The Doomsday Vault: Seed Banks, Food Security, and Climate Change

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES: THE NEW BIOLOGY, Matthew Rimmer, Alison McLennan eds., Edward Elgar Publishing, 2012

Posted: 27 Feb 2012

See all articles by Matthew Rimmer

Matthew Rimmer

Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Date Written: February 1, 2012

Abstract

"It could easily provide the back-drop for a James Bond movie. Deep inside a mountain near the North Pole, down a fortified tunnel, and behind airlocked doors in a vault frozen to -18 degrees Celsius, scientists are squirreling away millions of seed samples. The samples constitute the very foundation of agriculture, the biological diversity needed so the world's major food crops can adapt to the next pest or disease, or to climate change. It's little wonder that the Svalbard Global Seed Vault has captured the public's imagination more than almost any agricultural topic in recent years. Popular press reports about the ‘Doomsday Vault,’ however, typically mask the complexity of the endeavor and, if anything, underestimate its practical utility." Cary Fowler

This chapter considers the use of seed banks to address concerns about intellectual property, climate change and food security. It has a number of themes. First of all, it is interested in the use of ‘Big Science’ projects to address pressing global scientific concerns and Millennium Development Goals. Second, it highlights the increasing use of banks as a means of managing both property and intellectual property across a wide range of fields of agriculture and biotechnology. Third, it considers the linkage of intellectual property, access to genetic resources and benefit sharing. There are a variety of positions in this debate. Some see requirements in respect of access to genetic resources and benefit sharing as an inconvenient burden for science and commerce. Others defend access to genetic resources and benefit sharing as meaningful and productive. Those inclined to somewhat more conspiratorial views suggest that access to genetic resources and benefit sharing are a ruse to facilitate biopiracy.

This chapter has a number of components. Section I focuses upon the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) network – often raised as a model for Climate Innovation Centres. Section II considers the Svalbard Global Seed Vault – the so-called Doomsday Vault. After a consideration of the World Summit on Food Security in 2009, it is concluded in this chapter that any future international agreement on climate change needs to address intellectual property, plant genetic resources and food security.

Keywords: Intellectual Property, Seed Banks, Access to Plant Genetic Resources, Food Security, Climate Change, Benefit-Sharing

Suggested Citation

Rimmer, Matthew, The Doomsday Vault: Seed Banks, Food Security, and Climate Change (February 1, 2012). INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES: THE NEW BIOLOGY, Matthew Rimmer, Alison McLennan eds., Edward Elgar Publishing, 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2011522

Matthew Rimmer (Contact Author)

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) ( email )

Level 4, C Block Gardens Point
2 George St
Brisbane, Queensland QLD 4000
Australia

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