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Diplomacy in Action

Moving Forward

Kerri-Ann Jones
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Address to the World Science Forum
Washington, DC
November 6, 2009


Good morning. It is wonderful to be here in this beautiful city with all of you. I would like to thank the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, UNESCO, and the International Council for Science for inviting me to address this special session -- which commemorates and celebrates the tenth anniversary of the World Conference on Science held in Budapest in 1999. This unique follow-on forum to that Conference has done much to foster and promote the quality of dialogue on science knowledge globally, and everyone involved with this endeavor has much to be proud of. Congratulations.

It is a pleasure to be here among so many friends and colleagues to participate in this significant event in the international science and technology community and address the question of “moving forward”.

For me the question of moving forward is always preceded by another question -- where do you want to go?

In his recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama spelled out four pillars that are fundamental for the future visions we probably all share for our children. These four pillars are – “non-proliferation and disarmament; the promotion of peace and security; the preservation of our planet; and a global economy that advances opportunity for all people.”

All of us in this room know that science and technology are playing and will continue to play important roles in realizing these objectives. It is essential that we move forward bringing the tools of science and technology to bear on the challenges that the world faces. The global problems that we are facing today have taken on a new urgency. The world has grown smaller and more interconnected. The issues of climate change, environmental degradation and food shortages, the challenges of managing shared resources from our oceans to the realms of outer space and the existence of pandemic influenza virus – are glaringly obvious and immediate challenges.

I have had the good fortune to work on science, development, and diplomacy from varying perspectives for many years. I have seen how these endeavors are connected and interdependent. I believe that, in the United States, we are currently seeing the nexus of these endeavors truly recognized and elevated as never before. I believe this is so because of the urgency of the complex issues that confront us and, because of the wisdom and commitment of our leadership.

The U.S. Government is fully engaged in science with a renewed commitment, we truly recognize its importance, and we are moving forward. Allow me to give you some examples:
  • The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included the largest increase in research and development funding in U.S. history, with $18.3 billion in research funding.
  • President Obama has set the goal of investing more than 3% of GDP in research and development.
  • The President has also charged his White House Office of Science and Technology Policy with ensuring that federal policies are based on the best and most unbiased scientific information.
  • Many leadership positions in the new Administration in Washington are filled with scientists, several of whom are members of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • The Obama administration is also looking to improve the scientific training of our younger generations. The President’s “Race to the Top” fund aims to reinvigorate “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” (STEM) education.

This collection of actions is important but it comes together with another equally important commitment and recognition – that international science and technology, working with global partners, bilaterally and multilaterally, to address global problems is essential for progress.

But to move forward what is it we need to do together? How can we best apply science and technology to the complex issues before all of us? I would suggest there are three ways that science will continue to move us forward. First, science provides the objective data required for policy formulation. Second, science provides the tools to address challenging problems and third, science provides a way to build and strengthen partnerships, through science diplomacy. Let me just touch on each of these.

The first is to rely on science to provide data for policy decisions:

  • We have all witnessed the important role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – the IPCC. It has been and continues to be successful in bringing objective data into the policy discussions of complex issues.
  • We have also seen technologies evolve – such as remote sensing that today provides essential data to inform policy makers addressing problems in conservation of forests, coral reefs, coastal wetlands.
  • Now we have before us another challenge and opportunity – developing a way to bring the science of biodiversity and ecological services into the policy arena. The international community is engaged in discussing this important topic. We are looking at ways to learn from our experience and to use the latest technology and innovative approaches to develop a functioning and effective interface. We are also need to develop the scientific capacity to address these complex issues.

The second way for science to move forward is through the application of research and development to challenging global problems:

  • We heard yesterday and today about the many exciting advances that have emerged over the past 10 years.
  • Certainly we are all looking to innovation and technology to develop and improve clean energy approaches and move us all toward greener economies. Our ability to change our emission and energy behavior and respond to climate change has a significant research and development component.
  • Also, the challenges of global health and food security, identified by President Obama and Secretary Clinton and many other world leaders as important priorities will look to the science for advances and new technologies.

The third way science can help us move forward is by building partnerships – through science diplomacy

  • Scientists around the world are a strong community – sharing values of objective data, the reproducibility of results and merit review. Science allows us to build and strengthen friendships and partnerships.
  • Secretary Clinton speaks often of “science diplomacy” and she recently stated that it is essential to building and strengthening the 21st century partnerships that the world needs. Earlier this week in Morocco, Secretary Clinton announced that the Department of State has established a science envoys program – a program which will send eminent U.S. scientists around the world. The Secretary announced the first three envoys. They are Dr. Bruce Alberts, the former president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences; Nobel Laureate Ahmed Zewail; and Dr. Elias Zerhouni, the former director of the National Institutes of Health. Both Dr. Alberts and Dr. Zewail are here in Budapest attending the Forum. These first envoys will visit countries in North Africa, Middle East and South and South East Asia. We plan to expand his program and send such envoys around the world to build relationships and foster scientific collaboration. Dr. Federoff, the Science Advisor at the State Department will be discussing science diplomacy and the other efforts under way at a session later today.

One final observation. I would like to address something that was raised in several of yesterday’s sessions – the related issues of science education, communication and engagement. The complex problems we are facing will continue. We must prepare the next generation of scientists and ensure that citizens are well-informed and engaged in scientific issues. The key word here is “engaged” – as Alan Leshner emphasized in his talk yesterday. Our educational approaches need to be engaging to attract and retain students, reaching across communities and nations, building the global science community. Our efforts to inform and engage the public on scientific issues must be respectful of varying perspectives and persistent in building effective communication. Our governments’ policy makers are defined by their citizens – the choices of the voters.

We have before us many challenges – but we also have many opportunities. Science is always moving forward with new advances and discoveries. Working together, across disciplines, sectors, communities and countries, we can and we must align the natural progress of science with the needs of our citizens and the world. Thank you.

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