European Commission publishes SCELG study on legal and policy aspects of DSI

Feb 2021 — The European Commission has published a commissioned study on the possible ways to address digital sequencing information from a legal and policy perspective. The study was the final output of a consultancy project that ran from the autumn of 2019 until the summer of 2020 and that was led by SCELG’s Professor Elisa Morgera, Dr Stephanie Switzer and PhD researcher Miranda Geelhoed. The project also benefited from consultation of experts in this field, notably Dr Shakeel Bhatti, Dr Rachel Wynberg and Sarah Laird. Its findings aimed to assist the EU and the Member States in addressing the highly complex question on how DSI relates to the scope and workings of the regime on access and benefit-sharing under international biodiversity law. The study also benefitted from early learning under the One Ocean Hub.

The SCELG study on DSI addresses highly complex questions on the interactions between DSI and the international ABS regime

Building bridges between equity and scientific cooperation

The SCELG study examines if and how a sound international law solution can be found to bridge, and balance developed and developing countries’ demands for equity as well as scientific research and cooperation for the holistic realisation of the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (‘CBD’). In line with the international law principles of good faith and effectiveness, it finds that DSI is within the scope of the CBD and the Nagoya Protocol but cannot be adequately addressed through a bilateral approach. Instead, it proposes an innovative, hybrid solution, which consists of a multilateral fund for benefit sharing and a multilateral platform for dialogue, learning, oversight and priority setting.

The study builds upon SCELG research within different areas of expertise, including biodiversity and traditional knowledge, human rights, land, food & agriculture and health. It also builds upon research conducted by Professor Elisa Morgera in the context of the Benelex project and the One Ocean Hub.

Contributing to international policy debates 

The study findings were included among the policy options identified by the Secretariat of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity as part of a webinar series on Digital Sequence Information that is supporting reflections among national delegations while international negotiations are suspended due to the global pandemic. The video-recording of the webinar held on 11th February 2021 is available at (Webinar 3). 

In addition, Prof Morgera has been invited to peer review a draft study ‘Marine Genetic Resources in Areas Beyond National Jurisdictions: Strategy for a Successful Harnessing of Blue Biotechnology in Africa' by the African Development Bank (2021) and to provide evidence to the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee on 22 October 2020 as part of an inquiry into the pressing need to address biodiversity loss and the ongoing international on a post-2020 global biodiversity framework (see transcript and video). On both occasions, Prof Morgera built upon the study prepared for the European Commission.  

Professor Elisa Morgera said: 

This study provided an opportunity for SCELG and the One Ocean Hub to bring together our legal research on biodiversity and human rights and on regime interactions, with our inter-disciplinary research on fair research partnerships for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. It shows the practical and transformative potential of this kind of legal research to address some of the most controversial issues on the international agenda.

Practice-led research and teaching 

The study that SCELG conducted for the European Commission illustrates the many ways SCELG seeks to enhance the practical impacts of its research. The building of partnerships with public and private organisations is key to this objective. Furthermore, SCELG’s consultancy work provides opportunities for our students and notably PhD researchers to engage with the practical side of law- and policymaking and reform.