Evolution of Biodiversity!
The Stockholm Conference was not the first occasion at which issues related to biodiversity were placed on the international agenda. A variety of legal instruments already existed. Some of these were regional, such as the Convention on Nature Protection Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere (Washington, D.C., 1940) and the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (Algiers, 1968). Other measures dealt with specific species, such as birds and marine and polar region species.
Prior to Stockholm, the only major international legal instrument for conserving biodiversity was the 1971 Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitats. The 61 parties to this convention pledged to make an inventory of designated wetlands, to promote their conservation, and to establish nature reserves in the important wetlands.
But, no comprehensive international treaty addressed the problem of biological diversity. Although Stockholm did not produce such a document, it was the first time the issue was addressed in such a holistic manner. The issue of biodiversity was debated, and the conference documents included provisions aimed at protecting biodiversity
The area of genetic resources and biotechnology was already controversial in 1972, at the time of the Stockholm conference. Developing countries were concerned about their lack of access to the biotechnology that was developed from the use of their resources, and they tried to use linkage politics to gain access to this technology.
They pressed their demand for the transfer of technology on non-commercial terms. This demand was rejected by the developed countries, and the final statement of the conference diluted the language that addressed this linkage between economics and the environment.
Both the declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and the Action Plan for the Human Environment included language that addressed biodiversity. Principles 2, 4, and 6 of the declaration included provisions for safeguarding flora and fauna and preserving ecosystems.
The Action Plan generally addressed the importance of protecting forests, which among other thing, were important habitats for wildlife; it recommended that wildlife be monitored to assess the impact of pollutants and that the economic value of wildlife be assessed. Governments were asked to take steps to protect ecosystems that have international significance. Recommendations 39 through 45 deal generally with the issue of preserving genetic resources.
In the period between the Stockholm and Rio conferences, the body of legislation concerning biodiversity continued to grow. Relevant major international legislations included the convention concerning the Protection of the World Culture and Natural Heritage (1972), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1973), and the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (1979).
In the aftermath of Stockholm, developing countries continued their push for greater access to the biotechnology that resulted from their biological wealth. A non-binding International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources (Resolution 8/33) was passed by the FAO in 1983. It stated that access to genetic resources should not be restricted, and it declared that all seed resources were the common heritage of humanity; therefore, both primitive stocks and those developed by proprietary means should be free to all.
Some developed world producers were opposed to this, and many industrialised countries were not parties to it because it was incompatible with their patent rights. Third World members, however, accepted its provisions.
A 1991 Costa Rican deal is considered one possible model for future bilateral arrangements. The parties to the deal were the National Biodiversity Institute, a non-profit Costa research centre, and Merck & Co., the world’s largest pharmaceutical company. Merck agreed to pay the institute US$1.1 million, as well as royalties from any product developed, in return for plant, insect and microbe samples from all over Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is estimated to have about 5 per cent of any royalties go directly into conservation. Although this agreement provides for compensation, some critics say it gives away Costa Rican resources for too little money. Nevertheless, many developing countries are studying this arrangement with interest.
The years between Stockholm and Rio saw incremental progress with regard to the items on the Third World’s biodiversity agenda. Developing states wanted to make their own arrangements concerning resources access, and as the Merck deal illustrates, the slow process of norm change had begun.
But, the progress of these states in the campaign for transfer of technology and financial assistance is more difficult to assess. Although developing countries continued to push for change in these areas, developed countries maintained their determined resistance. These conflicting perspectives were reflected in the preparatory negotiations for the Rio conference.
The declaration of UN Conference on the Human Environment and the Action Plan for the Human Environment addressed the importance of protecting forests, which among other things, are important habitats for wildlife. Other conventions of biodiversity include May 1992 at Nairobi; June 1992 at UNCED; while in December 1993 Convention on Biological Diversity entered into force.
The highlights of the convention were:
(i) National identification and monitoring of biological diversity.
(ii) The development of national strategies and programmes for conserving biological diversity.
(iii) National in situ and ex situ conservation measures.
(iv)Environmental assessment procedures to take into account the effects of projects on biological diversity.
(v) National reports from parties on measures taken to implement the convention and the effectiveness of the measures.
The issue of biodiversity should be seen as a common problem; as such, action by any country has implications for any other country. The biodiversity of every country should be protected with mutual cooperation and exchange of biotechnology.
In fact, this is a common property resource concern, as decrease in biodiversity has consequences for all species. But, this common property resource has some distributional characteristics that make it different from other environmental issues. The bulk of the world’s biological diversity is found in tropical forests, which are located in the Third World. The loss of biological diversity has tremendous implications for agriculture.
The range of food resources has declined over time. One estimate says that more than 3,000 plant species have been used for food throughout human history; however, there certainly has been a significant reduction in variety. Now, most of the world’s food comes from 20 species. The issue of patents is at the core, nowadays, because several developing countries have a fear that the use of traditional plant species will be restricted by scientifically advanced countries.
After Uruguay round of GATT seeks to standardise intellectual property rights, much debate has been done and still continues. The controversy over patent right of ‘Neem’ tree, which has been used by Indians for centuries, is one example.
To conclude, one can quote from a stanza in Isho-Upanishad which says: “The Universe along with its creatures belongs to the land. No creature is superior to any other. Human beings should not be above nature. Let no one species encroach over the rights and privileges of the other species.”