Brics summit makes little progress on science cooperation

Fabíola Ortiz
[RIO DE JANEIRO] Scientific cooperation among the BRICS countries lags far behind its potential, according to Brazilian experts speaking after last week’s BRICS summit in Brazil.
The 6th Summit of Heads of State and of Government of BRICS — a multilateral forum of the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — held in Fortaleza and Brasília (14-16 July) has agreed to set up New Development Bank, which will emphasise social and economic inclusion.
The final declaration reinforces the commitment to strengthening cooperation in science, technology and innovation, and calls for “co-generating new knowledge and innovative products, services and processes utilising appropriate funding and investment instruments”.
But there has been little progress in setting up joint funds for cooperation in research within the BRICS nations.
“It would be of a huge relevance if the BRICS countries created their own and specific mechanisms for scientific cooperation,” Paulo Esteves, the director from the BRICS Policy Center in Brazil, tells SciDev.Net.
Yet he says there have still been no discussions about funds for cooperation among the five nations.
“Even the existing bilateral understandings are very timid and ad hoc. The amount of funds is also relatively tiny,” says Esteves.
But things may move ahead at a meeting in 2015 in Brazil, at which the BRICS ministers of science and technology have been instructed to sign a memorandum of understanding on science, technology and innovation. This will provide a strategic framework for cooperation.
According to a spokesperson at the Science & Technology Division of Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, BRICS nations have already identified five priority fields of action regarding scientific cooperation.
These relate to climate change and natural disaster mitigation led by Brazil; water resources and pollution treatment led by Russia; geospatial technology led by India; new and renewable energy, and energy efficiency led by China; and astronomy led by South Africa.
“This is what we have up to now but it is still under development. It is not easy to gather such big and distant countries with different agendas. We already have a set of ideas and now we are promoting seminars and meetings for scientists and researchers,” the spokesperson says.
Integration of technological valleys located in the BRICS countries along with new scholarship schemes and better mobility for scientists between countries, are also under discussion, he says.
The creation of a joint database of scientific journals and an academic network should also be implemented, but no concrete steps have been made so far, the spokesperson says.
“There is even a possibility of creating a common fund for science, but not in the short term,” he says.
The BRICS countries yield considerable economic power — they are responsible for almost 20 per cent of the global economy, according to information released by the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The five nations occupy a quarter of the globe and are home to 46 per cent of the world’s population.