The global norm against biological weapons cannot be maintained without youth voices being included in the multilateral discussions taking place in the framework of the BWC. As fast-paced innovation in biotechnologies raises global implications for biosecurity, the young scientists of today will be on the forefront of tomorrow’s collective and innovative global solutions.
This vision was stated explicitly in the UN Secretary-General’s Disarmament Agenda “Securing Our Common Future”, in which youth participation is recognized as a pre-condition to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, the recent report, “Our Common Agenda”, by the Secretary-General includes recommendations for meaningful, diverse and effective youth engagement both within and outside the United Nations.
The Youth for Biosecurity Initiative is a project funded under European Union Council Decision 2019/97 which aims at informing young scientists – in particular from the Global South – about their critical role in biosafety and biosecurity and bolstering global capacities against the misuse of biological agents.
This project encourages the development of networks of young professionals and capitalizes on training material developed by the European Union, such as e-learning tools developed by the EU Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Consortium. It also builds upon activities carried out under the previous EU Council Decision (CFSP) 2016/51 which aimed at enhancing the interaction between the BWC process and non-governmental stakeholders, such as the scientific community and industry.
Biosecurity Diplomacy Workshop and Fellowship
In 2019, 2021 and 2022, a yearly Biosecurity Diplomacy Workshop were conducted under the Youth for Biosecurity Initiative. The workshops directly engaged scientists and biosafety professionals in developing countries in order to raise awareness of the BWC, to develop capacities for more effective implementation of the BWC and to facilitate international cooperation for peaceful purposes. The Youth for Biosecurity Initiative is an interactive training and awareness-raising programme gathering competitively selected young biosecurity specialists from the Global South to reflect on how they envision an innovative and bio-secure future in connection with the BWC. In that regard, the project seeks to empower and motivate youth to promote sustainable change in their professional and academic communities, in line with the BWC’s objectives.
With a view to harnessing the young scientists’ expertise for finding solutions to current biosecurity policy issues, the workshops offered a space for dialogue between young scientists and BWC practitioners including diplomats and experts. The participants were exposed to the multilateral biosecurity scene, at the crossroads between science and diplomacy, and to the challenge of transferring scientific know-how to BWC policymakers in a form that can be utilized in diplomatic fora. In that regard, the workshops also aimed at encouraging young scientists to engage in an active and forward-looking stance during BWC official meetings.
The first biosecurity workshop was held in August 2019 in Vevey, Switzerland in conjunction with the 2019 BWC Meeting of Experts on Science and Technology, which 20 young scientists were able to attend.
The second biosecurity workshop took place virtually in January and March 2021 and brought together 29 young scientists from the Global South, including 16 women, to participate in a series of virtual sessions focusing on expert discussions and role-play exercises. The youth group also attended a briefing on the postponed 2020 BWC Meeting of Experts on Science and Technology and followed its deliberations virtually.
Meet the 2021 cohort here.
The third biosecurity workshop will be held online in February and March 2022 with 30 emerging leaders in health security, biosafety and biosecurity joining from over 15 countries to participate in a series of virtual sessions focusing on scientific and technological developments under the BWC.
Meet the 2022 cohort here.
Building on those previous experience and on the Youth for Biosecurity network, UNODA launched the Youth for Biosecurity Fellowship in 2023. The Fellowship offers a more complete experience combining online interactive training and an in-person visit to Geneva, hence increasing opportunities to learn, network, acquire new skills and play an active and forward-looking role during official BWC meetings.
Meet the 2023 fellows here.
All the Youth for Biosecurity activities place particular emphasis on encouraging the participation of young women scientists from the Global South in BWC discussions.
A network of youth networks
During 2021, the Youth for Biosecurity Initiative partnered with civil society entities which have for many years led successful and well-established initiatives to empower and connect the next generations of leaders in the biosecurity community, including: the IFBA Global Mentorship Programme, the iGEM Competitions, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Fellowship and the NTI Next Generation for Biosecurity Competition.
Coming together as a coordinated network of initiatives involving youth on responsible science, the five organizations organized two side-events on the margins of the 2020 BWC Meeting of Experts on Science and Technology in August-September 2021 and during the 2020 BWC Meeting of States Parties in November 2021.
Watch the BWC MSP side event “The Youth Declaration for Biosecurity: Mobilizing Youth to Strengthen the BWC” here.
The Youth Declaration for Biosecurity
In 2021, the project led to the launch of the Youth Declaration for Biosecurity during the BWC Meeting of States Parties. The Declaration is a set of policy recommendations from young leaders to support youth participation in global biosecurity. The Youth Declaration is open for endorsement by any institution or individual to support it.
Learn more about the Declaration and how to endorse it here.
Youth Recommendations for the Ninth Review Conference of the BWC
Building on the networks established throughout the workshops and side-events, UNODA and its partners intensified efforts toward youth meaningful participation in multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation discussions under the BWC on the occasion of the Ninth BWC Review Conference from 28 November to 16 December in Geneva. To that end, the Youth for Biosecurity Network invited youth delegations to the Review Conference to collectively formulate actionable recommendations for BWC States Parties to strengthen the global biosecurity regime. Using the existing recommended actions of the Youth Declaration for Biosecurity, the process to develop youth recommendations has been composed through a series of three virtual preparatory sessions and an in-person workshop during the Review Conference.
During the preparatory sessions and workshop, five MX-specific youth working groups were formed to identify key priorities and recommendations to BWC States Parties relevant to the Ninth Review Conference. These working groups were supported in the drafting and review process by UNODA staff, civil society partner facilitators, as well as a multisectoral group of BWC subject matter experts. These recommendations will be presented by youth delegates to senior leaders at the Review Conference.
The recommendations are available here.