Regulating Biological Resources: sustainable use, conservation and equity objectives

Biological resources and their genetic materials are the building blocks of life and are regulated by a complex array of international regimes and national laws. One of these regimes is access and benefit sharing (ABS). ABS seeks to both: (1) control access to biological resources and traditional knowledge for research, development and commercialisation (RD&C) through permit or registration procedures; and (2) fairly and equitably share the monetary (e.g., royalties) or non-monetary (e.g. capacity building) benefits from their use between users (e.g. researchers) and providers (e.g. governments and Indigenous communities) through contractual agreements. Benefit sharing contracts can take months or years to finalise before research can begin, slowing the RD&C process. Most countries have ABS laws or policies or have measures under development. Each country has different requirements and processes, which is a challenge for most biological resource research that crosses boarders ( Humphries et al. 2021). This can affect both commercial research and non-commercial uses of materials and knowledge including conservation and taxonomic research, depending on the circumstances of each case.

One of the original ideas behind ABS as an economic and legal tool, was to compensate the provider for the cost of conserving the biological resources in the natural environment to address alarming declines in biodiversity. Its implementation, however, has resulted in few demonstrated conservation gains (Laird et al. 2021). Countries are struggling to find the right balance for facilitating access and use of biological resources, associated digital sequence information and traditional knowledge associated with biological resources, while protecting the rights of the resource and knowledge holders.

This project has a series of funded projects that investigate the relationship between ABS and other laws such as biosafety and intellectual property, and how their practical implementation can achieve sustainable use, conservation and equity objectives.

Projects include:

Other pro-bono work includes Dr Humphries role as delegate for the International Council of Environmental Law for the UN negotiations of the Agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (2018-2023: adopted June 2023). Outputs include:

Chief Investigator (all projects)

For Agrifutures project

For WorldFish project

For FAO project

Project partners

Photo by Lucy Trippett