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Address delivered during FORUM III

by Mr George FOULKES
Head of Delegation
MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State

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World leaders have set the target of ridding the world of poverty in the 21st Century and the British Government is determined to play our part in achieving this target. That is why our new labour government reversed the reduction in ODA as a percentage of GDP after twenty years of decline. It can and must be achieved, through sustainable development that combines pro-poor economic growth with social equity and environmental and building in some parts of the world it means restoring peace and building democracy.

This formidable challenge requires global and local solutions, and working together in partnerships.

A powerful tool in getting rid of poverty is by improving the access of the poor to knowledge and to safe technologies that work.

You in science are in the business of creating knowledge and developing technologies. But they can only be put to work if they reach people in a way in which they can use them.

Access to knowledge is a valuable tool in the international fight against poverty and inequity just as it is in the search for economic growth and competitiveness at home.

This is why the UK is represented here today by a Minister responsible for International Development.

Science, engineering and technology is a major priority for the UK government as a key driver for creating wealth and improving the quality of life, both at home and overseas. We are investing over 20 billion in this area over the next three years, a real terms increase of 1.8 billion.

Our Department for International Development invests our part of this on research and capacity-building working in partnership with UK institutions and internationally, through the programmes of the World Health Organization (WHO), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and UNESCO.

We invest in a wide range of areas: tropical diseases, new crop varieties, integrated pest management and social and economic policies that work. But increasingly the problems we seek to solve require interdisciplinary approaches: in the real world social, economic, cultural and technical issues are intertwined, as Partha Dasgupta noted yesterday.

For example, coping with the eruption of the volcano on the small island of Montserrat required a better understanding of vulcanology as well as improving the means to assess health risks from ash. Attacking HIV/AIDS requires the search for drugs and vaccines as well as better understanding of the social implications and approaches that might work.

While well-managed research is an excellent investment for both the public and private sectors, rapid advances can give rise to ethical concerns and the need for better tools for assessing the balance of risks and benefits, in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for example. These are often difficult to quantify and have international and trade implications. Debate and policies should be informed by good science.

In Britain we have a 'Foresight’ programme to involve civil society and government in a process of setting our scientific and technological priorities. This is an excellent basis for productive partnerships between the public and private sectors. The British government has now established several challenge funds to encourage these partnerships such as the Telford Challenge, which supports capacity-building and innovation in the engineering fields.

Women have a key role to play in science. Not because of political correctness but because any society that does not provide opportunities for women is robbing science of the creative talents of more than half its population. Science depends on engaging the most creative minds in our society. My Government supports the emphasis given in the Declaration and Framework for Action to gender equity.

Science should be fully integrated into society. Confidence and trust are based on transparency, accountability and access to information, as Robert May and John Durant have already said. We need to raise the level of public debate nationally and internationally so that decisions are made in the full knowledge of how different countries and interest groups will be affected by particular innovations. We welcome and support references by many other speakers and in the Declaration to the need to do more to improve 'science communication'.

We have heard the call for a meeting to develop ideas on how best to take forward the challenge of improving 'science communication'. Given the urgency of the task we will take up the challenge of this in Britain later this year. I hope this shows we are working to follow up our words with positive action.


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