BRICS endorse more cooperation in science, technology

The BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – have consolidated their cooperation at a first ministerial meeting on science, technology and innovation. The nations agreed to support people-centred science for the public good in a technologically changing global environment.

The meeting, held in Kleinmond outside Cape Town on 10-11 February to discuss joint science programmes, adopted a declaration to strengthen cooperation in science, technology and innovation, or STI, within the BRICS framework.

The science ministers or deputy ministers from the BRICS countries at the meeting agreed a memorandum of understanding – a formal legal framework to guide engagement among members – on cooperation in STI. The memorandum is expected to be signed in July in Fortaleza, Brazil.

The ministers said that as a first step towards implementing the objectives of the agreement, five thematic areas would be formed.

Climate change and natural disasters would be led by Brazil. Russia would head water resources and pollution treatment while India would drive geospatial technology and its application. New and renewable energy and energy efficiency would be led by China and South Africa would take the lead on astronomy.

The meeting, which was one of the activities agreed to in the declaration and work plan adopted at the 5th BRICS Summit held in Durban in South Africa in March 2013, declared support for a dedicated BRICS STI training programme in member countries.

What the ministers said

Science ministers who spoke at the meeting emphasised how such a partnership would auger well for sharing expertise among member countries.

Brazilian Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Marco Antonio Raupp said that while BRICS had started as a group of countries with future high economic growth potential, it had evolved into a political and diplomatic entity.

He said the grouping had developed influence in dealing with world challenges in the fields of international relations, finance, health, agriculture and banking.

The time had now come for science and technology to contribute to reaching the goal of enhancing people’s lives. “Our challenge is to expand our scientific cooperation to the technology edge with the participation of the private sector,” Raupp said.

South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology Derek Hanekom said the BRICS countries were recognised as future growth engines of the world economy and were forecast to account for 50% of global gross domestic product by 2020.

“It is clear that this kind of expansion will necessarily need to be accompanied by enhanced levels of technological integration into the global community and, without a doubt, will create huge opportunities for science, technology and innovation as critical growth and development drivers of the future,” said Hanekom.

The 3rd BRICS Summit in Sanya, China, in 2011 resulted in member countries establishing a number of working mechanisms to support the STI sector. The mechanisms include a BRICS Science, Technology and Innovation senior officials meeting and the STI Working Group.

Hanekom said that the BRICS STI partnership had enormous potential to bolster existing strong political and economic relations between countries, while at the same time contributing to global sustainable development.

Opportunities existed to exchange information on STI policies and programmes, and foster research and innovation partnerships, said Hanekom.

“Given that technological innovation and competitiveness is such a decisive factor in the rapidly changing global environment, it is essential that the BRICS science, technology and innovation priorities should be people-centred and driven by the public good.”

Wan Gang, China’s minister of science and technology, said that under the BRICS STI cooperation, his country welcomed the participation of BRICS researchers in Chinese programmes and students to further their study and research in China.

Also at the meeting were Ludmila Ogorodova, Russia’s deputy minister of education and science, and Indian Science and Technology Secretary Thirumalachari Ramasami.

Last year in November, on the sidelines of the 37th session of UNESCO’s general conference in Paris, BRICS education ministers agreed in their first meeting to strengthen university collaboration.

South Africa’s Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, said in a statement that strengthening collaboration between BRICS universities; partnerships and knowledge exchanges on technical and vocational education and training; and portability and transferability of qualifications between BRICS countries were important for the cooperation.

The group already has a BRICS Think Tanks Council to assist with innovation and act as a “platform for the exchange of ideas among researchers, academia and think tanks”.