The possibilities of modern biotechnology are virtually endless. It will transform the agricultural, nutrition and health sectors. A growing number of commentators argue that modern biotechnology will even rewrite the way in which we define ourselves as human beings.
Biotechnology promises to make a significant contribution to meet the growing consumption needs of the global population and other challenges. It has the potential to enable the development of better health care, enhanced food security, and improved supplies of better quality water. New biotechnology may also provide more efficient industrial development processes for transforming raw materials, support for sustainable methods of afforestation and reforestation, better sewage treatment, improved decontamination of land and soil, and detoxification of hazardous wastes.
According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, 'biotechnology' means any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use.
Biotechnology is one of many tools that can play an important role to support the rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems and landscapes. New biotechnologies also offer opportunities for global partnerships between countries rich in biological resources (including genetic resources) and those that have developed the technological expertise to transform biological resources, hopefully to serve the needs of sustainable development. In this regard the question of benefit-sharing is being discussed.
Developments in this sector, however, are also raising a number of questions related to human values; they might irreversibly change ecological, economic and social dynamics. Increasingly numerous voices highlight the still poorly understood risks associated with biotechnologies. We know too little about the ecological interactions among the multitude of micro-organisms and higher organisms involved. It remains uncertain, in the long run, how the environment will react to the release of genetically modified organisms. Ecological damage might occur and become known only after decades. The Biosafety Protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity is an initial step to meet these concerns.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.