For two days, representatives from 15 countries and the academic community started a wide debate on research in all of the Atlantic Ocean, moving forward with the Belem Statement on Atlantic Research and Innovation Cooperation. Signed in July 2017 in Lisbon, by Brazil, South Africa and the European Union, the statement has the aim of integrating research activities in countries with Atlantic Ocean shores, to improve and deepen scientific knowledge on marine ecosystems; relation between oceans and climate change; production of food from the sea; and also on energy systems from the oceans. The statement also aims to understand the dynamics between the Atlantic Ocean and Circulation Systems, interconnected with the Arctic and Antarctica.
For the General Coordinator for Oceans, Antarctica and Geosciences of the MCTIC (Ministry of Science, Technology, Innovation and Communications), Andrei Polejack, Brazil plays a crucial role in such cooperation. “The results of the meeting boosted collaborative research in the Atlantic and bilateral relations between Brazil and the participating countries. The meeting reaffirmed Brazil's role as a key-country in the Atlantic."
In the programme of the Belem All-Atlantic Research Forum, reflections on existing and planned cooperative research and innovation activities stood out at the level of the Belem Partnership, to show their outreach. Andrei Polejack also mentioned the collaboration with the Federal University of Bahia, which hosted the event and praised the attendance of the academic community. “This process is about people. It is not about tools or data. And people attended the Forum and are committed. We conclude this meeting with a high level of understanding of the challenges we are facing and we are together in this effort. This is something rare, which we do not see often in other communities," said Polejack.
This positive perception of stakeholder engagement was also endorsed by John Bell, Director of Bioeconomy of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research and Innovation. “When I spoke at the start of the forum, I spoke of the need of building an Atlantic Community. Over these two days, I found out that there already is an Atlantic Community. It is a matter of this community meeting and expressing their courage, their voice and their desire to respond to the challenges we are facing.”
John Bell also pointed out the importance of society's participation in the debates: “We have to consider the three aspects of sustainability: ecological, economic and social. Societies, wherever they are, need access to solutions to make their choices, plan and decide on the future. We need to allow people who will be affected by our decisions to participate in the discussions from the very beginning”.
Discussions on the socio-economic and political impact of research initiatives in the Atlantic Ocean emphasised the need for the Belém Partnership to show material impact, in addition to generating excellence in science. According to Bell, it is clear that knowledge needs to be applied, whether to a fisherman off the coast of Africa or to large coastal cities facing problems. It is important to ensure that scientific infrastructure and projects leave the field of abstract discussion, becoming a part of everyday life of a sustainable society.
Participating countries share the idea of finding ways of proposing concrete projects from now on. There are funding opportunities in the EU, in the context of H2020, the biggest programme in the world supporting research and innovation. On the Brazilian side, Federal research and innovation funding agencies (CNPq and FINEP), as well as State Research Funding Agencies (FAPs) may also offer co-financing opportunities.
A meeting prior to the main event was held in Salvador on 22 July, together with Southern Hemisphere countries, where the South-South agenda was discussed, coordinated by the MCTIC and South Africa's Department of Science and Technology. The meeting resulted in the creation of a working group to enable a scientific agenda in South Atlantic countries, with countries like Argentina, where the next meeting is foreseen in 2019.
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