[R-G] Some key issues at COP7
sandinista at shaw.ca
Sat Feb 21 00:27:45 MST 2004
Here is the intro to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)from its
"The seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-7), will be held
in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 9 to 20 February 2004. Priority issues
include the biological diversity of mountain ecosystems, the role of
protected areas in the preservation of biological diversity, the transfer of
technology and technology cooperation, as well as implementation of the
target set at its sixth meeting to achieve, by 2010, a significant reduction
in the rate of loss of biodiversity. The COP is also expected to follow up
on the call for action issued at the World Summit on Sustainable Development
to negotiate an international regime on access and benefit sharing within
the framework of the Convention."
Official website for the Seventh session of the Conference of the Parties:
From http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/cop7b.htm (Third World Network)
Printed in Third World Resurgence Jan/Feb 2004 issue
Some key issues at COP7
When the 7th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) gathers in
Kuala Lumpur in February, it should identify the obstacles and constraints
to the implementation of the Convention on Biodiversity. The following
article considers some of the key challenges facing the countries which have
committed themselves to the implementation of this international treaty.
Chee Yoke Ling
ITS birth was driven by the devastation of tropical rainforests. It has
galvanised commitments from 188 countries, more than any other global
environmental treaty. Over the last 10 years, the Convention on Biological
Diversity (CBD) has generated many work programmes and decisions.
However, as with other global environmental agreements, implementation is
far from the papers written with ideas and commitments. Biodiversity loss
continues, and is even accelerating in many parts of the world.
When the 7th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) to the CBD
gathers in Kuala Lumpur, from 9 to 20 February, there will be a stocktaking
of the last 10 years and more decisions to be made to address uncharted
areas. There is no doubt that the CBD commands support, and from the
beginning has provided a good start to protect biodiversity for sustainable
The CBD incorporates the Precautionary Principle that is fundamental if we
are to seek development without harming and destabilising the basic life web
for human existence. This is critical especially since our knowledge of
biodiversity and ecological systems is still severely lacking, a fact
clearly acknowledged by the drafters of the CBD. Thus the CBD Preamble
registered an urgent need to develop scientific, technical and institutional
capacities to provide the basic understanding upon which to plan and
implement appropriate measures. Meanwhile, it is vital to anticipate,
prevent and attack the causes of significant reduction or loss of biological
diversity at source. Thus where there is a threat of significant
reduction or loss of biological diversity, lack of full scientific certainty
should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to avoid or minimise
such a threat.
The CBD has also nurtured the development of the Cartagena Protocol on
Biosafety, the first international effort to begin regulating a new
technology so that biodiversity and human health will not be threatened.
At COP7, identifying the obstacles and constraints to implementation of the
CBD would be a very important exercise, in addition to renewed political
will and commitment of resources to turn words into action.
The CBD captures five main challenges for all countries:
· Increasing knowledge on genetic resources and ecosystems with the
aim of conserving biological diversity.
· Developing technologies and products that promote the use of
genetic resources, and knowledge relating to genetic resources, in an
environmentally sound and sustainable manner. In this respect, a central iss
ue is technology assessment as exemplified by the growing calls for
biosafety, the Precautionary Principle and the ecosystem approach.
· Increasing knowledge on the social, economic, cultural and ethical
aspects of the use of genetic resources and knowledge associated with such
use. In particular, the protection of traditional and indigenous knowledge
of local communities and indigenous peoples in developing countries.
· Examining the cross-cutting issue of the relationship between
intellectual property rights (IPRs) and sustainable development, including
the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources. The
implications of IPR regimes for the rights and interests of developing
countries require urgent attention and careful assessment, followed by
appropriate national and regional measures.
· Developing a mechanism for international cooperation that will
ensure fair, equitable and sustainable exchange and sharing of the benefits
arising from the sustainable use of biological resources.
The 2010 target
A sense of urgency was re-injected when the continuing biodiversity loss
prompted the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development to set a deadline
for results. The 2010 target was adopted, to strive for a more efficient
and coherent implementation of the three objectives of the Convention and
the achievement by 2010 of a significant reduction in the current rate of
loss of biological diversity. This is to implement the 7th Millennium
Development Goal to ensure environmental sustainability which has a target
to integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies
and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources. Dealing with
biodiversity loss is one indicator towards this goal, hence the 2010 target.
However, it is also recognised that there are no clear agreed criteria,
indicators and tools to measure biodiversity loss, let alone measure any
reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss. Therefore there is a need to
increase knowledge of biodiversity and develop the necessary criteria,
indicators and tools for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use in
order to meet the 2010 target.
Ministers at COP7 will have a roundtable discussion on scientific assessment
for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The Precautionary
Principle and socio-economic assessment should also be an integral part of
scientific assessment as sustainable livelihoods and poverty eradication are
also central to the Millennium Development Goals.
· ensure that national development planning concretely integrate
biodiversity conservation and environmental protection into policies and
projects, bearing in mind the 2010 target - many countries have adopted
national biodiversity strategies which are inadequately or not implemented;
· halt further development of sensitive and vulnerable areas to
conserve biodiversity and protect the environment;
· halt further destruction and land conversion of coastal and inland
wetlands in accordance with commitments under the respective Work Programmes
of the CBD;
· recognise the rights of and support local communities in their
efforts to conserve the diversity of agricultural, forest and fisheries
Implementing the Precautionary Principle
A key challenge for all countries is the implementation of the Precautionary
Principle which underpins the multilateral environment agreements (MEAs)
related to biodiversity and climate change. The Precautionary Principle is a
central strand in weaving the inter-linkages between poverty alleviation,
food security and food sovereignty, human health, ecosystems management,
biodiversity conservation and sustainable use as well as climate stability.
It is crucial for the assessment of technologies, products and activities
that impact on all those dimensions.
Preambular paragraph 9 of the CBD affirms this Principle:
Where there is a threat of significant reduction or loss of biological
diversity, lack of scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for
postponing measures to avoid or minimise such a threat.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, born of the CBD, reaffirms this
Principle and incorporates it into national decision-making on living
modified organisms to ensure biodiversity conservation and sustainable use,
and the protection of human health.
The Principle is also very important in reversing the burden of proof.
Currently, local communities, indigenous peoples and the public at large
have to prove that an activity or product has adverse impacts on
biodiversity and human health. Socio-economic impacts are often disregarded,
from rights to resources and traditional knowledge to loss of livelihoods.
The Precautionary Principle shifts the responsibility to the proponent of a
project or activity to show that there will be no adverse impacts. This
means integration of biodiversity conservation, ecosystem approach and
socio-economic considerations into technology or activity assessments and
decision-making. This goes beyond the current environmental impact
However, there is intense rejection by major developed countries where trade
and narrow economic interests dominate governments positions in
international negotiations and national implementation. There is confusion
and apprehension among most developing countries that this Principle would
prevent them from obtaining technologies and products for economic
development, when in fact application of the Principle helps to ensure the
development of appropriate and environmentally sound technologies. There is
even pressure and threats by some developed countries that applying the
Precautionary Principle would lead to challenges and sanctions at the World
Trade Organisation. For example, the US-European Union dispute at the WTO
over Europes regulation of genetically modified organisms may create a
chilling effect among countries that want to have strong biosafety
policies, laws and measures.
There are also concerns that the Principle could be abused and become a
protectionist tool in international trade. Again, this requires fuller
understanding of the Principle, and its implementation is something that all
concerned countries and institutions should work on to achieve the
objectives of sustainable development.
Australias vehement objection to the precautionary approach as a guiding
principle in dealing with invasive alien species under a CBD COP6 decision
is an example of the prevalence of short-term economic interests and the
emphasis on genetic engineering even though the problems associated with
invasive alien species are well accepted and Australia itself has very
strict rules at the domestic level. This will be a key issue to be resolved
at COP7, with serious implications for the application of the Precautionary
Principle under the CBD and Cartagena Protocol.
· facilitate the resolution of the IAS issue in a manner that will
not undermine the Precautionary Principle, while safeguarding the integrity
of the decision-making process of the COP;
· support more research and understanding of the Precautionary
Principle, for application and implementation at the national level - both
as a principle and tool in assessment and decision-making regarding
technologies, products and activities, as well as in policy/law formulation;
· strengthen the incorporation of the Principle in international and
regional agreements and work programmes, especially in the CBD and other
related agreements and processes;
· Build public awareness to support the application of the Principle
Biodiversity conservation and sustainable use for promoting sustainable
development and community rights
The right to development, subject to sustainability principles, and the
rights of indigenous peoples and local communities are recognised in
numerous international instruments and work programmes of various UN
conferences and processes. The CBD has been an important instrument for
raising the profile of the traditional knowledge, practices and innovations
of indigenous peoples and local communities. The FAO International Treaty on
Plant Genetic Resources for Agriculture is an important contribution to the
evolving development of fair and equitable benefit-sharing regimes, and
lessons can be drawn from that process by the CBD Parties.
However, the reality is that the rights of peoples to land, forest, water,
agricultural seeds and their own knowledge continue to be violated or
One arena of conflict is with regard to Protected Areas, where the
conventional designation of an area for conservation often leads to
conflicts with local communities or disregards consistency with other
ecosystem services. The World Park Congress in Durban clearly set out the
shift in approach to conservation that builds strong linkages to social
dimensions (especially the rights and interests of indigenous and local
communities), sustainable use in the context of ecosystem services and the
ecosystem approach, as well as global concern for biodiversity conservation.
There is recognition of biodiversity and ecosystem services as integral to
human livelihoods with strong linkages to agriculture, water, energy and
The first report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that has just been
published (Ecosystems and Human Well-Being) is the latest documentation
that contributes to the current trends in the international biodiversity
discussions that can guide decision-making at COP7, regionally and
· recognise and enforce the rights of indigenous peoples and local
communities to their lands, forest and other resources in conservation or
· prevent the biopiracy of local biological resources and
· ensure that there is prior informed consent of indigenous peoples
and local communities before their resources and/or knowledge is used for
research and commercial development;
· ensure that there is fair and equitable sharing of benefits with
indigenous peoples and local communities when their resources and/or
knowledge are used;
· implement the CBD in accordance with the principle of common but
differentiated responsibilities at the international level so that equity
and fairness can be achieved.
Access and benefit sharing, biopiracy and intellectual property rights
The decisions that will be made at COP7 on access and benefit sharing, and
the relationship between the CBD and WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects
of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), will shape the debate and rules
that are to be developed in coming years. There are fundamental problems
when the concept of access and benefit sharing becomes divorced from the
principles and objectives of the CBD.
For the first time, global rules expanded patents into the biological field
with the adoption of the TRIPS Agreement. But the majority of the world did
not realise at that time that the reason was to facilitate private monopoly
over genes (including human genes) and microorganisms, and the
commercialisation of genetically engineered seeds, fish, animals, vaccines
and other pharmaceuticals.
Despite publicised campaigns and specific cases of biopiracy (many NGOs,
indigenous peoples organisations and farmers groups regard the expansion
of patents and other IPRs as legalised biopiracy), the situation is
actually worsening. In addition to the Human Genome Diversity Project that
targets human beings, initiatives are ongoing to map microorganisms and
recently the genetic resources of Antarctica.
Mapping is often the precursor to prospecting and private claims through
IPRs. Yet little is known of these activities and the actors involved, let
alone the implications for biodiversity and peoples. What is clear is that
economic and legal systems continue to favour commoditisation and
privatisation of biological resources and even the genetic make-up of human
beings, moving further away from sustainability, poverty alleviation and
While an alternative benefit-sharing system, instead of current IPRs, was
envisaged under the CBD to ensure fairness and equity that would in turn
contribute to poverty alleviation and sustainable development, the TRIPS
Agreement has dominated so far. There is also a growing assumption in
activities undertaken in the name of the CBD, that access is only a question
of negotiating terms for bio-prospecting and benefit sharing is based on
accepting patents and other IPRs.
The reality is that there are many types of benefits, and the basic issues
of private ownership of nature and community knowledge through IPRs have to
be resolved and clarified. Benefit-sharing systems should be in place before
access can be granted.
At the heart of access and benefit sharing are the rights of indigenous
peoples and local communities to their lands, resources and knowledge (which
include communal, inter-generational rights); the sovereign right of states
to safeguard national heritage; the principle of prior informed consent
(which includes the right to say No); and limits on IPR claims over
resources and knowledge. It is the responsibility of national governments to
design national policies and laws on access and benefit sharing in
accordance with those rights and principles.
· promote at COP7 a strong decision on access and benefit sharing,
including a process to develop a legally binding international agreement,
that safeguards the rights of developing countries, indigenous peoples and
local communities as well as the conservation and ecological values of
biodiversity by creating legally binding obligations on user countries and
· increase the capacity of governments, NGOs, indigenous peoples and
local communities to monitor bio-prospecting;
· widen and strengthen the community-level monitoring and defence
mechanisms against biopiracy and the ability of communities to assert their
right to prior informed consent;
· increase the monitoring of research activities and public
participation in policy/law-making to ensure that these take place in a
transparent and accountable manner;
· support and undertake research and advocacy nationally, regionally
and globally in order to reverse the expansion of IPRs and other forms of
private appropriations, prohibit IPR claims over life-forms, and replace
these with regimes that protect biodiversity and peoples, integrating the
In line with their commitments under the CBD, the national intellectual
property policy and laws of Parties should be clear on:
· equitable benefit sharing at the local and national level;
· the extent of patents over biological resources especially
micro-organisms and micro-biological processes;
· the protection of traditional knowledge under alternative systems
· regulating restrictive business/trade practices of the corporations
or institutions that bio-prospect and exploit biological resources and
traditional and local knowledge.
Technology assessment, transfer and cooperation
Technology transfer and cooperation is multi-faceted in nature; it is a
complex package of techniques that can contribute to sustainable development
only when the environmental, human health and socio-economic dimensions are
fully integrated within an inter-generational context. Technology decisions
are however largely dominated by dominant commercial interests.
Discussions on the relationship between the CBD and the TRIPS Agreement have
been largely left to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and
the WTO. These have not adequately addressed the role of IPRs as obstacles
to technology transfer though some developing countries have raised the
issue. The performance of WIPO with regard to genetic resources, traditional
knowledge and their interface with IPRs has not been satisfactory. Many
developing countries had originally called for the CBD Secretariat to lead a
study on TRIPS and the CBD but this has instead been handed to WIPO and the
Thus the COP should defend the integrity of the CBD and provide guidance and
direction to further studies and proposals on IPRs as they relate to the CBD
s objectives and principles.
Meanwhile, the overall situation is that knowledge and technologies in
developed countries are increasingly proprietary in nature (i.e. given legal
protection as private property under national laws on IPRs), and biological
resources (and their parts) are also becoming proprietary. This trend is an
obstacle to the diffusion of technology, and to the fair and equitable
access to technologies for all countries.
Biopiracy of natural resource, traditional knowledge and public domain
research outputs of developing countries by entities of developed countries
continues 10 years after the CBD entered into force. At the same time, the
transfer of technology to developing countries does not have a good record,
while technology cooperation is minuscule, if at all. The dominant
experience has been no transfer; transfer at high costs (thereby causing
developing countries to pay high prices for products such as
pharmaceuticals, and royalties for technology); as well as transfer of
obsolete or hazardous technologies and products.
Over the last decade, following commitments under various UN Summits and
agreements, developed countries are obliged to transfer environmentally
sound technologies to developing countries. However, the reality has been a
victory of private IPRs over affordable access to environmentally sound
technology for developing countries. Experiences in the Montreal Protocol on
Ozone Depleting Substances and the Climate Change Convention, and studies
conducted by international organisations and independent research
institutions, show that IPRs are an obstacle rather than a tool for
technology transfer as is often claimed by corporations and their
supporters. Worse, strict IPR regimes can discourage research and innovation
by local institutions in developing countries. This is largely due to the
fact that most patents and other IPRs in developing countries are held by
foreign researchers or firms.
Thus, in establishing an Ad Hoc Expert Group on Technology Transfer and
Cooperation as proposed by SBSTTA-9, COP7 should adopt a work programme on
technology transfer and cooperation that:
· protects the rights, knowledge and technological innovations of
local and traditional communities as human rights;
· includes, in addition to product development, technologies that are
relevant to monitoring, conservation and planning;
· ensures that intellectual property rights regimes support and do
not undermine the objectives of the CBD, by requiring that further studies
should cover the provisions of various international (especially the WTO
TRIPS Agreement), regional and bilateral agreements which may have the
effect of hindering transfer of technology to developing countries and
provide recommendations to mitigate the negative effects of these
provisions. The scope of the studies should also include proposals for
amending or clarifying existing provisions to harmonise them with the
principles and objectives of the CBD;
· promotes and strengthens international cooperation in public
research and technology development in developing countries with full and
effective public participation in determining the direction and priorities
· develops and implements a comprehensive and holistic framework,
methodologies and specific capacity-building activities for technology
assessment (including the assessment of the impact on biological diversity,
environmental and human safety, as well as socio-economic impacts) and
decision-making so that the development and transfer of technology is
consistent with the CBD objectives (conservation, sustainable use and
equity) and the Precautionary Principle as embodied in Preambular paragraph
9 of the CBD;
· examines the restrictive practices adopted by transnational
corporations (TNCs) in the area of transfer of technology and recommend ways
to prevent TNCs from taking recourse to such restrictive practices.
Simultaneously, recommendations could be made as to the methods through
which TNCs could be made to effectively transfer technology that supports
the objectives of the CBD.
Chee Yoke Ling coordinates Third World Networks environment programme.
Reporter: What do you think of western civilization?
Mahatma Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.
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