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Here’s what to look out for in 2020

The year 2019 was very busy for global policy on gene drive, and 2020 will not be any different. Next year is marked by two milestones that will shape biodiversity policies and actions for the next coming decades, and in doing so shape the research environment on gene drive: the IUCN World Conservation Congress (WCC) and the adoption of the CBD Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Synthetic biology is among the topics that will be under intense negotiations in both policy fronts. In fact, it already is.

2019 has been a year of preparation for these two milestones. Numerous regional and thematic consultations took place to inform the negotiations at the IUCN and CBD levels. This year also saw the launch of relevant reports that will, directly or indirectly, continue to shape perceptions and discussions of gene drive research. The IPBES’ report, WHO World Malaria Report, The Lance Commission’s report on Malaria and IUCN report on synthetic biology are a few of them.

When IUCN’s members meet in June 2020 at the IUCN WCC, they will vote to approve motions that will ultimately become the body of IUCN’s general policy. This will be the apex of a process that started four years before. At this moment, the motions are open for consultation until March, including the IUCN Principles on Synthetic Biology and Biodiversity Conservation. However, when the voting process starts, from April to May, only IUCN members will have the right to participate. The outcomes of the meetings in June are expected to feed into member states considerations for the next Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP-15) in October 2020, and more broadly, to significantly shape the perception of gene drive research in the conservation community.

The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will also be finalized during CBD’s COP15. This is met to mark the completion of the Aichi targets. Although there was progress in some areas, we are far away from having accomplished all that was agreed a decade ago. The new framework represents a chance to address gaps, set new targets and renew stakeholders’ commitment to the environment. It will provide guidance not only to other organizations and bodies working on biodiversity conservation, but for all international organizations, governments and other stakeholders engaged in biodiversity management and policymaking.

To add to a busy year of special events, CBD’s “regular” negotiations on synthetic biology and risk assessment will continue throughout 2020. The year will start with the online forum on risk assessment and risk management of living modified organisms, including gene drive organisms. The online forum will take place from 20 to 31 January, followed by the meetings of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group (AHTEG) on Risk Assessment and Risk Management in April and then the 24th meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA-24), where both synthetic biology and risk assessment will be discussed. Recommendations from this meeting will inform the CBD negotiations in October.

The 2019-2020 biennium is a key year for gene drive policy and governance. Meetings throughout 2020 will define priorities and the level of ambition of governments, international organizations, civil society and the private sector towards biodiversity, determining what role innovation and new approaches can play in the future.

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