n June 2005 ETC Group began discussions with a number of governments, intergovernmental agencies, and civil society organizations in Geneva and elsewhere with the intent of developing a long-term strategy to address the introduction of significant new technologies. Although some parties would like to see a sui generis Nanotech Protocol similar to the Biosafety Protocol, there is growing sympathy for ending the ‘crisis cycle’ that has dogged new technologies in recent years by establishing an intergovernmental framework that would allow for the monitoring and evaluation of new technologies as they evolve from initial scientific discovery to possible commercialization.
ETC Group argues that a generic, transparent, facility could earn the confidence of governments and society as well as of the scientific community and could reduce unproductive posturing and polemic debate. For the purpose of discussion, ETC group has called this new facility ICENT.
A legally binding United Nations Treaty either negotiated through a Specialized Agency such as UNCTAD or the ILO, or through ECOSOC’s Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), ICENT is designed to provide an early warning/early listening system capable of monitoring any significant new technology.
South governments will welcome the early warning, open assessment, and facilitated access elements of the initiative. Some risk assessment and regulatory expenses would be secured at the international level. The North – including scientific organizations, industry, and governments – will welcome an end to unpredictability and societal distrust and the establishment of a generalized, non-crisis approach to technology diffusion. Civil society will welcome a transparent and participatory process with both early listening and technology conservation/diversification potential.
To create a socio-political and scientific environment for the sound and timely evaluation of new technologies in a participatory and transparent process that supports societal understanding, encourages scientific discovery, and facilitates equitable benefit-sharing. Further, to ensure the conservation of useful, conventional or culturally distinct technologies and, in particular, to promote technological diversification and decentralization.
Additionally, the process objective is to clarify the need for such a convention; to stimulate high-level and societal discussion, and, to encourage national and regional legislative and institutional initiatives that would compliment an international agreement.
The political process should begin in 2006. ETC Group estimates that governments will take 8-10 years to conclude Treaty negotiations and the ratification process – meaning that ICENT’s work is unlikely to get underway until 2015 or later.
Given the tremendous developments expected in technological convergence at the nano-scale and, in particular, developments in nanobiotechnology (synthetic biology), it is important that negotiations begin as soon as possible. ICENT’s work horizon should run 10-20 years ahead of the likely introduction/commercialization of significant new technologies.
The member states will form a Conference of the Parties to the Convention. COP will be supported by a modest Secretariat and enabled by a Bureau comprised of regionally determined representative states. COP will meet biennially while the Bureau will meet semi-annually. Two expert permanent committees, consisting of all members, will convene annually and will ordinarily report to COP through the Bureau.
COTA, the Committee on Technology Assessment, will identify significant new technologies; establish appropriate evaluation processes for each identified technology; review progress; and recommend each technology’s dismissal, delay or diffusion to COP.
COTDAC, the Committee on Technological Diffusion and Conservation, will promote the conservation and enhancement of conventional/cultural technologies; encourage technological diversification; promote public participation and understanding; and support the diffusion of appropriate new technologies. COTDAC will have the financial resources to support national capacity-building in science and technology, and to encourage broad and equitable dissemination.
Although it will function financially and politically as an independent nongovernmental agency, ACSENT (Advisory Committee for the Socio-Economic and Ecological Evaluation of New Technologies) will be a centre of scientific excellence dedicated to the independent monitoring of science and technology. It will have the resources to offer the international community an alternative or additional perspective on technologies and their dissemination.
Assuming an effective early listening process, the intent is to identify potentially significant new technologies as the science is emerging so that the assessment process runs parallel to – and need not constrain – the research and development process. Preferably, even ‘high-impact’ technologies would clear the assessment process as or before the technology is ready for commercialization.
Source: ETC Group Report, Communiqué No. 89, July-August 2005. See http://www.etcgroup.org/