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Sharing nature's genetic resources – ABS

In a nutshell

Countries have sovereign rights over the genetic resources found on their territory. When benefits arise from research or development on genetic resources, including when it leads to the commercial use of a developed product, these benefits should be shared fairly and equitably with the country providing these resources

In practice

Global biodiversity is protected by the international Convention on Biological Diversity (the CBD) to which the EU and its Member States are parties. The CBD recognizes that countries have sovereign rights over genetic resources on their territory and encourages them to ease access to these resources "for environmentally sound uses". But it also believes that any benefits arising from the use of genetic resources should be shared with the country providing these resources. This is the concept of "access and benefit sharing", or ABS.

The protocol on "Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from Their Utilization", known as the Nagoya Protocol, was adopted in 2010 and signed by 92 countries. It aims to establish a clear, legally-binding framework determining how researchers and companies can obtain access to the genetic resources of a country and to the traditional knowledge associated with these resources. It also explains how the benefits arising from the use of these genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge will be shared.

Why do we need an ABS Regulation in Europe?

The regulation brings EU law into line with these international obligations. The European Parliament and the Council adopted the new Regulation ((EU) No 511/2014) on 16 April 2014. It entered into force on 9 June 2014 and all of its provisions will apply from 12 October 2015.

The ABS rules apply when genetic resources, and the traditional knowledge associated with them, are used in research and development for their genetic properties and/or biochemical composition, including through the application of biotechnology.

Genetic resources can be used in research and development for many different purposes. Here are some examples:

  • In medical research: A Danish company has developed a topical gel against a precursor to skin cancer, using as its main active ingredient the Euphorbia peplus plant found in Australia.
  • In environmental innovation: Researchers have been studying several fungi of the Ecuadorian rainforest, such as Pestalotiopsis microspore. They found that these fungi can break down the widely used plastic, polyurethane. In other words, they can digest plastic. The discovery suggests that there may be a wide range of effective waste-consuming microbes in existence.

Further information

Access and Benefit-Sharing – the EU legislation

Access and Benefit-Sharing – background material and links

You can find out more about the Nagoya protocol on the CBD website, including a list of the countries party to the Protocol and a Survey of Model Contractual Clauses, Codes of Conduct, Guidelines, Best Practices and StandardsDOC.

You can also access the ABS Clearing-House. It provides access to information shared by each Party on the ABS protocol, e.g. whether they have established access legislation and who are the competent national authorities. To find out the possible access measures of countries party to the CBD, including EU Member States, please consult their country profile on the international ABS Clearing-House.

Discover the meaning of key ABS terms in our GlossaryPDF or find out more on the EU ABS regulation in the FAQPDF.

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