Readout of Dr. Alondra Nelson’s Participation in the G7 Science Ministerial: Progress Toward a More Open and Equitable World
From June 12-14, 2022, Dr. Alondra Nelson represented the United States and the Biden-Harris Administration as Head of Delegation at the Group of Seven (G7) Science Ministerial Meeting in Frankfurt, Germany, where she joined science ministers from Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.
The German G7 presidency established “Progress towards an equitable world” as its central goal — a theme that resonated with principles articulated in President Biden’s very first Day One Executive Order on “Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.”
The ministerial, under the leadership of German Minister of Education and Research Bettina Stark-Watzinger, chose to elevate four topics of critical importance to science and technology research, innovation, and policy, also aligned with Biden-Harris Administration priorities. Those topics were:
• Protection of the Freedom, Integrity, and Security of Science and Research
• Removal of Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere
• Synergistic Research for Biodiversity and Climate Change
• Post COVID-19 Condition, or Long COVID
During the G7 meeting, ministers also had the opportunity to engage virtually with Ukraine’s science minister, Dr. Shkarlet Serhiy, who spoke about the status of the Ukrainian scientific community. Dr. Nelson and the other G7 science ministers collectively condemned Russia’s actions and committed to finding ways to support Ukrainian scientists. The group also committed to limiting scientific collaboration with the Russian government, consistent with guidance from our G7 allies and Administration guidance. Dr. Nelson also met bilaterally with her various G7 counterparts to discuss areas of mutual interest, cooperation, and prioritization.
The G7 Science Ministers’ Communique may be found, here. The annex to the communique, which contains additional information about the work of the G7 science ministers and their working groups, is linked, here.
Below are Dr. Nelson’s remarks as delivered for the G7 science ministerial.
On “Protection of the freedom, integrity, and security of science and research”
Thank you, Minister Stark-Watzinger, for convening us under the theme of “progress toward an equitable world” and for making this topic a pillar of our meeting today — and thanks to my fellow ministers, for such a rich discussion.
I also want to thank Dr. Kinzelbach for the keynote remarks that began our session. Thank you so effectively turning the powerful empirical tools of science to improve our understanding scientific integrity and highlighting the importance of openness and autonomy for researchers and research institutions.
The United States believes firmly — with absolute conviction — in the importance of promoting and protecting freedom, integrity, and security in science and research. Indeed, in the its first week in office, the Biden-Harris Administration issued a Memorandum on Restoring Trust in Government Through Scientific Integrity and Evidence-Based Policymaking.
The values and commitments laid out in the draft communique, well describe our point of view on these issues.
In the broader scientific discourse, many — including a number of governments — have become attached to a phrase that seems to describe what we care about, but is actually problematic and incomplete.
The phrase is, “as open as possible, as secure as necessary.”
These words too readily imply that we perceive openness and security as in tension with each other — in opposition to each other. They imply that one could sacrifice openness in science, to have security in science.
Fellow ministers, we cannot allow that implication.
Not as scientists. Not as government officials. Not as democracies.
Instead, we must be clear and unequivocal. Openness and security are not contradictory. They are complimentary, and mutually reinforcing.
To imply otherwise — to imply a choice between openness or security — would be a serious mistake. Instead, we must have both openness and security. Let me explain why.
I know that as scientists, we all understand the value of openness.
From our educations, and from our experiences, we know that openness is crucial to discovery — because science doesn’t move forward unless we publish, share, and communicate our knowledge and breakthroughs, so others can build on them.
Without openness, fundamental research would never realize its potential.
And we also know that openness is crucial to building and rebuilding public trust — in science, and in governments.
Of course, openness alone is not enough. We need security, too.
For one, we know countries will always have critical national security assets that must be protected. And that’s vitally important.
We also know some countries are trying to compromise the science and technology of others, and violate the integrity of individual scientists and researchers. And that’s simply unacceptable.
What we do about this must be thoughtful and effective.
As like-minded countries, we cannot allow our actions to do more harm to ourselves than any competitor or adversary would.
Nor can we compromise our shared democratic values — the values that enable fundamental research and scientific discovery to thrive.
We know the path taken by autocracies. We must not follow it.
Because making fundamental research closed off — hiding more science behind walls and in the shadows — will not solve the problem.
It will only stifle our own innovation, and curtail our competitive advantage — just as limiting openness will only limit the bounds of our discoveries.
Fellow ministers, as we will collectively affirm today, the solution isn’t more shadows. The solution is sunlight.
When researchers are open and transparent about all their affiliations, all their relationships with funders and fellow scientists, it helps avoid potential conflicts of interest and commitment.
When data and evidence are made public and open — while preserving people’s privacy — it helps others verify that our conclusions are accurate, honest, and unbiased — while safeguarding people’s well-being.
When we welcome and engage and collaborate with scholars and researchers of many diverse backgrounds, that doesn’t make our science less secure. It makes our science stronger.
As scientists — as ministers —as democracies — we should not want, and we cannot choose, security over openness.
Instead, we should want, and we must achieve, security through openness — through transparency, through scientific integrity, through professional accountability.
Here today, we should reject the notion that openness is a mere possibility while security is a necessity.
Openness is not only possible, it is fundamental.
Security is not only necessary, it is essential.
And freedom and integrity, are crucial.
Fellow ministers, let us replace the phrase “as open as possible, as secure as necessary” in the global scientific discourse with a mindset of “openness is fundamental, security is essential, and freedom and integrity are crucial.”
Let these be the new watchwords of science, research, and innovation in our democracies.
On “Removal of Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere”
Thank you, Minister Stark-Watzinger for prioritizing the removal of carbon dioxide as a topic for discussion today. And thank you to Dr. Pongratz for the thought-provoking keynote remarks.
As we know, the climate crisis does not affect all communities or all countries equally. Lower-income communities and small island nations are already experiencing the first and worst effects of climate change, despite having contributed the least to the problem.
To solve the climate crisis and make progress toward an equitable world, we must remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and prevent further ocean acidification.
President Biden’s climate agenda has been historic. He began his presidency by rejoining the Paris Agreement, and, consistent with the COP26 consensus in Glasgow last November, he set three ambitious goals for American society:
- To reduce emissions by over 50 percent by 2030,
- To achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035, and
- To reach a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.
Carbon removal strategies are essential for reaching net-zero. They will offset some hard-to-abate emissions, and they will help draw down the greenhouse gases that we’ve been emitting since at least the mid-19th century.
In order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, humanity needs to remove between 500 billion and 1.15 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by the end of the century.
To get this job done, we know that both technological and nature-based carbon removal are important tools.
As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s more than $200-billion-dollar investments in clean energy and climate resilience solutions, we are investing over $10 billion dollars in carbon capture and removal research, development, innovation, and deployment.
And this includes $3.5 billion dollars to establish four direct air capture hubs to remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere.
We also recognize that today, engineered solutions for carbon removal, like direct air capture, are expensive and energy intensive.
That is why, last year, the U.S. Department of Energy launched an “Earthshot” initiative to accelerate research and development on carbon dioxide removal — an all-hands-on-deck call for innovations to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and durably store it in a cost-effective, just, and sustainable manner.
It is important that we take an inclusive, equitable approach toward this technology development — so that every part of our society has a say about safety, jobs, and facility siting.
Our efforts also include nature-based solutions, such as reforestation and wetland restoration. For example, one of President Biden’s first executive orders was to conserve 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, partly to drive investments in protecting and restoring natural carbon stores to help meet our climate targets.
In addition to removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, nature-based solutions have important co-benefits if they are done in ways that conserve or restore ecosystems.
These options can also be low-cost — but we still need to find good ways to measure emissions reductions and determine how long the captured CO2 will be sequestered.
We also need to work closely with communities and draw on Indigenous Knowledge to ensure carbon dioxide removal approaches are good for the environment and good for people too.
The United States commends G7 members’ research into both nature-based solutions and technological carbon dioxide removal.
In the spirit of collaboration, we are glad to work with all of you through the Mission Innovation effort, where several of us play leading roles in catalyzing a global decarbonization industry, by advancing research and development for carbon removal technologies.
As we look to the future, we hope to continue working together to stabilize the climate through clean energy solutions and the safe removal of greenhouse gas emissions from our atmosphere. There’s so much more work to do.
It’s going to take all of us to get it done. The United States looks forward to collaborating with the G7 on further research and equitable development of decarbonization strategies.
On “Synergistic Research for Biodiversity and Climate Change”
Thank you, Minister Stark-Watzinger, for making “Synergistic Research for Biodiversity and Climate Change” a priority in our discussion today.
And thanks to our fellow ministers for today’s productive conversation, and thank you, Dr. Visbeck, for your thoughtful keynote remarks.
It is clear that climate change and biodiversity loss exacerbate one another, and these losses have disproportionate impacts on underserved communities. These inequities must be addressed, if we are to make progress toward an equitable world.
As several of our countries have experienced, warmer temperatures lead to worsening wildfires that burn longer — destroying more ecosystems, polluting more air, poisoning more communities, and burning down more homes of people who lack the resources to quickly rebuild.
We have to stop this vicious cycle.
And it is not just wildfires. It is also droughts, and floods, and storms, and ocean acidification. All of these are wreaking havoc on our planet’s biodiversity, our health, and our communities.
That is why the United States is focused on both biodiversity and climate change research. Because we recognize that integrating biodiversity and climate research is critical to sustainability, and to ecological and human health.
For example, earlier this year, the United States announced our first-ever National Nature Assessment, which will take stock of U.S. lands, waters, wildlife, and the benefits they provide.
This effort will enhance our understanding of our oceans, biodiversity, and climate, and how nature interacts with society.
The Assessment will also explore how sustainable ocean management can contribute to our goals for the conservation, the climate, the economy, and national security.
Because, it is impossible to address the climate crisis without understanding the ocean-biodiversity-climate nexus.
Most of our planet is ocean — and from the coasts to the deep sea, marine biodiversity is threatened by pollution, overfishing, habitat destruction, invasive species, and climate change.
The ocean, biodiversity, and the climate are always interacting. We have not always designed science to study them that way, but we must.
Indeed, ocean science and technology are critical to resolving the myriad challenges facing our climate and environment. We need collaborative ocean observations, exploration, and research to promote ecosystem health, conserve biodiversity, help coastal communities adapt, and improve climate services that can predict extreme weather events and other natural hazards.
For all these reasons, the United States will continue to support global cooperation on ocean observation, including through the G7 Future of the Seas and Oceans Initiative.
We believe ocean observations and research must be accessible, and we see an opportunity for increased coordination to ensure timely, accurate, clear, and reliable ocean information that is shared globally and equitably.
One example of international partnership, across the G7 and beyond, is the Argo program, which has transformed ocean observation and research by deploying nearly 4000 floating instruments all over the world.
Argo has revolutionized our understanding of global ocean circulation, helping us to study how marine biodiversity is affected by climate change.
And we look forward to the eventual OneArgo network, which will expand this project into a global, full depth, interdisciplinary array.
I would like to close by encouraging us to maintain — and even increase — focus on this critical issue throughout the year, looking toward the UN Ocean Conference later this month and COP27 in the Fall.
The threats we face at the ocean-biodiversity-climate nexus are daunting, and the scale of our response must be equal to the size of our challenges. The ocean is a global system, essential to the well-being of all life on our planet.
This is the year to turn the tide on oceans — to tackle the research challenges and make the investments needed to ensure that oceans are central to solving the climate and biodiversity crises.
The steps we take today to safeguard our climate and biodiversity — to address the threats of sea level rise, extreme weather, drought, food insecurity, and more — are critical to the future of our countries and the world, for generations to come.
on “Post COVID-19 Conditions, or Long COVID”
Thank you, Minister Stark-Watzinger, for elevating the issue of Post COVID-19 in the G7 Science Ministerial. And thank you to our keynote speaker Dr. Vahreschild for that powerful call to action, and to our fellow ministers for your remarks. This is an important topic, and the United States welcomes the use of the Science Ministerial to elevate this issue.
As part of making progress toward an equitable world, we need to better understand, prevent, and treat post-COVID-19 conditions — both social and medical. Because this pandemic made clear that no one is safe, until everyone is safe.
Over the last two years, as we have seen COVID-19 variants spread around the world — and as we have begun to understand the disease’s long-term effects on the human body — the initial data suggests that a large number of people, globally, are facing physical, emotional, and economic challenges after contracting COVID-19.
As Minister Nemer also notes, these post-COVID conditions are not trivial. They do not respect income or social status. They are not unique to certain geographies. And, as scientists and government officials, we have a responsibility to better understand and address them.
G7 members are known, globally, for our outstanding biomedical research establishments. Within the United States, and particularly in underserved communities, we have a medical and public health legacy that, at best, has not adequately considered or met the needs of all communities.
If we want people to trust future biomedical breakthroughs — including those proposed under the G7’s Pandemic Preparedness efforts — we owe people clear communication, including answers for why they continue to experience complications long after their viral infection has ended.
To get those answers, we need to be doing the research now.
The United States recognizes this need, and is taking steps to address Post COVID-19 conditions — including what we have been referring to as “Long COVID” in the United States.
This is a top priority of the Biden Harris Administration. This April, President Biden accelerated efforts across the entire U.S. government to prevent, detect, and treat Long COVID. The research actions under that include:
- Launching a national research action plan;
- Accelerating enrollment into the RECOVER Initiative, which is led by the U.S. National Institutes of Health to advance our understanding and ability to predict, prevent, and treat these conditions;
- Making further investments in scientific research, data collection, and analysis; and more.
Additionally, in early 2021 President Biden established the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, to recommend ways to mitigate inequities caused or exacerbated by the pandemic and prevent such inequities in the future.
Its final report, issued in October, included several recommendations for addressing post-COVID conditions — such as executing a post-COVID communication campaign, supporting post-COVID insurance coverage and treatment, and accepting all patients and offering community resources at post-COVID care centers.
As the G7, I know our governments appreciate our special responsibility to alleviate poverty and expand opportunity. As part of this, we must ensure that we are not neglecting a generation of people who have been disabled by COVID-19.
That means the world must have equitable access to the most effective remedies we discover and develop.
To get to the bottom of post-COVID conditions, we need to have adequate to have more adequate and appropriate data that allows us to do the research we need to do — so we can provide people with the appropriate medical care, social support, and other forms of care.
And we have to work closely with underserved communities — within our own countries, and beyond — in ways that increase trust and confidence in science and government.
Finally, it is important that we do this work openly and transparently.
Public access to COVID-19 data accelerated discoveries and sped the translation of research breakthroughs into prevention strategies, treatments, vaccines, and standards of care.
Despite the dire, ongoing toll of the pandemic, this openness saved lives.
By continuing to work swiftly, equitably, and openly, we hope to reduce the pain and suffering that many experience long after their coronavirus infection has ended.
Fellow Ministers, the United States welcomes the opportunity to be a part of this conversation. And I commend once again the German Presidency for elevating this issue — and all the issues we’ve discussed today — to international attention.
In response to Ukraine’s Minister of Education and Science, Dr. Skharlet Serhiy
Thank you Minister Skharlet, for your impassioned remarks.
The American people are with you.
I want to also thank President Zelenskyy, who several weeks ago spoke to U.S. universities and research institutions about how to support the Ukrainian Global University, among other important topics.
We have all seen the devastation wrought by Russian President Putin’s unprovoked war of aggression on Ukraine, which has caused terrible suffering in Ukraine.
The United States — along with the rest of the G7, of course — has responded. And since February, President Biden has committed $54 billion dollars in assistance to the government and people of Ukraine.
As we know, Ukraine’s scientific community has not been spared from that suffering. That’s why several U.S. government agencies have issued or are in the process of issuing letters encouraging the research community to support scientists, technologists, and students affected by the war.
And the United States’ academic community and professional societies have worked to support opportunities in Europe for Ukrainian researchers and students, so that they can continue their studies.
All of our efforts will be for naught if we inadvertently increase talent flight from Ukraine — or if we do not take steps to ensure that Ukraine maintains its position as a center of science and learning.
We are ready to partner with the G7 and Ukrainian government toward this end, and welcome further consultations.