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October 05, 2005— Ottawa, Ontario

Looking Forward: S&T for the 21st Century

It is increasingly clear that science and technology activities are key elements of an innovative economy. It is also clear that if Canada is to continue to enjoy economic and social growth, we must ensure that our science and technology (S&T) capabilities and resources are focused on the priorities of Canada and Canadians. In his speech to senior public servants last month, Prime Minister Paul Martin spoke of the government's plan to prepare for the new forces – our changing demographics, and the rise of China and India − and "the imperative to act now to ensure Canada stays ahead of the curve."

NRC's research into world trends and global priorities has shown that there are huge opportunities for science and technology to build Canada's competitiveness, and ensure our quality of life. The study is part of our Renewal Project that will see the development of a new strategic plan for the Council.

Our research identified three issues in particular that have emerged as a major global focus – and therefore as critical Canadian priorities – for at least the next five to fifteen years. These are: energy, the environment, and health and wellness. These three priorities exist within the context of the global mega-issues. Globalization is a wave so massive that we cannot discuss Canadian priorities without also considering their potential to affect the futures and fortunes of other countries.

Energy concerns, we are certain, will dominate the Canadian consciousness and innovation environment for decades. In fact, some say that energy concerns are the number one problem facing humanity for the next 50 years. Although we think that the Earth holds energy resources to meet demand until 2030, extraction costs are becoming prohibitive. The International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook in 2004 calculated that if governments maintain current energy policies, the world's energy needs will rise 60 percent by 2030.

The environmental challenges facing the world are no less significant. Our research shows that the global context for key issues such as global warming and access to potable water will position Canada as a major player in the decades ahead. Canada holds the lion's share of the world's fresh water − as much as 20 percent. This alone is an enormous responsibility. Again, our commitment to Kyoto has set the stage for sustainable development policies that will help protect our precious water supply.

And finally, it is no surprise that health and wellness are key priorities for Canada. The fact that the median age worldwide is increasing will make health and wellness technologies of critical importance over the next 15 years. Older populations lead to a growing demand for effective and affordable healthcare.

Dr. Pierre Coulombe was appointed as NRC President in February 2005.
Dr. Pierre Coulombe was appointed as NRC President in February 2005.

An analysis of these critical issues − energy, the environment, health and wellness − demonstrates there are almost endless opportunities for S&T to make significant contributions to Canada. NRC is still in the midst of its Renewal Project. Or investigations into world trends have shown that global issues are increasingly complex, interrelated and rapidly changing. Canada has the natural resources, the knowledge base and expertise necessary to become a highly influential mid-sized nation in our global economy.

Our job now as innovators is to understand the drivers and trends shaping our modern world and to apply that understanding to groundbreaking research that will inspire Canadians and secure our standing in the world.

Dr. Pierre Coulombe

For the complete version of NRC's Looking Forward: S&T for the 21st Century

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