Presentation of UNESCO Science Report in New Zealand


Seated from left to right, Peter Best, in charge of the Milford Rotary Club’s summer science forum for talented secondary pupils, Susan Schneegans, Editor in Chief of the UNESCO Science Report, and Rotary Club President Chris Seibl, on 23 August 2016.
© Milford Rotary Club

Science and science diplomacy:
New Zealand’s place in the world


Presentation of the UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030
Milford Rotary Club, Auckland, New Zealand, 23 August 2016

On 23 August 2016, the Editor-in-Chief of the UNESCO Science Report, Susan Schneegans, presented the UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 to the Rotary Club of Milford. Her 20-minute presentation focused on the theme of New Zealand’s place in the world in science and science diplomacy.

Like Australia, New Zealand is part of Oceania, a vast region in the South Pacific that accounts for just 0.5% of the global population and 1.1% of global GDP. Oceania boxes above its weight in science, however, since it contributes 1.4% of global research spending, 1.6% of the world’s researchers and as much as 4.2% of scientific articles (Thomson Reuters database).

As the most populated country in the region, G20 member Australia contributes the most articles (3.7% of the world total) but New Zealand is also very productive: its scientists produce the sixth-highest number of articles in relation to GDP, making New Zealand the regional leader for this indicator. Between 2002 and 2014, New Zealand’s output increased by 80% and recorded a good citation rate.

This is all the more impressive, in that New Zealand has a fairly low research intensity by OECD standards, just 1.27% of GDP in 2013, compared to 2.25% for Australia. Business funding of R&D is also relatively modest, compared to many other OECD countries. However, nearly two-thirds of international New Zealand firms undertake some type of innovation, be it in goods and services or in marketing methods. Moreover, New Zealand has also upscaled its efforts in science diplomacy since 2009, through a series of ambitious initiatives led by the Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister, Sir Peter Gluckman.

Under the leadership of Prof. Gluckman, New Zealand has been quietly building a number of networks that combine science and diplomacy to advance the interests and presence of smaller powers in the international arena. In an era where international economic governance is increasingly seen as the purview of groupings of populous countries like the G8 or the G20, New Zealand’s approach acts as a ‘canary in the mine’ for larger countries, says Prof. Gluckman, alerting them to the particularities of smaller powers which have not always been reflected in the traditional rules-based international architecture.

Science for diplomacy

New Zealand has formed an informal ‘coalition of the willing’ with other advanced economies of less than 10 million inhabitants. This is a select group: the International Monetary Fund includes just three countries outside Europe in this category: Israel, New Zealand and Singapore. With the addition of the smaller European powers of Denmark, Finland and Ireland, the ‘coalition of the willing’ currently counts six members.

New Zealand hosts and funds the secretariat of its Small Advanced Economies Initiative. The coalition shares data, analysis, discourse and projects in three areas: public science and higher education;

innovation; and economics. A fourth area of co-operation involves ‘conversations’ between members on how to strengthen national branding and the voice of smaller nations within a broader diplomatic agenda.

Diplomacy for science

As the world’s highest emitter of methane per capita, owing to its large population of livestock, New Zealand is particularly keen to promote a science-based international dialogue at the nexus between food security and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture – agriculture accounting for about 20% of global emissions.

At the climate summit in Copenhagen (Denmark) in 2009, New Zealand proposed creating a Global Research Alliance to Reduce Agricultural Greenhouse Gases. One motivation was also the ‘existential

concern regarding future market resistance to our farm products’. This alliance currently has 45 members. It is unique in that it is led by scientists, rather than government administrators, in recognition of the fact that countries prefer to spend their research funds within their own border. In Prof. Gluckman’s own words:

Here, the diplomatic interests of New Zealand demanded that
science be done but, for that science to be done, the diplomats
had to create the vehicle then get out of the way.’

Prof. Gluckman has explained that ‘I have tried to show how a small country can use science within the diplomatic sphere to protect and advance its interests’. That argument seems to have borne fruit. New Zealand gained enough support for it to be elected to a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2015–2016 term.

Note: The text here on science diplomacy in New Zealand is taken from Box 27.1 in the UNESCO Science Report.