Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

CSI info 10


based upon Wise Practice Papers and electronic discussions)

Are we not compromising our efforts by focusing upon developing wise practices, but forgetting about their implementation (feasibility, costs and human resources)? (G. Cambers)


The importance of national context is underlined by A. Boina, using the example of Indian Ocean SIDS: National contexts differ from country to country. These are not merely local variations, but fundamental differences in institutional frameworks upon which the relationship with local populations is founded and evolves. The nature of state authority ranges across a broad spectrum – from the centralised governments of Mauritius and the Seychelles, the opposite situation in the Comoros, to the fluid central government structure in Madagascar and the French inspired regional set up in Reunion. Furthermore, the capacity, indeed the determination, of civil society to organise itself outside of official political structures, as community associations, NGOs and grassroots organisation, illustrates the variety of possible styles of local government. They include (as in the Seychelles) subsequent approval by citizens of central government decisions and (in the Comoros) community actions that take the place of government measures. The very capital of partnership, the foundation and means of integrated coastal management, must be developed on the basis of these very distinct local realities”.


As G. Cambers indicates: Most institutional frameworks in the Caribbean islands are sectoral in nature and will likely remain so. (…) New broader based agencies are unlikely to come into existence in the short to medium term. One way around this constraint is to look for similar functions amongst agencies and try and coordinate these. Such wise practices can be worked out within existing institutional structures, they provide for increased efficiency by maximising the use of physical and human resources”.


When implementing wise practices, G. Cambers reminds us that it is very important to carefully assess the human resource time commitment. In her view, the failure to cost the additional time required for coordination and integration is one of the reasons why the smaller Caribbean islands have had few success stories with ICAM.


G. Cambers notes: Another observation relating to implementation is timing. Post natural disasters often provide excellent windows in which to implement a wise practice. The public and politicians are often more receptive to changes in practice after a natural disaster such as a hurricane. However, it pays to lay the groundwork, before the natural disaster, even if political support is weak or half hearted. Provided the ground-work has been laid, it is often possible to implement the wise practice in the post disaster window”.


P. Espeut asks: How to overcome adverse political conditions to deepen the participation of civil society in decision-making for sustainable development? The question of political interest and will is fundamental to any attempt at implementing wise practice.


N. Hinshiranan reminds us that implementation means finding the right balance between conflicting goals. She specifically raises the issue of balancing environmental or biodiversity conservation, with resource use by local communities. 


Susan Schneegans, UNESCO, on behalf of the Conference Secretary

Ladies and gentlemen,

You may be wondering why a presentation on the forthcoming World Conference on Science has been included in the programme of a workshop on wise coastal development practice. This is because the present workshop has been deemed an official associated meeting of the World Conference. As such, the workshop is invited to submit recommendations that will be circulated to participants during the six day Conference in Budapest next June. Your input will serve to stimulate debate and may influence final decisions. It will also be taken into account during the follow up to the Conference.

I am addressing you on behalf of the Secretary to the World Conference on Science, Howard Moore, who was unfortunately unable to be here today because he is attending another associated meeting on the other side of the world, in Sydney.

Next year’s World Conference on Science is a unique chance to reassess the dynamics of international scientific co-operation and address the challenges it currently faces. It is not me who is making this claim, but rather the latest issue of a leading science journal Nature, but I share the author’s sentiments.

Great hopes are riding on this Conference and we must not disappoint them. The World Conference on Science will be a golden opportunity for the scientific community, decision-makers and representatives of society at large, including industry and youth, to discuss what they expect of science in the 21st century and how society can give science the means to accomplish this task on a world scale. You will have gathered from the wide range of participants I have just listed that the World Conference on Science will be neither a scientific meeting nor an intergovernmental meeting but rather a combination of the two, a forum bringing together scientists and governments to discuss, on equal terms, where science should be heading in the next century. It was appropriate that UNESCO choose as its major partner in this undertaking the foremost non-governmental organization in the world representing the scientific community, the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), which regroups some 25 international scientific unions and 95 scientific academies or research councils around the world. ICSU also happens to be one of UNESCO’s most longstanding partners.

The Conference will concentrate on strengthening the two-way commitment between the natural sciences and society by revising what I shall refer to hereafter as the science-society contract. Scientists are not islands, contrary to the caricature of the scientist cooped up for days at a time in his or her laboratory, oblivious to the outside world. This image may not have raised an eyebrow at the time Vannevar Bush was writing this famous report to President Harry Truman, entitled, ‘Science – the endless frontier’, which launched a linear reservoir model under the terms of which basic research led to applied research and ultimately to technological development.

But times have changed. The linear model has lost its relevance as the boundaries between basic and applied science have blurred. The end of the Cold War, coinciding with breakthroughs in information and communication technologies, has replaced power-bloc politics by a global race for economic competitiveness. A casualty of this evolution has been North-South co-operation in science. Indeed, much of the technical assistance offered to developing nations during the Cold War had the tacit goal of encouraging these countries to embrace a particular political ideology. Today, the justification for science as a vehicle of defence and national prestige is less evident. At the same time, society has come to expect science to give priority to addressing societal problems and needs. It has been said that, The logic of the present social contract is backwards, because it starts with research and tries to prove it useful, rather than starting with national needs and proving that research addresses them.

A major component of the World Conference on Science will be the drafting of a new science-society contract to ensure that science does take into account the needs and concerns of society and that society in return acknowledges the enormous benefits science can bring, by making a greater commitment to science in terms of political and financial support. This new science-society contract will take the concrete form of a Declaration on Science accompanied by a Science Agenda Framework for Action detailing the practical implementation of the principles outlined in the Declaration. It is hoped that, after discussion, both documents will be adopted by the Conference.

The Conference will be divided into three principal forums:
Forum I – Science: Achievements, Short-comings and Challenges
Forum II – Science in Society
Forum III – Towards a New Commitment to Science.

There is not time to go into detail here about all the Conference themes – these are outlined in the Programme circulated to you – but I would like to touch briefly on one or two that may have particular relevance to the present workshop.

Horgan gave his 1996 article the intriguing title, The End of Science: Facing the Limits in the Twilight of the Scientific Age. His verdict is a little premature when so much still remains to be done! For if we can be proud of the scientific achievements of the past fifty years, there is no room for complacency. There are still shocking disparities between rich and poor: for example, there are more telephone lines in Manhattan, New York, than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. Science will have a key role to play in development next century; the Conference will underline the need for science to address such social issues as economic growth, employment, social equity, public health, poverty and food security. Also demanding urgent attention by developing and developed countries alike are such major environmental issues as global climate change, freshwater scarcity and quality, effective protection of the environment, prudent use of natural resources and the protection of biodiversity. These social and environmental issues are inextricably linked. By the very complexity of problems today, working towards the goal of sustainable development implies an integrated approach incorporating trans- and interdisciplinarity.

The contribution other forms of knowledge can make to problem-solving and the advancement of knowledge, particularly in the field of environment and medicine, will be explored by the Conference during an afternoon roundtable devoted to traditional knowledge, methods and tools.

Arguably the most far-reaching insight science has delivered in the last few decades is that human beings are a major environmental force on the planet: we are inflicting irreversible changes on the biosphere, biogeochemical cycles, the global climate system and the Earth’s natural landscapes. The quality of life – and perhaps even the survival of life – on our planet next century will depend on the success with which science tackles the problems generated by this growing influence.

But science cannot succeed alone. Public support is essential if the increasingly complex social and environmental problems facing the world today are to be solved.

However, if science needs society, society would seem to harbour doubts as to whether it needs science. In the developed countries at least, confidence in science has declined in recent years. Now that the threats generated by the Cold War have dissipated, both governments and the general public are calling into question their past unqualified support for science. While improving scientific literacy worldwide is a desirable goal, mistrust of science should not be simply attributed to public ignorance. The human tragedies involved in non-natural disasters like the careless use of DDT, the toxic chemical spills from Bhopal or the nuclear reactor incident in Chernobyl provide a ready explanation for the current crisis in confidence. While risks cannot be completely eliminated, it is of utmost importance to improve transparency and risk control.

The move from producer-led science to user-led research implies monitoring by society and scientists alike of the ethical, social and economic consequences of discoveries and new technologies; in other words, it implies doting science with a conscience. Scientists who disassociate themselves from the practical applications of their research by assuming a neutral stance are denying the tight bond linking science to technology. If public confidence is to be restored, scientists must speak up about potential risks linked to the application of science and there must be public consensus on the acceptable levers of risk for different kinds of technology. But in concrete terms, how does one foster democratic debate while maintaining the autonomy of science? How does one ensure greater citizen participation in the decision-making process? The Swiss have come up with one option: the referendum. Some 67% of the Swiss electorate recently voted not to ban the production, acquisition and distribution of transgenic animals and the deliberate release of any genetically engineered organisms.

I should perhaps underline, in light of my earlier reference to the move from producer-led to user-led research, that this trend in no way implies that basic research has become less important for development. In fact, the reverse is true. Basic science is essential for development, not only because it creates the necessary new knowledge to solve today’s increasingly complex problems and provides a sound basis for the technological capabilities that are indispensable to innovation, but also because science education, when it is made available to all without discrimination, produces a scientifically literate population and qualified workforce that are a nation’s most precious resources.

Governments in both developing and developed countries have a key role to play in supporting basic research. Although private sector research is expanding rapidly, the private sector tends to prefer to invest in applied research, since long-term research is contrary to the economic law of a rapid return on investment and the very nature of basic research – its unpredictability – means that, be it curiosity-driven or problem-driven, basic research tends to offer benefits or find economic applications only years or decades even after a project’s inception. Unfortunately, governments themselves tend to think in two-to three-year cycles. Yet what can only two years of monitoring tell us about global climate change, for example? Scientists attending the Conference will try to bring home to decision-makers that a short term approach to basic research is a short-sighted approach.

One consequence of globalization and the growth in private sector research is that science is coming under increasing pressure to move from being a public good – or public property – to being a market good. There is a very real danger of knowledge becoming just another commodity on the open market.

The World Conference on Science will examine ways of safeguarding and promoting equity of access to information. Allowing science to become a ‘market good’ would have disastrous consequences for scientists in developing countries, who are the most vulnerable to the commercialization of scientific data because they often lack adequate resources to compete with colleagues in more affluent nations. The developing world is already marginalized within science by the dominance of the English language in the international scientific community and by a system of assessing scientific productivity that relies solely on citation analysis even though scientometric institutes index mainly leading international journals. Greater South-South co-operation is one strategy for addressing this problem.

The new information and communication technologies have helped reduce the costs of scientific research by making data collectively available – data which are often very expensive to gather or produce. Collective data sharing is leading to new institutional configurations such as ‘virtual centres’ and establishing electronic relations or ‘collaboratories’ between researchers around the globe. The increasing use of electronic media should facilitate information transfer and allow international research networks to develop.

But there are tensions. On the one hand, science needs unrestricted access to data worldwide. On the other, the private sector has a strong interest in protecting data in some areas. Although databases are not covered by copyright because they do not meet the criterion of creativity in the arrangement of data, some sectors of the information industry are calling for a new copyright clause to protect their investment in creating databases and to guard against piracy. Extending these rights could impose serious constraints on science and education, undermining the ability of researchers and educators to access and use scientific data. It would make it more difficult for scientists to compile global or regional databases, or to re-use and re-combine data for publication or instructional purposes. If we are not vigilant, these new information and communication technologies could have the perverse effect of widening even more the gap in knowledge between the developed and developing countries.

The need to revitalize international co-operation is self-evident, not only from the viewpoint of a more equitable sharing of information, but also in order to tackle major national, regional and global problems effectively at an affordable cost, through the sharing of facilities, equipment and human resources. In this regard, could not the resources freed up by the conversion of military-industrial complexes to civilian use be redirected to addressing major regional or global problems?

The World Conference on Science will examine all these questions and more. I should like to conclude by saying – at the risk of disappointing Horgan – that the end of the XXth century will no more mark the End of Science than it will the End of History. What it should mark – if next year’s Conference attains its goal – is the beginning of a new commitment to science by developing and developed countries alike.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for your attention.


Bush, V. 1945. Science the Endless Frontier. Report to President Harry Truman.

Dickson, D. 1996. Rewriting the rules for a post Cold War world. Nature, 396 (6709). November.

Fukuyama, F. 1992. The End of History and the Last Man. Free Press. New York.

Horgan, J. 1996. The End of science: Facing the Limits in the Twilight of the Scientific Age. Helix Books, Addison Wesley, Reading, Mass. USA.

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