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Uncertainty hindering management of marine genetic resources, UN meeting told

Uncertainty hindering management of marine genetic resources, UN meeting told

Uncertainty on how to deal with marine genetic resources beyond national jurisdictions is restricting research and utilization of such resources, several experts have told a United Nations meeting taking place this week at UN Headquarters in New York.

At the annual meeting of the UN informal consultations on oceans and the law of the sea, Sam Johnston, a senior researcher at UN University, told participants that the current lack of clear rules was slowing down research and use of such resources. It created uncertainty for industry, hampered information exchange among scientists and held back government efforts to negotiate arrangements on sharing the benefits deriving from such resources.

Lisa Speer, of the Natural Resources Defence Council, said the legal system has fallen behind managing areas beyond national jurisdiction and called for a new implementing agreement of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea on the management of genetic resources in these areas.

Timothy Hodges, Co-Chair of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Working Group on Access and Benefit-Sharing, said the institutional framework for marine biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction was poorly understood and governance structures were under debate.

There was a high potential of monetary and non-monetary wealth to be derived from such resources and the outcome could be “a win-win situation,” he said, especially if the capacity-building needs of indigenous and coastal communities were met and their knowledge was recognized.

Philippines’ delegate Emma Sarne said that while bioprospecting – or research and development related to marine genetic resources – for academic research was beneficial, if the materials were subsequently patented to foreign investors, the country of origin could lose control over its own marine genetic resources.

The experts recommended regulations that are practical and enforceable, set out liabilities and responsibilities among all interested parties, allow work to proceed and encourage collaboration. The goal should be to facilitate access and to ensure legal certainty for scientists and bioprospectors, while retaining coastal state involvement.

The informal consultations will conclude tomorrow, with the expected adoption of agreed elements feeding into the General Assembly’s resolution on the law of the sea and sustainable fisheries.