When the human kind can modify the surface of the globe, as well as its own genomes, to the extent that the atmosphere evolves into global warming and the genetic features of the next generations are altered, what does it mean to be a human being today? Is it acceptable that women in rural communities of Africa – because they are primarily in charge of securing water, food, and fuel for cooking and heating – are the most affected by the climate change that is being mainly caused by industrialized countries?
These are some of the questions that are being examined at the African Regional Bioethics Conference, hosted by the government of Kenya, from 12-14 February 2020, in Mombasa. This regional event is in preparation for the 13th Global Summit of National Bioethics Committees (NBCs) in Lisbon Portugal, from 18-20 March 2020. It has gathered representatives of NBCs and academia around, sharing experiences and consolidating an Africa-wide position on compelling contemporary bioethical issues and on ethics of the environment. From Southern Africa, representatives of NBCs from Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Namibia are in attendance, among the 21 participating African countries.
The objective of the meeting is to facilitate deliberations among experts from Africa, on the way the 2017 UNESCO Declaration on the Ethical Principles in relation to Climate Change could drive social and policy changes on the ground.
“While you can move away from a legal framework, you cannot escape from ethical principles that have been universally endorsed by an international consensus,” Professor Johan Hattingh, member and Chair of the International Expert Group that first drafted the Declaration, stressed in his keynote lecture.
Addressing the conference in his lecture on the Ethical implications of the New Frontier Issues, Mr. Phinith Chanthalangsy, Head of Social and Human Sciences Unit at the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSA) said “National Bioethics Committees are in a unique position to rationally advise policy-makers, because there are instances that are de-correlated both from the State power, and from the market space. They authentically represent the public space that is the backbone of democracy”.
Participants at the Conference also highlighted that the ethical deliberations are essential to examine difficult questions by means of rationality, and pluridisciplinarity, in a time when the general opinion is more than ever concerned and worried about the human unsustainable model of society.
In an Anthropocene era, African NBCs should reflect and advise on the ways Africa can protect its tremendous natural resources that are threatened by the rapid loss of biodiversity, on how poverty and vulnerability of the peoples can be elevated to compelling ethical considerations when it comes to ethics of the environment, etc.