U.N. adviser: Global science diplomacy on the right track

UI President Scott Green and Katherine Himes, director of the James A. and Louise McClure Center, listen as United Nations adviser Bill Colglazier talks about science diplomacy at the Bruce M. Pitman Center on Monday.

Despite what Dr. Bill Colglazier said are some setbacks — like the nation’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement — the scientific adviser to the United Nations said he believes science diplomacy around the world is moving in the right direction.

Colglazier, who was the fourth person in history to serve as the science and technology adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State Department, spoke Monday at the University of Idaho about the importance of science diplomacy, or using scientific expertise and knowledge to advance diplomatic objectives.

Throughout his career, the longtime diplomat has worked with around 50 countries on the topic.

“Countries and governments have recognized in this interconnected, hyper-competitive world that if a country is going to have a chance to be secure and prosperous, it’s going to have to be much more capable in science and technology,” Colglazier said.

As he gave his almost one-hour talk at the Pitman Center, which was followed by a question-and-answer session, Colglazier referenced a number of reports that showed the affect science and technology had on both policy and lawmakers.

Although science cannot predict the future, Colglazier said, it can create a roadmap of sorts for global trends. It can also help lay a foundation to better deal with current and coming challenges, especially from a policy standpoint, he said.

“The question is ... how can science diplomacy make things better to deal with some of the challenges that we face and, in my view, engaging countries on science and technology can, in principle, hopefully deal with some of the challenges that are envisioned from these future worlds that we might be facing,” Colglazier said.

Colglazier, serves as the editor-in-chief of the journal Science and Diplomacy, and is also the senior scholar in the Center for Science Diplomacy at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He said students and staff at universities across the nation make him believe that the overall outlook for the progression of the field remains positive, despite being on a somewhat “wayward path,” following moves like a proposal to cut the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

Colglazier said lawmakers, despite their political affiliations, continually see science as important to the future of the United States.

“I don’t want to minimize the challenges that we face, but what gives me I guess the most hope for the future and one of the things I enjoy most is coming to universities, not only in the United States, but across the world,” Colglazier said. “To me, it’s remarkable to engage young people. Wherever they are in the world, they’re all the same. They are all motivated to a large extent by idealism — ideas or expertise to help their society. So the youth of the world gives me optimism.”

Colglazier’s talk was organized by UI’s College of Science, the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research and the Martin Institute.

UI President Scott Green said Colglazier’s visit to the university highlighted UI’s mission to provide students with “exceptional research” and applied learning opportunities in various fields.

Justyna Tomtas may be contacted at jtomtas@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2294. Follow her on Twitter @jtomtas.

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