Horizon scanning and technology assessment: Why the urgent need?

Image source: Science Repository

By Lim Li Ching, Third World Network

New genetic engineering techniques, including synthetic biology, are 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 knowledge gaps and increasing uncertainty about how these technologies will impact biodiversity and human health.

Parties to the CBD 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 biodiversity, 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 biodiversity. These obligations can be operationalized through horizon scanning and monitoring and technology assessment, respectively. In the discussions on synthetic biology, Parties also agreed in 2018 that “broad and regular horizon scanning, monitoring and assessing of the most recent technological developments is needed…”.

The current Target 17 and Target 19.2 of the Global Biodiversity Framework contain text proposals for technology horizon scanning, monitoring and assessment. These should be supported to ensure that the GBF is fit for purpose, allowing for the rapid developments of new genetic engineering technologies to be reviewed, and their potential adverse effects anticipated, monitored and assessed. In addition, text calling for access to and transfer of technology should be coupled with the notion of technology horizon scanning, monitoring and assessment, so that any technology that is transferred is subject to this process. This will help ensure that only technologies that are appropriate, socially acceptable and environmentally sound are accessed and transferred. 

Read TWN Briefing Paper The need for horizon scanning and technology assessment to address the evolving nature of genetic engineering (June 2022) here:  



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