Towards a World Conservation Ethics

By Swaminathan, M. S. | UNESCO Courier, May 2000 | Go to article overview

Towards a World Conservation Ethics


Swaminathan, M. S., UNESCO Courier


M. S. Swaminathan [*]

The Rio convention marked the first major international step towards the sharing of biodiversity based on the principle of social fairness

It has become commonplace to say that the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted during the Rio Summit in June 1992 is an important landmark in integrating the principles of ethics and equity in the use of biodiversity. To stem the increasingly rapid decline of biodiversity, it was necessary to take action, and quickly, without waiting for the scientific community to gather further knowledge. First and foremost, the CBD was an acknowledgment of this urgent need.

It entered into force in December 1993 and so far has been ratified by 177 States--but not by the United States. This agreement, the only one of its kind, sets up a framework for worldwide action aimed at ensuring the conservation, the sustainable use and--a noteworthy development--the fair sharing of biodiversity's benefits. More specifically, the CBD focuses on the definition and the financing of conservation policies, access to genetic resources, North-South technology transfers stemming from the use of those resources, and trade in genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In particular, it acknowledges that poor countries cannot meet their commitments to preserve biodiversity unless the developed nations provide them with access to biotechnologies and the related financing. Biodiversity will unavoidably be depleted through overuse if the current co-existence of unsustainable lifestyles and unacceptable poverty continues, and if the means of subsistence of families putting strains on resources are not stren gthened.

The CBD has first and foremost been an effective awareness-raising tool. Political leaders, the media and the general public now know that taking from nature without restraint jeopardizes humanity's security. Many states have changed their national laws to create or strengthen mechanisms to manage biodiversity. The convention has also lent support to the idea that preserving species with their natural habitats and enlisting the local people's support in managing them are vital priorities.

The convention has also prompted over 130 States to adopt a protocol last January 29, 2000 in Montreal (Canada) on biosafety in order to regulate international trade in GMOs. The negotiations led to a stand-off between the European Union and the "Miami Group", consisting of the leading GMO producing countries led by the United States, Argentina and Canada. …

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