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Portal on Synthetic Biology

Background

In its decision X/13 on new and emerging issues the Conference of the Parties (COP) invited Parties, other Governments and relevant organizations to submit information on, inter alia, synthetic biology for consideration by the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), in accordance with the procedures of decision IX/29.

At its eleventh meeting, the COP took note of the proposals for new and emerging issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and in their decision XI/11, noted, based on the precautionary approach, the need to consider the potential positive and negative impacts of components, organisms and products resulting from synthetic biology techniques on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. In light of the outcomes and requests of this meeting presented, for the consideration of the Parties at their twelfth meeting, reports on:

  • The potential positive and negative impacts of components, organisms and products resulting from synthetic biology techniques on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, associated social, economic and cultural considerations (UNEP/CBD/COP/12/INF/11)
  • Possible gaps and overlaps with the applicable provisions of the Convention, its Protocols and other relevant agreements related to components, organisms and products resulting from synthetic biology techniques (UNEP/CBD/COP/12/INF/12)

In considering this information and taking note of the conclusions of the SBSTTA at its eighteenth meeting, the Parties decided, in their decision XII/24, to establish an Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG), with terms of reference contained in the annex to the decision and requested the Executive Secretary to convene a moderated open-ended online forum to support the work of the AHTEG in meeting its terms of reference.

At their thirteenth meeting the Parties, in their decision XIII/17, commended the work of the online forum and the AHTEG, and welcomed the conclusions and recommendations of the report of the Group as a basis for further discussion. The COP also acknowledged that the outcome of the work of the AHTEG on the operational definition is “synthetic biology is a further development and new dimension of modern biotechnology that combines science, technology and engineering to facilitate and accelerate the understanding, design, redesign, manufacture and/or modification of genetic materials, living organisms and biological systems”, and considers it useful as a starting point for the purpose of facilitating scientific and technical deliberations under the Convention and its Protocols.

Furthermore the COP extended the mandate of the current AHTEG in accordance with the terms of reference annexed to decision XIII/17 and also to contribute to the completion of the assessment as requested in paragraph 2 of decision decision XII/24

At their fourteenth meeting, in decision 14/19, Parties agreed on a need for regular horizon-scanning of the most recent technological developments for reviewing new information regarding potential impacts of synthetic biology. The COP called upon Parties to apply a precautionary approach, taking into account the current uncertainties regarding engineered gene drives and to only consider introducing organisms containing engineered gene drives into the environment under specific criteria. COP-14 further called upon Parties to continue to develop or implement measures to prevent or minimize potential adverse effects arising from exposing the environment to organisms, components and products of synthetic biology in contained use with special consideration to the centres of origin and genetic diversity.

Furthermore, COP extended the AHTEG on synthetic biology, taking into account the work under risk assessment under the Cartagena protocol, with new terms of reference as annexed to decision 14/19, and extended also the open-ended online forum to support the work of the AHTEG.

A tentative calendar of activities outlining a way forward for the implementation of the elements of the COP decision will be available shortly.