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Latest steps on the road to the International ABS Regime. Botanic gardens, take note!

3 June 2009

News for all who conserve, collect, study, use, share and/or sell biodiversity: negotiations towards a new international regime on access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing (ABS) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) marched forwards at the 7th meeting of the ABS Working Group (ABS-7), held 2-8 April 2009 in Paris.

The goal is to develop an instrument that can be adopted in October 2010, at the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10) in Japan.

At ABS-7, Parties and some stakeholders put forward their proposals for ‘operational text’ (the future regime’s wording, setting out what it will cover and how it will work) and began the extremely challenging process of negotiating a text that will be acceptable to all Parties by consensus. This meeting tackled the regime’s objective and scope, and also three of its main components: compliance (with the regime and national ABS laws and regulations), benefit-sharing and access.

Readers may find it surprising that at this late stage – with just 14 days of formal talks left – there is no agreement on basics such as objective and scope. The essence of the objective is to implement the CBD’s provisions on ABS and to improve compliance with national laws, but countries have hugely divergent opinions about how much specific emphasis should be placed on preventing biopiracy, and on ensuring benefit-sharing (versus facilitating access).

The scope proposals range from the scope set out in the CBD’s Bonn Guidelines (non-human genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge accessed post-1992 or after the regime comes into force), possibly with certain exemptions where other ABS measures exist (such as the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture), to a very broad scope including biological resources, ‘derivatives’ (a hotly disputed term) and products. The new issue of whether to exempt pathogens has also arisen, thanks to recent wrangles over influenza research.

There is a vast amount of work to be done. Many conflicting proposals have been put forward and the ABS-7 outcome document is a heavily bracketed compilation, with much duplication, although the differing views are now articulated in formal treaty-style text.

Biodiversity researchers and conservationists still have a critical role to play in the regime’s development. Though observers (not on Party delegations) have less direct input at the meetings now that text negotiations have begun, we should seize any and all opportunities to provide advice (including text suggestions) and feedback to our national delegations.

A group of biodiversity research institutions including several botanic gardens will work over the next months to develop text to offer to negotiators concerning non-commercial research and its possible facilitation.  There might also be opportunities for participation in various consultations and ‘dialogues’ that are likely to be held between the two remaining Working Group meetings.

The next meeting, ABS-8 (9-15 November 2009, Montreal), will take up traditional knowledge, capacity-building and the nature of the regime and continue discussion on compliance, benefit-sharing and access.  At ABS-9 (March 2010, venue uncertain), negotiators will consolidate the text in readiness for possible adoption at COP10.

The CBD has set up a new portal with information on the negotiations.

Full reports of the meeting are available here (official report) and here (Earth Negotiations Bulletin).

Find out more about ABS and botanic garden here.

 

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