‘Biodiversity — the diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems — is declining faster than at any time in human history’ (IPBES 2019)

‘Around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce the intensity of drivers of biodiversity loss’ according to the 2019 global assessment from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES 2019). It found the key drivers (in order of greatest impact) are changes in land and sea use, direct exploitation of organisms, climate change, pollution and invasion of alien species.

‘In the past 50 years, the human population has doubled, the global economy has grown nearly fourfold and global trade has grown tenfold, together driving up the demand for energy and materials’. Economic incentives have generally favoured expansion of economic activity at the expense of nature so what is needed is transformative change to arrest biodiversity decline, according to the IPBES assessment.

One economic incentive tool increasingly relied on by countries to help achieve the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity is ‘access and benefit sharing’ (ABS). ABS was initially developed under the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and further elaborated under the 2010 Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity. These international agreements recognise countries’ rights over their biodiversity to control how people access and use genetic resources and traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources and to obtain monetary and non-monetary benefits from their use. For example, a country may require a person to obtain a permit to collect a sea sponge for research into its potential for cancer drugs and to enter into a contract requiring certain benefits (e.g. cash or capacity building) to flow back to the provider from the research or commercial outputs.

The original idea was that this would offer economic incentives for protecting biodiversity by compensating the provider of the genetic materials or knowledge for the cost of conserving the genetic resources. Nearly 30 years on there is little evidence that ABS is making any headway in halting the globe’s catastrophic biodiversity loss (Laird et al. 2020).

A group of researchers at Griffith Law School are part of a Biodiversity Hub, focusing on new ideas for transformative change and practical solutions for biodiversity governance. They are rethinking the ABS concept within broader governance frameworks including those relating to biosecurity, biosafety, intellectual property, health, forestry and food production systems.

Professor Charles Lawson has a science and law background with over 18 years of experience in intellectual property and biodiversity related fields.

Dr Fran Humphries has a policy and law background with 20 years of experience in food production and aquatic biodiversity-related fields.

Dr Michelle Rourke has a science and law background with over 12 years of experience in health and virus biodiversity-related fields.

Mr Todd Berry is a PhD candidate with 3 years of experience in sovereignty, traditional knowledge and marine biodiversity-related fields.

Ms Liz Englezos is a PhD candidate in law with 20 years of experience in pharmacy and special interests in the fields of medical research and intellectual property, animal research and semiotics.

Members of the Biodiversity Hub generate original research, build international networks, lead international consultancies and provide advice to governments and international organisations on biodiversity related matters. Inquiries about the Hub can be directed to [email protected]

By building connections between governance (law and policy), knowledge bases (science and traditional knowledge) and fields (environment, heath, food production), the Biodiversity Hub aims to find fresh ideas and practical options for transforming how humans interact with the world’s biodiversity.


IPBES (2019) Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. E. S. Brondizio, J. Settele, S. Díaz, and H. T. Ngo (editors). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany.

Laird, S., Wynberg, R., Rourke, M., Humphries, F. Ruiz Muller, M Lawson, C. (2020) Rethink the Expansion of Access and Benefit Sharing 367 (6483) Science 1200-1202.


By Dr Fran Humphries