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 » This small advanced economy is using science diplomacy to make its voice heard
29.09.2016 - Natural Sciences Sector

This small advanced economy is using science diplomacy to make its voice heard

© Shutterstock/SkyLynx. New Zealand is home to 4.6 million people and 10 million cattle, two-thirds of which are dairy cattle, and counts almost 30 million sheep, according to the national statistics office.

On 25 July 2016, New Zealand’s Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Sir Peter Gluckman, told the European Open Science Forum(1) that ‘global interests are more likely to be achieved when nations support global or regional goals because of enlightened self-interest’.

He was underscoring the role that national scientific advice would play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 but he could also have been describing his approach to science diplomacy. The UNESCO Science Report (2015) relates how, at the climate summit in Copenhagen (Denmark) in 2009, New Zealand proposed creating a Global Research Alliance to Reduce Agricultural Greenhouse Gases.

As the world’s highest emitter of methane per capita, owing to its large population of livestock, New Zealand was particularly keen to promote a science-based international dialogue at the nexus between food security and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, a sector which accounts for about 20% of global emissions. One motivation for the alliance was the ‘existential concern regarding future market resistance to our farm products,’ says Prof. Gluckman.

The Global Research Alliance to Reduce Agricultural Greenhouse Gases is one manifestation of the ‘enlightened self-interest’ which characterizes New Zealand’s approach to science diplomacy. The economy is heavily reliant on international trade, with primary industries making a significant contribution to exports: dairy, meat, timber, wool and fisheries. Food and beverages accounted for 38% of New Zealand’s exports in 2013, according to the UNESCO Science Report.

By 2015, the Global Research Alliance to Reduce Agricultural Greenhouse Gases counted 45 members. According to Prof. Gluckman, ‘it is unique in that it is led by scientists, rather than government administrators, in recognition of the fact that countries prefer to spend their research funds within their own border’…Here, the diplomatic interests of New Zealand demanded that science be done but, for that science to be done, the diplomats had to create the vehicle then get out of the way’.

This alliance is part of a global effort to strengthen the interface between science, policy and society. As stated in the new report by the UN Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board, hosted by UNESCO, this interface will be crucial in achieving sustainability, insofar as ‘science without policy can be scattered and often fruitless. Policy without science usually fails to accomplish the immediate goal and undermines confidence that the next policy will be any better. When science and policy unite, the chances of success increase greatly’.

UNESCO signs agreement with International Network for Government Science Advice

The science–policy–society interface is at the core of science diplomacy, since it is hard to build scientific projects that will have a positive impact on peace and sustainable development without a strong community of scientists and decision-makers who understand one another.

UNESCO supports initiatives which strengthen this interface. It is working closely with the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), for instance. Launched in New Zealand in August 2014, INGSA groups government science advisors from a range of countries.

At the network’s second conference on 29 and 30 September 2016 in Brussels, Belgium, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences announced the signing of a letter of agreement strengthening co-operation with INGSA, particularly as concerns capacity-building for the various stakeholders at the science–policy–society interface.

A ‘coalition of the willing’ with other small advanced economies

The UNESCO Science Report describes another network formed by New Zealand to advance the interests and presence of smaller powers in the international arena. Through the Small Advanced Economies Initiative, New Zealand has created an informal ‘coalition of the willing’ with other advanced economies of less than 10 million inhabitants. This is a select group: the International Monetary Fund includes just three countries outside Europe in this category, namely Israel, New Zealand and Singapore. With the addition of the smaller European powers of Denmark, Finland, Ireland and Switzerland, the ‘coalition of the willing’ currently counts seven members.

New Zealand hosts and funds the secretariat of its Small Advanced Economies Initiative. The coalition shares data, analysis, discourse and projects in three areas: public science and higher education; innovation; and economics. A fourth area of co-operation involves conversations between members on how to strengthen national branding and the voice of smaller nations within a broader diplomatic agenda.

According to Prof. Gluckman, in an era where international economic governance is increasingly seen as the purview of groupings of populous countries like the G8 or the G20, New Zealand’s approach acts as a ‘canary in the mine’ for larger countries, alerting them to the particularities of smaller powers which have not always been reflected in the traditional rules-based international architecture.

In its aid policy, New Zealand also makes a special effort to take into account the interests of smaller countries. It focuses on issues such as energy and food security or non-communicable diseases, where the small size of countries is a particular handicap. In Africa, for instance, New Zealand’s priority aid activities, such as solar-powered electric fence technology, heat-resistant livestock and enhanced forage plant species, all rely on science and its local adaptation.

‘I have tried to show how a small country can use science within the diplomatic sphere to protect and advance its interests’, Prof. Gluckman said in a lecture to students in June 2015, during a summer school on science diplomacy at the World Academy of Sciences. This approach would seem to be working. In the same lecture, Prof. Gluckman recalled that New Zealand had gained enough support for it to be elected to a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2015–2016 term.

(1) Sir Peter Gluckman, told the European Open Science Forum that ‘global interests are more likely to be achieved when nations support global or regional goals because of enlightened self-interest’.

Source: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (2015), Box 27.1

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