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Ethics of Science and Technology Programme
UNESCO Ethics of Science and Technology Programme was created in 1998 with the establishment of the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) to give an ethical reflection on science and technology and its applications.
UNESCO’s Ethics of Science and Technology Programme aims to promote consideration of science and technology in an ethical framework by initiating and supporting the process of democratic norm building. This approach is founded upon UNESCO's ideal of "true dialogue, based upon respect for commonly shared values and the dignity of each civilization and culture". Awareness raising, capacity building and standard-setting are therefore the key thrusts of UNESCO's strategy in this and all other areas.

Over the last few years, applied ethics in relation to science and technology has broadened substantially, as is also reflected in UNESCO's activities. Although bioethics is the most developed and known component of applied ethics, other areas of ethical reflection are increasingly significant for policy-making. Environmental ethics will be important to identify, clarify and emphasize the moral values that need to be promoted in relationships with the environment. Science ethics is necessary to articulate the basic values of science and scientific research when there is a growing risk of conflicts of interest (e.g., due to publication pressure, commercialization, security needs). Finally, technology ethics will be necessary to develop an ethical framework for the assessment of emerging technologies such as space technology and nanotechnology, but also for the ethical issues related to creative and innovative technologies that need to address the concerns of developing countries (e.g., development of and access to low-tech, low cost technologies focused on common public health and social needs).

The Ethics of Science and Technology Programme is part of UNESCO’s Division of Ethics of Science and Technology in the Social and Human Sciences Sector. Through the Programme, UNESCO brings together ad hoc groups of leading experts to make "state-of-the-art" studies and recommendations for action in specific fields that fall within the focus of its work in ethics of science and technology. Currently, such expert groups have been invited to consider environmental ethics, space ethics and the precautionary principle. The Programme also provides the Secretariat for the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), an advisory body to UNESCO composed of 18 independent experts. COMEST delivers recommendations to the Director-General on issues tabled for its consideration by UNESCO.

The strategy of the Programme is organized into three main areas of action:
  • Standard-setting
  • Capacity building
  • Awareness raising
Currently, in accordance with Decision 3.6.1 of the 169th session of the Executive Board, UNESCO is initiating standard-setting action by drafting studies on the feasibility of elaborating universal declarations on the ethics of outer space and on the ethics of the environment as well as that of elaborating an internationally applicable code of conduct for scientists.

UNESCO's capacity building efforts in the area of ethics of science and technology take the form of education, network building, resource provision and technical advice. Three areas in particular are focused on enhancing the capacities of Member States: the Ethics Education Programme, the Global Ethics Observatory, and the Ethics around the World Programme.

Awareness raising is fundamental to the promotion of ethics in science and technology. All stakeholders should be informed of what issues exist and why. UNESCO's target audience is therefore composed not only of ethicists, the scientific community and policy makers but also the general public and, in particular, the youth. Publications on salient ethical issues, such as water use and ethics, will help to increase moral sensibility and awareness.

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