This article was originally published by UN Environment and is republished with permission.
If a scientist or a company collects biological specimens in another country, takes them back to their country, conducts research and later makes millions by creating products using those genetic resources – that’s stealing. The practice is known as bioprospecting.
The Nagoya Protocol ensures that the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources are shared in a fair and equitable way, including by appropriate access to gene banks and to relevant technologies. So far, 109 countries have ratified it.
Palau is the seventh Pacific island country to ratify the Nagoya Protocol, following the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Example of Palau biodiversity: The nautilus is a pelagic marine mollusc. There are several species and all are endangered (CITES Appendix II).
“Palau’s ratification demonstrates that implementation of the Protocol is gaining momentum, and the Government has committed to produce material in local languages to raise awareness,” says Stamatios Christopoulos, a UN Environment ecosystems expert.
In Tonga, the national instrument for joining the Protocol is ready to be submitted. In the Pacific, genetic resources are associated with unique traditional knowledge (especially related to herbal medicine) passed down from one generation to the next.
Example of Palau’s biodiversity: Palau buff-banded rail. Photo by Devon Pike
Other Pacific island nations are being supported to “access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization,” thanks to a Global Environment Facility (GEF)-funded project in 14 Pacific Island countries.
Under the project, which began in June 2017 and runs until December 2020, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and UN Environment are helping governments safeguard access to benefit-sharing of genetic resources.
The main components of the project are:
- Baseline research and analysis to identify common assets, issues, and needs between countries
- Assistance in the ratification of the Protocol through support to national authorities
- Implementation of the Protocol by establishing an enabling environment for implementing its basic provisions
- Regional coordination, technical support and capacity building
Tracking genetic resources globally
Meanwhile, three countries – Germany, Malta and Qatar – have issued their first reports on the use of genetic resources in international commerce and research. These reports are available on the Access and Benefit-sharing Clearing-House, a global repository of information and a key tool for facilitating the implementation of the Nagoya Protocol. Part of its role is to enable countries to monitor how genetic resources are used along the value chain for commercial or non-commercial research, which is particularly useful when genetic resources have left the country.
To learn more about how this process works under Nagoya see this 6-minute video