From Dec 7- 19, the 15th COP meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will be taking place in Montreal, Canada. This CBD COP is set to debate the next global biodiversity framework and it will set the tone for biodiversity governance through 2030, and onto 2050.
Key topics being discussed at the COP15 are the issues around financing for biodiversity conservation, digital sequence information (DSI) and new biotechnologies. So far, the CBD has been the only international body addressing the governance of these new issues.
In a new article by Navdanya International, “The Convention on Biological Diversity must resist the commodification of all life”, the details are laid out on how the double angle attempts at commodifying life, both through the digitalization of genetic information, and the financialization of biodiversity and ecosystems, really just represent the latest attempts of corporate interest to commodify life.and rupture of many of the Earth’s cycles such as, the nitrogen cycle, water cycle, carbon cycle, air flow cycles and cycles of biodiverse life.
“The push to digitalise every aspect of life through Digital Sequence Information (DSI) and patents based on digital genome mapping undermines the Convention on Biological Diversity and the FAO Seed Treaty” — Dr Vandana Shiva
DSI has become a way to easily preserve and conserve genetic diversity. But since the take off of genetic biotechnologies, DSI has now become a valuable raw material for biotech companies.
With synthetic biology technology, private companies and research institutions can now download the digitalized genetic information, and synthetically recreate the sequences in a lab. After tweaking them, thanks to the precedent set by the TRIPS/GATTs agreements, which opened the door to the patenting of life, companies can tweak the DNA, insert it into a living organism and patent them.
The CBD, through an international protocol called the Nagoya Protocol, governs international protocol for access to biodiversity and its genetic resources, as well as the sharing of benefits of to countries from where the genetic resources come from.
But with the digitalization of genetic information, it becomes possible to separate the genetic resource from the living organism. Making it easy to bypass existing governance set it place to protect against biopiracy and bioprospecting.
Concerns over these technologies are rooted in the long history of monopolization, privatization and biopiracy done by multinational companies which have generated billions in profits. All with devastating consequences for the environment, and appropriation of indigenous knowledge and the enclosure of the commons.
The risk of these technologies, if not properly regulated, is the further privatization of life.
As a growing response to the mass extinction of species, the financial sector is calling for the further financialization of nature and biodiversity through schemes such as biodiversity, carbon and blue credits, Natural Asset Companies and valuing of ecosystem services and any other ‘natural capital’. All to supposedly lessen the finance gap of biodiversity restoration and conservation.
As history has shown us, corporate appropriation of the commons and of nature has never resulted in the greater protection of nature. The reason for today’s crisis is due to the extractivist, profit-driven, and mechanistic mentality of the corporate sector. There is zero evidence to suggest that corporate interests will ever have the public, the planets or nature’s best interest in mind.
Globally the COP15 comes at a pivotal moment when biotech and agribusiness are making an attempt to greenwash new biotechnologies and financial schemes, lobby for deregulation and push new and untested technologies out to market. What is at risk at this year’s CBD COP is the final encroaching on the complete privatization and commodification of life.
The industrial agriculture lobby is on the offensive to avoid missing its opportunity with a second generation of GMOs, especially after Europe imposed strict rules on the first generation. Agribusiness’ main objective is to exempt so-called “new breeding techniques” (NBTs) from previous GMO regulations, and thus avoid testing, monitoring and labeling. In short, the best scenario for the industry would be deregulation, which is again relying on their old narratives of feeding the world and reduced pesticide use, to convince public opinion.