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Part II Practice—Scholarly and Practitioner Accounts of UN Treaty-Making, B Economic and Social Development, Ch.16 The Practice of UN Treaty-Making concerning Science

Sam Johnston

From: The Oxford Handbook of United Nations Treaties

Simon Chesterman, David M. Malone, Santiago Villalpando

From: Oxford Public International Law (http://opil.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved.date: 25 September 2020

Subject(s):
Climate change

This chapter describes the growing influence of science in UN treaties, which centers around four main roles; scientific influence in the treaty-making process, promoting access to existing science, supporting research, and managing the threats posed by science. It also highlights the challenges UN treaties face in using science such as; resolving the tensions that exist between pure and applied science; maintaining science’s role as a peaceful activity in the global commons; ensuring that scientific input is not lost among the increasing complex and crowded nature of treaty-making; ensuring that science is more inclusive, holistic, and balanced; and improving its relevance while retaining its credibility. The UN will also need to use science to respond to new and emerging areas such as managing new technologies including nanotechnologies, synthetic biology, or artificial intelligence, or new threats such as cyberwarfare and security. Failures of science in predicting and managing threats from climate change, epidemics, and nuclear disasters have revealed the uncertainties underlying many of its areas of practice and has demonstrated the critical role that social, economic, and institutional expectations play. Recognizing that science is not neutral or objective is an important step in addressing the key shortcomings facing the role of science in UN treaties. Determining what measures need to be taken to balance social and economic influences is another important side of this challenge. Reconciling these enduring challenges will be increasingly important in all areas where UN treaty-making processes and science intersect.

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