“The Nagoya Protocol is even more relevant today than in 2010”

“The Nagoya Protocol is even more relevant today than in 2010”

20 Oct 2020

Photo by Kévin et Laurianne Langlais

Timothy Hodges, former Co-Chair of the Working Group on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) on the Convention on Biological Diversity, reflects on the legacy of the Nagoya Protocol and the challenges ahead, in the context of the 10th anniversary of this international treaty.

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Nagoya Protocol, the UNDP GEF Global ABS Project launches The Nagoya Interviews, a series of dialogues with ABS specialists that witnessed and took part of  the negotiations and approval of the protocol, back in 2010. The interviews, in the context of the Global ABS Conference 2020, intend to encourage dialogue on the progress made in the last decade and bring back the spirit of those days, in a positive way, to envision the Access and Benefit Sharing we can build together for the next 10 years.

The first interviewed is Timothy Hodges, former Co-Chair of the Working Group on Access, and Benefit Sharing of Genetic Resources (ABS) under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), when the Nagoya Protocol was adopted, and the COP10. He is presently professor of practice at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

UNDP-GEF Global ABS Project (ABS): In your opinion, what are the achievements of the protocol so far?

Timothy Hodges (TH): The achievements of the Nagoya Protocol have surpassed my expectations. It’s been less than one decade since it was born, and we´ve witnessed tremendous efforts in most regions towards first its entry into force, further ratifications in an impressive efforts by a range of players to implement the treaty.

Well, my wish is to see full global membership to the Nagoya Protocol, including my own country, Canada, for example. There are currently 123 parties already and more to come on board. As I said for the beginning of the negotiations: No one should be afraid of a fair deal. So, I expect the number of parties to grow.

ABS: In your opinion, what are the challenges to be faced within ABS and the protocol? How can the protocol be strengthened to address those challenges?

TH: Well, much progress has been made over the past ten years. And a number of challenges confront ABS and the Protocol. For example, there is a certain amount of missions keep going on. While it is a powerful instrument, the Nagoya Protocol is not the answer to all of our problems. I would hope the parties stay focused on implementation on core obligations and avoid distractions.

I believe that some members of the science community unfortunately continue to mistrust and misunderstand the Protocol and the CBD as a whole. The Co-Shares spent a lot of time and energy engaging the public and private researchers in the treaty negotiations and while we had some success involving them, I do worry that science-based sectors are drifting away. This should be real concern to everyone.

We also need to better engage indigenous peoples in the implementation. By that I mean we need to do a better job supporting their efforts determining whether or not and if and how, they would implement the Protocol.

Some jurisdictions have been relucted to ratify and implement the protocol, in part because its concerns regarding indigenous peoples rights. I would say it´s time to turn this around and see implementation of the Nagoya Protocol by indigenous peoples as a good thing, sustainable thing, and the right thing to do.

Building awareness, sustaining interesting and generating support for the protocol remain challenges for years to come. That is clear. But if this is central to success, we must learn and share more about what works, documenting local, on the ground successes and failures at the implementation. This is crucial.

Timothy Hodges and Fernando Casas, Co-chairs in Nagoya 2010. Photo credit: IISD Reporting services.

ABS: When making a balance on the 10th anniversary of the Nagoya Protocol, what would your 3 main conclusions be?

TH: Reflecting on the past ten years since the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol and casting forward, we have three principal needs. First, we need more political and policy leadership. Yes, lawyers are great, but we need leaders as well. We need to focus on learning by those were doing to build stronger bridges across relevant ministries. We also need to recognize that the Protocol is at its core a human rights instrument and a big element for sustainable development.

I´m really impressed with the sustained efforts over the past ten years with many, in terms of implementing the protocol, at all levels of governments, indigenous peoples, communities and research community in numerous countries across all regions. In fact, I think we should find a way to recognize leading players in ABS implementation. Perhaps through a biannual basis award or recognition, determined through an independent process. Imagine the excitement! Imagen the effects of search an award!

I think we are finally seeing that the Protocol is and has always been about Sustainable Development. It is meant to be integrative and holistic, yes, it operationalizes benefit sharing, but in support of conservation and sustainable use as well. Have a look at the SDGs and you will see the relevance of ABS, it´s broadly understood across the range of sustainable development goals.

ABS: Do you remember anything funny, unexpected, or remarkable facts that took place before or during the negotiation of the agreement?

TH: I have negotiated many treaties, in a wide range of forms before the ABS talks. But nothing could fully prepare me for the tremendous challenges of co-chairing the protocol negotiations. This was extremely serious business, in the efforts of the negotiators, the Secretariat, the German and Japanese presidencies. It was unprecedented in my decades of experience.

But we had time to have fun as well. I remember vividly the insistence of all delegations having to suspend the co-chair afternoon of negotiation on Montreal July 2010, so everyone could watch the World Cup Final. It was a great match, but more importantly, it brought us all closer together. Those were wonderful couple of hours, seeing delegations putting their positions aside ensuring for the chosen football team. It was a close game, winning over time, it put the delegates in better mood, at least for a little while.

ABS: How can the Nagoya Protocol can contribute to the recover and/or prevent health crisis as the present on COVID19?

TH: I believe the Protocol has a very important role to play in the world’s response to current COVID19 pandemic, in prevent to the future potential pandemics. We are all in this together, collaboration is crucial, across jurisdictions but also between ministries of health and environment. Sharing virus samples and relevant sequence information is crucial for development of diagnostics, the vaccines and so too is the fair and equitable sharing of benefits resulting from the sharing of samples and the DSI of the virus called COVID19. All countries have a role to play in ensuring the floor for both samples and DSI as well as sharing the benefits that are generated.

ABS: Why it is important to implement the Nagoya Protocol worldwide?

TH: I strongly believe that the Protocol is even more relevant today than in 2010. It is a cornerstone on sustainable development and generates benefits for researchers, indigenous peoples, industry, public and private ministries, and authorities. The Protocol embraces a win-win approach.

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