Kofi Annan delivers keynote address at Infosys awards

India’s “formidable scientific firepower” should focus on addressing “real-world concerns”, particularly those of the poorest and most vulnerable, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan has said.

Mr. Annan citied climate change as one of the most “pressing and complex” problems. Climate change is not just an environmental issue; “Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and extreme weather events are an all-encompassing threat to our food and water supplies, our health and security,” he said here on Saturday.

Efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change would require “a fundamental revision of how we manage our economies, societies and the environment”. “And crucially, it will require us to harness the power of science, innovation and technology,” he said. Clean energy sources must be identified, new ways of production developed to reduce waste, and new treatments found to tackle disease, he added.

Mr. Annan was delivering the keynote address at the Infosys Prize 2013 award ceremony, where seven scientists and social scientists were honoured for their work.

Development and ethics

Commending India for “its determination to increase investment in R&D to 2 per cent of GDP from its present 0.25 per cent”, and to expand to 30 per cent the number of young people going to university, Mr. Annan said that today 40 per cent of all researchers in the world are in Asia and the Pacific. “This is a huge opportunity to overcome the traditional dominance in science of the mature economies.”

He, however, cautioned that governments should “ensure that scientific research is not exploitative”, and that it is guided by ethical values. “Perhaps most importantly, they must develop fair intellectual property regimes, which enable and encourage, rather than stifle innovation. And ensure that such regimes do not privilege the private sector at the expense of vulnerable communities... When these conditions exist, we see some of the greatest gains in overcoming hunger, poor health and delivering sustainable development.”

Honour to scientists

The Infosys Prize 2013 was awarded to seven scientists and social scientists in six categories: V. Ramgopal Rao, Institute Chair Professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai (engineering and computer science category); Rajesh Gokhale, Director, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research — Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology, New Delhi (life sciences); Rahul Pandharipande, Professor, Department of Mathematics, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich (mathematical sciences); Shiraz Naval Minwalla, Professor, Department of Theoretical Physics, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai (physical sciences); Aninhalli R. Vasavi, Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi (social sciences).

In the humanities category, the prize was shared by Nayanjot Lahiri, Professor in Department of History, University of Delhi (for archaeology); and Ayesha Kidwai, Professor, Centre for Linguistics, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (for linguistics)

The Infosys Prize is awarded under the aegis of the Infosys Science Foundation and includes purse of Rs. 55 lakh for each category, a medallion and a citation certificate.

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