Franšais - English
What is Sustainable Development?

Background & Preparations
UNESCO at Johannesburg
Alliances & Partnerships

UNESCO's Priorities
Educating for Sustainability
Scientific Dimensions
Ethical Principles
Cultural Dimensions
Media and ICTs

Some Action Themes
Biological Diversity
Fresh Water
Local and indigenous knowledge



Printer friendly version

Home > World Conference on Science (Budapest, June 1999) - Updated: 14-01-2003 1:01 pm
In June 1999, the first global conference on science and society in almost twenty years took place in Budapest (Hungary), organized by UNESCO and the International Council for Science (ICSU).  
To the surprise perhaps of some, traditional knowledge figured prominently in the preparations and debates of the conference, as well as in its written outputs.

Taking part in the 'World Conference on Science for the Twenty-First Century: A New Commitment', were some 1,800 science stakeholders from 155 countries, including 90 ministers and deputy ministers in charge of science and/or research. The six-day conference offered a forum for debate on major science and related societal issues, with delegates agreeing on a number of principles and guidelines for shaping the course of science, research and science-society relations in the new millennium.

Among the thematic meetings was one on 'Science and other systems of knowledge', which addressed relationships between scientific and traditional systems of knowledge (Nakashima, 2000). Contributions addressed such topics as local coastal-marine knowledge systems, aboriginal fire management, traditional knowledge and small-scale agriculture, improving health care by coupling indigenous and modern medical knowledge, and educating today's youth in indigenous ecological knowledge.

More particularly, several considerations and recommendations concerning traditional knowledge were included in the two principal documents approved by the conference - the 'Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge' and 'Science Agenda: Framework for Action,' known as the Declaration and Framework respectively (UNESCO, 2000).

For example, in the preamble to the Declaration, the conference considered 'that traditional and local knowledge systems, as dynamic expressions of perceiving and understanding the world, can make, and historically have made, a valuable contribution to science and technology, and that there is a need to preserve, protect, research and promote this cultural heritage and empirical knowledge'.

Traditional and other systems of knowledge were also taken up in several paragraphs of the Framework document.

World Conference on Science and Traditional Knowledge

Traditional knowledge and its relation to modern science figures in several paragraphs of the two principal written outputs of the World Conference on Science for the Twenty-First Century: A New Commitment (Budapest 26 June-1 July 1999), as reflected in the following paragraphs extracted from 'Science Agenda: Framework for Action' (UNESCO, 2000).

Science, environment and sustainable development

  • Modern scientific knowledge and traditional knowledge should be brought closer together in interdisciplinary projects dealing with the links between culture, environment and development in such areas as the conservation of biological diversity, management of natural resources, understanding of natural hazards and mitigation of their impact. Local communities and other relevant players should be involved in these projects. Individual scientists and the scientific community have a responsibility to communicate in clear language the scientific explanations of these issues and the ways in which science can play a key role in addressing them.

  • Governments, in co-operation with universities and higher education institutions, and with the help of relevant United Nations organizations, should extend and improve education, training and facilities for human resources development in environment-related sciences, also utilizing traditional and local knowledge. Special efforts in this respect are required in developingc countries, with the co-operation of the international community.

Modern science and other systems of knowledge

  • Modern science does not constitute the only form of knowledge, and closer links need to be established between this and other forms, systems and approaches to knowledge, for their mutual enrichment and benefit. A constructive intercultural debate is in order, to help find ways of better linking modern science to the broader knowledge heritage of humankind.

  • Traditional societies, many of them with strong cultural roots, have nurtured and refined systems of knowledge of their own, relating to such diverse domains as astronomy, meteorology, geology, ecology, botany, agriculture, physiology, psychology and health. Such knowledge systems represent an enormous wealth. Not only do they harbour information as yet unknown to modern science, but they are also expressions of other ways of living in the world, other relationships between society and nature, and other approaches to the acquisition and construction of knowledge. Special action must be taken to conserve and cultivate this fragile and diverse world heritage in the face of globalization and the growing dominance of a single view of the natural world as espoused by science. A closer linkage between science and other knowledge systems is expected to bring important advantages to both sides.

  • Governments are called upon to formulate national policies that allow a wider use of the applications of traditional forms of learning and knowledge, while at the same time ensuring that its commercialization is properly rewarded.

  • Enhanced support for activities at the national and international levels on traditional and local knowledge systems should be considered.

  • Countries should promote better understanding and use of traditional knowledge systems, instead of focusing only on extracting elements for their perceived utility to the S&T system. Knowledge should flow simultaneously to and from rural communities.

  • Governmental and non-governmental organizations should sustain traditional knowledge systems through active support to the societies that are keepers and developers of this knowledge, their ways of life, their languages, their social organization and the environments in which they live, and fully recognize the contribution of women as repositories of a large part of traditional knowledge.

  • Governments should support co-operation between holders of traditional knowledge and scientists to explore the relationships between different knowledge systems and to foster interlinkages of mutual benefit.

  • Website


    Starting Date 26 June 1999
    End Date 1 July 1999
    Conference type World Conference on Science
    Conference Location Budapest, Hungary

  • Resources

     ID: 5151 | guest (Read) © 2002 - UNESCO - Contact