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Address delivered during FORUM III

by Mr. Jon Lilletun
Minister of Education, Research & Church Affairs

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We meet in Budapest to discuss what a commitment to science in the next century will mean in practice. I will focus upon some elements that I find of great importance.

My views are based on two fundamental beliefs: firstly, we all have a duty to seek new knowledge, and secondly, to share it with others. A deeper and more wide-spread insight in nature and in society is the best way to peace and prosperity.

Modern science is a product of human curiosity, and has proved very efficient in improving the living conditions of man. Let me just mention scientific progress in the fields of food production and modern medicine, both of such great importance to all nations.

So, science is a mighty tool, and it is indispensable for any nation. My own country was one of the poorest nations in Europe at the beginning of the century. In its development science has played a very important part.

At this stage we know that the increase in population and consumption has put a heavy strain on our resources. Clean air and water are becoming scarce, bio-diversity is diminishing at an alarming rate, and even the natural development of the climate is probably affected.

We must admit that science has to a certain degree contributed to some of our problems. But there is no way back. To solve the problems we shall need all the power of science. Some problems are local, others are global, but they are all very complex. This calls for co-ordinated efforts and global co-operation. I therefore welcome the idea of a new social contract, endorsed by both science and society.

New knowledge always brings new opportunities, for better or for worse. All of society, and the scientific community in particular, must consider the ethical dimension of science and its applications. I hope that UNESCO's World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology will be a useful forum in this respect. Norway was glad to host the first session of the World Commission, which was held in Oslo only two months ago.

Let me comment on the issue of women and gender equality in science. A new commitment to science can only be realised through the full participation of women in science. I know that a lot has been done around the world to remove barriers and stimulate women to choose a scientific career. But much remains to be done. Take Norway as an example: Although close to 50% of my colleagues in Government are women, women still do not count for more than 11% of university professors. Specific measures are therefore still needed to promote the position of women, whose talents are badly needed. Let me also remind you about something Lydia Makhuba said on Monday. The well-known President of the Third World Organisation of Women in Science noted that there are too few women in UNESCO. I am proud to tell you that Norway is doing something to rectify this by nominating an eminent female university professor as our candidate to UNESCO’s Executive Board.

Among the issues discussed during Forum II earlier during this conference, I take a special interest in the subject of science for development. In my view development assistance in the field of science should be based on equality and reciprocity. As a donor country Norway has developed a specific research co-operation programme between universities and research institutions in the South and corresponding institutions in my country. The programme aims at strengthening national research capacity in some selected developing countries according to their needs and priorities. At the same time researchers in Norway are able to gain valuable knowledge about developing countries. I have noticed that many at this conference have suggested international funding mechanisms to promote research in developing countries. Norway is ready to contribute to a research fund for Eastern Africa. I hope that other countries will also participate.

Tomorrow we are invited to adopt a Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge and a Science Agenda - Framework for Action. I have studied these documents with great interest and, as a general remark I find them quite satisfactory. Indeed, as we are now approaching the turn of the century, we need policy objectives and plans of action both at national and international levels. As far as Norway is concerned I had the pleasure only a fortnight ago to submit a White Paper to parliament, outlining my Government's ambitions and priorities for science and technological development in the coming years. A summary of the White Paper in English is available for those interested. As far as the Declaration on Science and the Science Agenda are concerned, I can promise you that the Norwegian government will see to it that these documents are followed up in appropriate ways and we are prepared to co-operate with all relevant partners in this endeavour.

In our divided world of today building bridges is of the utmost importance. Scientists have a long experience as bridge makers. So let us support science.


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