Nano Risk Governance

While some ETC Group staff were in Caracas strategizing with partners to strengthen the global opposition to Terminator, others of us were subjected to the slog of the CBD meeting in Granada. And one of us was spending a few days with unlimited access to free chocolate at Swiss Re's opulent Centre for Global Dialogue near Zurich. Swiss Re, the world's largest re-insurer (an insurer of insurance companies) is concerned - no surprise - about those risks associated with nanotechnology that may result in financial losses for the company. It provided the venue for a workshop on "Risk Governance for Nanotechnology" organized by the Geneva-based International Risk Governance Council (IRGC).

The stated purpose of the workshop was for participants to provide feedback on a draft paper, "Nanotechnology and the Need for Risk Governance," to see where there was agreement on its proposed model for risk governance. The group was diverse in one sense, but in no way surprising - a cast of characters from the public sector focused on health and environmental risks (from the US and Europe plus one representative from ITRI in Taiwan), industry and trade guys, standards developers, social scientists, the insurance industry and even a couple "fringe barbarians" for good measure (ETC Group and CRN). There was no developing country representation (in the form of civil society, academia or industry) and no other advocacy groups that have a stake in nano's development (e.g., disability rights, privacy advocates, farmers' organizations, consumer groups), though participants were asked to suggest names and types of stakeholders for future discussions.

Everyone seemed to agree that nanotech poses unique risks that have yet to be addressed by national regulators or any international body and that there is a need for governance. Beyond that, everyone seemed to recognize that different applications of nanotech pose different risks and that those risks will change as the technology develops (assuming it develops in the way governments, industry and scientists imagine). The conversation was so congenial (the workshop was facilitated by the Meridian Institute) and the chocolate so delicious that it wasn't easy reminding the group that ETC still stands by its 2002 call for a moratorium and that we will continue to insist on mandatory regulations. We look forward to reading the next draft of "Nanotechnology and the Need for Risk Governance."

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