Since its creation immediately after the Second World War, UNESCO has been designated the conscience of the United Nations. In the 21st century our world is undergoing fundamental changes and UNESCO's ethical mission is more important than ever.

The current revolution in science and technology has led to concern that unbridled scientific progress is not always ethically acceptable. UNESCO’s Programme on the Ethics of Science and Technology reflects this concern and aims to place such progress in a context of ethical reflection rooted in the cultural, legal, philosophical and religious heritage of the various human communities. The Ethics of Science and Technology, including the Bioethics Programme and the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST), is one of UNESCO’s five priority programmes.

Through the Bioethics Programme, UNESCO addresses the ethical, legal and social concerns stemming from advances in the life sciences, particularly in genetics. The Programme includes the International Bioethics Committee and the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee, the only international bodies that address bioethics issues. The Programme’s first major success was the adoption in 1997 by the General Conference of the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights, the only international instrument in the field of bioethics – subsequently endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1998.

UNESCO’s ethical reflection also covers other scientific and social areas. The World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) was created in 1998 to formulate ethical principles that provide non-economic criteria for decision-makers, concerning sensitive areas such as: sustainable development; freshwater use and management; energy production, distribution and use; outer space exploration and technology; and issues of rights, regulations and equity related to the rapid growth of the information society.
Keywords: ethics

  Henk ten Have 
Division of Ethics of Science and Technology

Best Ethical Practice in Water Use