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In 1998 UNESCO set up the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST*). COMEST is an advisory body and forum of reflection composed of 18 independent experts. The Commission is mandated to formulate ethical principles that could provide decision-makers with criteria other than purely economic.
Since its inception, the functioning of COMEST has been guided by its Statutes adopted by the UNESCO Executive Board at its 154th session.
What are COMEST's tasks?
  1. To advise the Organization on its programme concerning the ethics of scientific knowledge and technology;
  2. To be an intellectual forum for the exchange of ideas and experience;
  3. To detect on that basis the early signs of risk situations;
  4. To perform the role of adviser to decision-makers in this respect;
  5. To promote dialogue between scientific communities, decision-makers and the public at large.
How are COMEST members chosen?

The Director-General appoints the 18 COMEST members to serve for four-year terms in their personal capacities. The Commission members are chosen from among eminent personalities in the fields of science, professional engineering, law, philosophy, culture, religion or politics. Due account is taken of geographical distribution and coverage of the various disciplines and schools of thought. At each ordinary session, the Commission elects a President, two vice-Presidents and a Rapporteur, who form the Bureau of COMEST.

Who can participate in or attend COMEST sessions?

  • Member States and Associate Members of UNESCO may participate as observers in the meetings of the Commission;
  • States which are not members of UNESCO, but members of the United Nations system organizations, may participate as observers in the Commission’s meetings at the invitation of the Director-General;
  • The United Nations and the other organizations of the United Nations system with which UNESCO has concluded mutual representation agreements may participate as observers in the Commission’s meetings;
  • The Commission defines, in agreement with the Director-General, the conditions under which other intergovernmental and international non-governmental organizations with similar purposes to those of the Commission may be invited to attend its debates.
New orientation

UNESCO’s activities in the ethics of science and technology are especially centred on the implementation of the new orientation given to COMEST since the 32nd General Conference. The new orientation has three dimensions.
  • First it aims at bringing the global debate to the regional level, creating better connections with the scientific community and focussing on the issues that are pertinent to specific regions. The 3rd session of COMEST in Rio de Janeiro in December 2003 inaugurated this approach.
  • It aims at delivering particular and timely products to the Member States, especially through standard-setting activities. In the decisions taken at its 169th session, the Executive Board requested the Director-General, with the advice of COMEST, to undertake studies on the advisability of drafting an international instrument on the ethics of outer space and on an international declaration on science ethics that could serve as a basis for an ethical code of conducts for scientists, as well as on possible international action in the field of environmental ethics.
  • Finally, it aims at applying such standards into the scientific and policy communities, creating awareness of the ethical issues and building capacities to deal with them appropriately. Special emphasis is placed on the importance of teaching of ethics in scientific education.
During its extraordinary session in May 2004, COMEST articulated its new approach and decided to directly involve its members in activities. The Commission discussed the revitalization of its working methods, procedures and work plans. At that occasion, the priority of science and technology within UNESCO’s programme during the biennium 2004-2005 was underlined.

*Acronym taken from the French name, 'La Commission mondiale de l’éthique des connaissances scientifiques
et des technologies'.

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Bureau de la COMEST
Membres de la COMEST
Sessions de la COMEST
Évaluation de l'impact de la COMEST (169 EX/15)
Évaluation de l'impact de la COMEST (169 EX Decision 3.6.1)
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