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International Organization for Chemical Sciences in Development

One-World Chemistry

OWC – Origins and Meaning


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 resources.

During a conference on Chemistry Education as an Agent in Global Progress in June 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, Henning Hopf and Alain Krief, developed this idea further and elaborated it into the concept of ‘One-World’ Chemistry. The IOCD group published a paper entitled One-world chemistry and systems thinkig in Nature Chemistry 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 summarises the concept of One-World Chemistry and how 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 here.

The Need for a Unified Approach

The need for a unified approach to human wellbeing, health and development, to animal health and to the conservation of the biological and physical environments has become increasingly evident in recent years. Examples of growing problems that have been recognised include:

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 [1] 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:

  1. The Hague Ethical Guidelines. Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (2015).


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