This month's Close UP features A SEED JAPAN, a youth organization of future leaders which was established in October 1991. The organization has been making proposals and taking actions to tackle cross-border environmental issues with an aim to realize a sustainable and fair society. Currently, the organization has about 1,300 registered members, many of whom are students and young workers in their 20s and 30s. For this interview, we talked to Yuko Mitsumoto, Director of the organization, Hirotaka Matsui, a member for the COP10 Youth Campaign (tentative project title), and Kunihiko Kobayashi and Maho Yamashita both of whom are in charge of a project that promotes the fair utilization of biodiversity.
(From left) Ms. Yamashita, Mr. Kobayashi,
Ms. Mitsumoto, and Mr. Matsui
A SEED JAPANの活動概要を教えてください。
Mitsumoto: We have been working on various projects to approach different environmental issues based on our core idea that we as youth take our own actions to make changes in our society. Each of our projects is formed voluntarily, and each project team is independently responsible for funding their activities. Team leaders and members are all students and young working men and women. After the team achieves its goal in a few years, some members choose to work for another nongovernmental organization or to start up a new organization by themselves. We recognize that fostering human resources is one of the roles of A SEED JAPAN.

Among a number of the organization's ongoing projects, we have chosen to introduce the "Fair Utilization of Biodiversity" project. This project team was established by targeting the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, or COP 10, which will be held in Nagoya this October. Among the main goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the project especially focuses on genetic resources that are often used for the development of medical and cosmetic products.

<Three main goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity>
(started receiving signatures at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992)

・Conservation of biological diversity and habitat environment
・Sustainable use of components of biological resources
・Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources

*193 countries and regions have signed as of the end of December 2009

Kobayashi: In May 2008, I participated in the COP 9 held in Bonn, Germany as an observer. There, a member of a German nongovernmental organization asked me why there were no organizations in Japan delivering information about problems surrounding genetic resources. Indeed, the awareness of issues about the utilization and sharing of genetic resources, or ABS (Access and Benefit Sharing), was very limited in Japan back then. There were no groups seriously working on this task, either. We launched our project in October 2008. Currently ten members are working for the project.
Kobayashi: More precisely, ABS is an abbreviation of "access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their utilization."
For example, a foreign business or research institute may collect some genetic resources, like plants, in a certain country and take them back home, crossbreed or process them to eventually develop marketable products such as medicines and cosmetics. They can make money, but nothing is returned to the country which provided those genetic recourses. Although each case is different, there have been many such incidents reported from around the world, widening the gap between developing countries which own genetic resources and developed countries which take advantage of these resources. ABS is a concept that aims to promote a fair sharing of benefits for developing countries which own and provide genetic resources.
Kobayashi: The recognition of the issue as well as the efforts toward improving the conditions is advanced in Europe and the United States compared to the situation in Japan. Some cosmetic companies in the U.S. and France are actively advertising their accomplishment of benefit sharing with the countries of origin.

Yamashita: There are some businesses in Japan which are working on the ABS issue. However, the reality is that the term genetic resources itself is not yet well understood. Genetic resources are often used in common products we use in our daily lives, such as medicines, cosmetics, and foods. I believe these manufacturers would begin to take the issue more seriously if more people start choosing ABS-concerned products.

Yamashita: Yes, ABS will be one of the major discussion topics at the plenary session of the COP 10. At the conference, a new international system is to be formulated in which both developing and developed countries may benefit in respect to the utilization of genetic resources and the sharing of benefit. We have to be cautious about the vagueness of the word "system" though, as one may simply advocate ideals and claim that the system is created. However, what is important now is how we define rules and penalties related to ABS as international laws. Our goal is to make a strong appeal for establishing effective and legally binding global rules.  

Kobayashi: We have participated in preliminary meetings of the COP 10 and have submitted the papers. We have also exchanged opinions with officials from the Japanese government. We have been trying to directly deliver our voices to as many people as possible by being at various negotiating tables.
Last year, we sent an open letter to different Japanese corporations, mainly pharmaceutical companies and cosmetic manufacturers, and asked questions about their activities and efforts for the issues related to genetic resources. We occasionally hold debriefing sessions to report the feedback of the letters and seminars with guest specialists to discuss related topics.
Yamashita: ABS is a complicated issue as it involves the rights and interests of counties and businesses. It is impossible to speak of the issue merely as an environmental matter without concerning its economic aspect. I would say this is the most difficult part of the issue. I am still trying to understand its complexity better. One thing that I always remind myself of is that I need to think without being confounded by interests and stakes.

Meetings continue till late night everyday
at A SEED JAPAN office

Matsui: We would like to continue pursuing our rights as youth for not only the biodiversity problem but many other things. We are trying to protect our future by ourselves.
We understand that the ABS is a difficult issue to deal with when economic interests are concerned. This, however, makes me believe that there are so many possibilities we can achieve as a youth who is free.  

Matsui: May 22 is "Biodiversity Day." Around that day, we are planning to run a campaign in the Kanto area to advocate the need of establishing a new goal to protect biodiversity. Through the campaign, we hope to reach as many people as possible and help them learn more about the biodiversity problems. We look forward to meeting you at the campaign.
Biodiversity Guide Book published by A SEED JAPAN
(To purchase a copy, send an e-mail to A SEED JAPAN office at: