to the world’s most challenging problems.
To recognize his career achievements using science to foster international cooperation and friendship, Hassan received one of seven Science Forum South Africa Science Diplomacy Awards in 2016.
"Unfortunately, about one-third of IsDB member states do not have an academy of science. Perhaps, once the importance of academies as authoritative science advisers is seen through meeting such as this – then those countries with no such bodies may see the value in establishing new academies," he said.
Hassan also suggested creating a platform where ministers of science and finance could meet, and where the value of research and development, and of science and technology, could be explained. "Why not organize a future IsDB-TWAS science diplomacy workshop in parallel with a meeting of ministers of finance of IsDB member countries?" he challenged.