Shifting to a sustainable life on Earth through Access and Benefit Sharing

Shifting to a sustainable life on Earth through Access and Benefit Sharing

22 Apr 2020

The coronavirus outbreak is not just a health crisis. It is the biggest challenge of our time at an economic, social and political level. It is also a wakeup call for people and planet. The COVID-19 pandemic is extremely linked to Planet Earth´s emergency caused by the destruction of nature.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the acting Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, warned: “Biodiversity loss is becoming a big driver in the emergence of some of these viruses. Large-scale deforestation, habitat degradation and fragmentation, agriculture intensification, our food system, trade in species and plants, anthropogenic climate change – all these are drivers of biodiversity loss and also drivers of new diseases. Two thirds of emerging infections and diseases now come from wildlife”.

This Mother Earth Day, in the framework of the super year for biodiversity, the United Nations reminds us the need to shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet. Now more than ever we must look for nature-based solutions to prevent that this world crisis never happens again.

“We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption (…) We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future”, says the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

Solutions are in nature

Access to genetic resources and the fair sharing of benefits that arise from its utilization (ABS) promotes nature-based solutions and offers interesting entry points for a smart recovery from the COVID19 crisis, in which biodiversity loss is addressed.

First of all, ABS promotes health research in harmony with nature. As per ABS principles, indigenous peoples are the custodians of biodiversity and traditional knowledge that quite often lead scientific research to develop medicines. This is a recognition of the vital role that indigenous and local communities play in biodiversity conservation and an acknowledgement of the great potential of genetic resources present in nature and traditional medicine for people´s wellbeing. Learn more about ABS biodiscovery cases here.

Secondly, ABS is a principle of social justice that aims not to leave  anyone behind. As per ABS, this kind of research is conducted under an equity relationship. Any entity using genetic resources (from plants, animals or micro-organisms) or traditional knowledge must share in a fair and equitable way the benefits with the providers of those resources. Those benefits can be, just to name a few, biotechnology transfer, capacity building, technical and scientific cooperation, but also monetary benefits that could be used to support local development and to be reinvested in biodiversity conservation in the provider country. Learn more about ABS here.

The present crisis of Covid-19 has been an example of quick exchange of genetic resources and related data at the international level to fight the virus clearly exemplify by the significant reduction of time of each stage of research and development. The identification of effective retroviral and the development of vaccines is something crucial that will benefit, like never before, the entire humanity.

However, we can also anticipate that those developments are not going to benefit all of us in the same way. If the current system is applied those drugs and vaccines will be (pre)bought, on a pure market basis, by the ones that have the economic capacity to buy them that very likely will not be the ones that need them the most. Here is where benefit-sharing comes into play. The WHO has an ABS system for influenza virus, but unfortunately it does not cover Covid-19.

We need a global ABS system for Covid-19 that ensures access to the specific medicines and vaccines in a global basis (as part of the benefit-sharing of pharmaceutical companies).

Making ABS the rule, not the exception, is one of the many ways to shift to a sustainable economy that works for people and the planet and that ensures that none is left behind.

Learn here about our 2020 resolutions for people and planet.

UNDP is the leading United Nations organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and planet. Learn more at or follow at @UNDP.

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