At COP 11, government negotiators will be asked to consider bringing a new and emerging area of industrial activity under the oversight of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Synthetic Biology is a burgeoning technological field that builds artificial genetic systems and programmes lifeforms for industrial use. It urgently requires effective governance. This briefing details ten key points to consider.
This case study illustrates how a key pharmaceutical ingredient, shikimic acid – traditionally derived from star anise cultivated by Chinese farmers – can be rapidly replaced by a new technological production process. Using synthetic biology, shikimic acid is now being produced commercially in drug industry fermentation tanks. The transition took less than a decade. Shikimic acid is just one example of a raw material that may be affected; it is conservatively estimated that at least 50% of today’s commercial pharmaceutical compounds are derived from plants, animals and microorganisms. No inter-governmental body is addressing the potential impacts of synthetic biology on the conservation and use of biodiversity and on the livelihoods of those who depend on agricultural export commodities (including high-value flavors, fragrances, essential oils, etc). The Convention on Biological Diversity is the most appropriate forum to address this new and emerging issue.
It's not just that we are facing "something new", we are facing "something else". The speed, breadth and depth of technological change is out-pacing and out-scoping policymakers. Since 1992, the convergence of technologies (living and inert) at the atomic - or nano - scale is adding new dimensions to the nature of technological transformation. Governments need global tools to respond to "something else". Find in this briefing ten technology leaps making the case for prioritizing Technology Assessment at the UN.
ETC Group publishes a world map of geoengineering -- the large-scale manipulation of earth or climate systems. While there is no complete record of the scores of weather and climate control projects in dozens of countries, this map is the first attempt to document the expanding scope of research and experimentation. Almost 300 geoengineering projects/experiments are represented on the map belonging to 10 different types of climate-altering technologies.
The notion of a "great green technological transformation" enabling a "green economy" is now being widely promoted as the key to our planet's survival. The ultimate goal is to substitute the extravtion and refining of petroleum with the transformation of biomass. Who will be in control of the future green economy?
In this joint report, the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the ETC Group reveal the new "Biomassters" and argue that in the absence of effective and socially responsive governance, the green economy will perpetuate the greed economy.
Corporations investing in Synthetic Biology include 6 of the top 10 Chemical Companies, 6 of the top 10 Energy companies, 6 of the top 10 grain traders and the top 7 pharma companies.
Although Rio+20 negotiators are discussing marine applications of geoengineering (so-called “ocean fertilization”) in the context of climate change and technological “quick fixes,” the wider issues of geoengineering, including so-called solar radiation management, are not being discussed. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity established a de facto moratorium on all forms of geoengineering in 2010. Nevertheless, some governments are continuing to look toward technological methods of blocking or reflecting sunlight and other planetary system adjustments. Rio+20 should make a firm statement banning geoengineering to prevent a handful of countries -- a new “coalition of the willing” from taking the Earth’s thermostat into their own hands.
Due to problems with scale-up, some synthetic biology companies are shifting focus away from biofuels to high-value / low-volume products – especially compounds found in plants (e.g., essential oils, flavours, fragrances, colourants and pharmaceuticals) – which are traditionally cultivated by farming communities in the global South.
If commercially viable, synthetic biology’s patented organisms have the potential to de-stabilize natural product markets, disrupt trade and eliminate jobs.with far-reaching impacts on agricultural economies.
Purpose: The Ban Terminator Campaign seeks to promote government bans on Terminator technology at the national and international levels, and supports the efforts of civil society, farmers, Indigenous peoples and social movements to campaign against it.
This submission examines the potential impacts of synthetic biology and its relevance to
the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity: the conservation and
sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from
the utilization of genetic resources.
Synthetic biology broadly refers to the use of computer-assisted, biological engineering to
design and construct new synthetic biological parts, devices and systems that do not exist
in nature and the redesign of existing biological organisms. While synthetic biology
incorporates the techniques of molecular biology, it differs from recombinant DNA
SBSTTA must not defer its consideration of synthetic biology as a new and emerging issue
requiring governance. Synthetic biology is a field of rapidly growing industrial interest. A
handful of products have reached the commercial market and others are in pre-commercial
stages. OECD countries currently dominate synthetic biology R&D and deployment, but
basic and applied research is taking place in at least 36 countries worldwide. Many of the
world’s largest energy, chemical, forestry, pharmaceutical, food and agribusiness
corporations are investing in synthetic biology R&D. Current applications of synthetic
biology focus on three major product areas that depend heavily on biomass feedstock
production processes: 1) biofuels; 2) specialty and bulk chemicals; 3) natural product
Earth Grab - Geopiracy, the New Biomassters and Capturing Climate Genes' - essential, cutting-edge climate science in everyday language - published this week (27 October 2011). The authors reveal information that the large corporations who profit from climate change do not want the public to know.
'Earth Grab' analyses how Northern governments and corporations are cynically using concerns about the ecological and climate crisis to propose geoengineering 'quick fixes'. These threaten to wreak havoc on ecosystems, with disastrous impacts on the people of the global South. As calls for a 'greener' economy mount and oil prices escalate, corporations are seeking to switch from oil-based to plant-based energy.
minent environmentalist Vandana Shiva, founder of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, writes in her foreword that this research 'pulls back the curtain on disturbing technological and corporate trends that are already reshaping our world and that will become crucial battlegrounds for civil society in the years ahead'.
The book has already captured the attention of writer Naomi Klein, who writes that this 'crucial book reveals ... Indispensable research for those with their eyes wide open'. Campaigner George Monbiot adds that its exploration of 'three crucial issues which will come to dominate environmental and human rights debates in the coming years make it an essential resource for anyone trying to keep up with the times'.
Over 50 concerned groups from around the world are calling on people to sign an open letter (here) asking the UK Government and Research Councils to scrap the controversial SPICE experiment designed to test hardware for deployment of stratospheric aerosol injections as a way to artificially cool the planet.
We are writing to express our concern about the SPICE research project, which is managed by the University of Bristol in collaboration with the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh, as well as military contractor Marshall Aerospace. The £1.6 million project has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). We are calling upon the UK government and the Research Councils involved to suspend the project. In particular, we believe the experiment planned to test equipment for injecting particles into the stratosphere with the aim of counteracting global warming through solar radiation management (SRM) should be cancelled.
Here's a grim prediction to chew on. This biotech craze dubbed "synthetic biology"—where hipster geeks design quirky life-forms: That technology is going to wind up costing lives—likely a lot of them. I'm not suggesting a direct kill by rogue viruses. These will be economic deaths. The dead will not be noteworthy: farmers, pastoralists, and forest dwellers who live in poor nations that depend on plant commodities.
Syn bio is feted as the next big thing, but we should be clear-eyed about what makes syn bio such a big deal and about whom it will harm. Its advocates predict that synthetic bio will lead to the "New Bioeconomy," in which we harness biology to perform tasks now accomplished by manufacturing.
The New Bioeconomy seems innocently green. It involves yeast and bacteria being repurposed as bio-factories to churn out the plastics, chemicals, and fuels we are already addicted to. Since microbes feast on plant-stuff—whether algae, wood chips, or sugar—plants would replace petroleum as the key feedstock for industrial production. The sourcing of strategic raw materials, including medicines, rubber, and oils, will shift from the hands of farmers in the global South to fermentation vats controlled by the North.
The New Biomassters - Synthetic Biology and the Next Assault on Biodiversity and Livelihoods is a critique of what OECD countries are calling 'the new bioeconomy.' Concerted attempts are already underway to shift industrial production feedstocks from fossil fuels to the 230 billion tones of 'biomass' (living stuff) that the Earth produces every year -not just for liquid fuels but also for production of power, chemicals, plastics and more.
Sold as an ecological switch from a ‘black carbon’ (ie fossil) economy to a ‘green carbon’ (plant-based) economy, this emerging bioeconomy is in fact a red-hot resource grab of the lands, livelihoods, knowledge and resources of peoples in the global South, where most of that biomass is located.
Enabling the next stage of this new grab is the adoption of synthetic biology techniques (extreme genetic engineering) by a wave of high-tech companies partnering with the world’s largest energy, chemical, forestry and agribusiness corporations.
On 29 October 2010, the Tenth Conference of the Parties (COP 10) of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted a decision that amounts to a de facto moratorium on geoengineering and, almost as importantly, affirmed the UN’s leadership in addressing these issues. Since then, many commentators (both those opposed to and supportive of geoengineering) have circulated erroneous statements concerning the import of the decision.
In a landmark consensus decision, the 193-member UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) closed its tenth biennial meeting with a de facto moratorium on geoengineering projects and experiments. “Any private or public experimentation or adventurism intended to manipulate the planetary thermostat will be in violation of this carefully crafted UN consensus,” stated Silvia Ribeiro, Latin American Director of ETC Group.
ETC Group, an international civil society organization that monitors new technologies, explains and comments on the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP 10 consensus decision to adopt a moratorium on geoengineering. Webcast of the press conference given by ETC Group representatives at http://webcast.cop10.go.jp. (link not active)
Mr. Pat Mooney - Executive Director, ETC Group (Canada)
Ms. Silvia Ribeiro – Director Latin America, ETC Group (Mexico)
Under the guise of developing “climate-ready” crops, the world’s largest seed and agrochemical corporations are filing hundreds of sweeping, multi-genome patents in a bid to control the world’s plant biomass, according to a report released by ETC Group today.
A handful of multinational corporations are pressuring governments to allow what could become the broadest and most dangerous patent claims in history, warns the group at the United Nations’ Convention on Biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan (18-29 October 2010).
The world’s six largest agrochemical and seed corporations are filing sweeping, multi-genome patents in pursuit of exclusive monopoly over plant gene sequences. Marketed as crops genetically-engineered to withstand environmental stresses such as drought, heat, cold, floods, saline soils, and more, this development could lead to control of most of the world’s plant biomass – whether it is used for food, feed, fibre, fuel or plastics. Under the guise of developing “climate-ready” crops as a silver bullet solution to climate change, these companies are pressuring governments to allow the broadest and potentially most dangerous patent claims in intellectual property history. But can patented techno-fix seeds provide the adaptation strategies that small farmers need to cope with climate change? On the contrary, these proprietary technologies are poised to concentrate corporate power, drive up costs, inhibit independent research, and further undermine the rights of farmers to save and exchange seeds. For the “Gene Giants,” the goal is “biomasstery” – to profit from the world’s biomass.