Scientific diplomacy took a front seat during the first session of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) new workshop on Policy and Diplomacy for Scientists, held as a regional meeting for African scientists in Pretoria, South Africa from 18-20 October.
“Knowledge is a powerful tool,” OPCW Senior International Cooperation Officer, Sergey Zinoviev, noted during the session on “Responsible Research Practices in Chemical and Biological Sciences”. Scientists must be made aware of the policy implications of their research, regarding the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). It is crucial that we stimulate their involvement in policy, with the aim of promoting peaceful uses of chemistry.”
During the workshop, 29 scientists from 16 African countries had the opportunity to engage in discussions surrounding responsibility and ethics in research, while learning about the diplomatic and policy-making implications of science. As there is an increasing convergence of chemistry and biology, seen in scientific developments posing challenges for regulatory frameworks and policy implementation, topics from both fields were addressed over the three-day course.
The workshop used role-play and lively interactive discussions to encourage attendees to present obstacles and dilemmas that they have faced in the past for the group to find solutions for.
After the workshop, participants’ will use their newly gained knowledge to train others in their field. As such, various lectures included educational tools to help attendees generate further discussions around ethics in science, such as the OPCW’s FIRES documentaries and The Hague Ethical Guidelines.
“Undergraduate programmes in my country do not include classes on green chemistry or chemical safety and security,” one participant stated, “This has to change, and I intend to be the agent for this change.”
The workshop was co-organised by:
- The OPCW
- The Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf)
- The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS)
- The Interacademy Partnership (IAP) network
This new capacity-building initiative complements OPCW’s previous efforts to familiarise diplomats with scientific advances, relevant to policies that are helping advance the elimination of the threat of chemical weapons. The training also falls under the umbrella of the OPCW Africa programme, which offers capacity-building opportunities to African States Parties to the CWC.
After the success of this most recent workshop, it is expected that similar trainings for scientists will continue.
The Chemical Weapons Convention comprehensively prohibits the use, development, production, storage and transfer of chemical weapons. Any chemical used for warfare is considered a chemical weapon by the Convention. The OPCW is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention and oversees the global endeavour to permanently eliminate chemical weapons.
The Convention entered into force in 1997. With 192 countries obligating themselves to the CWC, it is the most successful disarmament treaty in existence, eliminating an entire class of weapons of mass destruction. To date, over 93 per cent of all chemical weapon stockpiles declared by possessor states have been destroyed under OPCW verification. For its extensive efforts in eliminating chemical weapons, the OPCW received the 2013 Nobel Prize for Peace.