'Genetic Resources' in the CBD: The Wording, the Past, the Present and the Future

FNI Report 4/2010. Lysaker, FNI, 2010, 24 p.

This paper, ‘Genetic Resources’ in the CBD: the Wording, the Past, the Present and the Future, aims at contributing to the development of an International Regime on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) by clarifying the concept of ‘genetic resources’ as it has emerged and keeps evolving - particularly in light of the new knowledge and understanding developed in genomics and proteomics since 1992, the establishment of ex situ collections of genetic material and data bases of genetic information, the emerging global markets for these resources, and recent developments in modern biotechnology, biochemistry and synthetic biology. It takes a look at several examples of different ways in which the term ‘genetic resources’ is used in other international arenas than the CBD. All these developments have laid the foundations for new ways of understanding and realising the values of ‘functional units of heredity’. This may have implications for the formulation of scope and other articles under the ABS regime. Finally, this paper has discussed the report of the meeting of the Group of Legal and Technical Experts on Concepts, Terms, Working Definitions and Sectoral Approaches, and its relevance to the subject in question.

Knowledge about and techniques using genetic material are evolving rapidly. If the concept of genetic resources is understood only narrowly, in senses related to the original or current state of knowledge, the ABS system may not be able to capture the future potential value of genetic material, not least when it is used in or as a basis for synthetic biology or other new bio-economic technologies. An International ABS Regime could maintain a broad and dynamic understanding of the concept of genetic resources. There is however a dilemma and a contradiction between on the one hand leaving a definition dynamic and flexible, at the same time as it is understood in a manner which creates legal certainty and thus is enforceable.