21 June 2012, article by Hans Hurni, University of Bern:
At midday today on 19 June 2012, around 800 people from all corners of the world passed their own, very latest negotiation document by acclamation here in Rio. This happened just five minutes after the beginning of the meeting when all of the participants had not yet quietened down and a few hundred people were still trying make themselves comfortable on the floor because there simply were not enough seats for everyone. The acceptance of the draft document, on which the community of states had been working intensively for over a year, happened so quickly that a member of a delegation from an African country had to ask why people were clapping for so long. It was then announced that the preliminary negotiations were concluded and the work of the delegations from all of the participating countries was done.
This is just as well as the past few days were filled with extremely intensive negotiations which took place both on, behind, below and in front of the main stage. In between, there were only a few hours’ sleep to be had. So we now have the draft of a document which the heads of state will discuss at their three-day summit from tomorrow, and which should be adopted as the main outcome of the Rio+20 conference by Friday 22 June 2012. So far so good.
As a representative of Swiss science and research, I must now ask myself: What will Rio+20 achieve for science? Greater recognition? More work? New tasks? I trawl through the almost 50-page-long negotiation document briefly, a task undertaken nowadays using the Word program’s search function. The term «university» is only mentioned once in the document. «Research» arises 17 times and there are 23 occurrences of «science». The term «capacity building», which arises 71 times, is far more important. So, overall, the haul for science is not too bad. The developing countries, in particular, cannot stress highly enough how important the development of their human resources in the areas of science and technology is for them. They face enormous challenges in developing their countries into knowledge societies, i.e. they want to become equal to the rich countries.
But I must also ask, conversely: What will science contribute to the implementation of Rio+20? Of course, it will be a question of focusing research even more on the three dimensions of sustainable development. The contributions to this aspect can be disciplinary. In addition to this, the promotion of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches will increase in importance. In other words, the cooperation between the natural, engineering and social sciences must be promoted. The inclusion of society in the definition of the objectives, with which sustainable development is to be targeted, must be ensured. And the roads that a society and economy must embark on to attain a more sustainable future, must be researched. In other words: in addition to the traditional systematic knowledge, target knowledge and transformational knowledge are also needed. The latter two areas are relatively new for research.
This applies not only to research in Switzerland but at least equally to research cooperation with developing and transition countries. According to external evaluations, the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research NCCR North-South has already been doing this with considerable success every year for over ten years. The future will show whether or not research promotion and development cooperation are prepared to take such experiences on board and continue to support them. Unfortunately, the signs are not very good at the moment.
The past week here in Rio was gruelling. I have managed to see very little of this fascinating city up to now. I was mostly a participating observer at the preparatory conference and occasionally an actor on the secondary platforms. Despite this, the journey was worthwhile for the Swiss Academy of Sciences, who nominated me, for the University of Bern, to which I will return with many new insights, and for me personally as I met many old friends and made new ones.