THIRD WORLD NETWORK BIOSAFETY INFORMATION SERVICE
Dear Friends and Colleagues
Public Awareness, Access to Information and Public Participation regarding LMOs/GMOs
The third Joint Round Table on Public Awareness, Access to Information and Public Participation regarding Living Modified Organisms/Genetically Modified Organisms was organized in Geneva, from 16 to 18 December 2019, under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) and the secretariat to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The report of the meeting includes an overview of the proceedings and a description of the substantive discussions. Suggestions for a way forward, as summarized by the Chair of the Round Table, are presented in the annex to the report.
We reproduce below the Chair’s Summary. The full report is available at: https://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/wgp/WGP_24/ODS/ECE_MP.PP_WG.1_2020_6_E.pdf?dowload
With best wishes,
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
Websites: http://www.twn.my/and http://www.biosafety-info.net/
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20 May 2020
The way forward: Chair’s summary
1. In a closing statement, the Chair summarized a number of key issues derived from the discussions that need to be considered in the future work on access to information, public awareness and public participation in decision-making regarding LMOs/GMOs, including[i]:
(a) Regarding access to information:
(i) Effective access to information is key for effective public participation;
(ii) It is essential to provide access to information proactively as soon as the information becomes available, also considering the needs of different target groups; raw data should be made available along with data visualization, as the latter could make complex data more easily understandable;
(iii) It is essential to provide access to correct and complete information and to ensure that publicly available information can be reused and shared;
(iv) Certain information should not be considered confidential, such as: the name and address of the notifier; a general description of LMOs/GMOs; a summary of the risk assessment of the effects on biodiversity, taking into consideration human health; any methods and plans for emergency measures; and all final decisions. A verifiable justification is needed if data should be kept confidential;
(v) It is important to ensure identification of LMOs/GMOs through labelling, not only for biosafety purposes but also for reasons of consumer information, such as ethical and religious concerns;
(vi) There is a need for access to information on synthetic biology and new technologies;
(b) Regarding public awareness:
(i) It is important for authorities to develop communication strategies that will include key target groups, communication channels (for example, newspapers, social media, television, posters in public places, stickers and press materials) and responsible personnel, and to allocate the required costs and other resources for communication activities;
(ii) Efforts should be made to translate scientific information into local languages;
(iii) NGOs play an important role in raising the awareness of the general public on the topic of LMO/GMO.
(c) Regarding public participation in decision-making:
(i) Public participation in decision-making should be seen as a tool for the improvement, rather than the vetoing, of decisions;
(ii) A trustful, sustainable and transparent decision-making process can be achieved in collaboration with civil society;
(iii) Decision-making on LMO/GMO-related matters needs to take into account scientific knowledge (related to biosafety) as much as human values, ethical principles and religious concerns, and should take into account the right to self-determination of local communities;
(iv) It is important to strengthen inter-institutional and interdepartmental coordination, in particular during public participation processes, and also through the setting up of public advisory bodies for supporting these processes;
(v) It is important to ensure gender equality and promote inclusive public participation, with particular attention to women and indigenous peoples, local communities and other marginalized groups, and to use local languages in public participation processes;
(vi) Involvement of various population groups, from urban to rural, with different levels of education as well as different ages, genders and professional occupations in open discussion; considering their perception; and raising their understanding of the problem are critically important;
(vii) It is critical to ensure a step-by-step implementation of the key elements of effective public participation in decision-making, namely:
* Identify the public and the public concerned;
* Issue timely, adequate and effective notice;
* Set reasonable time frames when all options are open;
* Ensure access to all necessary information;
* Ensure procedures that enable the public to comment and be heard;
* Ensure that due account is taken of public participation;
* Notify promptly about the decision;
*Make sure that, if commitments/conditions are revised, the procedure is repeated as appropriate.
2. The Chair further observed that the Round Table called for several actions at the national level to:
(a) Establish or enhance the implementation of effective procedures and mechanisms for effective access to information, public awareness and for enabling effective and inclusive public participation in decision-making with regard to LMOs/GMOs;
(b) Continue strengthening coordination and cooperation between national focal points of the Aarhus Convention and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety at the national level;
(c) Continue promoting effective interministerial/interdepartmental mechanisms to handle GMO/LMO-related issues that are open to NGOs, academia and other stakeholders, for example, through the setting up of inter-institutional commissions;
(d) Mainstream biosafety, including public awareness, education and participation regarding LMO/GMO matters, into different sectors and policies;
(e) Strengthen the capacity of authorities to effectively handle access to information and public participation in decision-making on LMO/GMO matters through targeted training;
(f) Allocate sufficient human, technical and financial resources in particular, in authorities, to effectively handle access to information and public participation procedures, and awareness-raising activities;
(g) Enforce implementation of domestic legislation related or applicable to LMOs/GMOs;
(h) Develop and/or strengthen the expertise and institutional capacity of authorities dealing with biosafety matters through, for example, capacity-building activities as needed, including on new developments in the field of LMOs/GMO, such as gene drive techniques or synthetic biology;
(i) Consider establishing a consultative body consisting of scientists who examine environmental risk assessments, in order to overcome insufficient expertise and limited technical and human capacity in authorities;
(j) In order to ensure good quality information, develop or strengthen the reference laboratory equipment for monitoring and detection of LMOs/GMOs and the possibility of establishing a network of laboratories nationwide;
(k) Widely promote the benefits of effective access to information and public participation in decision-making related to LMOs/GMOs. Such benefits include: enhanced trust; better quality of decisions; accountability and better governance; improved relationships between decision makers and the public and among different stakeholders; smoother implementation and improved legitimacy of decisions; economic gains; and improved sustainability of projects;
(l) Promote greater political support for transparency, accountability and effective and inclusive public participation in decision-making in relation to LMO/GMO matters;
(m) Engage broad target audiences and strengthen the capacity of the public, media, NGOs, academia, business, women, indigenous peoples and local communities through targeted training sessions on, for example: knowledge, awareness of LMOs/GMOs; and how to participate, so as to ensure meaningful input from the public;
(n) Make use of the Aarhus Centres, where available, to assist authorities in effectively promoting access to information and public participation in decision-making related to LMO/GMO issues;
(o) Encourage to reflect the synergy with the Aarhus Convention and its Almaty Amendment on genetically modified organisms in the goal of the new implementation plan for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety on article 23 of the Protocol; and make the Programme of Work on Public Awareness, Education and Participation regarding LMOs/GMOs a reference guide to implementing the goal in the implementation plan;
(p) For Parties to the Aarhus Convention – ratify and implement the Almaty Amendment on genetically modified organisms to the Aarhus Convention;
(q) Encourage countries in and outside the ECE region to accede to the Aarhus Convention and its Almaty Amendment on genetically modified organisms and/or to make use of the Guidelines on access to information, public participation and access to justice with respect to genetically modified organisms (Lucca Guidelines) (MP.PP/2003/3–KIEV.CONF/2003/INF/7) and the Maastricht Recommendations on Promoting Effective Public Participation in Decision-making in Environmental Matters[ii] as tools for developing legislation and procedures for effective access to information and public participation in the context of LMOs/GMOs;
(r) Make use of guidance materials, developed jointly under the auspices of the two treaties;
(s) Promote complete and accurate access to information and public participation through the Biosafety Clearing-House and share case studies on promoting access to information and public participation through the Aarhus Clearinghouse;
(t) Make use of the communication plan template from the secretariat to the Convention on Biological Diversity or develop a new communication plan to promote improved public understanding of biotechnology/biosafety issues for active participation in decision-making processes and to take socioeconomic considerations into account.
3. At the multilateral level, the secretariats and subsidiary bodies of the Aarhus Convention and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity should, as appropriate, continue to assist countries in ratifying and implementing the two instruments in the context of LMOs/GMOs through:
(a) Providing information material, organizing events and advisory assistance to countries to promote the ratification of the Almaty Amendment on genetically modified organisms and the implementation of article 23 of the Protocol and the Aarhus Convention in the context of GMOs/LMOs;
(b) Finalizing the “GMO/LMO pocket guide” describing benefits, systemic challenges, priority areas and good practices in relation to promoting transparency and public participation in GMO/LMO matters; and developing a video to promote the materials and tools developed jointly under the auspices of the two treaties;
(c) Organizing a similar round table in the next intersessional period of the two treaties, so as to allow Parties to both instruments from different regions to: exchange experiences, thereby supporting implementation of the Aarhus Convention and the Cartagena Protocol in the context of LMOs/GMOs in synergy; and explore opportunities to allocate funds for participation of non-ECE countries. The round table would include training sessions on, for example, specific case studies.
4. In the light of the Sustainable Development Goals, transparency and effective public participation have acquired increased significance for work on GMO/LMO matters, with particular relevance for:
(a) Sustainable Development Goal 2 (zero hunger), especially targets related to food security, improved nutrition and sustainable agriculture – access to information and public participation in the development and implementation of agriculture-related policies, plans, programmes and projects;
(b) Sustainable Development Goal 15 (life on land) – access to information and public participation in decisions on LMOs/GMOs is crucial for raising public awareness and improving the quality of decisions regarding the use of genetic resources, sustainable use of ecosystems and biodiversity;
(c) Sustainable Development Goal 16 (responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making) – the principles of accountability, transparency, inclusivity and the rule of law contained within Sustainable Development Goal 16 are key for the implementation of all Sustainable Development Goals, whether referred to directly or otherwise.
5. The joint efforts by the two secretariats and the treaties’ bodies thereby also support countries’ efforts to achieve the above-mentioned Sustainable Development Goals.
6. The key outcomes of the joint round table will be reported to the twenty-fourth meeting of the Working Group of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention (Geneva, 1–3 July 2020) and to the seventh session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention (October 2021), and shared with the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.
[i] The annex to the present report contains the Chair’s summary of the Round Table and is complementary to the secretariats’ report.
[ii] United Nations publication, Sales No. E.15.II.E.7.