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Bi-polar Disorder? Is Bioprospecting an Emerging Issue for the Arctic as well as for Antarctica?


  • David Leary is a JSPS–UNU Post-doctoral Fellow at the United Nations University – Institute of Advanced Studies, Japan. The author gratefully acknowledges funding and assistance for his research provided by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, the United Nations University – Institute for Advanced Studies and by Assistant Professor Kae Oyama and Chukyo University. The author also gratefully acknowledges feedback on this article provided by Lise Lykke Steffensen, Senior Advisor, Nordic Council of Ministers; Vivi Hunnicke, Nielsen Nordic Gene Resources Council; and Birgitte Valen, Ministry of the Environment, Norway. Finally, the author gratefully acknowledges information supplied by members of the Nordic Gene Resources Council during a meeting with the Council in Copenhagen on 26 April 2007.


Bioprospecting has recently emerged as a new challenge for environmental governance in Antarctica. While considerable attention now surrounds this issue in Antarctica, there has been little, if any, debate on the question of whether bioprospecting is also an issue requiring a policy or regulatory response in the Arctic. This article briefly considers the emerging debate with respect to bioprospecting in Antarctica. It then provides a detailed survey of the nature and extent of bioprospecting in the Arctic, with a focus on the Nordic countries. It goes on to outline legislative developments in several Nordic countries concerning the regulation of access and benefit sharing in relation to naturally occurring biological materials of actual or potential value commonly referred to as wild genetic resources. It concludes by highlighting some potential disputes raised by the creation of such regimes, especially around the disputed waters of Svalbard. This analysis suggests that a more coordinated regional response may be warranted in the Arctic in the future.