Origins of ‘One-World’ Chemistry
Since its foundation in the early 1980s, IOCD has worked to engage chemists from around the
world in tackling major challenges in areas including human health, agriculture, the
environment, conservation, exploration and sustainable, equitable development of biotic
During a conference on Chemistry Education as an Agent in Global Progress
2015, IOCD scientist Stephen Matlin gave a paper on ‘The Contribution of the
Chemical Sciences to Global Progress: Achievements, Prospects and Challenges’
. In the
course of his presentation, he drew on the example of the global health threat posed by
anti-microbial resistance and noted that the solution being encouraged was a ‘One
Health’ approach which recognized that animal and human health and the environment are
inter-connected. He commented that “we need to have a similar orientation in our
thinking about the chemical sciences, which projects them as taking a harmonized and
comprehensive systems approach to understanding and solving global challenges”
Subsequently, Matlin and three other IOCD scientists, Goverdhan Mehta
and Alain Krief
, developed this idea further and elaborated it into the concept
of ‘One-World’ Chemistry. The IOCD group published a paper
in 2016, introducing the concept which embodies the group's view that
chemistry must go beyond ‘being a science’
and embrace ‘being a
science for the benefit of society’.
One-World Chemistry is a vision of how chemistry and related molecular sciences can work for the
benefit of people, the biosphere and the physical environment of the planet, ensuring that future
development is sustainable.
The figure below summarises the concept of One-World Chemistry and how these its goals link with the
approaches and orientations envisaged and the roles that the chemical sciences can play.
The chemical sciences provide understanding of the physical and chemical properties of atoms and
molecules and practical methods for creating new molecular structures with useful applications.
Chemistry is a ‘platform science’, contributing to fundamental aspects of a range of
other sciences and underpinning the dramatic advances seen in recent decades in such fields as
biotechnology, energy, the environment, genetics, materials and medicine.
In fact, the chemical sciences are at the heart of every aspect of productive human activity, for
example playing a substantial role in our nutrition, health and wellbeing; in our sources of energy
and materials; and in our transport, work and recreation. For more about the
contributions of the chemical sciences to development, click
Ethical Science for the Benefit of Society
While physicians have the Hippocratic Oath, there has been no equivalent set of ethical principles
to guide the conduct of those working in the chemical sciences. The physicians' principle of
‘do no harm’ is a good starting point for all practitioners of the sciences (as well as
everyone else in society). In 2015, a group of chemists (including Henning Hopf, one of the authors
of ‘one-world’ chemistry) convened by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical
Weapons developed a consensus in the form of The Hague Ethical Guidelines based on ‘norms of the practice of chemistry’. The main elements
of the guidelines align closely with the principles of ‘one-world’ chemistry.
Main elements of the Hague Ethical Guidelines:
- Core element. Achievements in the field of chemistry should be used to
benefit humankind and protect the environment.
- Sustainability. Chemistry practitioners have a special responsibility for promoting and
achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals of meeting the needs of the present without
compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
- Education. Formal and informal educational providers, enterprise, industry and civil
society should cooperate to equip anybody working in chemistry and others with the necessary
knowledge and tools to take responsibility for the benefit of humankind, the protection of the
environment and to ensure relevant and meaningful engagement with the general public.
- Awareness and engagement. Teachers, chemistry practitioners, and policymakers should be
aware of the multiple uses of chemicals, specifically their use as chemical weapons or their
precursors. They should promote the peaceful applications of chemicals and work to prevent any
misuse of chemicals, scientific knowledge, tools and technologies, and any harmful or unethical
developments in research and innovation. They should disseminate relevant information about
national and international laws, regulations, policies and practices.
- Ethics. To adequately respond to societal challenges, education, research and innovation
must respect fundamental rights and apply the highest ethical standards. Ethics should be
perceived as a way of ensuring high-quality results in science.
- Safety and security. Chemistry practitioners should promote the beneficial applications,
uses, and development of science and technology while encouraging and maintaining a strong
culture of safety, health, and security.
- Accountability. Chemistry practitioners have a responsibility to ensure that chemicals,
equipment and facilities are protected against theft and diversion and are not used for illegal,
harmful or destructive purposes. These persons should be aware of applicable laws and
regulations governing the manufacture and use of chemicals, and they should report any misuse of
chemicals, scientific knowledge, equipment and facilities to the relevant authorities.
- Oversight. Chemistry practitioners who supervise others have the additional
responsibility to ensure that chemicals, equipment and facilities are not used by those persons
for illegal, harmful or destructive purposes.
- Exchange of information. Chemistry practitioners should promote the exchange of
scientific and technical information relating to the development and application of chemistry
for peaceful purposes.
Hague Ethical Guidelines. Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (2015).