UNEP


INFORMATION KIT

BRATISLAVA 1998

FOURTH MEETING OF THE CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES

CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

4 - 15 May 1998


Contents


Opening press release

What will the Bratislava Conference achieve for global biodiversity?

The ecosystem programmes
Policies for promoting biodiversity
The biosafety protocol
Preparing for the 21st century

A brief history of the Convention on Biological Diversity

Biodiversity: a maturing science
Early international action
The Convention on Biological Diversity
The Convention at work

A glossary of acronyms and jargon

The players
The action (meetings, documents, process)
The issues

Produced by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity
with support from UNEP's Information Unit for Conventions.


For use of the media only;
not an official document.

PRESS RELEASE

Governments to develop long-term rescue plan for biological diversity

Bratislava, Slovakia, May 1998 - Some 1,500 participants from 180 countries are meeting here from 4 - 15 May to strengthen national and international efforts to conserve and manage the world's dwindling biological resources.

Known formally as the fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-4) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the conference will review the current intergovernmental approach to addressing biodiversity.

The goal is to improve the effectiveness of ecosystem programmes on inland waters, marine and coastal areas, and agricultural lands that are vital to human well-being and the global environment. Key policies for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are also on the conference agenda. (See following backgrounder for details.)

"The meeting of the Parties in Bratislava must accelerate global action against the many threats facing biological diversity," says Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, which administers the Convention. "This is an opportunity to channel more financial, technological, and political resources into a long-term strategic effort to reverse the destruction of species and ecosystems around the globe."

The first two days of the conference will coincide with a Ministerial Roundtable on Biological Diversity that will explore how to integrate biodiversity concerns into key economic activities and how to engage the private sector in this effort. The Roundtable will also help to generate political momentum for the conference.

"Adopted in 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity is now maturing and functioning effectively at the national and local levels," says Calestous Juma, the Convention's Executive Secretary. "An early review of the first 80 national reports that have been submitted reveals that countries are ready to take increasingly ambitious steps to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity."

Note to journalists: The meeting takes place at Incheba a.s., Viedenská cesta 5, Bratislava, Slovakia. Official documents and other information can be found via the Internet at http://www.biodiv.org/. For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact UNEP/IUC at (+41-22) 917 8242, fax (+41-22) 797 3464, email mwilliams@unep.ch, http://www.unep.ch/iuc/submenu/press/cbdpress.htm


What will the Bratislava Conference achieve for global biodiversity?

Bratislava, May 1998 - Just six years after its adoption at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is starting to transform the international community's approach to biodiversity. This progress has been driven by the Convention's inherent strengths of near-universal membership (over 170 Parties), a comprehensive and science-driven mandate, international financial support for national projects, world-class scientific and technology advice, and the political involvement of government ministers.

The fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-4) will launch the Convention's transition from a focus on start-up activities to a longer-term action plan. Its success will be judged by the progress it makes on 1) guiding and strengthening global programmes for several key ecosystems; 2) advancing a number of priority policy issues; and 3) improving the intergovernmental process and elaborating a long-term strategy for the Convention.

The ecosystem programmes

One of the primary innovations of the Convention is its emphasis on the ecosystem approach, under which species and landscapes are viewed primarily as an integral part of their encompassing ecosystem. An ecosystem is a dynamic complex of plant, animal, and micro-organism communities (plus their non-living environment of air, soil, rock, and water) that interact as a functional unit. Although much is still unknown about how ecosystems function, recent studies suggest that high species diversity is essential to the stability and resiliency of an ecosystem. Tragically, ecosystems around the world are being degraded and fragmented by deforestation, desertification, climate change, urbanization, agricultural development, overuse, and other environmental pressures.

The Parties to the Convention give special attention to one type of ecosystem at each COP meeting. The ecosystem theme for Bratislava is inland water biodiversity. Inland water ecosystems are often extensively modified by man, more so than marine or terrestrial systems, and appear to be the most threatened ecosystem type of all. Their physical and chemical characteristics vary greatly, and their most important ecological processes often rely on species that are threatened or endemic (existing only in a limited area).

Inland water ecosystems perform valuable ecological functions and contain species of great social, scientific, and economic importance. The benefits to humanity include food, incomes, water supplies, energy production, transport, recreation, and tourism.

The Bratislava meeting will consider recommendations from the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) for establishing a new international work programme on inland water ecosystems. In collaboration with other organizations and conventions, this programme will identify the information gaps that need to be closed in order to make the first comprehensive, global assessment of inland water biodiversity. It will also identify best practices and policies for conservation and sustainable use, consider how to integrate biodiversity concerns into sectoral planning (e.g. fisheries and waterfront development), and promote transboundary cooperation and the involvement of local and indigenous communities in ecosystem management.

A similar multi-year work programme on the ecosystem theme of agricultural biodiversity was launched in November 1996 by the previous meeting, COP-3. Agricultural biodiversity is the basis for all food production and is essential to food security and the livelihoods of billions of people. It has been developed over thousands of years by smallholder farmers and indigenous peoples in a wide range of ecosystems. Modern agricultural techniques have boosted productivity, but by introducing new and uniform crop varieties into farmers' fields they have displaced numerous local varieties and reduced diversity.

The decline in agricultural biodiversity has accelerated throughout the 20th century in parallel with an increasing population's demand for food. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), some 75% of the world's crop varieties have become extinct, with approximately 50,000 disappearing each year. This genetic erosion is worsened by the loss of forest cover, coastal wetlands, and other wild and uncultivated areas, and it has led to losses of the wild relatives of today's main crop plants - which are invaluable genetic resources for the future.

The Parties to the Convention have been carrying out their work programme on agricultural biodiversity in close cooperation with FAO. The programme is designed to promote the positive effects of agricultural practices and reduce the negative ones. It also promotes the conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources that are of actual or potential value for food and agriculture. In Bratislava, the SBSTTA will present a review of the activities taking place at both the national and international levels under the programme and propose how to move forward.

Marine and coastal area biodiversity was the major ecosystem theme for COP-2 in November 1995. These areas form the world's second largest reservoir of biodiversity, after forests. However, up to 10% of coral reefs - the aquatic equivalent of tropical rain forests - have been degraded beyond recovery, and an additional 30% are predicted to collapse over the next 10 to 20 years. Coastal mangroves, a vital nursery habitat for countless species, are also at risk; 50% have already been cleared. Massive overfishing has caused the collapse of major commercial fisheries as well as losses in non-target species ("by-catch") and destruction of habitat.

The direct causes of biodiversity loss in marine and coastal environments include over-exploitation of commercial species, pollution, the introduction of alien species, and habitat destruction and degradation. Contributing causes include the (often unintended) effects of the policies and programmes of international financial institutions, economic and other incentives and disincentives, tenure and access arrangements for both land and sea, and the undervaluing of biodiversity in pricing decisions.

In response, ministers at COP-2 adopted the Jakarta Mandate on Marine and Coastal Biodiversity. It lists specific, concrete actions that Parties should take to stem biodiversity loss, with an emphasis on sustainable mariculture (harvesting of marine organisms), alien species, protected marine areas, integrated area management, and over-exploitation of living marine resources. It also establishes a work programme to develop guidelines for ecosystem evaluation and assessment, promote the ecosystem approach, improve the understanding of how alien species affect biodiversity, and identify gaps in legal instruments and guidelines on introducing such species.

In Bratislava, the Convention's Secretariat will report on progress made and present recommendations for a longer term programme of work. In 1996, the COP started discussing the development of a programme on forest biodiversity. Forests are the world's single most important reservoirs of biodiversity. Tropical, temperate, and boreal forests provide diverse habitats for plants, animals, and micro-organisms and are home to the vast majority of terrestrial species. They also play an important economic, social, and cultural role in the lives of many people, particularly indigenous and local communities. Forest biodiversity is being lost to the rapid deforestation, fragmentation, and degradation of all forest types. The World Resource Institute estimates that one fifth of all natural tropical rain forest cover was lost from 1960-1990. FAO estimates that, on average, over 15 million hectares of tropical forests disappeared every year during the 1980s, equal to about 1% per year and a 50% increase over the rate in the 1970s. A quick glance at these figures reveals that forest loss and degradation is the single most important direct cause of biodiversity loss.

Forests are already dealt with in a number of fora, such as the International Forum on Forests, and new activities under the Convention must complement these ongoing efforts. The COP will continue developing the elements of a work programme that would offer additional value by emphasizing the ecosystem approach, integrating socioeconomic considerations and conservation and sustainable use, and promoting scientific analyses of how human activities and forest management practices influence biodiversity and how the negative influences could be minimized. The COP may also consider the need for a global assessment of forest biological diversity that would build on the efforts of various international organizations and governments and complement the work of the International Forum on Forests.

Policies for promoting biodiversity

In addition to these ecosystems, the Conference will address various policies and activities that contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and the equitable sharing of its benefits. One of these is traditional knowledge, which can play an important role in supporting in-situ conservation (such as nature reserves). Parties to the Convention are encouraged to respect, preserve, and maintain the knowledge, innovations, and practices of indigenous and local communities, which have developed keen insights into the intimate workings of biodiversity and the many products and services it can offer.

In 1996, COP-3 launched a process for supporting traditional knowledge which culminated last November in the five-day Workshop on Traditional Knowledge and Biological Diversity. Among other things, participants considered case studies submitted by governments describing their efforts to support traditional knowledge. COP-4 will review the workshop's report and consider establishing a committee to push the process forward towards more concrete actions.

Benefit sharing provides an incentive for local stakeholders and the country of origin to conserve and use biodiversity sustainably. The idea is that by granting an international company or other organization access to its genetic resources (such as plants that can be used to produce new pharmaceuticals or fragrances), a country or local community will in return receive a fair share of the profits or other benefits.

The development of an international regime for access and benefit sharing is at an early stage, and several aspects remain contentious. In Bratislava, governments will try to advance towards such a regime by considering how to distribute the benefits from biotechnology and genetic resources equitably and how to develop national legislative, administrative, or policy measures for access to genetic resources. Such a regime could include private sector involvement in promoting benefit sharing, industrial policies on biotechnology, national legislation on access, incentive measures, partnerships and contracts, assistance to developing countries, institutional capacity-building, entrepreneurial development, and targeted research.

The COP is likely to recommend that Parties enact the necessary national legislation and, until it comes into force, use interim mechanisms to promote benefit-sharing arrangements and information exchange.

The importance of economically and socially sound incentives for conservation and sustainable use is widely recognized. At the last COP, Parties started to share their experiences and exchange information on incentives to gain an understanding of how incentive measures work. An analysis of several case studies concluded that incentive measures can be economic, social, institutional, or a combination of these; that the practical aspects of instituting incentives must be considered during the design stage; and that widespread participation in designing incentives is important. At COP-4, Parties may decide to continue the exchange of information and to provide more case studies.

Parties will also start to provide information and share experiences on their public education and awareness raising programmes. These programmes are essential for promoting public support for national biodiversity policies and for the Convention itself. They can be organized and promoted through schools and universities, botanical gardens, natural history museums, herbaria, aquariums, arboreta, and of course the media. Intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, at both the national and international levels, can also play an important role. There is great scope for cooperation in this field, including between the COP and national and international organizations, which the COP may seek to encourage.

Finally, assessing the environmental impact of projects and policies before they are implemented is fundamental to preventing damage to biological diversity. Under the Convention, Parties are expected to require environmental impact assessments of projects involving infrastructure, economic development, and so forth; ensure that the environmental consequences of programmes and policies are duly taken into account; notify and consult with other States on potentially harmful activities or imminent dangers; promote national arrangements for emergency responses; and consider the issues of liability and redress.

COP-4 will look at ways of using environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for biodiversity, as well as at the issue of liability and redress for damage to biological diversity. It may also invite countries and organizations to submit further case studies for analysis.

The biosafety protocol

In addition to ecosystem programmes and policy issues, the COP will review the progress being made in the negotiations on the Convention's first protocol. Recognizing that biotechnology can bring both considerable benefits to human society and potential risks to the environment and human health, the COP established the Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety in 1996. The Group's mandate is to develop a legally binding protocol on the transboundary movement of living modified organisms that may have adverse impacts on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Since then, the Working Group has met four times, and it intends to conclude its work by the end of 1998. In Bratislava, it will brief the COP on its progress and request a number of decisions regarding its work. The COP will consider holding an extraordinary meeting at the end of 1998 to adopt the protocol.

Preparing for the 21st century

The dangers and stresses facing the world's biodiversity will be with us for a long time. As the Convention matures, it must establish strong institutions, procedures, and strategies to support effective action for many decades to come. This is the most vital task facing COP-4.

Of the institutions serving the Convention, the Conference of the Parties (COP) is the most important. As the Convention's supreme authority, the COP considers and adopts amendments to the Convention, establishes subsidiary bodies as necessary, considers reports by the Parties, and works with executive bodies of related conventions. Its effectiveness is being impaired, however, by the unwieldy size and scope of its agenda, the lack of certain finalized procedures, and varying levels of participation from large and small delegations and the numerous non-governmental organizations. It may be possible to improve the COP's effectiveness by prioritizing the work, delegating items to subsidiary bodies, and strengthening the preparatory process for COP meetings.

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) was conceived as an expert advisory board to the more political COP. Many people feel, however, that the SBSTTA has often served more as a preparatory forum for COP meetings. Prioritizing and disciplining its agenda and clarifying its functions could ensure a more objective and truly advisory role for this key committee.

The Convention's Secretariat, located in Montreal, Canada, services the Parties by preparing and servicing meetings of the COP and its subsidiary bodies. COP-4 will consider the Secretariat's role in establishing and maintaining rosters of experts, the relationship between the Secretariat and future protocols to the Convention, the Secretariat's authority for guiding and interpreting national reports, and its involvement in the preparation of these reports.

The Convention has a financial mechanism for raising international funds and channeling them to appropriate biodiversity projects in developing countries. It is "operated" on an interim basis by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) based on policy guidance from the COP. COP-4 will review the mechanism's activities and effectiveness and consider whether further guidance to the GEF is needed. It will explore how to expand the financial resources available for biodiversity and consider ways of collaborating with other funding institutions and the private sector. More work is also needed on compiling information about possible sources of new funding.

Finally, another key institution to be reviewed is the clearing-house mechanism (CHM) for promoting and facilitating technical and scientific cooperation between countries. The information-exchange capacity of the clearing-house is now being developed through a pilot phase that will continue through 1998. Other functions, such as technology transfer, will be considered next.

Another vital area for the Convention's long-term effectiveness is the development of institutional links and cooperation with other bodies. These bodies include the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the World Bank, the World Conservation Union - IUCN, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and FAO. Collaboration with these groups is still nascent, but there is enormous potential.

Close co-operation with other biodiversity-related efforts will provide many new advantages and opportunities, but these will not come without a price. Managing relationships has many hidden costs, and institutional problems can also arise from delegation to outside bodies. To ensure efficient cooperation with other processes, the COP may consider setting priorities, such as harmonizing the national reporting requirements of the various treaties, coordinating meetings schedules, cooperating with the other Rio Conventions (climate change and desertification), promoting cooperation amongst countries in the same region, exploring scientific cooperation on the environmental linkages between the conventions, identifying programmes that have multiple benefits, and enhancing joint awareness raising.

National reporting of strategies and programmes for promoting the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity is central to the Convention's future, as the responsibility for actually achieving its goals rests largely with the Parties themselves. National reports are also the principal means by which the international community can demonstrate concrete progress towards the Convention's objectives. As of March 1998, the Secretariat had collected over 80 such reports from Parties.

In Bratislava governments are expected to ask the SBSTTA to further analyze these reports with the goal of producing guidelines by COP-5 for preparing future national reports. In addition, Parties will be encouraged to submit more information and to provide financial and other necessary support for the completion of reports by all Parties.

Strong institutions, the exploitation of synergies with other treaties and programmes, and effective national reporting are all vital underpinnings of a long-term programme of work for the Convention. Since 1994, when COP-1 established the 1995-98 Medium Term Programme of Work, the COP has focused on institution-building and on launching the various activities described above. This initial phase is now drawing to a close, and there is a general consensus on the need for a longer-term planning horizon starting in 1999.

The medium-term work programme is widely considered to have been a success; at the same time, the Convention agenda has expanded so rapidly to cover the numerous problems associated with biodiversity that the capacity of governments to keep up has been stretched to the limit. The challenge now lies in finding a balance between the integrated approach demanded by the Convention and the need for enough focus to ensure that existing activities can be fully developed.

Many governments believe that the next phase should focus on carrying out the existing COP decisions and programmes, rather than on opening up new areas of work. They seek to streamline and prioritize a longer-term agenda, perhaps through the adoption of a rolling ten-year programme of work and the scheduling of just five issues per COP meeting. Together with closer collaboration with related instruments, more structured scientific advice from SBSTTA, and stronger linkages between the Convention and civil society, this long-term planning cycle promises to boost the effectiveness of global action on biodiversity.


A brief history of the Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was conceived as an ambitious project for reversing the tide of devastation that humanity has wrought upon the natural world. The stakes are high: although some 40% of the world economy is derived directly from biological diversity, humanity is pushing species to extinction faster than at any time since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. Band aids are not enough; only a fundamental and far-reaching solution can ensure that future generations will live in a biologically rich world.

Like the other so-called Rio conventions (on climate change and desertification), the biodiversity treaty tackles a major global challenge by integrating environmental conservation with economic development. "Sustainable development" is only possible if the earth's renewable resources are not consumed so intensively that they cannot replenish themselves. The Convention innovates by adopting a comprehensive approach to biodiversity in order to achieve this goal.

Biodiversity: a maturing science

In recent years, biologists, ecologists, and other experts have gained a growing appreciation of the interconnectedness and complexity of the natural world and the importance of this richness for human society. The Convention on Biological Diversity is based on this science. It defines biological diversity as "the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems."

Although the total number of species remains unknown, estimates suggest that there are close to 14 million, of which about 1.7 million have been scientifically described. The rate of species extinction today is unprecedented and certainly largely influenced by human behavior. According to the United Nations Environment Programme's Global Biodiversity Assessment, produced with the participation of approximately 1,500 scientists, species extinction since the year 1600 has occurred at 50 - 100 times the average estimated natural rate, and it is expected to rise to between 1,000 and 10,000 times the natural rate. At present, more than 31,000 plant and animal species are threatened with extinction.

The Global Biodiversity Assessment cites the five major causes of biodiversity loss as the fragmentation, degradation or outright loss of habitats; over-exploitation of biological resources; pollution; the introduction of non-native (alien, or exotic) species; and climate change. Forests, marine and coastal areas, and agricultural and inland water ecosystems are among those facing the most severe biodiversity losses.

The World Resources Institute estimates that from 1960 to 1990, one fifth of all natural tropical rain forest cover was lost. As much as 10% of the world's coral reefs - the aquatic equivalents of tropical rain forests - have been degraded beyond recovery, and an additional 30% are predicted to collapse over the next 10 - 20 years. The world's coastal mangroves, a vital nursery ground for countless species, are also at risk; 50% of them have already been cleared.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, some 75% of the world's crop varieties have become extinct, with approximately 50,000 disappearing each year. At the same time, clearing land for agriculture is a major source of biodiversity loss. From 1700 to 1980 the amount of domesticated land grew from 5% to 35% of total land mass. It is estimated that a growing world population and a shift in preferences from staples to luxury foods will lead to a 27% increase in farmed areas by 2015 and a 45% increase by 2050.

While the current wave of extinctions and destroyed ecosystems is an irreversible environmental tragedy, humanity's dependence on food crops and other biological resources also makes it dangerous to our species. By the 1970s, biologists were sounding alarm bells that started to be heard by both policymakers and the general public.

Early international action

The conservation of biological diversity was first identified as a priority in 1972 at the United Nations Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm. The first meeting of UNEP's Governing Council the following year identified the "conservation of nature, wildlife and genetic resources" as a priority area. Throughout the rest of the 1970s, many international and regional legal instruments on particular aspects of biological diversity were adopted, including:

* The 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which seeks to protect these biologically prolific but undervalued ecosystems.

* The 1972 Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which channels international financial, scientific, and technological support to sites of outstanding value.

* The 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which bans or regulates trade in 3,500 plant and 4,000 animal species through a system of permits and certificates.

* The 1979 Bonn Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which coordinates regional and global efforts to protect some 10,000 migratory species, including birds, dolphins, and marine turtles.

Despite these efforts, in 1987 two major reports - Our Common Future by the World Commission on Environment and Development, and the Global Environment Perspective to the Year 2000 by UNEP - stressed the accelerating depletion of biological diversity. In June of that year UNEP convened an Ad Hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity to harmonize existing biodiversity-related conventions. At its very first meeting, the Group agreed on the need for a binding international agreement on the overall problem of biological diversity.

In May 1988, UNEP established another Ad hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity with a mandate to prepare an international legally binding instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It was instructed to take into account "the need to share costs and benefits between developed and developing countries and the ways and means to support innovation by local people".

In 1991, the Ad hoc Working Group evolved into an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC). The INC held seven working sessions to negotiate and adopt the text of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Convention was opened for signature on 5 June 1992 during the Rio Earth Summit, where it received over 150 signatures. UNEP then convened an Intergovernmental Committee on the Convention on Biological Diversity which held two meetings to prepare, among other things, the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties.

The Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity is one of the most significant recent developments in international law, environment, and development. It has three goals:

* The conservation of biodiversity. Species and ecosystems are normally protected from destruction through in-situ conservation, including nature reserves and policies to save endangered species. In some cases ex-situ conservation, such as zoos and seed banks, are also necessary.

* The sustainable use of the components of biodiversity. The Convention promotes measures to ensure that future generations will continue to benefit economically and otherwise from today's biological resources. It accepts, then, both conservation and economic motivations as reasons for action.

* The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. Chromosomes, genes, and DNA determine the uniqueness of each individual and species. They are the building blocks of biodiversity. They also underlie many commercial activities, such as biotechnology and the development of new pharmaceuticals. Developing countries in particular are concerned about the ground rules for access to these new technologies for exploiting genetic resources. The Convention addresses this by acknowledging that when a microbe, plant, or animal is used for a commercial application, the country from which it came should also participate and benefit. This offers opportunities for creating new joint ventures and collaborative research programmes.

Thus the Convention builds on existing treaties to encompass all ecosystems, species, and - a first - genetic resources. It introduces a novel approach based on reconciling the need for conservation with the concern for development. Given its comprehensive scope, it provides a framework for national strategies and programmes rather than a detailed blueprint. It also promotes a renewed partnership among countries based on scientific and technical cooperation, access to financial and genetic resources, and the transfer of ecologically sound technologies. To this end, the Convention provides for a financial "mechanism" and a subsidiary body on scientific, technical and technological advice (SBSTTA).

Some of the many issues dealt with under the Convention, then, include measures and incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity; regulated access to genetic resources; access to and transfer of technology, including biotechnology; technical and scientific cooperation; handling and distribution of the benefits of biotechnology; financial resources; relationships with other conventions; and provisions for national reporting.

The Convention at work

The Convention entered into force on 29 December 1993, 90 days after the 30th country ratified its intention to become a member. The following year, the United Nations General Assembly declared 29 December to be International Day for Biological Diversity.

The Conference of the Parties is the Convention's supreme body and now boasts a membership of over 170 countries. It held its first meeting (COP-1) in Nassau, the Bahamas from 28 November to 9 December 1994. This meeting focused on putting into place the process and mechanisms for supporting the Convention in the years to come. The Bahamas Ministerial Declaration confirmed the Convention "as a treaty with a global vision based on common concern, mutual reliance and fair and equitable sharing of benefits".

COP-2, held in Jakarta, Indonesia from 6 - 19 November 1995, adopted practical decisions aimed at encouraging action at the national level, with an emphasis on policy guidance. It also established a Clearing-House Mechanism to promote technical and scientific cooperation, and it decided that the Global Environment Facility (GEF) would continue to operate the Convention's "financial mechanism" on an interim basis. Ministers adopted the Jakarta Mandate on Marine and Coastal Biological Diversity launching a global action programme on these invaluable and endangered ecosystems.

The Jakarta COP also established an Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety. Its mandate is to develop a biosafety protocol to promote the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. The future agreement is to focus specifically on transboundary movements of organisms that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. The Group met in July 1996, May 1997, October 1997, and February 1998. It is expected to complete its work by the end of this year.

COP-3 was hosted by Buenos Aires, Argentina from 4 - 15 November 1996. It addressed agricultural biodiversity, indigenous knowledge, incentive measures for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, cooperation with other biodiversity-related conventions, assessment of biological diversity, the relationship between forests and biodiversity, the need for additional financial resources for the implementation of the Convention, and other issues. It also accepted the invitation of Slovakia to hold COP-4 in Bratislava in May 1998.


The Convention on Biological Diversity: A Glossary

To the uninitiated, intergovernmental negotiations can be frustrating and hard to follow. This glossary of acronyms and jargon may help.

I) The Players

Ad hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity - The first Group was established by UNEP in 1987 and agreed on the need for a biodiversity convention; the second Group was the predecessor of the INC and was mandated to start preparing the convention.

Bureau - Responsible for ensuring the smooth operation of the Convention process. Its 10 members are drawn from national delegations and represent all five regional groups; they are the COP President, eight Vice-Presidents, and a Rapporteur. In addition, the SBSTTA and the Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety have their own bureaux.

Chair (or chairman etc.) - The Bureau selects one of its Vice-Presidents to chair the Committee of the Whole or one of the subsidiary bodies. The Chair is responsible for facilitating progress towards an agreement.

Committee of the Whole - Often created by a COP to facilitate the process of negotiating texts. When the Committee finishes its work it turns its results over to the COP to finalize and formally adopt during a plenary session.

Common Interest Group - The European Union and the JUSSCANNZ countries meet together to discuss substantive issues.

Conference of the Parties (COP) - The COP is the supreme body of the Convention; all Parties are members. It has met three times to review the Convention's progress; COP-4 will decide upon the frequency of future meetings.

European Union (EU) - EU member states meet as a group to discuss substantive issues; they are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.

economies in transition (EIT) - Those Central and East European countries and former members of the Soviet Union that are in transition to a market economy.

friends of the chair - Experienced delegates chosen by the Chair (taking into account the need for a political balance amongst various interests) for carrying out specific tasks.

Global Biodiversity Forum - An NGO-sponsored event focusing on debate and dialogue held just before COP meetings and other major intergovernmental meetings. GBF-10 takes place from 1 - 3 May in Bratislava.

Global Environment Facility (GEF) - The multi-billion-dollar GEF was established by the World Bank, the UN Development Programme, and the UN Environment Programme in 1990. It operates the Convention's "financial mechanism" on an interim basis and funds developing country projects that have global biodiversity benefits.

Group of 77 and China - The G-77 was founded in 1967 under the auspices of the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAD). It seeks to harmonize the negotiating positions of its 132 developing-country members.

Intergovernmental Committee on the Convention on Biological Diversity - Established following the adoption of the Convention at Rio to prepare for COP-1.

Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) - Originally established as the Ad hoc Working Group of Experts on Biological Diversity, the INC met in 1991-92 to draft the Convention in time for adoption at the Rio Earth Summit.

JUSSCANNZ - The non-EU industrialized countries meet as a group to discuss substantive issues; they are Japan, the US, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway, and New Zealand. Iceland, Mexico, and Turkey are also members.

national delegation - One or more officials who are empowered to represent and negotiate on behalf of their government.

non-governmental organizations (NGOs) - Many NGOs attend the biodiversity talks as observers in order to interact with delegates and the press. NGOs include environmental groups, indigenous peoples' organizations, research institutions, business groups, and city and local governments.

non-Party - A state that has not ratified the Convention may attend talks as an observer.

observer - The COP and its subsidiary bodies normally permit accredited observers to attend their meetings. Observers include the United Nations and its specialized agencies, the International Atomic Energy Agency, non-Party states, and other qualified governmental or non-government organizations.

OECD - The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development comprises Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the UK, and the US.

Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety - Established in 1995 to negotiate a protocol to the Convention to address concerns about the risks of biotechnology, it is expected to conclude its work in late 1998.

Party - A state (or regional economic integration organization such as the EU) that ratifies or accedes to the Convention becomes a Party 90 days later and thus legally bound by its provisions.

President - Elected by the Parties to preside over the COP, the President is generally a senior official from the State hosting the meeting.

regional groups - The five regional groups meet privately to discuss issues and nominate Bureau members and other officials. They are Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), Latin America and the Caribbean (GRULAC), and the Western Europe and Others Group (WEOG).

Secretariat - Staffed by international civil servants and responsible for servicing the COP and ensuring its smooth operation, the Secretariat makes arrangements for meetings, compiles and prepares reports, and coordinates with other relevant international bodies. The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity is administered by UNEP and located in Montreal, Canada.

subsidiary body - A committee that assists the Conference of the Parties. The Convention defines one permanent committee: the Subsidiary Body for Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA). The COP may establish additional subsidiary bodies as needed; for example in 1996 it set up the Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety.

Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) - Serves as the link between the information and assessments provided by expert sources on the one hand, and the policy-oriented needs of the COP on the other.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) - UNEP facilitates and conducts assessments, the development of guidelines, and other activities in support of the Convention. It is based in Nairobi and administers the Convention's Secretariat. It is also an Implementing Agency of the GEF.

WEOG - The Western Europe and Others Group focuses on electing officials from the region for the Bureau and other bodies rather than on discussing substantive issues; it comprises West European states, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the US.

II) The action (meetings, documents, process)

agenda - A programme of work that the delegates adopt and use for guidance; the annotated agenda contains a more detailed explanation of each agenda item.

amendment - The COP can change the existing Convention text through consensus or, if consensus cannot be reached, by a two-thirds majority vote by all Parties present and voting.

Conference Room Papers (CRPs) - A category of in-session documents representing intermediate versions of draft decisions for eventual adoption.

consensus - Decisions can be adopted without a vote when there are no stated objections from Parties.

credentials - Must be signed by the Head of State or Government or the Foreign Minister to permit a delegation to formally participate in a COP.

declaration - A non-binding political statement made by ministers attending a major meeting (e.g. the Jakarta Ministerial Statement at COP-2).

decision - A formal agreement that leads to binding actions. It becomes part of the agreed body of decisions that direct the work of the COP.

documents - Official documents are available to everyone and feature the logos of the United Nations, UNEP, and the Biodiversity Convention and a reference number (such as UNEP/CBD/COP/4/1). Pre-session documents are available before the meeting in all six UN languages (see http://www.biodiv.org). In-session documents are distributed on-site and include CRPs, L docs, and nonpapers.

drafting groups - To facilitate negotiations, the President or the Chair may establish a smaller drafting group to meet separately and prepare a draft text. Observers generally may not attend.

entry into force - Protocols and amendments are not legally binding until they have been ratified by an agreed number of countries. The Biodiversity Convention required 30 and entered into force for these 30 Parties on 29 December 1993. It enters into force for other Parties 90 days after they ratify.

informals - An open-ended session, often held outside of regular meeting hours. Observers generally may not attend.

informal informals - Generally held by small groups. Observers are not invited.

L. docs - In-session documents that are for limited distribution and include such ephemeral items as draft resolutions.

meetings and sessions - Each meeting of the COP is divided into a number of sessions. Each session is generally scheduled from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., so that the morning of 4 May will be the first session of the fourth meeting. (Sessions sometimes start late due to regional meetings, the canvassing of delegates' views by the Bureau, and other behind-the-scenes activities that facilitate the formal discussion; evening sessions are sometimes required in order to complete the work of the meeting.)

non-papers - Issued informally to facilitate negotiations; they do not have an official document symbol although they may have an identifying number.

plenary - An open session of the entire COP where all formal decisions are taken.

protocol - Can be used to expand or strengthen the terms and commitments of a Convention, but must be signed and ratified anew before it enters into force; a protocol on biosafety is currently being negotiated.

ratification - After signing the Convention, a country must ratify, often with the approval of the parliament or other designated body. The instrument of ratification is submitted to the UN Secretary-General, who acts as the Depositary, to start the 90-day countdown to becoming a Party. As of mid-March 1998, the Convention on Biological Diversity had 172 Parties.

recommendation - The SBSTTA delivers its advice to the COP in the form of recommendations that are numbered sequentially.

reservation - A Party may accept a decision of the COP while noting its reservations and concerns for the record. However, no reservations may be made to the Convention itself.

rules of procedure - The rules that govern voting, elections, the accreditation of observers, and so forth. The rules were adopted at COP-1 with the exception of the one on voting.

signature - The head of state or government, the foreign minister, or another designated official indicates his or her country's agreement with the adopted text of a Convention and its intention to become a Party by signing it.

square brackets - Used during negotiations to indicate that a section of text is being discussed but has not yet been agreed.

working group - The COP or the Committee of the Whole may establish an open-ended meeting wherein Parties can negotiate before forwarding agreed text to the COP or Committee for formal adoption.

III) The issues

access to genetic resources - National governments have the right to set the financial and legal terms of access to genetic resources in their country.

benefit sharing - Countries and communities that are hosts to genetic resources of actual or potential value have the right to share in the financial and other benefits from their commercial exploitation.

biological diversity - The variability among all living organisms, including diversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems.

biological resources - Includes genetic resources, organisms and their parts, populations, and any other living component of ecosystems that have actual or potential use or value for humanity (e.g. seeds, corn, deer).

biosafety - Minimizing the potential risks to human health and the environment from the handling and transfer of living modified organisms produced through modern biotechnology.

biotechnology - Any technology or process that used biological systems or living organisms to make or modify products or processes for a specific use.

clearing-house mechanism (CHM) - The Convention establishes the CHM to promote and facilitate scientific and technical cooperation.

conservation - The preservation of biodiversity in its natural setting.

ecosystem - A dynamic complex of plant, animal, and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.

ex-situ conservation - The conservation of genes, species, or ecosystems outside their natural habitats (e.g. zoos, seed banks).

financial mechanism - The Convention establishes a mechanism for providing financial resources to help developing countries implement the Convention; the GEF is operating the mechanism on an interim basis.

genetic resources - Any material from a plant, animal, microbe, or other origin that includes DNA or RNA (which transmit heredity) and that has actual or potential value for humanity.

impact assessment - An evaluation of the likely impact on biological diversity of proposed programmes, policies, or projects.

incentive measures - Social, economic, and institutional incentives can encourage and reward people for actions taken in the interest of biodiversity.

indigenous knowledge - Human communities and cultures have co-evolved with biodiversity and over time have accumulated a wide range of knowledge about biological resources; this knowledge is of tremendous value but is being lost rapidly.

in-situ conservation - The conservation of genes, species, or ecosystems in their natural habitat.

living modified organisms - LMOs can be plants, animals, or microbes that are alive and whose genetic material has been modified over time by traditional techniques (such as plant breeding) or modified directly by modern biotechnology (such as recombinant DNA technology).

national biodiversity strategies - The core of many countries' efforts to implement the Convention, these strategies make specific recommendations for national action for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

national reports - A central requirement of the Convention is that each Party must inform the others about its national biodiversity activities; countries have started to submit their first reports and these will be reviewed at COP-4.

species - A population of organisms which are able to interbreed freely under natural conditions.

sustainable use - The use of genes, species, or ecosystems in a matter and at a rate that does not lead to their long-term decline.

technology transfer - The transfer of knowledge to enable the manufacture of a product, the application of a process, or the rendering of a service.

traditional knowledge - The knowledge, innovations, and practices of local and indigenous communities that are relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.