West Africa’s ancient (humpless) N’Dama and East Africa’s Improved Boran cattle are two of the continent’s important indigenous breeds (photo credit ILRI/Elsworth).
The Economist reports in its current issue (21 October 2010) that things are not going so well at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, being held in Nagoya, Japan, from 18–29 October 2010. The BBC concurs, saying: ‘Developing nations—where most of the planet’s unexplored genetic resources lie—want an equitable share in the profits generated when Western companies develop drugs or other products from plants or anything else that came from their territory.’
The Economist says: ‘In most intergovernmental conferences, the issues are not crucial or the agreements have been hammered out in advance. But the current diplomatic shindig, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), breaks the mould on both counts. At stake is the future of the planet and a deal looks nearly impossible.
‘The CBD is one of two legally-binding agreements that came out of the “Earth Summit” in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (its sibling is the more famous accord on climate change). It calls for conservation, sustainable use of the environment, and the “fair and equitable sharing of benefits” of genetic material from land and marine resources. So when Western drug and cosmetic firms look for new elixirs in rain forests or coral reefs, the poor countries from whence they come enjoy a cut of the action.
‘The 193 countries that are CBD signatories meet biannually, but this year—during a two-week negotiation in Nagoya that ends on October 29th—they are tasked with updating the conservation targets and the means of paying for them. Both are sources of disputes among countries, but soluble ones. A third area, however seems intractable: creating a new protocol to make the access and payment of genetic resources a matter of international law. Poor southern countries that are the source of most of the world’s biodiversity want this; the rich northern countries that are the principle users and commercialisers of the genetic resources do not.
‘In the first fight, over conservation targets, Europe and other rich countries insist on a complete halt to the loss of biodiversity by 2020. But poor countries believe this is not feasible: the causes of depletion are myriad (population growth, urbanisation, rise of a consultive middle class, etc) which are outside the scope of the convention. Besides, the rich countries failed to meet their own CBD targets over the past decade—why should they place an inordinate burden on their poorer peers? . . .
‘These two dimensions—targets and budgets—point to the third and biggest battle: getting the rich northern countries that use most of the genetic resources to pay the poor southern countries from whence it comes—called “access and benefit sharing” (ABS) in diplomatic parlance. It would mandate that users of genetic material from biodiversity are subject to the national law of its origin. . . .
‘[T]he West resists the ABS since it will raise the costs and create more legal uncertainty. America is not a full CBD member (signed but not ratified), so countries like Canada, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union have been pushing back on the southern countries’ position. At the CBD meeting’s half-way point, an agreement looks hard to reach.
Read the whole articles at the Economist: Pay up or die, 21 October 2010; and the BBC: Nagoya biodiversity talks stall on cash and targets, 23 October 2010.