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The Rio+20 political bargain unable to guide the way towards “the future we want”.

June 22, 2012 Leave a comment

By Marcos Orellana

On June 20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) officially started in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  The Conference opened with a documentary, Welcome to the Anthropocene, which was introduced by the UN’s Secretary-General.  The documentary visually portrays the alteration in Earth’s natural cycles induced by human activities.

Welcome to the Anthropocene echoes the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) 5th edition of the Global Environmental Outlook (GEO-5), published on June 6, 2012.  The report concludes that the “scientific evidence shows that Earth systems are being pushed towards their biophysical limits.” Also it “cautions that if humanity does not urgently change its ways, several critical thresholds may be exceeded, beyond which abrupt and generally irreversible changes to the life-support functions of the planet could occur.” Read more…

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US Dept. of Justice says no patents on genes

November 1, 2010 Leave a comment

In a recently filed amicus brief, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) departed from long standing US case law and policy that allows for the patenting of isolated genes, arguing that isolated genes are part of nature and thus not patent eligible.  Both biotechnology and medical industry trade associations argue that these patents continue to be critical to incentivizing future innovation.  The amicus brief is regarding the case of breast cancer genes, held unpatentable by a US District Court in the Southern District of NY, which is currently being appealed.

The DOJ’s amicus brief can be accessed here:  http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/business/genepatents-USamicusbrief.pdf

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UPOV increases transparency

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

UPOV is entering a new era of transparency & inclusiveness.

The decision of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) to grant observer status to civil society and farmers’ organizations at its annual ordinary session on October 21, 2010 suggest the possibility of a new era of transparency and inclusiveness in UPOV’s discussions.

On 21 October 2010, UPOV’s Council agreed to grant observer status to the Association for Plant Breeding for the Benefit of Society (APBREBES) and to European Coordination Via Campesina (ECVC) for the Council, the Administrative and Legal Committee (CAJ), the Technical Committee (TC) and the Technical Working Parties (TWPs).
UPOV is an intergovernmental organization headquartered in Geneva (Switzerland) where international rules on plant variety protection are defined with major impacts for food sovereignty, biodiversity and farmers’ rights.

“Farmers are the main users of seeds protected through the intellectual property rights-based system of UPOV. We are therefore grateful to the UPOV member states for granting ECVC observation status. Farmers have the right to be informed and to observe what happens in UPOV”. — Josie Riffaud, head of biodiversity, seeds and environment in ECVC, which represents 24 farmers’ organizations in 16 European countries, and around 200 000 producers.

“We hope that our participation in UPOV deliberations will widen UPOV’s perspective and enable a balanced approach to plant variety protection that stresses on farmers’ rights and the sustainable use of genetic resources” — Francois Meienberg, Berne Declaration, a founding member of APBREBES

“UPOV’s decision to grant observer status to ECVC and APBREBES is in line with the current trend of increased transparency and inclusive participation in intergovernmental organizations such as seen in the World Intellectual Property Organisation. This decision should be seen as a first step towards more transparency and inclusive discussions in UPOV. We look forward to constructive collaboration with UPOV — Sangeeta Shashikant from Third World Network (APBREBES).

No observers are allowed to the main decision making body of UPOV, the Consultative Committee. Only a limited number of UPOV documents are available to the public at the organisation’s website, while a major part of documents are only accessible by passwords at restricted areas.

Additional background.

ECVC is a member of Via Campesina, the biggest international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers. ECVC is composed of 24 farmers and agricultural workers’ unions from across Europe.

APBREBES is founded by organizations working on plant breeding and issues related to UPOV regulations. APBREBES is made up of the following organizations: Berne Declaration (Switzerland); Center for International Environmental Law (USA); Community Technology Development Trust (Zimbabwe); Development Fund (Norway); Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (Nepal); Searice – The Southeast Asia Regional Initiative for Community Empowerment (Philippines); and Third World Network (Malaysia).

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New Treaty on Biotechnology Adopted

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

altNagoya, 16 October 2010

At 6.15 p.m. Friday here in Japan, a new international treaty, “the Nagoya – Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety”, was adopted at one of the largest intergovernmental meetings ever held on the safe use of modern biotechnology.

The adoption of the new treaty came at the end of the five-day meeting of the governing body of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (known as the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Protocol or COP-MOP 5) and concluded six years of negotiations.

The new supplementary Protocol provides international rules and procedure on liability and redress for damage to biodiversity resulting from living modified organisms (LMO). Setting the stage for its adoption, small group of government negotiators had resolved contentious issues and agreed on the text of the supplementary Protocol just six hours before the opening of the COP-MOP 5 meeting on Monday.

Mr. René Lefeber of the Netherlands, one Co-Chairs of the Group of the Friends that negotiated the text of the new treaty said: “It has been many years since the last global environmental agreement was agreed.

The adoption of new supplementary Protocol during the International Year Biodiversity will give new impetus to multilateral environmental negotiations. This agreement will also make important contribution to the on-going work under the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect life on earth.”

The new treaty shall be open for signature at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 7 March 2011 to 6 March 2012 and will enter into force 90 days after being ratified by at least 40 Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. .

The historic meeting of the Parties to the Protocol, held in the city of Nagoya, in Aichi prefecture, Japan, adopted seventeen other decisions. These included adoption of a ten-year Strategic Plan for the implementation of the Protocol, a programme of work on public awareness, education and participation concerning LMOs, and further guidance on risk assessment and risk management.

At the closing ceremony of COP-MOP 5, Ms. Masayo Tanabu, Parliamentary Secretary of Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, speaking on behalf of the Government of Japan, stated: “The new supplementary Protocol is a turning point for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. There have been many challenges successfully overcome. Let us rekindle the spirit of cooperation to confront the biodiversity challenges as well.”

Mr. Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity praised Japan as an outstanding host and paid tribute to delegates for the outcomes of the meeting. He said: “I congratulate all of you on this remarkable achievement. We have dreamt of this event for more than six years. This is indeed a historic event not only for the biodiversity family but also for the world community at large.”

Notes for Journalists

1. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, a supplementary treaty to the Convention, seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. To date, more than 120 countries have developed legal and administrative frameworks necessary to implement the Protocol and 159 countries and the European Community are party to the Protocol. The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Cartagena Protocol is located in Montreal.

2. Since the adoption of the Protocol on 29 January 2000, the COP-MOP has held five meetings – in Kuala Lumpur in February 2004; in Montreal in June 2005; in Curitiba, Brazil, in March 2006; in Bonn, Germany, in March 2008; and in Nagoya, Japan, in October 2010.

3. Article 27 of the Protocol states that: “The Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Protocol shall, at its first meeting, adopt a process with respect to the appropriate elaboration of international rules and procedures in the field of liability and redress for damage resulting from transboundary movements of living modified organisms, analysing and taking due account of the ongoing processes in international law on these matters, and shall endeavour to complete this process within four years.”

4. At its first meeting, the COP-MOP established an Ad Hoc Open Ended Working Group of Legal and Technical Experts on Liability and Redress to elaborate options for elements of international rules and procedures on liability and redress under the Protocol. At its fourth meeting, the COP-MOP on the basis of the final report of the Working Group further negotiated and produced proposed operational text for the international rules and procedures on liability and redress as the basis for further negotiations. To continue the process, the COP-MOP established a Group of the Friends of the Co- Chairs Concerning Liability and Redress in the Context of the Protocol.

5. The Group of the Friends of the Co-Chairs further negotiated the proposed operational texts and produced draft text for a supplementary protocol on liability and redress to the Biosafety Protocol. The draft text was further negotiated at second and fourth meetings of the Group. The fourth meeting of the Group was held in Nagoya from 6 to 11 October 2010, prior to COP-MOP 5 to resolve outstanding issues and finalize its work for subsequent submission to the COP-MOP 5.

6. The Protocol is one of the important instruments contributing to the protection of biodiversity from potential adverse effects of living modified organisms.

For more information visit  www.cbd.int/biosafety

The 2010 International Year of Biodiversity: www.cbd.int/2010 or

www.facebook.com/iyb2010

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U.S. to Investigate China’s Clean Energy Subsidies – NYTimes.com

October 17, 2010 Leave a comment

The economic tension between the United States and China escalated on Friday, as the Obama administration pledged to investigate Beijing’s subsidies to its growing clean energy industries while delaying a politically volatile report on the Chinese currency.
The approach — part carrot, part stick — reflected the delicate balance the administration is trying to strike in a campaign year by taking a newly assertive posture over China’s trade and commercial policies, while pursuing delicate negotiations as an alternative to confrontation.

via www.nytimes.com

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CIEL Announces Carroll Muffett as New President and CEO

September 20, 2010 1 comment

Muffett joins a new generation of leaders at the helm of the environmental movement

WASHINGTON, D.C.  September 20, 2010—The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a leading non-profit that uses international law and institutions to defend the right to a healthy planet, has selected Carroll Muffett as its new President and Chief Executive Officer.  Muffett joins CIEL at a critical moment in the environmental movement, as political momentum stalls yet again to address the growing threat of climate change to human rights and the environment.  He is the latest in a new generation of leaders confronting this challenge and bringing new energy to the environmental movement.

Read more…

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U.S. Clears Test of Genetically Modified Trees in Southern US

May 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The test is meant to see if the trees, eucalyptuses with a foreign gene meant to help them withstand cold weather, can become a new source of wood for pulp and paper, and for biofuels, in the Southern timber belt. Eucalyptus trees generally cannot now be grown north of Florida because of occasional freezing spells.

via www.nytimes.com

Although the above NYT article (link above) acknowledges that Genetically Modified (GM) trees are even more controversial than GM crops, most significantly because there is a higher likelihood of "gene flow" from transgenic to wild-type trees, the article presents a blazing example of why independent and reliable assessment must precede transfer, in the context of technologies that are billed for protecting the environment, as well as adapting to, or mitigating the effects of climate change.

In this vein, over 90 diverse organizations, including CIEL among other public health, scientist, labor, public interest, environmental, faith-based, civil liberties, hospital, and transparency organizations wrote to urge US Congressional Representatives to include funding for the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in the legislative branch appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2011.

For 23 years, the OTA provided trustworthy, non-partisan information on scientific and technological issues from Alzheimer’s disease to acid rain. Despite its good work, OTA was the victim of budget cuts in 1995, a move that saved the government a little more than $20 million annually. Since then, the government has spent billions on new technologies that have not worked as promised.

Given the pressure to find rapid solutions to green-house gas levels that continue to rise, it is important that the right technologies are adopted and disseminated.

For more information on GM trees – see: http://www.wrm.org.uy/subjects/GMTrees/text.html

For more information on the letter to US Congressional Representatives to revive the OTA, please see www.ucsusa.org/ota


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