The below mentioned article provides notes on CBD.
The United Nations adopted the Convention in 1992 and it entered into force in 1993. This is the first time that a large majority of States, though not the USA, has agreed to a legally binding instrument for biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of biological resources.
A radical change brought about by the CBD is the recognition that States have a sovereign right over biodiversity within their own territory, while previously living organisms were considered the common heritage of mankind. Under the terms of the CBD, living organisms or their products may only be removed from a country under mutually agreed conditions.
Action is delegated to the national level obliging States to assess biodiversity, enact legislation for its conservation in situ and ex situ, and to enforce legislation within national boundaries.
Biotechnology is particularly affected by Articles 16 and 19 of the CBD since they require a fair and equitable sharing of benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. This includes providing facilities and financial means for technology transfer and open access to scientific and technical information.
The CBD has only been in operation for a few years and so it is too early to assess its long-term effects. As far as biotechnology and “bio-prospecting” are concerned, it will take time to establish smooth administrative procedures to allow simple routine implementation of close collaborations.
Only if national authorities from countries rich in biodiversity as well as pharmaceutical and other companies see the advantages to be gained from such collaboration will the system expand. One example of a joint effort in “bio-prospecting” is the search for specific active ingredients of plants by the Merck Company in the tropical forests of Costa Rica which brought the country 2 million USA dollars over a five year period as well as the potential of royalties if profitable products emerge.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety the CBD provided a basis for developing an international agreement regulating the cross-boundary movement of living GMOs, called “living modified organisms” in the Protocol, which after a lengthy debate was agreed on in Montreal in early 2000. The main aim of the Protocol is to ensure that GMOs would not endanger biodiversity in the recipient countries; in addition it also covers potential threats to human health.
In practice the Protocol will primarily affect the importation of transgenic seeds. It requires the exporting country to provide enough scientific information to allow the importing country to judge risks and then to issue, if the product is judged safe, an “Advance Informed Agreement”.
A newly established Biosafety Clearing House collects and distributes relevant information, as defined by the Protocol. Based on the “Precautionary Principle” import licences can be refused, even when there is no clear-cut proof that the product is dangerous to human health or the environment, but such decisions need to be based on a risk assessment.
The Protocol is construed to be as important as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements which do not allow countries to prevent the import of products unless there are sound scientific reasons showing that the product may cause harm to human health.
This apparent lack of priority between the CBD and WTO agreements may lead to some future difficulties. The Protocol will become operational when it is ratified by 50 nations, presumably in 2002.
Biotechnology can be used as a tool for acquiring scientific knowledge or to intervene directly in plant and animal breeding and, in particular, to transfer genetic information from any other organism to a crop or farm animal.
Taxonomy, one of the sciences necessary to study biodiversity, uses molecular markers to identify individual strains of organisms or to identify species in much the same way as is done in forensic medicine to identify criminals. In seed banks genetic fingerprints are used to establish the origin of a seed or the relatedness of plant varieties.
Biotechnology is also useful for following genetic markers in plant and animal breeding done by conventional means. By analysing a few cells of the newly born calf or of the newly sprouted crop and looking for the presence or absence of certain genes it is possible to predict properties of the progeny which will show up only later in life such as the characteristics of a cow’s milk or a crop’s expected resistance to a plant disease. These applications of biotechnology to farm animals (not to humans) are hardly controversial.
In 2000 there were about 44 million hectares worldwide planted with commercial transgenic crops mostly in the USA, Canada, Argentina, with smaller amounts in China, Australia, South Africa, Mexico and Spain. Soybean and corn ranked first and second with 25.8 and 10.3 million hectares.
Cotton and canola accounted for about 5 and 3 million hectares, whilst only small areas of transgenic potato, squash and papaya were grown commercially. Herbicide tolerant varieties dominated with 74%, while insect resistant varieties made up 19%.
Virus resistant crops were quite small. USA farmers adopted transgenic crops rapidly because of the economic benefits they offered. The most noticeable difference to the farmers was the saving on herbicides. Many also found the new crops needed less frequent sprayings and allowed “no till” (no ploughing and no harrowing) management.
These benefits may offset the initial higher costs of the new transgenic seeds. Clearly these considerations only hold for countries with agricultural and economic systems similar to those of the USA and not for developing countries.
Whether in the near future there will be an expansion or a reduction in the area of transgenic crops grown will depend on market forces, the public perception of risks and benefits, as well as on the emerging national and international regulatory framework.
A large number of transgenic crops are in the development stage, including many tropical crop plants; most of them will only come on the market in a few years, if at all. They are likely to show benefits for the consumers and some may be of particular interest to farmers in tropical countries. Two rice varieties currently being developed should lead to important health benefits.
“Golden Rice” contains increased levels of vitamin A and another variety has more iron in the grains than usual, a clear benefit to anaemic women and their children. Several lines of transgenic farm animals have been produced but none have been commercialised. Some lines are made for the pharmaceutical industry to produce drugs in their milk.
Others may show improved resistances towards certain infections or produce novel enzymes. Transgenic salmon that grow faster than normal have been developed and have roused considerable concern amongst ecologists, particularly regarding their potential to compete with native salmon in the wild.
Here many environmental issues still need clarification. Native biodiversity and biotechnology Biodiversity in the wild has been massively reduced in the industrialised countries over many centuries and about half the tropical rain forests have already been destroyed.
How then can the rest be preserved, given that the world population is increasing rapidly and more food has to be produced regionally? Yields of cereals in LDCs have gone up very considerably in the last forty years primarily as the result of the Green Revolution.
However, the annual growth increases in cereal yields in LDCs have slowed down from about 3% during 1967- 82 to about 1% per year from 1993 onwards. This lowering of the rate at which yields have increased means that productivity will probably not keep up with the demands of increased populations.
The consequences for biodiversity are devastating as more land will be required for farming which will primarily come from areas with high native biodiversity, and in particular tropical rain forests.
The single most promising way to avoid habitat destruction is to increase farm yields in a process that has been called the “Second Green Revolution”. Several components will be required including training and education of farmers (in particular of women who do most of the farm work in LDCs), more favourable economic and political climates, availability of farm credit schemes, etc.
In addition, technical contributions will be necessary and, in particular, improved seed produced either by traditional crop breeding or by modern biotechnology. Reliance will have to be more on the latter since traditional breeding appears to have reached a plateau in yield and is slower, less precise and only feasible when interbreeding is possible.
So agricultural biotechnology, which is viewed frequently in the public debate as harmful to biodiversity, is, paradoxically, likely to contribute to conserving it. A more limited concern that largely affects Northern Europe is the conservation of native plants and animals, in particular birds, in farmed areas. Their habitats are fields, hedges, roadsides and fallow land where they depend for food on insects and seeds produced by weeds in or near crops.
Computer models suggest that more intense weed control measures may lead to smaller amounts of seeds being available to birds. This depends far more on weed management regimes rather than on transgenic plants.
Herbicide tolerant beets allow farmers to control weeds later by treating after the seedlings have emerged. The more efficient methods may allow setting aside of more land. Setting aside more farmland requires financial incentives.