wcshead.gif (10700 bytes)



VERSION  15.06.99




1.1 Role of fundamental research
The public and private sectors
Sharing scientific information and knowledge


2.1 Science for basic human needs
Science, environment and sustainable development
Science and technology
Science education
Science for peace and conflict resolution
Science and policy


3.1 Social requirements and human dignity
Ethical issues
Widening participation in science
Modern science and other systems of knowledge

List of related Conferences

wb01402_.gif (3058 bytes)

To Top

The present document, prepared by the Conference Secretariat, is aimed at facilitating the understanding of the draft Agenda which is submitted for approval. This paper is not presented for endorsement.


  1. Several major factors have transformed, and will continue to affect, the relationships between science and society as they have developed in the second half of the century.
  1. Scientific research is increasing our knowledge and ability to understand complex systems and processes in an ever-wider range of scales in space and time. The natural sciences are enjoying a highly creative phase stemming from breakthroughs and advances in various fields, from molecular biology and biochemistry, quantum physics and materials science to the planetary sciences and astronomy. The emergence of new disciplines and of interactions among them, increasingly powerful computational tools, the rapid accumulation of scientific knowledge, and the need to bring together the natural and the social sciences in joint agendas, are having strong implications on scientific research and education.
  2. The conditions for the production and sharing of scientific knowledge are themselves changing as a consequence of the increasing intensity of communication, the growing interface between disciplines and tighter interactions between science and technology, universities and industry, laboratories and factories. Major economic and social implications are arising from the closer contacts between scientific discoveries and their application, technological know-how and commercial exploitation. Information and communication technologies are causing changes on all fronts as profound as those brought about when print first appeared.
  3. Linked to the changes occurring in science and technology are the globalization of trade and business, the growing role of transnational firms, and a reduction in the capacities of governments to regulate economic activity and its repercussions on society. Within a framework that is increasingly subject to transnational challenges and short-term requirements, competitive businesses are often those that can capture information flows and apply them quickly, rather than produce discoveries and inventions themselves.
  4. The end of the Cold War has resulted in a significant reorientation of investment in science and technology in some countries. For the most industrialized ones, resources dedicated to defence research during this period had represented a major part of public R&D expenditure. Unfortunately, in recent years, the percentage of GNP devoted to international co-operation, particularly with developing countries, has –with certain exceptions– stagnated or decreased. Taken together with economic difficulties, the result has been little or no growth world-wide in non-business funding for fundamental research, whilst business R&D has declined in some sectors as a natural consequence of the stagnation of the global economy. At the same time, research programmes, especially large ones designed to address global problems, are subject to increasing costs.
  5. Growing inequalities on all fronts that contribute to new tensions and conflicts today beset the world. The patterns of disparities are now more complex and more contrasted. As one of many instances that illustrate this situation on a global scale, we recall that 20% of humankind share 86% of the total private consumption. Within and between countries the benefits of education, culture, health services and other factors of human and social well being are ever more unequally distributed. On the whole, while the industrially more developed nations have built up a strong capacity for scientific research and technological innovation, other countries –the majority– have yet to solve basic needs of their populations, and the least developed countries are struggling for survival. The varying degrees to which countries and regions adapt to the scientific and technological changes threaten to further accentuate inequalities in access to and production of scientific knowledge and technical know-how.
  6. A further major factor is the multiplication of the environmental problems that weigh on the future of our planet. Beyond the phenomena of population growth and increasing urbanization, industrial, agricultural and transport activities are bringing about a major transformation of the global environment with serious consequences for human health and the productivity of ecosystems. Human action has even started to affect the functioning of global life support systems such as the climate system. The need to adopt the precautionary principle, initiate anticipatory research, take preventive action, and indeed make sustainability an essential ingredient in any model of development has become more evident at a time when societies, cultures, economies and environments are becoming increasingly interdependent.
  7. The need to take into account ethical consequences when discussing future directions of science has become more urgent over the last few years, requiring an open debate within the scientific community and in society at large. In this context, scientists themselves have started to play an active role in defining and accepting their ethical responsibilities. Public understanding and awareness of science are important factors in the establishment of appropriate ethical guidelines and procedures.
  8. A feature of our times is the emergence of organized sectors of society demanding participation in democratic debates and decision-making, as well as transparency on all public issues. Alongside traditional actors, such as trade unions and political parties, strong new groups are coming to the fore, including the communication media, citizen movements, and a variety of non-governmental organizations, such as associations of parlamentarians, industrial professions and entrepeneurs. Many of these are concerned with the environmental and other issues that the sciences are expected to address. Some reflect a lay disenchantment and disregard for science, and a fear of the unforeseen or unknown consequences of some of its applications. The confusion about who speaks for science amongst the many sectors, and whose science can be trusted, adds to this public mistrust.
  9. Women as a majority of the world population are claiming an increased role in all activities, particularly in science and technology. Important institutional and cultural barriers that prevent the progress of women in science education and research and their taking on responsibilities on a par with men, need still to be removed. Achieving a better gender balance in scientific activities, itself being a strong desideratum for reasons of equity, also implies that the approach, and even the content, of scientific advances may change to focus more on the needs and aspirations of humankind.
  1. There is today an accumulation of discoveries, applications and know-how that constitute an unprecedented source of knowledge, information and power. Never have discoveries and innovations promised a greater increase in material progress than today, but neither has the productive –or destructive– capacity of humankind left unresolved so many uncertainties. The major challenge of the coming century lies in the ground between the power which humankind has at its disposal and the wisdom which it is capable of showing in using it.
  2. Guided by the conviction that it is both urgent and possible to take up this challenge, the participants to the Conference are determined to concentrate efforts on the production and sharing of knowledge, know-how and techniques to address the major problems ahead –whether local, regional or global. It is evident to everyone today, however, that it is not science alone that will solve the problems. A new relationship needs to be built between those who create and use scientific knowledge, those who support and finance it, and those concerned with its applications and impacts; such are the essence and the spirit of the new commitment.
  3. In considering the practical expressions of this commitment, it must be recognized that the relationship between scientific research, education, technological innovation and practical benefits is much more diverse and complex today than in the past, and frequently involves many players other than researchers. The progress of science cannot be justified purely in terms of search for knowledge. In addition, it must be defended –and increasingly so, in view of budgetary restrictions– through its relevance and effectiveness in addressing the needs and expectations of our societies.
  4. Democratic decision-making on scientific matters requires participation of all groups of society. It also needs consideration and respect for national diversity, within a spirit of solidarity and cooperation. If only one sector of the population or a single group of nations has an active role in science and its applications, disequilibria are likely to occur, and the gaps and disparities tend to increase. Therefore, in defining and carrying out the multilateral commitment to science it is not only important that each and every country be able to make its own informed and articulate contribution, but also that all actors –the public, the media, scientists, educators, industrialists, politicians and decision-makers– be involved in the process.


  1. In the process leading to the World Conference on Science and to the drafting of Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge and the Science Agenda – Framework for Action, numerous reflections and enlightening debates have taken place. Among the wide variety of concerns and proposals expressed, there are clear signals of convergence with regard to some central issues. These are listed here as general guidelines to facilitate the identification of the new commitment.
  1. Need for drastic changes of attitude and approach to problems of development, especially to their social, human and environmental dimension. The sciences must be put to work for sustainable peace and development in a progressively responsive and democratic framework; scientists, as all other stakeholders, must correspondingly recognize their ethical, social and political responsibilities.
  2. Need to improve, strengthen and diversify science education, formal and non-formal, at all levels and for all sectors, and to integrate science into the general culture, emphasizing its contribution to the formation of open and critical thinking a well as to the improvement of people’s ability to meet the challenges of modern society. Any discriminatory barrier operating against equitable participation in science must be removed, and positive efforts are needed to fully integrate women into the sciences.
  3. Need to strengthen the national S&T base, refurbishing national science policies, increasing scientific personnel and ensuring a stable and supportive research context, especially in areas of local and global relevance. In developing countries increased funding for S&T is needed, taking into account local capacities and priorities, and this funding should be augmented by similar commitments from developed partners.
  4. Need to break traditional barriers between the natural and the social sciences and to adopt interdisciplinarity as a common practice. Moreover, since the processes underlying present global problems and challenges need the concurrence of all scientific disciplines, it is imperative to attain a proper balance in their support.
  5. Need to open scientific matters to public debate and democratic participation, so as to arrive at consensus and concerted action. The scientific community is expected to open itself to a permanent dialogue with society. A dialogue with other forms of knowledge and expressions of culture is particularly relevant.
  6. Need to reinforce and broaden scientific cooperation, regional and international, through networking and institutional arrangements with IGOs, NGOs, research and education centres. In this regard, the programmes of UNESCO and ICSU must be strengthened, in particular through cooperation between them and with other UN bodies. It is a challenge to improve the coordination of the various efforts of these partners, respecting their different roles and stimulating synergy between them.


The following text takes up all sections of the draft Science Agenda – Framework for Action and attempts to provide the general ideas behind the guidelines for action listed therein.


1.1 Role of fundamental research    Back to top

  1. The sciences are expected to continue to fulfil their intrinsic assignment which is the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, benefiting from the creativity of scientists around the world. This is the central argument for continuing to carry out fundamental research and education in all disciplines of the sciences.
  2. Public authorities, private companies, universities, research laboratories and institutes have each their own dynamics and domains of action. In being associated with all such different partners, scientific research must cope with the underlying diversity of contexts and adopt a coherent agenda, establishing a balance between immediate and long-term objectives.
  3. In designing international policies and programmes for science, the multiplicity of conditions for scientific research, of perceptions of science, and also of problems, needs and possibilities to apply scientific knowledge must be borne in mind. International science is ideally built upon the plurality and diversity of contributions that all nations can make to the scientific endeavour, in regard to their own capacities, needs and interests.

1.2 The public and private sectors    Back to top

  1. Fundamental research requires sustained public support, as it represents an ‘off-market’ public asset with uncertain short-term profitability. The returns and applications deriving from it provide, in turn, new irrigation for the entire research system, while at the same time contributing to the solution of specific problems and the development of technological competencies.
  2. New funding mechanisms must be sought for science, taking into account the present context. In most industrialized countries private investment in S&T research surpasses that financed by the public sector, and a number of public institutions have been or are being privatized. Agencies awarding grants tend to give preference to research with short-term goals, and accountability of results is increasingly based on technological applications and patents rather than on basic knowledge acquisition. In the majority of developing countries, on the other hand, most of scientific research is publicly financed. Even in those countries that have managed to build up a critical mass of scientists, the private sector gives preference to research with short-term goals or does not invest in research at all; the scientific system is weakly linked to the productive system and local industry does not benefit from the opportunities created by science; as a result, S&T contributes little to the creation of national wealth in these countries.

1.3 Sharing scientific information and knowledge    Back to top

  1. The new communication and information technologies have become an important factor of change, giving rise to new directions, methodologies and scenarios for scientific work and new ways of producing, accessing and using information. The growing impact and potential of the new technologies make it necessary for scientists and institutions to adapt themselves in order to fully benefit from the advantages they can bring. In this regard it is essential that they be developed and used to provide equal opportunities for scientists in different regions of the world, to facilitate the wide distribution and access of information, and to promote a truly international scientific dialogue. Computing and information systems that are reflective of the diverse cultures, languages, technical resources, habits and needs of people around the world, need to be designed.
  2. True and comprehensive sharing of scientific knowledge cannot be accomplished by electronic means alone. Regional and international networks for research and training, partnerships involving communities of developed and developing countries, and specific programmes for the exchange and transfer scientific knowledge and skills, have proved to be important mechanisms and should be fostered and implemented more widely.


2.1 Science for basic human needs    Back to top

  1. Food, water, shelter, access to health care, social security and education are cornerstones of human well being. Poverty and dependence affecting a number of countries can only be escaped through social and economic transformation and political determination, a comprehensive and upgraded educational system, and the appropriate development and use of science and technology. Scientific knowledge needs to be applied to find ways of reducing the imbalance, injustice and lack of resources that particularly affect the marginalized sectors of society and the poorer countries in the world.
  2. Science is today a currency in the hierarchy of nations. Developing countries need to enhance S&T capacities in areas that are relevant to the problems of their own populations and to their national development. It should not be overlooked, however, that these countries present a very mixed profile, some being in various ways closer to the industrialized world than to their fellow countries. It is essential that each country has the capacity and takes on the responsibility to define its priorities and areas of relevance and how to address them.
  3. It is against this background that a case for supporting S&T in developing countries is made. Such an effort will benefit these countries in solving their actual problems and achieving more healthy and sustained development. In essence, it will be of global benefit, since there are more than 120 developing countries, comprising three-fourths of the global population. As long as these countries are not effectively involved in science, can we talk of "world science"?
  4. There is need for urgency here. Comprehensive, far-reaching and lasting development is a universal challenge and is not restricted to a particular group of countries. It requires coherent, plural, multifaceted action, to which the international community has much to contribute.

2.2 Science, environment and sustainable development   Back to top

  1. One of the greatest challenges facing the world community in the next century will be the attainment of sustainable development, calling for balanced inter-related policies aimed at economic growth, poverty reduction, human well-being, social equity and the protection of the Earth’s resources, commons and life-support systems. It is increasingly perceived that sustainable management and use of resources and sustainable production and consumption patterns in general, are the only pathways to meeting developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations. We must enhance and harness our scientific capabilities to develop sustainably.
  2. Taking into account the "Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21" adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1997, the guidelines for action provided in the Agenda are expected to address the following key objectives: to strengthen capacity and capability in science for sustainable development, with particular emphasis on the needs of developing countries; to reduce scientific uncertainty and improve the long-term prediction capacity for the prudent management of environment-development interactions; to foster international scientific cooperation and the transfer and sharing of scientific knowledge; to bridge the gap between science, the productive sectors, decision makers and major groups in order to broaden and strengthen the application of science.

2.3 Science and technology    Back to top

  1. Science, technology and engineering are among the principal drivers of industrial and economic development. The difference in abilities of countries to exploit S&T through the process of innovation contributes to an ever-increasing extent to differences in economic performance and to the widening income gap between industrialized and developing countries.
  2. Innovation in all sectors is increasingly characterised by bi-directional feedback between the basic research system, and technology development and diffusion. This is changing the requirements for successful technology transfer and upgrading of innovation capabilities in the developing countries, with implications for domestic policies and international cooperation. One of their main priorities must now be to promote the development of national scientific and technological infrastructures and of the corresponding human resources.

2.4 Science education    Back to top

  1. There is an urgent need to renew, expand and diversify basic science education for all, with emphasis on scientific and technological knowledge and skills needed to participate meaningfully in the society of the future. The rapid advancement of scientific knowledge means that the established education system cannot alone cope with the changing needs of the population at the various levels; increasingly, formal education must be complemented through non-formal channels. The communication media and technologies can play an important role in this regard. On a broader scale, an increasingly scientifically oriented society needs science popularization in its widest sense, to promote an improved understanding of science and adequately orient public perceptions and attitudes about science and its applications.
  2. It is today widely recognized that without adequate higher S&T education and research institutions providing a critical mass of skilled scientists, no country can ensure genuine development. It is further agreed that action at national level should aim to tighten the links between higher education and research institutions, taking into account that education and research are closely related elements in the establishment of knowledge.

2.5 Science for peace and conflict resolution    Back to top

  1. There can be no lasting peace as long as essential problems of development are not properly attended to; there can be no proper development as long as the culture and the practice of peace are not universally adopted. Were science always geared towards peaceful purposes, it certainly would make a greater contribution to the well-being of humankind.
  2. Constructing the defences of peace in the minds of individuals, as recommended in the preamble of UNESCO’s Constitution, implies grasping the tools of scientific knowledge to reveal, understand and at the same time prevent the root causes of conflict. This field of research requires the concerted effort of a large number of scientific disciplines, involving as it does issues such as social inequality, poverty, food provision, justice and democracy, education for all, health care and environmental degradation. In other words, it involves every aspect of economic, social or political life that engenders violence.
  3. The contribution to the construction of the defences of peace entails a great responsibility for all professionals active in science and technology. The principles of universality, freedom and critical thinking that are dear to science, constitute a common bond for a constructive dialogue between parts in conflict and serve to fight intolerance and ideological and social barriers. Scientists have demonstrated the role that they can play in addressing conflicts and preparing peaceful agreements; this role must continue, with the support of governments and independent institutions.

2.6 Science and policy    Back to top

  1. Each country needs to have the capacity to design and implement its own science policy with responsibility within the global context, and to confront the dilemmas of priorities and competition for resources from the particular phase of economic development and industrialization in which it finds itself. A balanced development of a science base suitable for the country’s needs requires an elaborate infrastructure and a stable institutional support, as well as the existence of an appropriate legal and regulatory framework. Regional and international networking and cooperation can facilitate the exchange of national experiences and the design of more coherent science policies. Requiring special attention are the legal issues and regulations guiding international research and development in strategic areas such as information and communication technologies, biodiversity and biotechnology. Cooperation among international organizations is needed, to improve the measurement and understanding of intangible assets and recognition of their importance and to protect the output of intangible investments in areas such as intellectual property rights. An internationally accepted framework should provide for the protection of intellectual property rights, recognizing the provisions in existing frameworks that allow for different approaches.
  2. In view of the increasing complexity of decision-making in the contemporary world, scientists should be more proactive in their contribution to national policy making. The role of science in society and governance has never been more important.. Science has an over-riding responsibility to help societies make a transition to a dynamically stable and sustainable ecological and economic system. In this transition, an alliance between modern technical science and the holistic wisdom from traditional societies and philosophers from all cultures can be very important.


3.1. Social requirements and human dignity    Back to top

  1. Science should be at the service of humanity as a whole, and contribute to improving the quality of life for every member of present and future generations. Those fields that promise to address issues of social interest need therefore to be high on the agenda. When dealing with science-society benefits, long-term vision in scientific planning is necessary, provided that intermediate objectives are defined so that appropriate evaluation can be undertaken. Different individuals, sectors or groups can have widely varying needs and requirements, according to parameters such as: age, education, health, professional training, working place, living place, economic status, gender and cultural background. Identifying these diverse needs, and finding possible ways to address and fulfil them, require the concerted effort of scientists from different disciplines. The new reciprocal commitment between science and society will require not only that the scientific community take account of these challenges, but also that the cooperation mechanisms be resolute in promoting a strategy to meet them.
  2. The scientific community, governments, and all relevant institutions are urged to commit themselves to unrestricted respect for social and human dignity. In compliance with an essential social and moral duty, scientists should always work for the democratic principles of dignity, equality and respect of individuals and against ignorance, prejudice and the exploitation of human beings.

3.2. Ethical issues   Back to top

  1. The new discoveries and applications of science, while raising enormous hopes and expectations, also give rise to a variety of ethical problems; scientists, therefore, cannot any more overlook the ethical implications of scientific work. Ethics is a subject for permanent debate, choices and commitments –both at the individual and the social level– that transcends juridical prescriptions and adapts itself to a diversity of evolving situations.
  2. The full and free exercise of science, with its own values, should not be seen to conflict with the recognition of spiritual, cultural, philosophical and religious values; an open dialogue needs to be maintained with these value systems to facilitate mutual understanding. For the development of an all-encompassing debate on ethics in science, and a possibly ensuing code of universal values, it is necessary to recognize the many ethical frameworks in the civilizations around the world.

3.3. Widening participation in science   Back to top

  1. All human beings have the right to participate in the scientific enterprise. Equity in entering and pursuing a career in science is one of the social and ethical requirements of human development; there should be no discrimination in science, against any sector or individual. The increasing participation or involvement of all sectors of society in the scientific enterprise entails a systemic revision of science; it is clear that the decision-making and normative mechanisms of the institution of science are inevitably affected. In particular, any kind of central monitoring, whether political, ethical or economic, needs to take into account the increasingly diverse actors entering into the social tissue of science.
  2. Women’s participation in the planning, orientation, and assessment of scientific research and education activities needs urgently to be increased, in order to benefit from their perspective on science and their contribution to it; only in this way can maximum use be made of the intellectual potential of humankind as a whole and the optimal contribution to human and social well-being ensured.

3.4. Modern science and other systems of knowledge   Back to top

  1. Modern science does not constitute the only form of knowledge, and closer links need to be established between this and other forms, systems and approaches to knowledge, for their mutual enrichment and benefit. A constructive inter-cultural debate is in order, to help find ways of better linking modern science to the broader knowledge heritage of humankind.
  2. Traditional societies, many of them with strong cultural roots, have nurtured and refined systems of knowledge of their own, relating to such diverse domains as astronomy, meteorology, geology, ecology, botany, agriculture, physiology, psychology and health. Such knowledge systems represent an enormous wealth. Not only do they harbour information as yet unknown to modern science, but they are also expressions of other ways of living in the world, other relationships between society and nature, and other approaches to the acquisition and construction of knowledge. Special action must be taken to conserve and cultivate this fragile and diverse world heritage, in the face of globalization and the growing dominance of a single view of the natural world as espoused by science. A closer linkage between science and other knowledge systems is expected to bring important advantages to both sides.

* * *

List of related conferences  To Top

The Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge and the Science Agenda – Framework for Action have taken into account the decisions, recommendations and reports of a number of recent major intergovernmental or non-governmental conferences, listed below, as well as the reports of associated meetings organized within the framework of the World Conference on Science.

  • Recommendation on Status of the Scientific Researchers, adopted by the UNESCO General Conference, Paris, 1974
  • Vienna Programme of Action on Science and Technology for Development (UNCSTD), UN, New York, 1979
  • ICSU/ICASE/UNESCO International Conference on Science Education, Bangalore, 1985
  • ICSU Statement on Freedom in the Conduct of Science, Paris, 1989
  • World Conference on Education for All: Meeting Basic Learning Needs (Final Report), Jomtien, 1990
  • WMO/UNEP/UNESCO/ICSU Second World Climate Conference, Geneva, 1990
  • Statement of the International Conference on an Agenda of Science for Environment and Development into the 21st Century (ASCEND 21), Vienna, 1991
  • Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 1992
  • Conference on Academic Freedom and University Autonomy, Sinaia, 1992
  • ICSU Statement on Gene Patenting, Paris, 1992
  • World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna, 1993
  • Report of the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, Bridgetown, Barbados, 1994
  • Agenda for Development adopted by the Group of 77 in New York, 18 April 1995
  • World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1995
  • Report of the Gender Working Group on Gender Implications of Science and Technology for the Benefit of Developing Countries’ of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology, 1995
  • Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing, 1995
  • International Congress on Education and Informatics, Moscow, 1996
  • ICSU Statement on Animal Research, Paris, 1996
  • World Food Summit, Rome, 1996
  • Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21, UN General Assembly, New York, 1997.
  • World Congress on Higher Education and Human Resources Development for the Twenty-First Century, Manila, 1997
  • Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, adopted by the UNESCO General Conference, Paris, 1997
  • World Declaration on Higher Education for the Twenty-First Century: Vision and Action. UNESCO, Paris, 1998
  • Framework for Priority Action for Change and Development of Higher Education, UNESCO, Paris, 1998.

Back to Top


Back to UNESCO Home PageBack to Science Sector Home Page Back to WCS Home Page

wb01402_.gif (3058 bytes)