Methodological and Technological issues in Technology Transfer

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3.3.4 Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was adopted at the Rio Summit in 1992. It addresses one of the most pressing issues of the modern era, sustainable management of the living resources of the planet. It also, for the first time, adopts a comprehensive rather than a sectoral approach to the conservation of the planet's biodiversity and sustainable use of its biological resources. In the four sessions of the COPs, the Parties developed a mechanism for the normative development of the Convention and its implementation. The Convention provides for "access to and transfer of technology" in Article 16. When this is read with Article 19 dealing with "handling of biotechnology and distribution of its benefits", it reflects the years of North-South debate in other fora over the issue of technology transfer and the issue of intellectual property rights (Glowka et al., 1994).

The closely interlinked provisions along with Articles 16 and 19 are Articles 12 (research and training), 17 (exchange of information), and 18 (technical and scientific cooperation). Together they seek to "provide and/or facilitate access for and transfer to other Contracting Parties" of: technologies relevant to the conservation of biological diversity, technologies relevant to the sustainable use of its components or technologies that make use of genetic resources.

CBD includes provisions for biodiversity-rich developing countries to regulate access and, eventually, to the use of these resources. This approach is now being carried out in access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing agreements around the world (Reid et al., 1993). A key component of the CBD supporting such mechanisms was the recognition of national sovereign rights over genetic resources.

The CBD specifically addresses access to and transfer of technology relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, including biotechnology. Such access and transfer to developing countries should be facilitated under fair and favourable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms where mutually agreed and in accordance with the financial mechanism (GEF). The situation calls for a careful balance between technology needs, financial requirements, appropriate regulatory frameworks and cooperation among countries. In this context - and for any other international agreement with technology transfer provisions - national strategies to determine technological needs play an important role.

The CBD also established that transfer should be under terms which recognise and are consistent with intellectual property rights over these technologies. Since the CBD is concerned directly with access to and use of genetic resources, IPRs have played a more central role than seems likely in the context of climate change. The debate has also been highly contentious, with some developing countries arguing that TRIP provisions may need to be amended or set aside in the context of the CBD, and a number of western governments and industry groups strongly contesting this position (e.g. UNICE, 1997). Technology transfer in the case of technologies related to genetic resources, particularly the biotechnology which is largely developed by the private sector, presents certain differences with respect to climate change related technology transfer.

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