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Biodiversity agreement could harm developing nations – Scientist

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A new global agreement intended to protect the biodiversity of developing nations from unfair exploitation could do more harm than good, according to Krystyna Swiderska, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development.

The senior researcher outlines her views in an opinion article published this week on the BBC website.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which announced this through a press release, the article refers to a new international law — or protocol — that the 193 governments that are party to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity aim to adopt when they meet in Nagoya , Japan in October.

The protocol is meant to control access to genetic resources and traditional knowledge, and ensure that the benefits that arise from their use are shared fairly.

However, with the final negotiating session before October’s meeting in Japan underway this week in Montreal, Canada, Swiderska says although the deal could help to reverse the loss of biodiversity, the negotiators will fail to ensure a positive outcome unless they can resolve a number of critical issues.

She says that “For example, industrialised countries do not want the protocol to cover traditional knowledge that is already in the public domain,” adding, “This would enable companies to freely access this knowledge without the need for consent or sharing of benefits that arise from its use.”

“Industrialised countries are putting the interest of private companies ahead of the interests of the global public good that is biodiversity,” Swiderska adds. “What’s more, a number of countries, both industrialised and non-industrialised, do not want to recognise the customary rights of indigenous and local communities over genetic resources, despite their recognition under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and their importance for community subsistence.”

Biodiversity is central to human wellbeing. For millennia, communities around the world have nurtured the variety of life, including thousands of crops and medicinal plants that are vital for agriculture, food security, health and nutrition. These resources take on new importance today because they provide options that will enable people to adapt to climate change – by switching to flood- or drought-resistant crop varieties, for instance.

The private sector and consumers worldwide have benefited greatly from these riches. Corporations increasingly seek out biological resources and associated local knowledge, and use them to develop, patent and sell new medicines, seeds, foodstuffs and industrial products.

Swiderska highlights key areas where the negotiators in Montreal will need to make progress, if the final deal is to truly ensure that the world’s biological resources are used in a fair and sustainable way and that ‘biopiracy’ is prevented.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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