Some of the most pressing issues and developmental challenges facing nations in contemporary times have a scientific and technological dimension. Science and Technology (S&T)-led innovation offers an opportunity to address these multifaceted challenges, which are now global in nature.
For a diverse country such as India, S&T is expected to empower the common citizen, making his/her life easier. S&T interventions have to be able to address both national needs and aspirations — by being inclusive — and, at the same time, they have to meet the international obligations of a responsible country. Science diplomacy, thus, is a crucial policy dimension.
The importance of S&T innovations in achieving the 2030 Agenda for UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — to which most nations, including India, are committed — points towards a new opportunities for cross-border collaboration in scientific research and development.
The Global Innovation and Technology Alliance (GITA) was launched by India a few years ago and has provided an enabling platform for frontline techno-economic alliances. Enterprises from India are tying up with their counterparts from partnering countries including Canada, Finland, Italy, Sweden, Spain, and the UK. This industry-led collaboration, with the government as an equal partner, is aimed at supporting the last phase of technology-based high-end, affordable product development — which can connect to both global and domestic markets.
The India-led International Solar Alliance (ISA), with more than 79 sunshine countries as signatories and nearly 121 prospective countries as partners, is another excellent example of modern-day science diplomacy. The vision and mission of the ISA is to provide a dedicated platform for cooperation among solar resource-rich countries. Such a platform can make a positive contribution towards achieving the common goals of increasing the use of solar energy in meeting the energy needs of member countries in a safe, affordable, equitable and sustainable manner.
The global Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) was recently announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. The CDRI is yet another example of international partnership piloted by India in consultation with 35 countries that will support developed and developing nations in their efforts to build climate and disaster-resilient infrastructure, required to face the vagaries of climate change.
The CDRI will provide member countries technical support and capacity development, research and knowledge management, and advocacy and partnerships. It is aimed at risk identification and assessment, urban risk and planning, and disaster risk management. Within two-three years, the coalition aims to have a positive three-fold impact — in the member countries’ policy frameworks, future infrastructure investments and endeavours towards a reduction of economic losses from climate-related events and natural disasters across sectors. Through this international coalition, we can mitigate the fallout of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and storm by ensuring that affordable housing, schools, health facilities and public utilities are built in line with the robust standards required to survive natural or man-made hazards.
It is evident that international collaborations in S&T innovation is not merely cosmetic. Today, it is a necessity. No nation alone has the capacity, infrastructure and human resources to address the massive challenges that the earth and mankind faces, threatening our very existence. It is inevitable, therefore, that science, technology and innovation should increasingly become an intrinsic diplomatic tool for India.
This will require proactive engagement of the scientific and technological community with stakeholders — including the polity, the diplomatic corps and the knowledge enterprises — in order to design and develop effective tools for international engagement through S&T. After all, these will be required to meet the national aspirations and global challenges that we face in a connected and yet shrinking world.
This article first appeared in the print edition on January 2, 2020 under the title “Art of Science Diplomacy”. The writer is principal scientific adviser to the Government of India.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines