On 2 December, SIPRI and the Government of the United Kingdom co-hosted a side event in Geneva at the Ninth Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention entitled ‘Biorisk Awareness Across Stakeholder Communities’.
Dual-use developments across the biological sciences bring challenges to the governance framework centred on the Biological Weapons Convention. This has become a particular concern in recent years, as the same factors transforming biomedical research can also remove technical barriers to the development, production and use of biological weapons. In 2019 SIPRI produced a report entitled ‘Bio Plus X’ on the convergence of biotechnology with emerging technologies and the implications for biosecurity risks. Yet much has already changed since then, and the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic reinforces the need to ensure that innovation in the biological sciences will never be misused, accidentally or deliberately.
Efforts to engage non-state stakeholders including the scientific community, industry, academia and other civil society actors are essential to integrating safety and security considerations and fostering a culture of responsibility that can bolster the regime. With the support of the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, SIPRI is developing a practical toolkit for practicing responsible biological science, which targets academics and researchers in the life sciences. The side event broadly examined the degree to which cross-sectoral engagement on biosecurity exists and explored the best ways to incentivize different stakeholder groups to create a more open and collaborative biosecurity community. The discussion also focused on ways to leverage existing bio-risk assessment tools and instruments for more effective awareness raising as well as what steps can be taken by states to facilitate a ‘whole of society’ approach to risk awareness.
Ambassador Aidan Liddle, UK Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, opened the event. Dr Wilfred Wan, Director of SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme, chaired the discussion among a group of distinguished experts: Dr Mirko Himmel (University of Hamburg), Dr Filippa Lentzos (King’s College London), Kathryn Millett (Biosecu.re), and Dr Emmanuelle Tuerlings (World Health Organization). The event also featured reflections from Ambassador Maria Teresa T. Almojuela, Permament Representative of the Republic of the Philippines to the Conference on Disarmament.