The 10th World Science Forum to Kick Off on Monday in South Africa

The most prestigious global forum for science diplomacy is reaching a new milestone in its history this year: it is visiting the African continent for the first time. The 10th World Science Forum will be taking place in Cape Town, South Africa, from 6 to 9 December 2022. Convened under the main theme “Science for Social Justice”, this year’s forum calls on decision-makers to recognise the vital role that science must play in solving the world’s worsening societal, economic and environmental crises.

2022. december 5.

The World Science Forum is supported by the world’s largest scientific organizations: the partner institutions involved in the organization are the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Opening CeremonyOrganization (UNESCO), the International Science Council (ISC), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, well-known as the publisher of the Science magazines), the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) and the Global Young Academy (GYA).

In keeping with tradition, the event’s patrons are UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay and Hungary’s President Katalin Novák. The Forum’s opening ceremony will include welcome addresses by Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, the country hosting the Forum, Katalin Novák, President of Hungary, as well as UNESCO’s two Assistant Director-Generals, the South African Minister for Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Emmanuel “Blade” Bonginkosi Nzimande, and MTA President Tamás Freund, in his capacity as President of WSF.

Since its inception in 2003, the World Science Forum has made the developing world, the expansion of education and scientific infrastructure, and the question of how to tackle the various aspects of growing global inequality a priority. The concept behind this year’s main theme, “Science for Social Justice”, elaborated by the South African Ministry for Higher Education, Science and Innovation, explores issues such as social justice, the right to a fair distribution of public resources, the right of access to knowledge and the question of inequalities. It is intended to draw attention to the vastly adverse and inequitably distributed impacts of climate change, to the importance of science diplomacy, to the ways in which science could and should be geared towards promoting social justice, and to the responsibility science can assume in terms of investigating and tackling wide-ranging global challenges.

These themes are particularly relevant to people in Africa and the developing world at large, where the challenges of reducing severe economic inequalities, providing fair access to schooling, reducing the yawning gap between rich and poor and the disparities in how men and women are treated, securing fairer access to natural resources for all, protecting the environment and the climate, and resolving the conflict between economic growth on the one hand and the interests of the generations of today and tomorrow on the other are high priorities.

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The core of the Forum’s programme will consist of five plenary sessions, each of which will focus on how science can be put at the service of human dignity, climate justice, African science, diplomacy and the relationship between justice and science. The great interest in the Forum was already apparent from the high number of applications to the open call for the organisation of the Forum’s thematic sessions: these 28 sessions to be held were selected from the 140 excellent session proposals submitted. Ahead of the main programme of the WSF, nearly 40 side events will be organised by African or international organisations, or by national organisations from abroad. These include an event organised by the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA), a global entity affiliated with ISC, dozens of side events organised by African science academies, events featuring young researchers, and an extensive media programme organised by the World Federation of Science Journalists. Notably, the annual General Assembly of the African Academy of Sciences will be taking place in the run-up to the Forum, ensuring that the African scientific community will be as widely represented as possible at the Forum itself.

Besides assisting the local organisers – the South African Department of Science and Innovation – in the organisation of the event, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences is also planning to present three sections of its own at the Forum. One of them will focus on (THEMATIC SESSION III/G: WHAT IF? IS CURIOSITY STILL THE MAIN DRIVING FORCE BEHIND REVOLUTIONARY IDEAS IN SCIENCE?) through a highlighting of the unique and inspiring experiences, discoveries and personal stories of eminent researchers in the course of their scientific careers. The second will highlight the importance of biosphere reserves (Side event: BIOSPHERE RESERVES: SHINING GEMS OF NATURAL ECOSYSTEMS) through concrete examples, while the third will promote the international cooperation and opportunities generated behind the large research infrastructures (Side event: BASIC SCIENCE FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT: FROM A PERSPECTIVE OF LEVERAGING GLOBAL LARGE RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE), in particular the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI) in Szeged.

The foundations of the World Science Forum (WSF) can be traced back to the “World Conference on Science” organised by UNESCO in Budapest in 1999. An intergovernmental conference convened with the specific purpose of discussing the role of science in society and the economy, this initial gathering was funded by the Hungarian government, and – with science being the main theme – the Hungarian Academy of Sciences joined as co-organiser. The World Conference on Science released a closing statement entitled “Budapest Declaration”, a document which remains a point of reference to this day for national legislators drawing up rules related to the role and responsibility of science. This Budapest event came to be regarded as the launch of the World Science Forum conference series since it was at the Budapest event that a need for a regular exchange of views about the relationship between science and society was expressed.

The initiative was first taken up by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, with UNESCO and the then International Council for Science (ICSU) later joining as co-organisers, in addition to the world’s leading scientific organisations. Since 2003, the event, now known as the World Science Forum, has been held every second year by these partners as co-organisers. The World Science Forum is chaired by the President of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in office, who also acts as co-chair of the WSF Steering Committee. The other co-chair of this year’s WSF Steering Committee is Emmanuel “Blade” Bonginkosi Nzimande, Minister for Higher Education, Science and Innovation of South Africa.

The biennial Forum is perhaps the only regular, internationally collaborative, global platform for science diplomacy and science policy that addresses issues such as the role of science and its future and the ethical, environmental, economic, social and cultural implications of scientific discoveries. To honour its mission, this year’s Forum will again address the most pressing global issues with the involvement of leaders of science organisations, policy and business decision-makers, non-governmental organisations and science media outlets.