Rio +20 can call for a UN-level technology facility (either combining or separately addressing the need for technology transfer and technology assessment), the details of which can be scheduled for final negotiation in the follow-through to the conference. Grounded in the Precautionary Principle, the facility would have the institutional capacity to identify and monitor significant technologies, including an evaluation of the technologies’ social, economic, cultural, health and environmental implications. Assessments would be completed before a new technology is released.
The Case for Technology Assessment
Clean green technologies are at the center of the many special reports leading to Rio+20. Understandably, governments have focused on access to “know-how.” Since 1992, however, costly, resource-wasting experience has taught that “know-how” must be accompanied with “know-what” – assessment of the technology choices available – and “know-why” – a participatory analysis of socioeconomic and environmental needs a technology is to address.
The Case for Technology Assessment
An efficient, transparent pathway for technological advancement would save national governments time and money while reducing risk. Those proposing new technologies and their backers seek to minimize risk. Especially, re-insurers and investors welcome steps that make government intervention and/or public responses predictable.
It is said that no one can predict the past but had the UN maintained its monitoring capacity over the last two decades – and had civil society been vigilant – the world might have saved itself billions of dollars, millions of lives, and much time. Find in this briefing some post-Rio (1992) examples…
Plant-derived Ingredients and Synthetic Biology
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.
So-called “green technology” is now a major feature of the Rio+20 “green economy” vision. G-77 countries are, understandably, focused on facilitated access to useful technologies that can contribute to sustainable development; the best way to make sure the right technologies are transferred to the right places in the right way is to subject them to meaningful assessment. An emphasis on the positive potential of new technologies requires a concomitant emphasis on a strengthened global, regional and national capacity to monitor and assess technologies. Anything less will incite distrust and invite disaster. Powerful new technologies (such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology and geoengineering) are being proposed and promoted without prior evaluation and no regulation. If technology assessment is deemed too costly or time-consuming, we are likely to find that the cost of not assessing technologies is even greater.
The case for Technology Assessment
Does establishing a UN facility for technology assessment politicize science? Some agencies and treaties have subsidiary scientific bodies and some of these have been accused of allowing governments to interfere in their scientific work. However, one of the biggest changes since the 1992 Earth Summit has been the transformation of publicly-funded science to work in the service of private industry.
The Case for Technology Assessment
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.
Synthetic Biology's Impact on livelihoods and Sustainable USe of Biodiversity
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.
The Case for Technology Assessment
International efforts to address the food, energy and climate crises give technology a central role to play. While some technologies may offer potential solutions to specific problems, decades of accelerating technological development and deployment have done little to mitigate climate change, and, in many cases, have made problems worse.
Now, new high-risk technologies, ranging from the very small (synthetic biology, genomics, nanotechnology) to the very large (geoengineering), are rapidly developing. Their promoters promise that these technologies are key to solving climate change,
world hunger, energy shortages and biodiversity loss. The precautionary principle and social and economic impacts are often ignored in the rush to deploy the latest technofix, marketed as socially useful and cutting edge, such as “climate-smart agriculture” or “next-generation biofuels.” Without the strict application of the precautionary principle, and a transparent and participatory form of technology assessment, new technologies could wreak even more havoc on a fragile planet that is already under immense strain due to reckless and unsustainable forms of production that serve the few at the expense of the many.
Corporate Concentration in the Life Industries
Will a “great green technological transformation” bring about a “green economy” to help us save ourselves and our planet? Or will it serve those already controlling today’s “greed economy?” In its new report, ETC Group provides a snapshot of the state of corporate control in more than a dozen economic sectors relevant to the green economy (including seeds, energy, bioinformatics and food) and argues that in the absence of effective and socially responsive governance, the green economy will spur even greater convergence of corporate power and unleash the most massive resource grab in more than 500 years.
What you will find in the 'Who Will Control the Green Economy?' Report
- Naming The Green Economy's “One Percent”
'Who Will Control the Green Economy?' provides hard data on the largest and most powerful corporate players controlling 25 sectors of the 'real economy'. This is the only freely available report to assemble top 10 listings of companies (by market share) from 18 major economic sectors relevant to the Green Economy. These lists include the top 10 players in Water, Energy, Seeds, Fishing and Aquaculture, Food Retail and Processing, Chemicals, Fertilizer, Pesticides, Mining, Pharmaceuticals, Biotech, the Grain Trade and more. The report also identifies the leading players in a handful of new and emerging industrial sectors including Synthetic Biology, Big Data, Seaweed and Algae production and Livestock Genetics (pp.1-2).
New Book from ETC Group in collaboration with Pambazuka News
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'.
Report on Nanotechology
The Big Downturn? Nanogeopolitics, ETC Group’s new 68-page report on global governance of nanoscale technologies, is an update of our 2005 Nanogeopolitics survey. In the intervening five years, policymakers – some kicking and screaming – have begun to acknowledge that fast-tracking nanotech has come at a price and that some sort of regulation is needed to deal with at least some of the risks nanoscale technologies pose.
Synthetic Biology and The Next Assault on Biodiversity and Livelihoods
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.
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