Understanding the Nagoya Protocol; your role in protecting the World’s Biodiversity

Guest blog by PhD student Hannah Griffiths (John Innes Centre)

Have you heard of the Nagoya Protocol? Do you understand how and when Nagoya may affect your research? And most importantly do you know why Nagoya exists?

Let me put that another way...

Does your research involve working on any sort of biological material? Do you know where the material originated from? And do you have evidence that you are allowed to use it in your research?

Not sure? Then read on...


The Nagoya Protocol is a new international Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) legislation, created to ensure that genetic resources are sourced and utilised fairly for providers and users.

Many people are not yet aware of Nagoya and, amongst those who are, there remains confusion regarding how and when it might be relevant to their research. In fact many non-commercial researchers assume that academic research will be exempt from this type of ABS legislation (which is not the case).

Nagoya is sometimes regarded warily as understanding whether your research falls in scope of Nagoya, and how to comply if it does, can be a daunting and time-consuming task. However, after attending the first regional workshop on Nagoya in the UK, myself and representatives from a variety of industries left understanding that fair ABS should be an integral part of research and that the Nagoya Protocol sets out bold plans to achieve this whilst simultaneously protecting biodiversity. The link between biodiversity and ABS may not be obvious, however it could be a crucial tool to protect biodiversity at a local level.


The Nagoya Protocol and protecting biodiversity


“…how easy it is to lose our connection with the natural world. Yet it is on this connection that the future of both humanity and the natural world will depend”

- David Attenborough (2016)

The presence of biodiversity in ecosystems, individuals and everything in between is critical for current and future life on earth. Natural and agricultural systems are more resilient to change when more biodiverse, and the unfathomable diversity of genetic elements in nature will be an essential resource for synthetic biology to innovate solutions to the World’s challenges. Yet, biodiversity has long suffered with intensive human population growth and urbanisation.

The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity is a United Nations international treaty to address this and protect biodiversity. The Nagoya Protocol is a legal framework which entered into force over 20 years later, in 2014, to achieve the third and final objective of the convention;

“The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources”.

 - Convention on Biological Diversity (1992)

The Nagoya Protocol describes how countries can exercise sovereign rights over genetic resources to ensure that providers of resources (or associated knowledge) receive a share of any benefit arising from their utilisation.

For the providers, the benefits received and their involvement in negotiating access demonstrates the high-value of their resources, which acts as a direct incentive to locally preserve such resources and consequently biodiversity.

Simultaneously, countries that become party to Nagoya agree to allow the utilisation of genetic resources under reasonable terms, which should ensure that the world’s genetic resources are actually available and accessible for research.

The first regional Nagoya workshop (John Innes Centre, November 2016)

The UK became a party to the Nagoya protocol on the 22nd May 2016, the international day of biodiversity. Regulatory Delivery, the UK organisation that will be enforcing Nagoya, are currently raising awareness and understanding in relevant industries with activities such as this cross-sector workshop.

The workshop was very informative, with the Nagoya Protocol being thoroughly explained from the very basics to how to find answers to seemingly unanswerable questions, such as how to use the online chat feature on the Access and Benefit Sharing Clearing House (ABSCH).

The clarity of information helped remedy some common misconceptions. For instance, some people did not understand the incentive for the UK and EU to become party to Nagoya, as the association with biodiversity and ethics of fair sharing are not always immediately clear.

Further, there was a false impression that all benefits must be monetary, when in fact there is great flexibility and benefits are encouraged to be non-monetary, such as training and technology transfer. The main crux behind the “fair and equitable sharing” isn’t a monetary value but something that is negotiated and agreed fairly between the user and provider before sharing takes place. For many researchers this may already occur in an informal way, the Nagoya protocol just formalises the process and provides legal certainty.

Speakers from various industries also shared their views on Nagoya. For some of the speakers from huge historic collections, such as Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens, Nagoya implementation meant reassessing and tightening ABS systems already in place, which was seen as a positive action.

A speaker from AstraZeneca shared the systems they had put in place throughout the company to implement and raise awareness of Nagoya, including a great promotional video.

ABSCH opening webpage   https://absch.cbd.int/  
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ABSCH opening webpage https://absch.cbd.int/

The workshop also raised a number of interesting discussion points about the challenges of Nagoya. For instance; the enormity of the task of ensuring all future research is Nagoya compliant, the difficulties for research that bridges the gap between non-commercial and commercial research, and that small pilot studies may not have the resources to implement Nagoya.

The relevant UK and EU authorities are aware of the challenges of Nagoya, and eager for feedback and suggestions of best practices to incorporate into future legislation and Nagoya implementation.

Therefore, for most of the challenges discussed positive ideas and solutions could be suggested. Some ideas raised at the workshop included; scientific journals requiring evidence of Nagoya competence before accepting papers, funding bodies providing small amounts of money to allow pilot studies to be Nagoya competent, and the idea of Nagoya competent registered collections of genetic resources (which is already an article in EU legislation).

It will take time for implementing Nagoya to become a clear and easy process, however, for the principles of undertaking fair research and moreover protecting biodiversity, it will be crucial and undoubtedly worth the effort.