The Need for Horizon Scanning and Technology Assessment to Address the Evolving Nature of Genetic Engineering

TWN Info Service on Biod/TK, Biosafety
16 June 2022
Third World Network


Dear friends and colleagues

The need for horizon scanning and technology assessment to address the evolving nature of genetic engineering

As Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) start to gather for the Fourth meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), to be held in Nairobi, Kenya from 21st to 26th June 2022, it is imperative that they address new developments in genetic engineering.

The current Target 17 and Target 19.2 of the GBF contain text proposals for technology horizon scanning, monitoring and assessment, and these should be supported in order to ensure that the GBF is fit for purpose, allowing for the rapid and fast-paced developments of new genetic engineering technologies to be reviewed, and their potential adverse effects anticipated, monitored and assessed.

New genetic engineering techniques, including synthetic biology, are increasingly expanding the scope, applicability and depth of intervention. Such advances at the technical level are raising novel biosafety risks that urgently warrant updated assessment methodologies and regulations to address significant biosafety knowledge gaps and increasing levels of uncertainty about how these technologies will impact biodiversity and human health.

CBD Parties already have obligations under Article 7 to identify and monitor processes and activities that have or are likely to have significant adverse impacts on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, and to monitor their effects. They also have obligations under Article 14 to assess the impacts of projects, programmes and policies that are likely to have significant adverse effects on biological diversity. These treaty obligations can be operationalized through horizon scanning and monitoring, and technology assessment, respectively.

In the discussions on synthetic biology, CBD Parties also agreed in 2018 that “broad and regular horizon scanning, monitoring and assessing of the most recent technological developments is needed…”. Current negotiations under the synthetic biology agenda item are about establishing the horizon scanning, monitoring and assessment process, including whether or not a multidisciplinary expert group should be established to perform the tasks, and all this is still to be agreed upon.

We are pleased to share with you a new TWN Briefing Paper, The need for horizon scanning and technology assessment to address the evolving nature of genetic engineering, that provides some examples of new developments in genetic engineering – gene drives, genetically engineered viruses and RNA interference – to demonstrate why horizon scanning and technology assessment are urgently needed.

With best wishes,
Third World Network

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