Experts in science diplomacy emphasized the importance of collaboration to address issues of shared concern within Latin America and the Caribbean at a virtual workshop that brought together scientists, diplomats, government officials and other participants from around the world.
Co-organized by The Sao Paulo Innovation and Science Diplomacy School, The World Academy of Sciences and the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC) with support from AAAS, the InnSciD SP 2021 + TWAS Science Diplomacy LAC Regional Workshop convened 150 participants from a variety of relevant fields from the Latin America and the Caribbean region and around the world – with a particular focus on nations where capacity in science and technology is significantly lagging.
The course, held from Aug. 4-13, was split into two parts. The first portion was geared toward introducing young scientists to the field of science diplomacy, while the second portion offered an in-depth focus on innovation and science diplomacy for participants from all professional backgrounds. Panel subjects ranged from how young scientists can involve themselves in science diplomacy to lessons learned from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the global governance of emerging issues such as artificial intelligence.
Virgilio Almeida, director of the TWAS Latin America and Caribbean Regional Partner, said in opening the workshop, “Today’s conference is a useful step in the direction to bring visibility and show the importance of science and diplomacy to young scientists in Latin America and the Caribbean region.”
Sudip Parikh, CEO of AAAS and the executive publisher of the Science family of journals, welcomed participants to the course and highlighted that, “The COVID 19 pandemic has highlighted the value of science and the need for scientists to work together to solve global problems.” However, he added, “this crisis is not going to be the last time that science will be essential to our triumph over existential threats.” Parikh expressed to workshop attendees his hopes that connections among scientists from different nations are currently being strengthened to address future challenges through science diplomacy.
Science diplomacy has been taking hold in Latin America and the Caribbean across many sectors, including government, academia and industry, to help scientists and diplomats bridge divides, said Marga Gual Soler, founder of SciDipGLOBAL and adviser to the EU Science Diplomacy Cluster, who moderated a panel on science diplomacy in the region.
Yet some panelists noted that even more collaboration is needed.
As important as developing national-level infrastructure is, nations also need to be connected within the region, said Lidia Brito, regional director of science for the LAC region for UNESCO. Latin American and Caribbean nations mostly engage through science diplomacy with countries in the global North, but countries in the region should increase collaboration among themselves – a step that can help the region become more self-sufficient while strengthening national facilities, she said.
Sergio Cristancho, Colombia’s vice minister of knowledge, innovation and productivity, offered several suggestions for fostering this interconnectivity. First, participants need to identify those issues that are of shared interest in the region that can be addressed through science diplomacy. (As many panelists noted, science diplomacy can be applied in three dimensions of policy, following the AAAS-Royal Society 2010 framework: scientific evidence and understanding informing policy; diplomatic efforts advancing scientific collaboration; and the furthering of international relations through scientific collaboration.)
Raymond Jagessar, president of The Caribbean Academy of Science, offered several timely examples of interconnected issues, including COVID-19, antibiotic resistance, pollution and climate change. Climate change, for instance, affects many Caribbean nations, with intensifying hurricanes that have destroyed infrastructure across many islands and flooding in Guyana – his home country – and Suriname.
The complex solutions for addressing such pressing problems requires regional collaboration, such as cooperation on research and monitoring related to ocean health and working together to create realistic, evidence-based roadmaps to net-zero carbon emissions, Jagessar noted.
Cristancho suggested finding existing platforms and organizations within the region to advance those collaborations – or, if none suits the needs spurred by a particular issue, identify and create new structures where science diplomats from affected areas can all contribute to addressing regional issues.
Said Brito, “To put in practice science diplomacy, we really require new configurations, new models of cooperation at national, subnational, regional and global level so that science institutions, diplomacy institutions and society can really use the best that science can bring to all of us.”
She specifically noted the need for more mobility and capacity-building programs to support and foster the talent in the region – of which this course is an example, she noted.
The outcomes of science diplomacy can incredibly wide-reaching and beneficial, other speakers noted.
“Science helps to break down walls of fear and prejudice,” said Luiz Davidovic, secretary-general of TWAS and president of Brazilian Academy of Sciences. “We need that urgently in these difficult times.”