Genome Canada joined the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) alongside Canadian and global leaders from Dec. 7 to 14, 2022 in Montréal to strengthen our collective approach to the biodiversity challenge.
Governments from around the world came together at COP15 to commit to a new set of four goals and 23 targets guiding global action to reverse nature loss through to 2030: a framework aimed at protecting 30 per cent of the planet’s land and oceans. Now comes the hard work of implementation.
Did you know that genomics is enabling vital tools and solutions to monitor biodiversity and drive effective conservation strategies?
Genomics is already guiding conservation efforts and policy around the world, and it will play a pivotal role in the effective implementation of the framework established at COP15. This technology can be used to identify biodiversity markers, mitigate human-made impacts to the environment and build climate change resilience. Deep collaboration and cross-sectoral partnership are vital to slowing and reversing biodiversity loss.
COP15 discussions on our radar
What is DSI and why were people talking about it at COP15?
Digital sequence information (DSI) refers to genomic sequencing data, and other related digital data, such as the sequence of an organism’s DNA. This data has revolutionized the biological sciences, enabling major breakthroughs in health, food and agriculture and environmental sustainability. How we use and share this data has big implications for Canada’s and the global response to biodiversity loss: a dominant topic of discussion at COP15.
The COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies the importance of genomic data for our health and wellbeing. Not only did genomics enable the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines. Genomics sequencing data from SARS-CoV-2 samples enabled us to track and understand the spread of the pandemic and new Variants of Concern. Data generated by sequencing the genomes of individuals with COVID-19 also allowed researchers to understand how the virus was impacted different populations (learn more about the Genome Canada-led Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network).
Without improved standards and collaboration to share genomic data, Canada and the global community wouldn’t have been able to use this genomic sequencing information to inform its COVID-19 response.
Similarly, developing national and international standards for access and benefit sharing related to genetic resources is vital to the development of effective and equitable solutions for biodiversity conservation.
Check out this A+ explainer on DSI and genetic resources:
DSI in the final COP15 agreement:
DSI features among the overarching global goals and targets within the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) agreed upon at COP15.
- “GOAL C: The monetary and non-monetary benefits from the utilization of genetic resources, and digital sequence information on genetic resources, and of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, as applicable, are shared fairly and equitably, including, as appropriate with indigenous peoples and local communities, and substantially increased by 2050, while ensuring traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources is appropriately protected, thereby contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, in accordance with internationally agreed access and benefit-sharing instruments.”
- Target 13: Take effective legal, policy, administrative and capacity-building measures at all levels, as appropriate, to ensure the fair and equitable sharing of benefits that arise from the utilization of genetic resources and from digital sequence information on genetic resources, as well as traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, and facilitating appropriate access to genetic resources, and by 2030 facilitating a significant increase of the benefits shared, in accordance with applicable international access and benefit-sharing instruments.
- COP15 delegates agreed to establish a multilateral fund within the GBF for the equitable sharing of benefits between providers and users of DSI, to be finalized at COP16 in Turkey in 2024.
- In addition to the GBF, COP15 delegates also approved a series of related implementation agreements, including on one on digital sequence information and genetic resources.
Importantly, the agreement enshrines Indigenous data rights, acknowledging the FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable, and their respective sub-principles) and CARE (Collective benefit, Authority to control, Responsibility and Ethics, and their respective sub-principles) principles.
Building on our strengths
Looking ahead post COP15, Canada has enormous strengths in biodiversity genomics to build on, including more than two decades of strategic investments through Genome Canada.
For example, iTrackDNA is harnessing environmental DNA (eDNA) to support natural resource management decisions by Canadian communities, Indigenous peoples, industries and regulators who require timely and relevant information regarding risk and impacts of human activities, especially in the context of climate change.
EDNA technology is also supporting Atlantic Canada’s blue economy, providing accurate information on marine species biodiversity.
As highlighted during COP15, Indigenous knowledge, leadership and engagement are vital to environmental sustainability.
Initiatives like the Bison Integrated Genomics (BIG) project, aimed at protecting a species of significant symbolic and cultural importance for many Indigenous and First Nations communities, are working in collaboration with Indigenous communities, industry, academic and governments to harness genomics for conservation.
Meanwhile, the Summer Internship for INdigenous Peoples in Genomics (SING Canada) is working to tackling the ongoing and pressing challenge of low Indigenous representation in genomics head-on with innovative, culturally relevant and Indigenous-led mentorship and training.
At COP15, Génome Québec also showcased its ongoing public engagement work on genomics and biodiversity, bringing individuals of all ages together to understand the science driving environmental sustainability for generations to come.
Genome Canada’s Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, highlighted more of our strategic biodiversity investments during her COP15 Twitter takeover.
Genome Canada and the regional Genome Centres (the Canadian Genomics Enterprise) will continue to strengthen our impact for biodiversity, building on our strategic investments in large-scale genomics and biodiversity projects, including the Canada BioGenome Project, iTrackDNA and BIOSCAN. These projects have developed valuable data, standards and tools that are critical to advancing the use of genomics to help us understand and preserve biodiversity in Canada and globally.
Building from Canada’s leadership as COP15 host, and our engagement at the event, we are working closely with scientists funded through the Canadian Genomics Enterprise to deepen collaborations aimed at establishing a biodiversity genomics network or hub for Canada.