I had the great privilege to be part of the U.S. delegation at the ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology (COST)-U.S. Consultation this weekend in Tagaytay City, Philippines. Set on a ridge overlooking Taal Lake and the Taal Volcano, the meeting site was a stunning setting for delegates to come together to focus on advancing ASEAN’s regional science and technology priorities and to consult with Dialogue Partners such as China, the European Union, and the United States.
As the Science Advisor at the U.S. Mission to ASEAN, I led the U.S. delegation, which included Dr. Teresa Leonardo from the U.S. Agency for International Development – Regional Development Mission for Asia, and Ms. Bimbi Villa, a specialist in Environment, Science, Technology, Health and Energy from the U.S. Embassy in Manila. The meeting covered a wide-ranging set of activities designed to strengthen science capacity in ASEAN through fostering of people to people exchanges among ASEAN scientists and between ASEAN and U.S. scientists.
We received good news earlier in the week – the ASEAN-U.S. Science and Technology Fellows Pilot Program which we proposed was endorsed by the COST Advisory Body, Sub-Committee on Science and Technology (S&T) Infrastructure and Resources Development (SCIRD), and ASEAN COST itself. The Pilot Program is modeled on the U.S. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowship Program, which has brought science expertise into the U.S. government for forty years through the engagement of more than 2600 Fellows. The ASEAN –U.S. Science and Technology Fellows Pilot Program will support ASEAN scientists to work in their home ministries to promote the use of the best science to inform the national and ASEAN regional policy process. We had a productive discussion with ASEAN COST representatives from the member states on the details of operationalizing the program in the pilot year to tailor to ASEAN needs and capacity.
During the consultation, our delegation also shared new U.S.-supported science partnerships and resources including an ASEAN-U.S. Science Prize for Women and the ASEAN-U.S. Fulbright Scholars and Specialist Programs, which will be opportunities to highlight scientific scholarship and the positive impacts that ASEAN scientists have made to society.
We also drew attention to the application of science and technology in the urban environment. More than half of the approximately 600 million people of ASEAN lives in urban areas, and this trend is expected to grow. According to the Asian Development Bank, by 2050, more than half of the global GDP will come from Asia. Sustainable development in Asia, if done right, can have positive impacts throughout the world. And, science and technology can be used to support sustainable urban development, such as through the use of science-based tools and best practices. These include spatial modelling tools to understand risks (e.g. to flooding, climate change, water scarcity) over space and time; mobile apps to inform vulnerable communities; and, systems-based models to help decision-makers understand the tradeoffs of environmental, social, and economic impacts of different policy interventions. We are planning to bring a significant science and technology component to new U.S.-sponsored activities in the region, such as the new CityLinks Pilot Partnership between the United States and ASEAN member states, and the upcoming Urban Adaptation Futures Conference.
On the sidelines of the COST Meeting, we held bilateral meetings to learn about the outcomes of the closed door COST meetings that happened earlier in the week. We learned that ASEAN has a new focus on science, technology and innovation to support regional development.
U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN David Carden has noted that “scientific and technological innovation will be crucial to addressing the 21st century challenges that recognize no national borders, including emerging diseases, environmental degradation, and natural disasters. Smart innovation policies that encourage cooperation by government, academia, and the private sector will help ASEAN nations harness the intellectual and creative energies of their populations and support ASEAN’s integration and connectivity goals.”
I could not agree more. Our robust consultation with ASEAN COST last week was a demonstration of our strong commitment to science and technology cooperation with ASEAN. We look forward to our continued partnership with ASEAN on these important issues.
By Dr. Montira Pongsiri, PhD, MPH, Science Advisor at the U.S. Mission to ASEAN