Call for honesty in COVID and climate fight

The United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned the refusal to share scientific data is putting the ability of the world to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and climate change at risk.

Speaking in support of a joint appeal for Open Science by CERN, OHCHR, UNESCO and WHO, Michelle Bachelet, said science and not force will be the key to solving the world’s major current issues.

“Worldwide people need states, international bodies, science and medical institutions and practitioners to ensure the broadest possible sharing of scientific knowledge, and the broadest possible access to the benefits of scientific knowledge,” she said. “This is key to any effective public health policy. It is essential to the combat against climate change. And it is a fundamental matter of human rights: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly proclaims the right ‘to share scientific advances and its benefits’.”

Ms Bachelet said COVID-19 has brought this issue of open information into sharp focus.

“The suppression or denial of scientific evidence in some circles – and reluctance to adopt evidence-based policies – have magnified the devastating harms the pandemic is generating. A basic principle of public health is the need for full and honest engagement with the public.

“Use of force will not mitigate or end this pandemic – but the use of science, and fully informed public consent and compliance, will,” she added. “The pandemic also gives new importance to the need to ensure non-discriminatory access to the benefits of science – such as any COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. Under international human rights law, States have a clear obligation to ensure international cooperation and access to a vaccine.

“Everyone, including vulnerable or marginalised individuals and groups, is entitled to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress – and when the benefits of science are managed as a purely commercial product reserved for the wealthy, everyone is harmed.”

Ms Bachelet said the benefits of scientific and medical progress were always meant to be shared. “The great beauty of science is that it has no borders – and that, working together, every scientist and student of science can contribute to the shared knowledge and benefit of all,” she explained. “As part of our work to better address and recover from COVID-19, we need to honour this essential spirit of scientific endeavour – with much wider data and information exchange, technology transfer and overall expansion of the availability of medicines and health technologies.”

Everyone’s right “to share in scientific advancement and its benefits” has been attacked in recent years, added Ms Bachelet, particularly in the context of discussion of climate change.

“In some circles, the issue of whether climate change even exists, or is caused by human activity, is treated as a matter of personal belief rather than rigorous science,” she added. “As a group of 58 experts wrote in 2018 ‘a false equivalence’ is created ‘between an overwhelming scientific consensus and a lobby, heavily funded by vested interests.’ This deliberate introduction of doubt about clear and factual evidence is catastrophic for our planet.

“Our Joint Call today emphasises that ‘public policies should rely on verified information, facts and scientific knowledge,’ because as Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said, ‘We must listen to the earth’s best scientists’. This is a matter of saving individual lives; the future of communities and nations; and our planet.”

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