15 Jan 2018 Story Ecosystems

Managing genetic biodiversity in the Pacific

Island communities in the Pacific region depend on biodiversity for their livelihoods and well-being.

Biodiversity is a valuable resource. The world benefits from biodiversity and associated local traditional knowledge, so when these are exploited by parties with large financial resources – for example for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals – source countries need to be compensated.

UN Environment and others are working to ensure that benefits from the use of such resources are used to protect environments and the people who rely on them.

The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization came into effect in 2014 under the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Protocol creates greater legal certainty and transparency for both providers and users of genetic resources derived from plants and animals.

Polynesia
Credit: Carlo Iacovino, SPREP

“It provides a mechanism to ensure that benefits from the utilization of genetic resources are shared in a fair and equitable way, to support continued resource conservation and sustainable use,” says UN Environment ecosystems expert Stamatios Christopoulos.

Currently the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Samoa and Vanuatu are Pacific island parties to the Nagoya Protocol. The Protocol recognizes that indigenous knowledge and genetic resources should be protected, and communities and countries must be adequately compensated if those resources are used for commercial gain.

“Right now the procedures in place to monitor research on, and access to, genetic resources and traditional knowledge are inadequate and fragmented.”

UN Environment is implementing an “access and benefit-sharing” scheme in the region. The three-year project, funded by the Global Environment Facility and executed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), with full support from Pacific island governments, will try to “address the inequality of bargaining power to protect biodiversity for the health of ecosystems, and of the communities who depend on our environments," says Roger Cornforth, SPREP Deputy Director-General. A workshop kicked off the project in June 2017.

"UN Environment has begun supporting all Pacific countries to become party to the Nagoya Protocol. We are implementing and using the Nagoya Protocol to effectively meet their needs,” says Christopoulos.

Keeling
Photo by Jill Key_Killing

“However, right now the procedures in place to monitor research on, and access to, genetic resources and traditional knowledge are inadequate and fragmented," he notes.

“For example, most stakeholders and biodiversity officers in Vanuatu have very little idea of the Nagoya Protocol. The project is currently working with the authorities to develop a bio-prospecting clause for the Environmental Protection and Conservation Act, but also give advisory support to the review of the Traditional Knowledge Bill and National Reporting under the Convention of Biological Diversity,” says Christopoulos, who also helps facilitate the Pacific region’s access to Global Environment Facility funding.

Other partners supporting or participating in the $3.7 million project include the Access and Benefit-Sharing Initiative, the UN Development Programme, the UN University, and the University of New South Wales.

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