The study, which was recently published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), is controversial, as it shows just how colonial the globalised research community still is. The study involved a team of current and former Eawag researchers analysing scientific literature on resources from the world’s oceans published over the last 50 years. It was found that, out of almost 10,000 studies, more than half originate from just a handful of countries in the rich North (USA, Japan, Australia and – most recently – China). This is despite the fact that the marine resources being written about in these publications – such as ones for the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food industries – often come from coastal nations in the Global South, such as African countries or Indonesia.
Benefits of the Convention manifesting very slowly
‘The results suggest that it is not only scientific kudos that is unequally distributed but also the profits from the utilisation of the resources being explored,’ says co-author Moritz Lürig from Eawag. According to the researcher, this finding is particularly disappointing in light of the longstanding efforts being made to improve the situation. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was adopted in 1993 following the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. It later gave rise to the Nagoya Protocol, a supplementary agreement which aims to ensure fair access to genetic resources and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilisation. The Convention has so far been signed by 193 countries, and was ratified by Switzerland in 1994.
Although the diversity of the countries from where the publications originate has increased since the Convention on Biological Diversity came into force, the research landscape is still dominated by just a handful of countries. ‘Unfortunately, this trend is changing only very, very slowly,’ says Lürig. He adds that ‘additional measures are needed to ensure that the benefits, such as those arising from marine drug research, are distributed more fairly across the globe.’