The Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing: The Way Forward
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On Wednesday, 21 September 2011, the Equator Initiative hosted a brown bag lunch on the Nagoya Protocol on "access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilization," which was adopted at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP-10 in Nagoya last year. Valérie Normand, Head of the Nagoya Protocol Unit at the CBD, spoke about the future of the Protocol and how its provisions can bring real benefits to local and indigenous communities in the world's poorest countries.

The Protocol is the result of almost ten years of work, since the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg when governments first called for an international regime on access and benefit sharing. The adoption of the Nagoya Protocol represented a significant step towards achieving this goal. On 20 September, during a ceremony held alongside the sixth-sixth session of the UN General Assembly, a further twelve countries signed the Protocol, bringing the total number of signatories to 54. In order for the Protocol to enter into force, at least 50 signatories must ratify the agreement in their national legislative systems, something that the CBD hopes to achieve by the next Conference of the Parties (COP-11) to be held in October 2012.

Ms. Normand gave an overview of the Nagoya Protocol's key provisions, focusing on the opportunities for development contained within its benefit-sharing obligations and the shared interest of countries in advancing research into genetic resources for commercial and non-commercial uses. The Protocol recognizes the sovereign rights of countries over their natural resources, as specified in Article 15 of the CBD, and has the objective of contributing to the conservation of biological diversity. Agreements between provider and user countries based on prior informed consent and mutually agreed terms will allow benefits to flow to provider countries in return for the use of their genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. Ms. Normand emphasized that these benefits are not only monetary – such as access fees or royalties – but can also take the form of technology transfers or participation in research. This latter option provides the chance for real capacity building and development in provider countries. In return, however, the Protocol also outlines access obligations, including the need for legal certainty, clear rules and procedures, and adequate monitoring of genetic resources by research institutions, regulating authorities, and other 'check points.'


The Nagoya Protocol also goes beyond the CBD in specifying that prior informed consent must be obtained from indigenous and local communities in return for the use of their genetic resources and traditional knowledge. Numerous examples have shown that communities play an important role in our understanding of how humankind can benefit from nature. Traditional knowledge often provides the lead to genetic resources such as medicinal plants with specific properties that are then exploited for commercial ends; this is an issue that a number of Equator Prize winners have faced. Obstacles remain to the implementation of access and benefit-sharing (ABS) mechanisms at the grassroots level, however. The Protocol seeks to address many of these obstacles, and provides for capacity building and awareness-raising at the national and local levels, engaging decision-makers and national focal points as well as involving local and indigenous representatives in National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plan review processes.

The lively discussion which followed Ms. Normand's presentation focused on how the various challenges to implementation can be overcome. Engaging protected area management authorities in provider countries was mentioned as a strategy for mainstreaming ABS into existing frameworks; Nina Kantcheva of UN-REDD compared the processes of obtaining prior informed consent from indigenous and local communities to challenges for REDD+ processes. One method for addressing this issue is the use of 'Community Protocols' that can help to establish clarity for accessing genetic resources. Luciana Mermet of the UNDP Poverty Group mentioned Food and Agriculture Organisation provisions for benefit-sharing of agricultural resources, which could inform ABS mechanisms. She also brought up the need to build capacity of patent examination offices in provider countries; this has been the subject of ongoing ABS discussions and will continue to be a major factor in the success of establishing a workable international regime. Other issues discussed included the need for coordination of ABS strategies both across government sectors and between neighbouring countries in cases where genetic resources are shared across boundaries.

Ms. Normand provided a clear-sighted and optimistic appraisal of the road ahead for the Nagoya Protocol, emphasizing the need for reciprocal efforts by provider and user countries to establish clear procedures for access and benefit-sharing. The Equator Initiative is very grateful to Ms. Normand for her illuminating presentation.

For more information on this issue, please follow the links below:

Valérie Normand's PowerPoint presentation on the Nagoya Protocol on ABS

Convention on Biological Diversity website (ABS page)

Text of the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-Sharing