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Synthetic Biology's Impact on livelihoods and Sustainable USe of Biodiversity

Sunday 1st April 2012

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

Monday 28th November 2011

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.

Synthetic Biology

Thursday 24th November 2011

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
technology.

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
synthesis.

Tackling Technology: Three Proposals for Rio

Tuesday 1st November 2011

he most dramatic technological transformation in history – involving information technologies, biotechnologies and engineering – has occurred since the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992; during the same period, however, governments have systematically downsized or eliminated their capacity to understand science and monitor technologies. While technology has thus far played an extraordinarily prominent role in preparatory documents for Rio+20, technology’s potential contribution to sustainable development and/or new Green Economies cannot be realized as long as the world lacks trusted and transparent mechanisms – at global, regional and national levels – for technology evaluation. The absence of such mechanisms incites distrust and invites disaster.

Tuesday 1st March 2011

International effort to address the food, energy and climate crisis tend to regard technology as an important part of the solution. This optimism about technology also prevails in debates around the Green Economy and international environmental governance. And of course technology does hold some potential solutions to some important problems. However, two decades of accelerating technological development and deployment, in the context of massive trade and investment liberalization, has left the globe in far worse straits than it was when the very concept of sustainable development was in its infancy. And now, it is time for a technological te-think. New high-risk technologies, ranging from the very small (synthetic biology, nanotechnology) to the very large (geoengineering), are rapidly developing. Their promoters promise that they hold the keys to solving climate change, world hunger, energy shortages and biodiversity loss and the precautionary principle and social and economic impacs are often ignored in the rush to deploy the latest technofix.

Recommendations for CBD Delegates

Friday 8th October 2010

As the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) ponders guidelines for considering new and emerging issues that may have implications for biodiversity – and struggles to adopt a protocol on access and benefit sharing (ABS) – researchers in synthetic biology are developing the capacity to construct synthetic life forms. The repercussions for biological diversity are unknown but could be devastating. Natural organisms, too, may be “tweaked” using synthetic biology to allow for patent monopolies beyond the reach of state sovereignty or of indigenous peoples.

Stop Geoengineering - Our home is not a laboratory

Thursday 22nd April 2010

Industrial societies have produced unprecedented ecological crises: climate change, depleted fresh water, build-up of toxins, collapse of ecosystems and accelerating species extinction. The transgression of natural limits for private gain has compromised the integrity and survival of our living planet, Mother Earth. This way of living on the Earth has become unsustainable. Common sense says we must act to build a fairer civilization, one that steps more lightly on the planet – and fast.

RE: Asilomar International Conference on Climate Intervention Technologies: March 22-26 2010

Wednesday 31st March 2010

As civil society organizations and social movements working to find constructive solutions to climate change, we want to express our deep concerns with the upcoming privately organized meeting on geoengineering in Asilomar, California. Its stated aim, which is to «develop a set of voluntary guidelines, or best practices, for the least harmful and lowest risk conduct of research and testing of proposed climate intervention and geoengineering technologies,» is moving us down the wrong road too soon and without any speed limit.

Friday 26th February 2010

On the eve of a major intergovernmental conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (ABDC) in Guadalajara, Mexico, a civil society member of the international steering committee has resigned, calling the preparations for the gathering of governments and scientists “hopelessly biased” and “foolishly sidestepping key socioeconomic and scientific issues.”

Pat Mooney, Executive Director of ETC Group, a Canada-based international civil society organization with a long history of work with FAO and biotechnology issues, resigned from the steering committee on Tuesday, February 23 2010. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization conference, hosted by Mexico, runs from March 1- 4 in Guadalajara.

Climate Chaos in a Geoengineering Age, a Report Commissioned and Published by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation.

Monday 14th December 2009

This critical overview of geoengineering technologies examines the history, politics and social and ecological implications of attempts to add large-scale, intentional manipulation of the planet to the menu of possible responses to climate change. The report contests the notion that more funding, research and experimentation is needed into geoengineering technologies, and provides a series of recommendations on how these controversial technologies should be regulated.

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Mega Foundations, Agribusiness Muscle In On Public Goods

Tuesday 17th January 2012

Big foundations like Gates and giant agribusinesses like Syngenta are taking an interest in multilateral public institutions committed to ending hunger. The international agencies are having trouble with the “public/private” boundaries. It’s time to evaluate them all.

ETC Group dedicates this Communiqué to the memory of Dr. Erna Bennett who passed away at the beginning of January 2012.

Issue: Three recent incidents show that the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) seem to be redacting their reports, or opening their gene banks and looking the other way as the private sector overrides governments and farmers to commandeer agricultural policy and practice. Private foundations and OECD states are causing public institutions to lose their focus on “public goods.”

Corporate Concentration in the Life Industries

Tuesday 1st November 2011

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

Thursday 27th October 2011

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

Thursday 16th December 2010

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.

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