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ABS and the North

What Is Access To Genetic Resources And Benefit-Sharing (ABS)?

Access to genetic resources and the sharing of the benefits arising out of their use (ABS) is one of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Parties to the CBD, with the participation of Indigenous peoples, are negotiating an International Regime on ABS that could regulate the access to genetic resources and the sharing of the benefits arising from the commercialization of bio-based products.

What Could ABS Mean For The Northern Countries?

Extreme Northern environments are becoming of great interest to both scientists and biotechnology companies interested in developing products based on the unique genetic material contained in northern ecosystems. On-going bioprospecting activities in the North indicate that the Canadian environment has a real potential for future biotechnology development.

For example, micro-organisms, and plants are being actively collected in the North by researchers interested in creating new products that would help in developing medicines or low temperature resistant materials.

Why Is ABS Important To Indigenous And Local Communities?

When undertaking research in the North, scientists and bioprospectors often rely on the information provided by Indigenous and local communities about how to use the resources.

For example, traditional knowledge (TK) provided by Indigenous healers may help scientists understand how to use the resources for the development of new medicines. In this sense, traditional knowledge is associated with the access to genetic resources and is part of the on-going ABS discussions under the CBD.

The granting of prior-informed consent (PIC) from Indigenous and local communities is key to ensuring that TK is accessed by scientists interested in specific genetic resources in a manner that respects communities traditional values. This is why Parties to the CBD are working together to articulate the relationship between genetic resources and TK and determine how PIC should be granted and by whom?

ABS is also important as a potential tool for economic and social development in the North. Investment in research facilities, capacity-building in land management, protection of TK, and return of potential benefits are a few examples of how communities and governments in the North may benefit from well structured ABS frameworks.

ABS In Canada

Bioprospecting in the North, research activities and the development of the biotechnology industry are at the heart of the debate on ABS. It is in Canadas interest to encourage the development of new technologies and products that will benefit the well being of society while ensuring the responsible and sustainable use of the worlds biodiversity.

The challenge for Canada is to strike a balance between the development of measures to facilitate access to our genetic resources and fair and equitable sharing of benefits, while protecting our environmental, social and commercial interests.

As a provider (of genetic resources) country, Canada needs to elaborate frameworks governing access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing mechanisms that will protect the interests of all stakeholders and Indigenous peoples.

Taking a broad range of perspectives into consideration is key to determining Canadian interests and the best ways to protect them, both nationally and internationally. For this reason, the Government of Canada in partnership provincial and territorial governments recently launched a national ABS policy development process to identify the scope of Canadas interests in relation to the development of ABS policies.

Northern Workshop On ABS, March 15 To 17, Whitehorse

The unique socio-cultural context and environments of the North means it is crucial that northern governments, academics and experts of the North, and Indigenous and local communities be actively engaged in the national debate on ABS.

The Northern Workshop on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-sharing is intended to generate discussion among different stakeholders and Indigenous peoples about key Northern ABS issues and how they may be addressed through the development of appropriate ABS mechanisms in Canada.

The workshop is being organized through the collaboration of the Arctic Athabaskan Council, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Government of the Yukon, the Government of Nunavut, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, and Environment Canada.

Get in Touch

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ICC Canada Office
75 Albert Street, Suite 1001
Ottawa, Ontario
K1P 5E7

+1 613 563 2642
Email: icc@inuitcircumpolar.com