Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which entered into force in 1993, contains innovative and far-reaching provisions on traditional knowledge. The Convention states that:
‘Each contracting Party shall, as far as possible and as appropriate […] (j) Subject to national legislation, respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge innovations and practices’ - Article 8(j).
This is the first time that a binding international instrument has acknowledged the relevance of traditional knowledge to the resolution of global problems and has placed an obligation on governments to respect, preserve and maintain it.
Parties are also required to ‘protect and encourage customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices that are compatible with conservation and sustainable use requirements’ (Article 10(c)); ‘facilitate the exchange of information relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity [including] indigenous and traditional knowledge’ (Article 17); and ‘encourage and develop methods of cooperation for the development and use of technologies, including indigenous and traditional technologies ..’ (Article 18.4).
These provisions are intimately connected to the third objective of the CBD: ‘the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies…’ (Article 1).
Implementation of these provisions on access to genetic resources and equitable benefit-sharing (ABS) and on traditional knowledge are both core issues in the CBD process. The Conference of the Parties to the CBD has established two inter-sessional bodies: a Working Group on Article 8(j) and Related Provisions and a Working Group on Access and Benefit-Sharing.