October 2007


Fourth Global Environment Outlook: Environment for development (GEO-4)
United Nations Environment Programme, 25 October 2007

UNEP’s GEO-4 Report assesses the current state of the global atmosphere, land, water and biodiversity, describes the changes since 1987, and identifies priorities for action. GEO-4 is the most comprehensive UN report on the environment, prepared by about 390 experts and reviewed by more than 1 000 others across the world. It says that major threats to the planet such as climate change, the rate of extinction of species, and the challenge of feeding a growing population are among the many that remain unresolved, and all of them put humanity at risk.

In the chapter on biodiversity, the report notes that global social and economic change is driving the loss of biodiversity, and disrupting local ways of life by promoting cultural assimilation and homogenization. Cultural change, such as loss of cultural and spiritual values, languages, and traditional knowledge and practices, is a driver that can cause increasing pressures on biodiversity, including overharvesting, widespread land-use conversion, overuse of fertilizers, reliance on monocultures that replace wild foods and traditional cultivars, and the increase and spread of invasive alien species that displace native species. In turn, these pressures impact human well-being. The disruption of cultural integrity also impedes the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Incorporating local and traditional knowledge in policy decisions and on-the-ground action calls for mainstreaming the links between biodiversity and culture into social and sectoral plans and policies. This approach involves developing and strengthening institutions at all scales, so that local knowledge for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity can be successfully transferred to landscape and national scales. It also involves strengthening the retention of traditional knowledge through education, conservation of languages and support for passing on knowledge between generations.

The report also recognizes that TK has proven to be enormously valuable, as, for example, in bioprospecting and biotechnology in recent times. Many modern drugs derive from traditional uses of plants by indigenous groups. In some cases, traditional knowledge has led to what is now recognized as sustainable environmental management. This knowledge is transmitted orally from one generation to the next, but as indigenous groups tend to be marginalized by migration and landuse change, it is being progressively lost.

The GEO-4 “outlook” notes that efforts to increase privatization and trade are accompanied by an increase in measures to put prices on ecosystem services and turn them into commodities. Although this forces people to better recognize the
value of these services, it is not the primary intent of these efforts, which are driven more by ideological aims. The commoditization and economic exchange of goods such as water, genetic material, and traditional knowledge and culture, dramatically increases. With these changes, the size of the “commons,” both globally and locally, shrinks significantly.

Visit the GEO-4 website…
Download the full GEO-4 report [large pdf]…

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WIPO International Seminar on the Strategic Use of Intellectual Property for Economic and Social Development
22 October – 26 October 2007 (Cape Town, South Africa)
Adapted from an article in Buanews

A conference of the World Intellectual Property Organisation on the Strategic Use of Intellectual Property for Economic and Social Development was covened recently in Cape Town, drawing together local and international government officials, regulators, industry players, academics, practitioners and officials.

Most notable about the conference was its focus on the developmental agenda when it comes to protection of intellectual property, and the way indigenous knowledge systems can be harnessed by developing countries to further their mutual development. “What is critical from a developing country perspective is how to use the intellectual property system to promote the availability, the accessibility and the affordability of goods and services that are an invention or creation of the mind, such as patented medicines and copyrighted learning materials,” delegates were told.

Central to this issue in an African context is the need to widen the legislative paradigm of intellectual property ownership beyond that of an individual to a point where entire communities could share the benefits of commercialisation of products that are a result of indigenous knowledge.

Visit the WIPO meeting page…
Read the BuaNews article…

In managing water resources, local knowledge counts much
IPP Media – 29 October 2007

DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA: Alphonce Mdeka, a peasant farmer of Lulanzi village in Kilolo, stood defiantly before the environmental experts, having disagreed completely with the new theory propounded by the experts that bamboo trees are water guzzlers and in the face of the water crisis that people in every corner of the world are facing, they should be uprooted. Many communities are against the move as it defies tradition and indigenous knowledge, in which bamboos play an important role in conserving the environment as they strengthen the soil combat erosion, the leaves provide soil cover and increase fertility and they generally prevent evaporation from soil or nearby water bodies. Read the article…

Launch of Intellectual Property Guide for Maori
Scoop.nz – 26 October 2997

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND: The Hon. Judith Tizard today launched Te Mana Taumaru Mātauranga. This guide is for Maori individuals, organisations and communities to learn more about the Intellectual Property system, and what it can do for their cultural taonga, both contemporary and long standing. It constitutes a significant milestone in the Government’s Traditional Knowledge Work Programme in that it makes clear what IP is and how it differs from traditional knowledge. Read the article…

Global warming, increasing exploitation of natural resources, dispossessing indigenous peoples of ancestral lands
UN General Assembly – 22 October 2007

NEW YORK, USA: Despite recent progress, as seen in new norms and institutions as well as policies at all levels addressing the rights of the world’s indigenous peoples, there was still an “implementation gap” between those norms and practice, and a number of negative trends vis-à-vis that marginalized population, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) heard today as it held its discussion on the rights of indigenous peoples. “Extractive activities, large commercial plantations and non-sustainable consumption patterns have led to widespread pollution and environmental degradation,” Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, told the Committee today as he presented the findings of his recent studies. The end result, he said, was that indigenous peoples, whose lives were closely linked to their lands, were dramatically affected by such trends, which had in turn led to their forced displacements. Read the article…

International plant gene pool becomes operational
FAO Newsroom – 20 October 2007

ROME, ITALY: A new multilateral system for the fair and equitable sharing of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture has become operational, FAO announced today. Over the past seven months, the system has accelerated the exchange of genetic material, with more than 90 000 transfers of plant genetic material within the system. The Multilateral System is part of the legally-binding International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture that entered into force in 2004 and has been ratified by 115 countries. Through the International Treaty, countries have agreed to make their genetic diversity and related information about the crops stored in their gene banks available to all who comply with the standardized access and benefit-sharing agreements. Read the article…

Supreme Court of Belize, on October 18, quoted the Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples to justify its decision upholding 2 Mayan villages rights to their traditional lands
University of Arizona Communications – 18 October 2007

BELMOPAN, BELIZE: The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Belize has voted to uphold rights to the land traditionally held by indigenous groups. The Maya communities of Conejo and Santa Cruz in April had filed cases – which were heard jointly in June – alleging that two government entities did not acknowledge their customary land rights. The case affects nearly 40 Maya villages in southern Belize. The villages argued that the attorney general of Belize and the minister of Natural Resources and Environment violated their rights by approving logging and oil exploration on traditional Maya lands. Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh delivered his decision Thursday, affirming that Belize is obligated by the constitution, international treaty and customary law – including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – to both respect and protect Maya customary lands. In fact, it is the first judgment applied specifically to the United Nations’ declaration, which was adopted Sept. 13 by the U.N. General Assembly. Read the article…

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