Preface by the Director-General of UNESCO

 

The World Conference on Science, convened in 1999 by UNESCO and the International Council for Science (ICSU), was a quest – a quest for a new relationship between science and society built on mutual respect and mutual assistance. In a rapidly changing world where knowledge from all fields of science is urgently needed to address pressing human needs and aspirations in a responsible manner that respects ethical values and the planet we rely upon for survival, the Conference sought to promote the idea of ‘science in society and for society’. In fact, it went beyond that by seeking a reciprocal commitment between science and society at a time of growing disaffection towards science even as the importance of science is growing.

The Government of Hungary hosted the Conference in its capital, Budapest. Many other partners from the key stakeholder groups in science made other valuable contributions: governments, the public and private sectors, international organizations and media groups.

After six days of stimulating debate, the Conference reached the consensus articulated in the political Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge and in the implementation tool, the Science Agenda – Framework for Action. Follow-up was to address three major topics: science for knowledge and knowledge for progress; science for peace and development; and science in society and for society.

Since UNESCO had taken the lead in preparing and convening the World Conference on Science, in cooperation with ICSU, it was only natural that UNESCO should assume a key role in follow-up. This role was to encompass both follow-up within UNESCO’s own programmes and a clearing-house function for Conference follow-up actions undertaken by numerous autonomous partners.

The World Conference on Science charted new territory for UNESCO. Drawing on its unique comparative advantage of housing education, natural and human sciences, communications and culture under one roof, UNESCO responded to Budapest by adopting a more integrated approach to problem-solving and the promotion of research and science education through multilateral cooperation.

The Organization’s Medium-Term Strategy for 2002-2007 gives full weight to implementation of the Science Agenda, with special emphasis on ‘freshwater and supporting ecosystems’ and on ‘the ethics of science and technology’ as the absolute priorities respectively of UNESCO’s science and social and human sciences programmes.

It is in its clearing-house capacity that UNESCO has prepared the present analytical report recommended by Budapest, in consultation with its partners. Harnessing science to society is based on information made available to UNESCO by Member States, United Nations specialized agencies, intergovernmental and non-governmental international organizations, regional institutions, science networks, centres of excellence and educational establishments. Naturally, the report also covers UNESCO’s own activity.

Harnessing science to society overviews developments during the two and a half years since the World Conference on Science; it provides a factual basis for assessing the real impact of the Conference. It can be concluded that the Budapest Conference was a worthwhile event; visibly, over the initial period of follow-up, it has inspired many partners to adopt innovative approaches to fostering science. There appears to exist a real need – and an opportunity – to further develop a worldwide partnership that has the potential to multiply the returns on the Conference.

Forward-looking, the report envisages the possibility that UNESCO will launch a comprehensive follow-up consultation with partners in 2004 (Budapest+5) in its capacity as clearing-house. A consultation in 2004 would have the advantage of enabling partners to evaluate collectively the returns on the Conference thus far as well as identify any necessary readjustments to the follow-up strategy.

The political commitment that governments agreed upon in Budapest in 1999 must be sustained if the Conference is to make a lasting difference. Harnessing science to society more effectively is not something that can be achieved overnight. But we cannot afford to let ourselves fall back into a ‘business as usual’ complacency. We must keep up the momentum and that means re-galvanizing our efforts and our collaboration.

I hope I can count on all the partners in the World Conference on Science process to go forward from here with renewed determination. We have already made some progress towards meeting the expectations of Budapest. We know how much remains to be done.

 

 

 

 

Koïchiro Matsuura