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Biotechnology watchdog

Early efforts to address specific issues arising from biotechnology and gene transfer, such as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, had set the stage for a regulatory regime for biotechnology development and use, to ensure that 'the planet's biological diversity (including human systems) will be able to coexist with this powerful technology' (UNEP 2000). Such efforts lead to the founding of a new international regulatory body in the early 2010s, patterned on the International Atomic Energy Agency but with greater authority.

Despite these challenges the signs of positive change strengthen the resolve to ensure that the agreed targets will be met. The initial responses of the institutions increase their legitimacy and stature. Events such as the 75th anniversary of the United Nations and World Bank and the 50th anniversary of UNEP present occasions to celebrate the progress that is being made, but also to acknowledge the challenges that remain and to reassert the need for continuing action.

The demands of continued population and economic growth still outweigh many incremental advances in sustainable production. Regional conflicts, often over contested resources, persist in several parts of the world, directly causing social and environmental damage, as well as diverting scarce resources from other priorities. And tropical storms, droughts, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, chemical spills and other industrial accidents remind society that natural and technological systems do not always behave according to plan.

It takes time for many to accept the idea of global public policy for the pursuit of sustainable development. Furthermore, the path pursued has meant adopting a highly technocratic approach and has not engendered a widespread shift in basic attitudes and behaviour. This makes certain policy actions either unfeasible or less effective than had been assumed.