Strasbourg, 27 October 2022                                                                              CDBIO/INF(2022)16







Developments in the field of bioethics in international organisations

Développements dans le domaine de la bioéthique

dans les organisations internationales





It is on 26 January 2022 that Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, and Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, officially launched the new European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies and appointed its 15 Members.

The new EGE has reinforced prerogatives, advising on all aspects of Commission policies and legislation where ethical, societal and fundamental rights dimensions intersect with the development of science and new technologies. It reports to the President of the European Commission.

The first meeting of the EGE took place on 23 February, and the EGE Statement in support of Ukraine and the people of Ukraine and in support of peace, solidarity, and fundamental rights was issued on 14 March 2022.

The Statement offers a wider perspective, also towards the longer term, about the ethics and governance of science and technologies in relation to democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights, for the international response to the situation.

The EGE is currently completing its new Statement – on “Values in Times of Crisis” – on the crucial role of values in improving and furthering strategic crisis management, complete with its policy guidance and recommendations. It is due to be issued in November, together with an opinion by the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors and an evidence review report on the topic by the SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies) consortium.

The future large endeavour, which is currently in its scoping phase, pertains to “Ethics of Democracy in the Digital Age”.

Developments from the end of 2019 to the end of 2021

On 17 October 2019, the European Commission convened I.D.BEST 2019, the EC’s International Dialogue on Bioethics and Ethics in Science and Technology. It was held back-to-back with the public Round Table on the ethics of gene editing, convened on 16 October by the European Commission and the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE).

Both momentous events were held in the context of the Global Ethics and Bioethics Week, in liaison with sister international organisations around the world.

With regard to COVID-19, the EGE has been a first-mover and key reference in the international ethics domain and beyond. The EGE was prompt to develop its early Statement on European solidarity and the protection of fundamental rights in the COVID-19 pandemic, underscoring that the COVID-19 pandemic will leave its impact on our societies long after the immediate effects of the virus, calling for a rallying of solidarity at the European and global level and underlining the core ethical considerations that must shape the paths through and out of the pandemic. The Statement was issued in the morning of 2 April 2020. This marked an inflection point corresponding to a forceful response by the European Commission to the COVID-19 crisis, also working closely with partners at global level.

The EGE then immediately started working in collaboration with other independent advisory bodies and special advisors to the President of the European Commission to develop further analyses and recommendations with regard to COVID-19 and to other epidemics/pandemics and crises. Indeed the EGE joined forces with the Commission’s Group of Chief Scientific Advisors and Peter Piot, Special Advisor to the Commission President on COVID-19, to co-develop a series of outputs related to the issue. Their joint Statement on scientific advice to European policy makers during the COVID-19 pandemic was published in June and addressed the relationship between scholarship and governance and the role of ethics in policy advice and in crisis management.

In November, the collaboration yielded an extensive Opinion examining lessons learned from the current crisis and suggesting paths for Improving pandemic preparedness and management. The Opinion explores issues such as unemployment and social rights, dynamics of discrimination on the basis of age, gender and ethnicity, and how unsustainable ways of living increase the risk of epidemic outbreaks. The Opinion also highlights that health crises disproportionately affect the most vulnerable members of societies and that resilience, prevention and preparedness imply a modelling of societal structures on the basis of solidarity, equity and sustainability.

On 19 March 2021 the EGE delivered its Opinion on Ethics of Genome Editing. It discusses ethical questions raised by recent developments in the field, such as CRISPR-Cas9, across all domains of application including human health, agriculture and the environment. Its detailed area-specific analyses are complemented by overarching considerations on long-debated questions revived by genome editing, for example, about the different meanings that ought to be attributed to humanness, naturalness and diversity. On this basis, the EGE proposes an interlocking and mutually reinforcing triple-helix approach consisting of wide-ranging and inclusive societal deliberation, joint monitoring and lesson-learning with regard to both regulatory and scientific developments, and concerted international engagement towards global governance.

In order to ensure that genome editing, as all sociotechnical arrangements, is governed taking account of all and including due regard to all present and future generations, the EGE underscores the importance of societal deliberation to be pluralistic, inclusive and based on democratic principles, integrating fora of debate on local and European levels with broad international dialogue of global scope.

In this context too, collaboration with sister international organisations (chiefly WHO (including the WHO’s Advisory Committee on Human Genome Editing), UNESCO, CoE and OECD) have continued to be particularly fruitful.

The Opinion was issued at a key moment and in a context of acute political need. Indeed, in November 2019, the Council of the European Union requested the Commission to submit, by the end of April 2021, a study in light of the Court of Justice’s judgement (case C-528/16) on novel genomic techniques under Union law. The response, delivered on 29 April 2021, explicitly built on the EGE Opinion with regard to the ethical and societal aspects.

The NEC-EGE-Forum has continued to take place once or twice per year, bringing together members of the EGE and of National Ethics Committees of the European Union countries, along with other participants. It is to be noted that the above Opinion was also presented in that forum.

At the same time, further developments are ongoing in other areas, the context of which is provided in the following section.

The work on the ethics and governance of Artificial Intelligence is progressing on several fronts. See the link to legislative initiatives below (with particular attention to the European Democracy Action Plan, to the Digital Single Act, and to the proposed AI Regulation, notably).

On the related matter of the ethics of Connected and Automated Vehicles, the report on this referred to below was published on 18 September 2020:

The two overarching priorities of the European Commission, ‘Green’ and ‘Digital’, provide the outline of the future orientations for the ethics activities, and alongside these two it is crucial to underscore the third one, underpinning it all: Democracy (rule of law, public participation, democratic values).

In this regard, it should be noted that the Conference on the Future of Europe was launched on 9 May 2021 (see for all further information on this long-haul initiative). It is in this context that the penultimate EGE Statement was issued, on Values for the Future: the role of ethics in European and global governance, with its recommendations to maximise opportunities for deliberative participatory democracy in the development of public policy. The role of ethics in institutional settings, such as the mandate of ethics advisory bodies, is too often limited to reacting to already ongoing developments, leading to moral principles potentially being conceived as obstacles to innovation and change. Rather, the Statement indicates that ethics is not a stumbling block but a compass, and that therefore it ought to be attributed a more prominent, front-loaded role in policy making. Upholding the values we hold dear does not just mean discursively referring to them at regular intervals. It means making good on the promises they hold, through built-in, participatory ethics-for-governance mechanisms and from the earliest stages of agenda-setting. Indeed, the EGE Statement, having been delivered to the President of the European Commission, was then transmitted to the President of the Council as well as to the President of the European Parliament, who himself conveyed the Statement to the Executive Board of the Conference on the Future of Europe, where it was explicitly taken up. The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFE) process is due to come to a close by May 2022 and it is thus too early to evaluate the impacts it will have. At time of writing, several recommendations from EGE Statements and Opinions are taken up in the CoFE proposals document (in particular under headings 4. EU in the world, 5. Values and rights, rule of law, security, 6. Digital transformation, and 7. Democracy).

It is also against that backdrop that the process of setting up of the new EGE has been carried out, at the request of the President of the European Commission.

While the EGE’s previous legal mandate, of five years, came to a close at the end of May 2021, the new EGE Decision (Commission Decision (EU) 2021/156) was already adopted and signed by the President on 9 February 2021, immediately followed by the launch of the Call for Applications of Membership (which was widely disseminated with the help of sister international organisations represented in the UNIACB). The steps of the establishment process took place through 2021.

Prior developments

The Commission’s coordinated activities to embed ethics into EU policymaking with regard to science and new technologies continued and strengthened in the last years following the renewal of the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE), the independent, multi-disciplinary body which advises the Commission on ethical aspects of science and new technologies in relation to all policies.

Following the end of the previous five-year mandate of the EGE in 2016, President Juncker, the President of the European Commission, and Commissioner Moedas, responsible for Research, Science and Innovation, confirmed that societal ethical questions need a dedicated Group at the highest level and the European Commission proceeded with institutional arrangements to continue drawing on the best independent advice on ethical questions.

Subsequent to the adoption in May 2016, of a Commission Decision renewing the mandate of the EGE, Commission launched a call for membership of the new Group. The call for membership was particularly successful, benefitting from a wide dissemination with the support of further international organisations, notably in the context of UNIACB, which is gratefully commended. As a result, it elicited an unprecedented 201 candidacies. This was followed by a rigorous selection procedure in 2016 comprising an external independent Identification Committee.

In March 2017, Jean-Claude Juncker and Carlos Moedas officially re-launched the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies by appointing its 15 high-calibre members.

The Group brings together leading experts from Europe and worldwide, from the fields of natural and social sciences and humanities, philosophy, ethics and law. Members range from scientists who have spearheaded cutting-edge biomedical techniques, to leading scholars in the study of information technologies, philosophy of science and human rights law. They count several former chairs of national and international ethics councils (and indeed members of DH-BIO, IBC, IGBC) and bring a wealth of experience advising governments on the societal and human rights implications of current and future developments.

The new European Group on Ethics reports to the President, and to the College of Commissioners as a whole, under the direct responsibility of Commissioner Carlos Moedas. The Group will advise the Commission on all areas of policy where ethical, societal and fundamental rights issues intersect with the development of science and new technologies. Jim Dratwa has been reappointed as the European Commission representative to the international organisations dealing with the ethical implications of science and new technologies, the Secretary-General of the EC’s International Dialogue on Bioethics and Ethics in Science and Technology, and the Head of the EGE Bureau.

The Group held its first meeting on 24-25 April 2017, when it met with Commissioner Moedas and reflected on the most relevant topics for its first opinions. The Group appointed Christiane Woopen, Professor for Ethics and Theory of Medicine at the University of Cologne, as EGE chair. As deputy-chairs, it appointed Herman Nys, Emeritus Professor in medical law at KU Leuven, and Siobhán O’Sullivan, Lecturer in Health Care Ethics and Law at Ireland’s Royal College of Surgeons.

On 28 June 2017, Commissioner Moedas issued a request for the EGE to begin work on its first Opinion. In liaison with President Juncker, the Commissioner asked the EGE to examine issues surrounding the future of work, reflecting upon the societal, political and technological changes which are re-shaping the world of work, and society more broadly. The EGE will explore phenomena ranging from the rise of the gig economy and industry 4.0 to the ethics of artificial intelligence and robotics and man-machine interaction. They will consider fundamental questions of why we work and how work gives us meaning, as well as how core European values of European justice and solidarity are realised. In the context of its development of the Opinion, the EGE has held a number of expert hearings with both external academics and EU policymakers.

In addition, and in view of the increasingly pressing policy challenges presented by the domain of Artificial Intelligence, the EGE endeavoured to develop a targeted statement on AI and robotics considering the use of algorithms and autonomous systems in relation to core European principles such as human dignity, privacy, accountability and justice.

The October 2017 plenary session of the EGE was the occasion of a historic joint meeting of the EGE and the Council of Europe’s DH-BIO Group, jointly convened by the European Commission and the Council of Europe. The meeting followed the Council of Europe’s international conference on the 20th anniversary of the Oviedo Convention and provided an opportunity for joint reflection between the two groups on the evolution of ethics and the challenges posed by new scientific and technological developments such as gene editing.

The EGE delegation participated in the National Ethics Councils (NEC) Forum on 2-3 November 2017 in Tallinn.

On 14 November 2017, Jim Dratwa was appointed as the representative of the European Commission in the newly established international Task Force on the Ethical and Societal Implications of Connected Automated Driving.

On 14 December 2017, the EGE held a joint meeting with the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS), including an exchange with its ad hoc expert group (EAG), focussing on privacy and data protection matters. On 25 January the EDPS EAG issued its report on Digital Ethics at an academic session chaired by the Head of the EGE Office. While the EAG has now accomplished its mission and is now disbanded, the close cooperation on digital ethics continues.

On 5 February 2018, the Commission convened an Open Public Roundtable dedicated to facilitating a plural debate with relevant stakeholders on the EGE Opinion on the Future of Work.

On 9 March 2018, the EGE Statement on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and ‘Autonomous’ Systems was issued. It comprises an analysis of the ethical considerations arising from the development of new sociotechnical arrangements underpinned by artificial intelligence. It calls for a wide-ranging process of public deliberation and lays out a set of fundamental ethical principles to pave the way. The AI Ethics Statement was very well received and taken up, not only inside the Commission but also outside in academic and policy circles.

Indeed the European strategy on Artificial Intelligence (‘Artificial Intelligence for Europe’, adopted on 25 April 2018) placed the development of a robust ethical and legal framework as a sine qua non and central objective. The AI Alliance, which it established, was tasked to develop the Guidelines on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence on the basis of the EGE Statement on the Ethics of AI and in collaboration with the EGE.

On 25 May 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation entered into application.

On 19 December 2018 the EGE issued its Opinion on ‘Future of Work, Future of Society’. Its delivery is not just an end but also a starting point, and indeed this topic dovetails prominently with the work on AI.

On 18 December 2018 a draft of the aforementioned Guidelines on the Ethics of AI was issued for public consultation (closed on 1 February 2019).

On 29 January 2019, in the wide context above and at that critical juncture, the EGE provided an open letter to the President of the European Commission setting out a constructive set of suggestions for the way forward on Ethics and Artificial Intelligence. These recommendations were taken up in the course of 2019-2020.

The recommendations arising from the report of the International Task Force on the Ethical and Societal Implications of Connected Automated Driving (CAD) were also taken up in the course of that period, including the establishment of an international expert group on the ethics of CAD, under the auspices of the European Commission.

Meanwhile, the subsequent opinion of the EGE was in development on the topic of Genome Editing (cf. the update above). The President of the European Commission had tasked the EGE to develop a full-fledged analysis of the ethical, societal, fundamental rights implications of gene editing across all domains, complete with policy recommendations. It was due not only to draw attention to the rapid developments in this field but more importantly to the need and the means to ensure a suitable international framework for governance and oversight. In this context too, collaboration are ongoing with other international organisations (chiefly WHO, UNESCO, CoE and OECD).

As for Artificial Intelligence, Genome Editing is a crucial issue and this a crucial moment in time for the governance of Genome Editing.

It should also be noted that demand for and interest in ethical expertise is markedly increasing throughout the EU institutions. The European Commission has solicited the EGE's advice in relation to a number of on-going policy initiatives, for instance in the field of artificial intelligence and Connected Automated Driving as well as with regard to wider international bioethical developments such as gene editing and gene drives.

For further information regarding all EU legislative processes which may be of interest to colleagues in the delegations, in other international organisations, as well as other stakeholders:

On the points indicated above, it is worthy of note that the EGE has now obtained an enhanced institutional standing in the EU institutional system.

Indeed both the EGE Statement on Artificial Intelligence and the EGE itself have secured a central role in the new structure and strategy on Artificial Intelligence set out by the European Commission (25 April 2018).

Similarly, with the new strategy of the European Commission on mobility, the EGE has secured an important structural role in the governance of Connected and Automated Mobility (17 May 2018).


Activities of UNESCO in the area of bioethics and ethics of science and technology

Dec 2020 – September 2022


I.1.       Composition of the International Bioethics Committee (IBC), the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee (IGBC) and the World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST)

(a)        New composition of the IBC

In February 2022, the Director-General renewed half the membership of the Committee whose terms of office expired at the end of 2021. She appointed 8 new members and confirmed 10 members for a second mandate. The balance in geographical representation was preserved, and the number of women in the composition of the Committee was increased (56%). The composition of the IBC for 2022-2023 can be found shortly at:

(b)       New composition of the IGBC

During the 41st Session of the General Conference of UNESCO, the following 15 Member States were elected by the General Conference to be members of the IGBC until the 43rd session of the General Conference: Brazil, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Finland, France, Germany, Kenya, Latvia, Madagascar, Namibia, Panama, Portugal, Singapore, Slovakia, Uruguay, Zimbabwe. Three vacant seats were not filled during the General Conference as follows: 1 seat for Group I (Western Europe and North America); 1 seat for Group II (Central and Eastern Europe); and 1 seat for Group V (a) (African States). The other members of the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee, which were elected at the 40th session of the General Conference and whose term of office expires at the end of the 42nd session, are: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Japan; Jordan, Libya, Mexico, Mauritania, Mozambique, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation; Sri Lanka; Sudan; Thailand; Togo (the composition of the IGBC is available at: )

(c)        New composition of COMEST 

In February 2022, the Director-General renewed half the membership of the Commission whose terms of office expired at the end of 2021. She appointed 4 new members and confirmed 4 members for a second mandate. The balance in geographical representation was preserved, and the number of women in the composition of the Commission was increased (50%). The composition of COMEST for 2022-2023 can be found shortly at:

(d)       Bureaus of the IBC, the IGBC and COMEST

Ø  The newly elected IBC Bureau for 2022-2023 is as follows:

Chairperson:               Ms Ames Dhai (South Africa)

Vice-Chairpersons:     Mrs Nijmeh Al-Atiyyat (Jordan)

Mr Dirceu Bartolomeo Greco (Brazil)

Mrs Anne Forus (Norway)

Mr Eng Hin Lee (Singapore)

  Rapporteur :              Ms Signe Mezinska (Latvia)

Ø  The newly elected IGBC Bureau for 2022-2023 is as follows:

Chairperson:               Ms Immolatrix Geingos (Namibia)

Vice-Chairpersons:     Latvia




Ø  The newly elected COMEST Bureau for 2022-2023 is as follows:

Chairperson:               Mr Peter-Paul Verbeek (Netherlands)

Vice-Chairpersons:     Mrs Elizabeth Hodson de Jaramillo (Colombia)

Mr Sang Wook Yi (Republic of Korea)

Rapporteur:                 Mrs Emma Ruttkamp-Bloem (South Africa)

I.2.       Meetings of the ethics advisory bodies of UNESCO (December 2020 to April 2022)

(a)        27th Session of the IBC (Virtual session, 17 December 2020)

In light of travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 27th (Ordinary) Session of the IBC was held virtually following a condensed agenda.

During the session, the Committee presented progress updates on its work on the Principle of Protecting Future Generations, on the Ethical Issues of Neurotechnology, as well as on the IBC-COMEST Statement on COVID-19 and its follow-up. Further information as well as working documents of the session is available at:

(b)       Extraordinary Session of the IBC andthe 11th Extraordinary Session of COMEST (Virtual sessions, from 22 to 26 February 2021).

The public meetings of the Extraordinary Session of the IBC, the Joint Session of the IBC and the IGBC, and the 11th (Extraordinary) Session of COMEST were held online, from 23 to 24 February 2021. The two-day public meetings discussed the main work topics of the IBC for 2020-2021 on the Principle of Protecting Future Generations, and on the Ethical Issues of Neurotechnology, as well as the work topics of COMEST for 2020-2021 on Land Use Ethics and on the Ethical Implications of the Internet of Things (IoT). During the public meetings, the IBC and COMEST also presented the Statement of the IBC and COMEST on COVID-19: ethical considerations from a global perspective and its follow-up.

(c)        12th Session of the IGBC (Virtual Session, 23-24 September 2021)

The session considered the Draft Report of the IBC on Ethical Issues of Neurotechnology, the Draft Report of the IBC on the Principle of Protecting Future Generations, theStatements of the IBC and COMEST on COVID-197, was updated on the Elaboration Process of the draft Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence and discussed Follow-up to the Recommendations of the Open-ended Working Group on Governance, Procedures and Working Methods of the Governing Bodies of UNESCO.

(d)       Session of the IGBC to elect its Bureau (22 November 2021)

The election of the IGBC Bureau was held right after the election of new Member States to the IGBC by the 41st General Conference on 18 November 2021, so as to take advantage of the presence of representatives during the General Conference.

(e)       28th (Ordinary) Session of the IBC (Online Session, 2-3 December 2021, and 13-15 December 2021) and the 12th Ordinary Session of COMEST (Virtual Session, 29 November 2021- 3 December 2021).

The public meetings of the 28th (Ordinary) Session of the IBC and the 12th (Ordinary) Session of COMEST were held virtually on 2 and 3 December 2021. They addressed the main work topics of the IBC for 2020-2021 on the Principle of Protecting Future Generations, and on the Ethical Issues of Neurotechnology, as well as the new working topic of COMEST on the Value of Science and on the Ethics of Climate Engineering. During the public meetings, the IBC and COMEST were presented their series of Joint Statements on COVID-19. 

(f)        29th (Ordinary) Session of the IBC and the 12th Extraordinary Session of COMEST (19-23 September 2022)

The public meetings of the 29th (Ordinary) Session of the IBC and the 12th Extraordinary Session of COMEST were held from 19 to 23 September 2022. They addressed the main work topics of the IBC for 2022-2023 on the Principle of Solidarity and Cooperation, and on the Lessons learnt from COVID-19, as well as the new working topic of COMEST on Science and Society in the context of the COVID-19 Pandemic and on the Ethics of Climate Engineering. During the public meetings, four reports that were adopted by the IBC and COMEST in 2021 were launched (see section I.3. below)

I.3.       Finalized Reports of the IBC and COMEST in 2021

(a)        Report of the IBC on the principle of protecting future generations

In this report, the IBC elaborates on the principle of protecting future generations, as enshrined in the article 16 of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, which reads as follows: “the impact of life sciences on future generations, including on their genetic constitution, should be given due regard.” Mindful that issues related to health and to the genetic integrity of the human species, as well as concerns related to the environment, are of great concern due to their implications for future generations, the IBC decided to examine the ethical quandaries posed by current genome technologies and their possible effects on the generations to come, the social determinants of health and health equity. The IBC proposes guidance on how to ensure the rights of future generations within an ethical framework, which includes responsibility, the precautionary principle, intergenerational justice and equity, and the interdependence of generations. IGBC Member States proposed a number of suggestions, including during the Joint session of the IBC and the IGBC in February 2021, to be taken into consideration by the IBC in its updated version of the draft report. The IBC is in process of finalizing the draft report and has defined a road map to adopt the report by the end of 2021.

(b)       Report of the IBC on ethical issues of neurotechnology

In this report, the IBC describes how neurotechnology and its applications such as neuroimaging, neuro-devices and brain-computer interface, raise unique ethical concerns. The Committee stressed that unlike predecessor technologies, neurotechnology directly interacts with and affects the brain, which is central to notions of human identity, freedom of thought, autonomy, privacy, and human flourishing. The increasing possibilities of monitoring, manipulation or alteration of cognitive functions made possible by neurotechnology risk interfering with free and competent decisions of individuals, which is central to human autonomy. On this basis, the IBC investigates in this report the intersection between neurotechnology, ethics and human rights, and envisaged for possible introduction of “neuro rights” to the current human rights frameworks, in light of emerging technologies to human brain activities. The IBC took into account a number of suggestions from the IGBC Member States, including those received during the Joint Session of the IBC and the IGBC in February 2021. The IBC finalized and adopted the report by December 2021.

This report has positioned UNESCO as a leading agency at the office of the United Nations Secretary-General. In fact, there is an increased interest in understanding and managing better these emerging technologies in the United Nations system, and a roundtable of experts on neurotechnology was organized, on July 2021, by the office of the Secretary General, that included the Chair of the IBC of UNESCO, high level UN officials and UNESCO, who co-chaired the meeting, and will continue to co-lead the work with the office of the Secretary-General. As an outcome of the roundtable and with support from other relevant United Nations agencies, UNESCO Secretariat will lead the preparation of gap analysis to the Executive Office of the Secretary-General with respect to governance of neurotechnology, paying particular attention to the existing human rights treaties, regional frameworks and national legislations, and with a view to assess the feasibility of new governance frameworks.

(c)        Report of COMEST on the Ethical Implications of IoT

Within the framework of its work programme for 2018-2019, COMEST decided to address the topic of the Internet of Things (IoT), reflecting on the ethical considerations of IoT in relation to society, science, and sustainability. This work builds on the COMEST Report on Robotics Ethics (2017). At the 10th (ordinary) session of COMEST in September 2017, the Commission established a Working Group to develop an initial reflection on this topic. The Working Group presented a concept note providing a synopsis of its reflection so far during the 10th extraordinary session of COMEST. A second and slightly expanded version of the concept note was presented during the 11th (ordinary) session of COMEST. This work has been delayed, since COMEST decided to give priority to preparing the preliminary study on the ethics of Artificial Intelligence as requested by the Director-General. The Commission decided to continue developing the concept note into a full report, with a view to completing this work during the 2020-2021 biennium. COMEST finalized and adopted the report by the end of 2021.

In this report, COMEST discusses the ethical issues associated to the Internet of Things, a technology which enables things, to be understood as material objects, to connect, communicate, share information and data with other things via the Internet. When programmed to do so, these things can make decisions and operate without the involvement of a human. The report describes IoT technology as a constantly evolving modern digital technology, based on three technological layers: a sensing layer, a networking layer and a data processing layer. The sensors, which collect measurements, can be either designated (special purpose IoT devices) or opportunistic (physical sensors or social sensors, including social network). Sensor networks are integrated in the material environment, while algorithms and artificial intelligence make sense of the generated data and influence our public and private lives. As such, the interactive technological environments, enabled by the IoT, will have implications of how people think, interact, and communicate. In this regard, the Commission stressed that critical assessment of the ways in which IoT technology might influence the way humans make sense of the world is urgently needed. This report covers elements that are intricately linked to UNESCO’s work on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, such as the principle of proportionality, as well as privacy and data protection issues.

(d)       Report of COMEST on Land-Use Ethics

Upon the completion of its work on water ethics during its 10th extraordinary session in 2018, the Commission decided to address the topic of land use ethics, building on its reflection on climate change ethics, and on the Report of COMEST on “Water Ethics: Ocean, Freshwater, Coastal Areas” (2018). During that session, COMEST established a Working Group to develop an initial reflection on this topic. The Working Group presented a concept note providing a synopsis of its reflection so far during the 11th (ordinary) session of COMEST. The Commission decided to continue developing the concept note into a full report, with a view to completing this work during the 2020-2021 biennium. COMEST finalized and adopted the report by the end of 2021.

In this report, COMEST discusses the ethical issues of land-use, which is defined as a suit of human interactions with natural and disturbed habitats, such as agricultural activities, industrial activities, mining, recreation, nature conservation, timber production, grazing and exploitation of land for other purposes. The urgence and importance of this topic is justified by the fact that land is ultimately a limiting resource that can degrade quickly in terms of its ability to support natural and human systems. In this report, the Commission developed a set of guiding principles for land-use ethics and elaborated recommendations in view of implementation of these principles into life, including through enhancing land-use governance, scientific knowledge, research and education, promoting participatory approach and inclusiveness in policy making.

I.4.       Ongoing Reports, to be finalized in 2022-2023

(a)       Draft report of COMEST on the ethics of science in society: lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic impacts on many aspects of society, including the healthcare system, academia, cultures, and economies. In the coming years, in different sectors intensity of this impact may vary between academic organizations and disciplines – from the humanities and the social sciences to the natural sciences, engineering sciences and medical sciences. At the same time, we witness that scientific practice and the interactions between science and society are changing because of the critical situation. The pandemic has affected the speed of research processes, allocation of funding, reviewing, publication, and application of results. Moreover, genuinely new international and interdisciplinary collaborations have emerged, including those across natural and social sciences, as well as new requirements for open data, common data standards and shared research objectives across different disciplines, both within and between the North and the South.

Thus, two major impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic can be observed: an impact on scientific practice itself, and an impact on the relations between science and society. Consequently, values are at stake: concerning scientific practice and research integrity, the societal impact of the sciences, ways of dealing with scientific insights and knowledge in society and policymaking. These values will be the key focus of this report. COMEST will investigate how the pandemic has challenged these values, and how those challenges cause us to reassess those values. To learn lessons from the pandemic COMEST will identify the challenges that can be observed, analyze their ethical implications, and draw conclusions from this for scientific practice and policymaking. The reality of global crises can not only precipitate the need for haste but may also have long-term effects on science, due to limitations on gatherings for scientific meetings.

The contemporary world is characterized by the fact that humans find themselves in a world defined by uncertainty and risk. One of the major ways in which humans can react to this state of flux that sometimes erupts in events that place all of humanity in danger in unexpected ways, such as in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic, is through science research and innovation. But, given the accelerated pace of such progress in terms of many current domains of research (e.g., synthetic biology) and the nature of the impact of such domains of research on humanity, COMEST suggests it has become imperative that science research and innovation are recognized both as value-driven and value-defining. COMEST reiterates that such a view of science’s relation to humanity calls for novel thinking around science research and innovation governance. In this report we suggest science regulation should be informed by ethics as critical companion of scientific research, firstly, in the broad sense that ethical concerns should be part of every stage of scientific processes, such that ideally research, and innovation cannot progress from one stage to the next without reflection on social impact and ethical concerns around it. But we suggest also a lot more, as the latter still threatens to relegate or limit ethics to a kind of after-the-fact ticking-of-boxes activity, while in fact it is much more. In addition, therefore, the argument is that science regulation should recognize ethics is a dynamic system of values that should be implemented as a calculus for the progress of science in the sense that it is recognized as enabling of the kind of scientific research and innovation that are most needed in times of crises, both as driver and as product of such research and innovation.

It is clear that the first step towards concretizing this account of ethics in the context of science (research and innovation) policymaking is to acknowledge the two-way or mutual relation of ‘appropriation’ between science and ethics (value systems). Scientific research and innovation are as much driven by current value-systems as its results are shaping value systems. Science policymaking faces the challenge of steering this – possibly viciously circular – situation to the advantage of humankind, rather than allowing it to implode in disastrous consequences that cannot be overturned. In the COMEST final report on the ethics post-Covid science, COMEST will further elaborate these ideas on ethics as enabler of scientific practice in more detail. Available at:

(b) Draft report of COMEST on the ethics of climate engineering

In the concept note COMEST states that the current speed at which the effects of global warming are starting to manifest themselves is giving an impetus to the development and implementation of climate engineering technologies. These technologies also bring many risks and challenge our ethical frameworks.

The report will consider climate engineering: technologies and their risk, including ethical issues in the current debate regarding climate engineering; intercultural ethical perspectives on climate engineering; governance challenges. Particular attention will be paid to the complexity of precautionary considerations and the specific problem of international law, trying to reply to such questions as: Should the prevention of harm be seen as a moral duty or moral impediment? (Article 2 of the Declaration of Ethical Principles in relation to Climate Change); How to evaluate if a precautionary approach could support both hesitancy in intervention, and an urgent need for action? (Article 3). Moreover, respect for justice and equity requires that we consider both which risks are justifiable what is a justifiable distribution of risks (Article 4). The issues under the part related to the role of scientific knowledge and uncertainties in climate modelling include searching the replies to the following issues: when is the basis for action solid enough? (Article 7): the time dimension (e.g., Ubuntu perspectives and responsibilities towards ancestors and future generations); the space dimension (e.g., Indigenous perspectives and responsibilities towards nature; formulation of ethical values and principles on the basis of our analysis of the current debate in view of intercultural ethical dialogue; formulation of policy recommendations for member states); the care dimension (e.g., Christian perspectives on stewardship and the need for responsible governance); harmony (e.g., Confucian perspectives on harmonious relations between humans, technologies, and nature; gender: e.g., a feminist perspective on inclusion and diversity). The report will end with conclusions and recommendations for various stakeholders. Available at:

(c)       DraftReport of the IBC on the principle of solidarity and cooperation (Article 13 of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights)

This report will address contemporary bioethical issues related to Article 13 of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights dedicated to solidarity and cooperation, emphasizing but not limited to the global biomedical research enterprise. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration explicitly mentions "solidarity" as an instrument of international cooperation and promotes it as a separate entity. From a broader perspective, the principle of solidarity and cooperation is inherently linked to Article 15 on Sharing of Benefits, since the latter is primarily the desired outcome of the former. At any rate, these two principles are complementary to each other.

New knowledge is the source of wealth, yet its appropriation creates conflict. Intellectual property rights should protect innovations and ideas which drive innovation. On the other hand, producing new knowledge, i.e., scientific research, is a collective endeavor requiring interaction and sharing of ideas. The wit is mercurial, and it flows where it is drawn to. In a globalized world, the inspiration for innovation comes from mobility and interaction, which are not attainable for everyone. However, it is vital to establish an equity and justice-based system through constructive policies to prevent social failure. Is it possible to consider scientific knowledge as a common global good? Is access to science a human right? In a fragmented world along national borders with competing interests, the answer to both questions may not be favorable. Such borders exist inside the countries as well, and even among individuals. Therefore, once the problem is dissected, it is evident that there are ethical challenges that require addressing a multifaceted approach.

The knowledge gap between the developed North and developing South lies deep at the origin of many contemporary bioethical concerns. Environmental, social, and economic challenges that the World is facing demonstrate the importance of scientific knowledge and ethical deliberation as a compass not to lose moral values. The IBC takes the initiative to reflect on these pressing problems, putting solidarity and cooperation in the center with an appraisal of universal values attached to different categories: Production versus consumption of knowledge, talent attraction, ownership, equity and justice, democracy and inclusiveness, gender issues, and social responsibilities. Medicine, life sciences, and associated technologies as applied to human beings, considering their social, legal, and environmental dimensions. 

Under these assumptions, the so-called "open-science movement" gains ground. There are obvious reasons to establish equal access to scientific information, data, and output. However, such a need requires building a coherent vision and shared values to address the guiding principles and universal principles. This has been a mandate to UNESCO at the request of its member states. The Recommendation ON Open Science was adopted by UNESCO in November 2021.

This report will primarily address States and the scientific community. As appropriate and relevant, it will also set the stage for practices of individuals, groups, communities, institutions, and corporations, public and private.

(d)       DraftReport of the IBC on the COVID-19 pandemic

The aims of this report will be to provide an overview of the bioethical and human rights issues of significance from the current COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to understand how it occurred, evolved, was managed and may have been prevented. It is critical that bioethical values and human rights norms and standards are utilized for the analysis in order to inform the lessons learnt and for theprovision of morally sound recommendations.

The focus will be more on COVID-19, while the past pandemics could be used to show what the differences have been (changes in terms of technology, health care, the availability of medications, vaccinations, etc), and then going forwards, how we should tackle future pandemics.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has yet again underscored the fragility of the world to infectious disease outbreaks. It has also highlighted the weakness of structures from global to in-country levels to preventsuch disasters and to act decisively and deal with the issues in a timely manner. Infectious disease outbreaks, such as Ebola and influenza, have featured prominently at an international level over the last few decades, with data suggesting that these catastrophes are increasing in frequency. Since the sixteenth century, at least three pandemics per century have occurred at between 10- to 50-year intervals with varying levels of morbidity and mortality. It has not been possible to predict the impact of future pandemics. This was also evident early in the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in an unprecedented burden on human health, major disruptions in healthcare systems, and grave social and economic consequences. The pandemic has affected a large part of the population and its effects will last for several years. Changes in the twenty-first century due to inter alia travel, trade, urbanisation and environmental degradation increase the risk of disease outbreaks and their spread, which rapidly amplify into epidemics and pandemics. There has been much uncertainty as to the management of infected patients, their families and communities at large.  As the Covid-19 pandemic evolves, many critical issues arise necessitating an IBC Report which draws on pertinent bioethical values and human rights norms to bring to light the lessons learnt during this time and earlier towards prevention of future pandemics and preparedness for the pandemics that may follow.

I.5.       Past Reports of the IBC and COMEST

(a)       Report of the IBC on the Principle of Individual Responsibility as related to Health (2019)

(b)       Report of the IBC on Assisted Reproductive Technologies and Parenthood (2019)

(c)       Preliminary Study on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence prepared by COMEST Extended Working Group (2019)

I.7.       IBC Newsletter

(a)       #1 Newsletter: Ethics as the Global Compass

(b)       #2 Newsletter: COVID-19 vaccines as global public goods

(c)       #3 Newsletter


In support of the Secretariat’s efforts to respond to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the IBC and COMEST worked jointly to guide policymakers and inform the public about essential ethical considerations that need to be urgently addressed. In this regard, multiple joint Statements on COVID-19 were produced by COMEST and the IBC, providing the ethical considerations from a global perspective (March 2020) and on specific ethical issues such as the global vaccines equity and solidarity (February 2021), the ethics of COVID-19 certificates and vaccine passports (June 2021), as well as the issue of intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutic products developed to confront COVID-19 (September 2021). These Statements have played a significant role to promote equitable access to healthcare, medical support, and vaccines in the context of the pandemic. Positive feedbacks were received from Member States, including during the Joint Session of the IBC and the IGBC in February 2021, and were widely disseminated across the globe with multilingual versions available. Capacity-building activities, including an international webinar “Why Ethical Considerations matter in Responding to COVID-19 Pandemic?” (May 2020) and over 10 regional webinars were organized building on these Statements issued by COMEST and the IBC.

II.1.      IBC-COMEST Statement on COVID-19: Ethical Consideration from a Global Perspective (March 2020)

As a joint work of the IBC and COMEST, a Statement on COVID-19 was issued in March 2020 with the aim to guide policy makers and inform the public about essential ethical considerations that need to be addressed during the global fight against the COVID-19.

Among others, the statement expresses UNESCO’s conviction that the fight against COVID-19 requires collective recognition of the emerging and growing vulnerabilities (e.g., vulnerability affected by poverty, discrimination, violence, gender, pre-existing illness, age, disability, racism) to ensure that health and social policy responses all around the world leave no one behind. While recognizing the potential substantial role of digital technologies in dealing with pandemics by making it possible to monitor, anticipate and influence the spreading of the disease and the behaviour of human beings, the Statements stressed the crucial importance to ensure ethical, social and political issues related to the use of these technologies are adequately addressed.

Mass dissemination of the IBC-COMEST Statement on COVID-19 was undertaken through UNESCO’s networks and networks of the IBC members. The Statement is available in English, French, Spanish, Arabic, Chinese and Russian and was also translated into Portugal, Hungarian and Turkey with support from Member States and/or UNESCO field offices. The Statement is featured on the websites of various partners (e.g., WHO, Council of Europe) since its publication. The IBC has also successfully launched its first issue of the IBC Newsletter: ethics as the global compass in July 2020 to promote ethical reflection in the fight against COVID-19. The Statement is available online at: The IBC Newsletter is available online at:

II.2.      UNESCO’s Ethics Commissions’ Call for Global Vaccines Equity and Solidarity (February 2021)

The IBC and COMEST’s Joint Statement on COVID-19 Vaccines, as UNESCO’s Ethics Commissions’ Call for Global Vaccines Equity and Solidarity, was officially launched in a special roundtable during the Joint Session of the IBC and the IGBC, which was held in conjunction with the public meetings of the 11th extraordinary session of COMEST in February 2021. Convened by the Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences, this event gathered UNESCO’s ethics bodies together with Director-General of UNESCO, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), and Professor Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University. Over 50 representatives from 29 IGBC member states participated in the meeting together with IBC and COMEST members. The sessions have also attracted over 200 observers from Member States, International Organizations, NGOs in official relationship with UNESCO, and all relevant partners.

II.3.      UNESCO’s Ethics Commissions call to address ethical issues of COVID-19 certificates to leave no one behind (June 2021)

This statement calls for policymakers to address ethical issues involved in COVID-19 certificates and vaccine passports. It is crucial that COVID-19 Certificates and Vaccine Passports are not designed, implemented nor used as a privilege and should not infringe freedom of choice, but rather to create an epidemiologically safer environment for everyone. 

First, UNESCO’s experts stress that the introduction of COVID-19 Certificates and Vaccine Passports should avoid discrimination and societal divides, leave no one behind, and be embedded in a system of international solidarity.

While the introduction of vaccination passports and COVID-19 certificates is a crucial step to restore civil liberties, it should not introduce new forms of exclusion and discrimination. It is crucial that COVID-19 certificates are not designed, implemented nor used as a privilege for those who have access to vaccines, tests, and digital technologies.

It has been proven that COVID19 global crisis has been hitting the hardest those in poverty, vulnerable situations, disadvantaged and marginalized groups. Furthermore, this pandemic increases divides and inequities in economic, social and individual spheres of life within societies and between countries.

II.4.      UNESCO’s Ethics Commissions call for the temporary waiving of patents related to vaccines as an exceptional measure (September 2021)

This statement calls for equal access for all to vaccines and therapeutics developed to confront COVID-19.


III.1      Placing UNESCO on the agenda of the key international processes and securing global support

The implications of new and powerful neurotechnologies, including whether there is need for regulations and new “neurorights” to protect individual cognitive liberty are debated at the national, regional and global levels by scientists, ethics councils, and ethics and legal scholars, international organizations and think tanks.

The advancement of neurotechnology has the potential to give new treatments as well as improved preventative and therapeutic options for the millions of individuals who suffer from neurological and mental illnesses. In domains other than medicine, this technology has the potential to improve student learning and cognition. It could also allow features like thought-to-text creation, as well as virtual and augmented reality systems supported by brain control and utilized for entertainment. At the same time, neurotechnology raises ethical problems related to notions of human identity and memory and can present dangers to human rights of freedom of thought and privacy.

Recognizing these potential dangers, in 2020-2021, UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee has elaborated a Report on the Ethical Implications of Neurotechnology to be launched at a high-level event (date in 2022 to be confirmed). The Report describes the current state of neurotechnology and its applications (e.g., neuroimaging, neuro-devices and brain-computer interfaces) and the unique ethical concerns they raise, as well as provides recommendations for the way forward. Adaptive governance frameworks for neurotechnology will be crucial to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that are guided by ethical principles and appropriate legal mechanisms.

The IBC in its report suggested that UNESCO could convene a multidisciplinary group of experts to develop a policy-oriented governance model, to monitor progress in the field, and to examine whether the issues raised are effectively covered by the existing legal frameworks.

III.2      International collaboration for effective governance and oversight of neurotechnology

(a)       Collaboration within the UN system

Based on the report of the IBC on the Ethical Issues of Neurotechnology, which sensed the potential impact of this technology on humanity and underlined the need to regulate this fast-evolving science, UNESCO was requested to take the lead on this relatively new topic on the international stage and steer initiatives related to neurotechnology within the UN system, building upon its well-established expertise, frameworks, processes to tackle challenges arising from emerging neurotechnology.

In view of the upcoming seventy-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2023, the UN Secretary-General's report on Our Common Agenda states that the time has come to take stock, rejuvenate our shared values and update our thinking on human rights. Consideration should, for instance, be given to updating or clarifying our application of human rights frameworks and standards to address frontier issues and prevent harm in the digital or technology spaces, including in relation to neuro-technology.

On 23 July 2021, UNESCO co-organized a neurotechnology experts roundtable discussion with the Executive Office of the Secretary-General and Global Pulse. This first Neurotechnology Roundtable brought together experts from government, civil society, academia, and the United Nations system. Participants summarized the state of play concerning neurotechnology from scientific, economic, security and regulatory perspectives. Opportunities and risks were reviewed, and implications debated in relation to the ethics, rights, and governance of this accelerating technology.

On 4 May 2022, a second roundtable was convened by EOSG, UNESCO and OHCHR, during which UNESCO presented the finalized report of the IBC on Ethical issues of Neurotechnology, with a focus on ethical risks identified in the report as well as IBC’s position on the governance of Neurotechnology. The result of UNESCO-Global Pulse survey on future neurotechnology scenarios as well as an ongoing UNESCO study based on neurotechnology patterns data were also shared during the event.

Outcomes of the second Roundtable that will lead towards a two-day retreat that will culminate in a Roadmap for Neurotechnology Governance at the UN level.

(b)       Collaboration with OECD and Council of Europe

Among others, UNESCO participated in OECD Workshop “Neurotechnology in and for society: Deliberation, stewardship and trust” (May 2021) and CoE Round Table on Human Rights Issues Raised by Application of Neurotechnologies (November 2021) with active contribution.


IV.1.    Recommendation on the Ethics of AI

(a)       Elaboration process

On 24 November 2021, the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence was adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference at its 41st session.

UNESCO embarked on a two-year process to elaborate this first global standard-setting instrument on the ethics of artificial intelligence in the form of a Recommendation, following the decision of its General Conference at its 40th session in November 2019.

In 2020, the focus was on preparing the draft text for the Recommendation with the assistance of an Ad Hoc Expert Group (AHEG). The composition of the AHEG can is available online at: This phase included inclusive and multidisciplinary consultations with a wide range of stakeholders. These broad consultations were extremely important to ensure that the text would be as inclusive as possible.

Towards the end of 2020 and in 2021, the focus was on an intergovernmental process and negotiations on the draft text to produce a definitive version of the Recommendation for adoption by UNESCO’s General Conference at its 41st session at the end of 2021.

UNESCO’s work on the Recommendation is building on the preliminary study on ethics of artificial intelligence of UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST). This study emphasizes that currently no global instrument covers all the fields that guide the development and application of AI in a human-centred approach.

COMEST has been actively involved in the elaboration process of the draft Recommendation on the ethics of artificial intelligence. The 2019 Preliminary Study on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, which COMEST prepared during the last biennium, provided the basis for UNESCO's work on the Recommendation. Three COMEST members played a key role in the process as members of the Ad Hoc Expert Group (AHEG), which oversaw the production of a first draft of the Recommendation. All three COMEST members were elected by the group to be part of the Bureau and served as Chair, Vice-Chair and Rapporteur. COMEST members also actively participated to the multi-stakeholder consultation process from the end of June to the beginning of August 2020, which was organized to gather comments and feedback on the draft text in all regions of the world. Furthermore, COMEST was represented as an observer to the intergovernmental negotiations process on the Recommendation, to which two COMEST members also represented their country.

(b)       Brief presentation of the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence

UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence is an ambitious yet policy friendly blueprint. It aims to guide the development and deployment of AI technologies and to provide an overarching ethical framework fostering and enhancing the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Recommendation proposes an ethical governance encompassing existing human rights anchored in binding international laws and moral obligations yet to be codified.  

The Recommendation acknowledges that AI technologies benefit many domains, including education, health, finance and culture. Among others, AI generated some of the first alerts about the COVID-19 outbreak; helped accelerate the development of vaccines; and is playing an increasingly significant role in the efforts to recover from the current crisis. While having the potential to benefit societies and economies in many ways, AI technologies nevertheless pose downside risks and challenges. Malicious use of AI can threaten digital, physical and political security; and unintended downsides have already been experienced in instances such as market crashes caused by intelligent trading software, accidents caused by self-driving cars, or embarrassment from chat-bots engaged in hate speech. It is predicted that both the frequency and seriousness of such events will steadily increase as AI systems become more capable and more widespread.  

The goal of the Recommendation is thus to put people and their needs at the centre while balancing the benefits and risks of this general-purpose technology. UNESCO’s Recommendation is the first global instrument on the ethics of AI. Differently from existing instruments, approved by UNESCO’s constituency of 193 Member States from all parts of the world and from all stages of development, the Recommendation is a truly universal tool that does not leave anyone behind. Thanks to its strong and pervasive ethic principles and its pluralistic, multidisciplinary, multicultural, and multi-stakeholder approach, the Recommendation is well placed to respond to AI challenges, as it has happened before with UNESCO’s pioneering contributions on the ethics of science and technology. UNESCO’s Recommendation is a toolkit for all actors in the field to join forces and ensure a more equal and inclusive AI future for all.  

The Recommendation covers all AI areas falling within UNESCO’s mandate and all stages of the AI life cycle, from research, design, and development; to deployment and use, including maintenance, operation, trade, financing, monitoring and evaluation, validation, end of use, disassembly, and termination. The Recommendation touches on a broad range of issues along AI’s life cycle, such as data handling, and encourages multi-stakeholder cooperation on research and development. The Recommendation also pays special attention to the needs and contributions of LMICs, including but not limited to LDCs, LLDCs, and SIDS.  

(c)       Values, principles and policy action areas of the Recommendation on the Ethics of AI 

The Recommendation features three substantive parts, namely values, principles and policy areas, all directed at promoting trustworthiness in all AI systems and stages of the AI life cycle.  

Foundational values inspire what is considered to be desirable behaviours. They represent the foundations of the principles, i.e., necessary prerequisites for principles to work and to ensure ethical AI in practice. The four values at the core of the Recommendation are: (1) Respect, protection and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms and human dignity; (2) Environment and ecosystem flourishing; (3) Ensuring diversity and inclusiveness; and (4) Living in peaceful, just and interconnected societies.  

In this respect, it may be worth noticing, as an example, that while in other AI ethics-related documents protecting the environment receives little or no attention, the Recommendation deliberately elevates the environment at the level of values. Protecting the environment is considered an existential necessity for humanity and a pre-requisite to being able to enjoy the benefits of advances in AI. In the Recommendation the protection of the environment concerns both stimulating the development of AI-based solutions addressing the most pressing environmental problems, as well as using AI in a way that does not deteriorate the environment. Data extraction consumes nearly 10% of energy globally (with its corresponding footprint) and it is predicted that data centers could be using 20% of all electricity in the world by 2025. The policy area on environment reinforces this value and calls on Member States to account for the direct and indirect environmental impact of AI systems throughout their life cycle and the data infrastructure; and to mitigate their negative impact. 

The principles further detail the values underlying them in a more concrete fashion, so that values can be more easily operationalised in policy statements and actions. The Recommendation sets out the following ten principles: (1) Proportionality and do no harm; (2) Safety and security; (3) Fairness and non-discrimination; (4) Sustainability; (5) Right to privacy, and data protection; (6) Human oversight and determination; (7) Transparency and explainability; (8) Responsibility and accountability; (9) Awareness and literacy; and (10) multi-stakeholder and adaptive governance and collaboration: 

(d)       Policy actions of the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence

The Recommendation further addresses the “how to” question, by proposing relevant policy action areas in 11 domains: (1) Ethical impact assessment (EIA); (2) Ethical governance and stewardship; (3) Data policy; (4) Development and international cooperation; (5) Environment and ecosystems; (6) Gender; (7) Culture; (8) Education and research; (9) Communication and information; (10) Economy and labour; (11) Health and social well-being. 

All policy action areas detail concrete steps that Member States should take to operationalize the Recommendation in different domains.  

For instance, the policy action area on gender puts the focus on one of UNESCO’s global priorities and on the need to increase diversity in the field of AI and ensure that women and girls are represented in the development of these tools and are benefitting equally from the technology. Currently, relatively few women are active in the AI sector: only 22% of AI professionals globally are female, only 18% of speakers at leading conferences in the AI field are women and less than 14% of AI papers are authored by women. Gender biases are also often present in AI datasets, and this can help spread and reinforce harmful gender stereotypes and risk further stigmatizing and marginalizing women on a global scale.

Another important policy action area in the Recommendation is the one on data governance. It underscores the importance of data governance and aims to contribute to a better understanding of the role of data in developing secure and equitable algorithms, and how issues such as privacy should be taken into account in data governance strategies. To achieve that, the Recommendation sets rules for keeping the control over the data in the hands of users, allowing them to access and delete information as needed. In addition, the Recommendation calls on Member States to ensure that there are appropriate safeguards for the processing of sensitive data and effective and meaningful accountability schemes.

The policy action area on economy and labour calls on member States to equip workers with new skills that will help them adjust to the technological changes, including putting in place upskilling and reskilling programs and tax benefits, among others. In addition, the Recommendation emphasizes the need to ensure competitive markets and consumer protection, by preventing abuse of dominant market position and monopolies.

IV.2.    Building capacities of Member States to implement the Recommendation on the Ethics of AI

(a)       Key capacity-building tools

The policy action areas detailed in the Recommendation include two tools, to be developed by UNESCO to pursue the goals of the Recommendation. These tools respond to the challenge related to the impossibility to codify and regulate every single aspect of AI and are motivated by fact that, as in the case of any innovative activity, downside risks may occur at any stage of the AI lifecycle.

The first tool is an Ethical Impact Assessment, which will have agile design and universal relevance, helping AI stakeholders assess the impact that the datasets, conceptual frameworks, and algorithms have on society. This tool is aimed at AI system developers and aims to support adjusting algorithms to address or mitigate possible negative impacts.

The second toll is the Readiness Assessment Methodology, which will assist Member States in identifying their status related to the Recommendation. It recognizes that Member States are at different levels of preparedness with respect to developing, adopting and using AI technologies, and aims to help governments finetune regulatory mechanisms.

UNESCO has established a high-level expert group to support implementation of the Recommendation on the Ethics of AI, particularly on the development of the two critical capacity-building tools.

(b)       Group of Friends for the Implementation of the Recommendation

Following the adoption of the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and in view of the broad expression of interest by Member States to form a Group of “Friends” of the Recommendation, Ambassador Adam Almulla, Permanent Delegate of Kuwait to UNESCO, convened an initial coordinating meeting on 3 February 2022.

Over 100 participants from 54 Member States took part in the meeting. Over 20 Member States took the floor to share their perspectives and recent national developments in AI. They all reaffirmed their readiness to continue working together, after the major breakthrough members achieved at the adoption by standing ovation of the Recommendation.

Building on consensus of the participants of the meeting, the “Friends Group” will serve as an informal, open ended and flexible platform for Member States to support implementation of the Recommendation. The Group of Friend meeting is to be held on a quarterly basis to facilitate exchange among Member States on the implementation of the Recommendation, provide update from the Secretariat on the progress in different initiatives relating to the implementation, and organize policy debates to advance the different areas of the Recommendation.

IV.3.    Building partnerships on Ethics of AI

(a)        UN Inter-Agency Working Group on AI (IAWG-AI)

An UN Inter-Agency Working Group on AI (IAWG-AI) was established within the framework of UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) High-Level Committee on Porgrammes (HLCP), co-led by UNESCO and ITU. The aim of the Working Group is to enhance collaboration of UN on initiatives regarding AI through a holistic approach. Following the second meeting of the IAWG-AI in September 2021, we are exploring synergies with ITU on the development of the reediness methodology on AI.

(b)       Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI)

In 2021, UNESCO developed active participation in the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) – a major multilateral initiative to bridge the gap between theory and practice of AI by supporting innovative research and applied activities on AI-related priorities - as member of the GPAI Council and the Advisory Committee. 

(c)        Contribution to other important international foras on Ethics of AI

·         Contribution towards the preparation of the 2021 G20 Digital Economies Ministers Meeting and 2021 G20 Gender

·         Partnership with ICC to foster dialogue on the ethics of AI

·         Exploring synergies with World Economic Forum and the Global Alliance


V.1.     Capacity building activities at the regional and subregional level

(a)       Africa Region

·         A series of webinars on “Fair, Equitable and Timely Allocation of COVID-19 Vaccines in Africa” was launched on 14 April 2021, jointly with WHO/AFRO and AU/Africa CDC

·         International seminar” Bioethics and the Covid-19 pandemic: Bioethical principles and the construction of global vaccine diplomacy” was held in Bouake, Côte d’Ivoire, on 20-21 October 2021

·         Youth Forum on Ethics and Artificial Intelligence, was held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on 28-30 September 2021 in partnership with AUF

·         Translation of the UNESCO Bioethics Core Curriculum, Section 1 and 2 in Kiswahili was produced

·         Workshop on capacity building of the Ethics Review Committees in Kenya was held in March 2022

·         Workshop to establish Hospital Ethics committees in Kenya was held in January 2022

·         UNESCO -Southern Africa sub-Regional Forum on Artificial Intelligence (AI) was organized in Windhoek, Namibia from 7 to 9 September 2022

·         Landscape Study of AI Policies and Use in Southern Africa has been conducted in 2022 by UNESCO Harare office.

(b)       Arab States Region

·         A series of four virtual webinars on “Ethical Dimensions in COVID-19: Responses and Impact in the Arab region” (March-May 2020) was organized in view of promoting dialogue among experts, policy makers and health care providers in the Arab Region

·         Webinar on “Fair, equitable and timely allocation of COVID-19 vaccines in Arab States, Eastern Mediterranean Regions” was held on 6 December 2021

(c)       Asia and the Pacific Region

·         Online workshop on “Global and local perspectives on bioethics/ethics, and in the context of COVID-19” was organized on 17 June 2021

·         Online ETTC was conducted in Mongolia on 12-15 October 2021

·         Online lecture on AI Ethics was organized at the request of King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok, Thailand (19 July 2021)

·         A handbook on ethics of climate change is under preparation to advance dissemination, understanding and implementation of the Declaration of Ethical Principles in Relation to Climate Change (2017) in Beijing office of UNESCO.

(d)       Latin America and the Caribbean Region

·         Publication on “COVID-19 and vaccination in Latin America and the Caribbean: challenges, needs and opportunities” which generates more evidence on the production, access and distribution of vaccines in the region (available in Spanish and English)

·         Webinars presenting documents on vaccines in LAC were held in August 202 and in September 2021 in Mexico

·         In August 2021, a new edition of the regional seminar for the training of trainers in bioethics began in association with the National autonomous Mexico University adapted into a 6-week virtual format

·         On 23-25 September 2021, the VIII International Congress of REDBIOÉTICA UNESCO was held, organized with the support of the Universidad El Bosque

·         In Latin America, a website called “Open space for AI” ( was launched where news, events and relevant information are gathered to reflect on the latest development on the ethics of AI; new podcasts on ethical challenges of AI were also launched

·         Elaboration of the MOOC “Artificial intelligence, so nobody is left behind”, which started in November 2021

·         Elaboration of three different documents and policy briefs on AI and traditionally vulnerable populations: a) IA and gender, b) IA and People with disabilities and c) IA and indigenous populations; these documents will be disseminated through courses and webinars

·         Creation of a social media campaign on the challenges of AI

·         Partnership with IDB for the creation of an AI Observatory of cases, policy briefs and other issues

·         In 2021, the UNESCO Knowledge Series on Inclusive and Equitable Recovery from COVID-19 in Caribbean SIDS produced.  Think Piece by Dr. Cheryl Cox Macpherson, “Taking a closer look at regional cooperation on research ethics in the Caribbean” and Think Piece by Dr. Anna Perkins “A closer look at the secondary inputs of COVID-19 - Why ethics still matter”

·         Online event entitled UNESCO Talk: Spotlight on Gender Equality and Artificial Intelligence in the Caribbean organized in December 2020, supported by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)

·         In February 2021, the Forum on "Artificial Intelligence Forum: Opportunities to Accelerate Human Progress for Sustainable Development in Caribbean Small Island Developing States" was held

·         In April 2021, Caribbean youth online event “Reimaging the World with Artificial Intelligence” was organized

·         Communications and awareness-raising campaign on AI in the Caribbean

·         Three (3) stakeholder consultation workshops were organized with the aim of developing the Caribbean Artificial Intelligence Policy Roadmap

·         3 launch events of the Recommendation of Ethics AI were organized in Brazil, Colombia and Mexico in 2022.

V.2. UNESCO Chairs and Expert Networks

Three new UNESCO Chairs have been created in the fields of bioethics and ethics of science and technology since 2020, which are UNESCO Chair on Bioethics, established in 2020 at Universitas Gadjah Mada, YogyakartaIndonesia, UNESCO Chair on Bioethics, established in 2020 at the University of Ain Shams, Cairo, Egypt, and Chair UNESCO « Ethique du Vivant et de l’Artificiel » (EVA) in 2022 France

UNESCO supports the creation and ongoing work of expert networks to promote ethics education, including the UNESCO Latin American and Caribbean Bioethics Network (Redbioética), the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Bioethics Education, the International Association for Ethics in Education. UNESCO also supports the networks of national ethics and bioethics bodies, at the international and regional level, including through operations of the UNESCO Latin America and Caribbean network of National Bioethics Committees, UNESCO is member of the Steering Committee of Global Summit of National Bioethics Committees (NBC) and the National Ethics Councils Forum (NEC Forum) is to be held at UNESCO premise in May 2022.


(a)       Roundtables on the Ethics of AI and on the Ethics of Genome Editing

Supported by Japanese government, UNESCO organized the 3rd and 4th editions of the series of roundtables on the ethics of AI and on the ethics of genome editing, which was initially launched in 2018:

·         3rd Roundtable on the Ethics of Genome Editing “Voices from Society” (March 2021, virtual modality)

·         3rd Roundtable on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence “Shaping the Future of AI through Cultural Diversity” (March 2021, virtual modality)

·         4th Roudntable on the Ethics of Genome Editing “Equal Access and Governance” (January 2022, virtual modality)

·         4th Roudntable on the Ethics of AI “Challenges of AI Ethics and Governance: From Principles to Practice” (February 2022, virtual modality)

Within the framework of this initiative, short educational videos of the series on the Ethics of Genome Editing and on the Ethics of AI were produced:

·         Ethics of AI Videos

o   “Shaping AI through Cultural Diversity” (

o   “Does AI make better decisions than humans?”


o   “Evolving interactions between humans and AI”


o   “Do you know AI or AI knows better?”


·         Ethics of Genome Editing Videos

o   “Engaging the Public”


o   “Questions on medical treatments and the impact on future generations”


o   “Impact of Genome editing on plants, animals and environment”

o   (

o   What is Genome Editing?


(b)       Philosophy Around the World – Worldwide Philosophical Relay-Race

On Thursday 18 November 2021, on the occasion of World Philosophy Day 2021, a global online event “Philosophy Around the World – Worldwide Philosophical Relay-Race” was held from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. (GMT+1) to celebrate philosophy in all parts of our planet with the overall theme of intercultural philosophy for peace and sustainability in the time of crisis. It was initiated by the Chairpersons of COMEST and IBC and was held with active participation of the members of both ethics advisory bodies.

The event comprised two plenary opening and closing sessions and five regional webinars organized in all UNESCO’s regions (Africa, Arab States, Asia and the Pacific, Europe/North America and Latin America and the Caribbean.) The event was attended and seen by the participants in Paris, Amsterdam, Bangkok, Islamabad, Manila, Cairo, Baghdad, Beirut, Abuja, Bamako, Dakar, Harare, Lomé, Nairobi, Pretoria, Brasilia, Bogota, Buenos-Aires, Mexico, Montevideo, Rio-de-Janeiro, Santiago de Chile, Quebec.

[1] This document contains contributions in their original language. / Ce document contient les contributions dans leur langue d’origine.