The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) Geneva Branch in collaboration with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Implementation Support Unit (ISU), conducted over the past month several activities aiming at integrating youth perspectives on biosecurity and increasing youth engagement in the framework of the BWC. Taking place in the framework of the Youth for Biosecurity initiative, a flagship “umbrella” endeavour sponsored by the European Union these activities included the launch of the Youth Declaration for Biosecurity; the third edition of the Biosecurity Diplomacy Workshop for Young Scientists from the Global South; and a virtual youth event organized with Kenya.
UNODA’s efforts to strengthen youth participation in BWC-related discussions, sensitize youth for biosecurity risks and equip them with the knowledge and skills to ensure responsible science and innovation are rooted in the Secretary-General’s vision of young people as “a force for change in disarmament”, as outlined in his 2018 Agenda for Disarmament.
The activities have four complementary objectives: i) bolster the national capacity of countries in the Global South against the misuse of biological agents; ii) increase opportunities for youth participation in BWC fora and make meaningful contributions to strengthen the Convention; iii) expand geographically equitable and gender-balanced education and networking opportunities; iv) reinforce national and local engagement to include youth in biosecurity-related issues.
Launch of the Youth Declaration for Biosecurity
The Youth Declaration for Biosecurity emanated from the Second Edition of the Biosecurity Diplomacy Workshop for Young Scientists from the Global South which gathered 29 young scientists in 2021. Inspired by their newly acquired knowledge on bio risks and the BWC, a core group of young scientists from the Global South drafted the Youth Declaration under the guidance of UNODA. The Declaration was subsequently discussed with and endorsed by a network of other youth initiatives engaged in biosafety and security.
In November 2021, the Youth Declaration for Biosecurity was launched in the margins of the BWC Meeting of States Parties. The Declaration is a call-to-action from the next generation of biosecurity professionals to the BWC community containing policy recommendations to mitigate the threat of biological weapons through active and transformative youth engagement.
Third Edition of the Biosecurity Diplomacy Workshop for Young Scientists from the Global South
UNODA also continued expanding the Youth for Biosecurity network by hosting the third edition of the Biosecurity Diplomacy Workshop for Young Scientists from the Global South, an interactive virtual training programme conducted in February and March 2022. As in previous years, the workshop aimed at informing young scientists about their critical role in biosafety and biosecurity while leveraging UNODA’s network to bridge the gap between young scientists and BWC policymakers.
The workshop brought together a gender-balanced group of 30 talented young scientists from 15 countries from the Global South for a series of virtual sessions covering topics related to the BWC, science diplomacy, dual-use research of concern, responsible science and innovation in the life sciences.
Ms. Izumi Nakamitsu, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, opened the third edition, who stressed that youth networks have the ability to create “new and lasting ties among young scientists who are involved in multilateral diplomacy” and improve collaboration and mutual understanding. The High Representative’s words were echoed by Ambassador Lotte Knudsen, Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations in Geneva, who said that BWC policymakers rely on youth reminding them that they “are the ones able to make a difference and a better world.”
The six sessions featured over 30 guest speakers from the United Nations, BWC States Parties, regional organizations, youth networks, academia and civil society organizations. It included dedicated sessions on gender balance and youth involvement in disarmament and allowed the youth group to further exchange with their peers from the international network which now comprises 80 young scientists from the Global South.
Mobilizing youth to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention in Kenya
On 24 March 2022, UNODA and the Kenyan National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) organized a national awareness-raising event for youth entitled “Mobilizing youth to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention in Kenya”. 150 young people participated in this online event whose main aim was informing youth about opportunities to get involved in global biosecurity initiatives and advocacy. After learning about the importance of the BWC in Africa from Dr. Talkmore Maruta, Senior Biosafety and Biosecurity Officer at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Surveillance, the participants heard from youth representatives from the Nuclear Threat Initiative Global Biological Policy and Programs Team (NTI | bio), the International Federation of Biosafety Associations (IFBA), the International Genetically Engineered Machine Foundation (iGEM) and SynBio Africa.
Participants also engaged with Youth for Biosecurity alumni who shared their own professional journeys in global biosecurity. Ms. Marion Njeri Wachira and Ms. Lydia Samba Eyase, both Kenyan Youth for Biosecurity alumnae from the 2022 cohort, shared insights on their engagement in biosecurity issues in Kenya. Ms. Maryam Sani Lawal from Nigeria, alumna of the 2021 cohort, and one of the drafters of the Youth Declaration for Biosecurity, encouraged all young people to work to strengthen the BWC.
UNODA and the BWC ISU will continue placing youth engagement and empowerment at the core of their activities in collaboration with States Parties and civil society, especially in the run-up to the Ninth BWC Review Conference which scheduled to take place from 28 November to 16 December 2022. A dedicated virtual youth event is planned to take place ahead of the Review Conference, supported by the European Union.