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A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE CONVENTION ON BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY (CBD)

Summary: 

The Convention on Biological Diversity was negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  It was opened for signature at the June 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) and entered into force on 29 December 1993, ninety days after the 30th ratification.  As of October 1998, more than 170 countries had become Parties (pdf file). The three goals of the CBD are to promote the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. The CBD Secretariat is located in Montréal, Canada. The Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), which advises the Conference of the Parties (COP), meets several months prior to each COP. Negotiations on the first protocol to the Convention, conducted by the Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG), concluded in January 2000.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin has covered each COP, SBSTTA and BSWG session plus two sessions prior to the CBD's entry into force and an intersessional workshop.   ENB coverage of biodiversity issues also includes several sessions of the Commission on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which meets under FAO auspices (see the ENB CBD Archives for all biodiversity coverage; see also the Linkages Homepage on Genetic Resources). The following discussion focuses on decisions taken by the CBD COP, SBSTTA and the BSWG.

 

The CBD Conference of the Parties (COP):  

The first meeting of the COP took place in Nassau, the Bahamas from 28 November - 9 December 1994. Key decisions taken by COP-1 included: adoption of the medium-term work programme; designation of the Permanent Secretariat; establishment of the Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) and the SBSTTA; and designation of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as the interim institutional structure for the financial mechanism.

The second session of the COP met in Jakarta, Indonesia from 6-17 November 1995. Decisions taken by COP-2 included: designation of the permanent location of the Secretariat in Montréal, Canada; agreement to develop a protocol on biosafety; operation of the CHM; designation of the GEF as the continuing interim institutional structure for the financial mechanism; consideration of its first substantive issue, marine and coastal biodiversity; and agreement to address forests and biodiversity, including the development of a statement from the CBD to the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) of the Commission on Sustainable Development. COP-2 also addressed the issue of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (PGRFA), adopting a statement for input to the FAO’s Fourth International Technical Conference on PGRFA (ITCPGR-4).

COP-3 met in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 4-15 November 1996.  Delegates' decisions included: a work programme on agricultural biodiversity and a more limited one on forest biodiversity; agreement to hold an intersessional workshop on traditional knowledge (Article 8(j)); application by the Executive Secretary for observer status to the World Trade Organization (WTO) Committee on Trade and the Environment; and a statement from the CBD to the Special Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGASS) to review implementation of Agenda 21.

COP-4 took place from 4-15 May 1998 in Bratislava, Slovakia.  Delegates addressed, inter alia: inland water, marine and coastal, agricultural and forest biodiversity; the clearing-house mechanism; biosafety; implementation of Article 8(j) (traditional and indigenous knowledge); access and benefit sharing; a review of the operations of the Convention; and national reports.  Delegates also conducted a review of the financial mechanism.

COP-5 is scheduled to take place from 15-26 May 2000 in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA): 

Article 25 of the CBD establishes a Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice to provide the COP with "timely advice" relating to implementation of the Convention.

The first session of the SBSTTA took place from 4-8 September 1995 in Paris, France. Recommendations on the modus operandi of the SBSTTA affirmed its subsidiary role to the COP and requested flexibility to create: two open-ended working groups to meet simultaneously during future SBSTTA meetings; Ad Hoc Technical Panels of Experts as needed; and a roster of experts. On the conservation and sustainable use of coastal and marine biological diversity, SBSTTA-1 identified three priorities: sustainable use of living coastal and marine resources; mariculture; and control of alien organisms.

The second session of SBSTTA took place from 2-6 September 1996 in Montréal, Canada. The agenda included issues such as the monitoring and assessment of biodiversity, practical approaches to taxonomy, economic valuation of biodiversity, access to genetic resources, agricultural biodiversity, terrestrial biodiversity, marine and coastal biodiversity, biosafety and the CHM.

The third session of SBSTTA met in Montréal, Canada, from 1-5 September 1997.  Delegates produced recommendations on biodiversity in inland water ecosystems, marine and coastal biodiversity, agricultural biodiversity, forest biodiversity, and biodiversity indicators.

The fourth session of SBSTTA met in Montréal, Canada, from 21-25 June 1999. The first Intersessional meeting on the Operations of the Convention (ISOC) convened in Montréal from 28-30 June 1999. ENB coverage

SBSTTA-4 delegates met in two working groups. The first considered developing a work programme on dryland ecosystems, principles for the prevention of impacts of alien species, and further advancement of the Global Taxonomy Initiative. Working Group II discussed: new plant technology for the control of plant gene expression; sustainable use of biological resources, including tourism; and incorporation of biological diversity considerations into environmental impact assessments. Delegates also discussed the SBSTTA work programme, cooperation with other bodies and progress on thematic areas. They considered the terms of reference of ad hoc technical expert groups, but deferred making a decision to SBSTTA-5.

ISOC was convened based on COP-4 Decision IV/16, which called for an open-ended meeting to consider possible arrangements to improve preparations for and conduct of the meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP). ISOC also held preparatory discussions on the COP-5 agenda item on access to genetic resources and benefit sharing, focusing on the upcoming Experts Panel on Access and Benefit Sharing, which will meet in October 1999 in Costa Rica, ex situ collections that were acquired prior to the Convention's entry into force and the relationship between intellectual property rights and the relevant provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and the CBD.

The fifth session of SBSTTA met in Montréal, Canada from 31 January - 4 February, 2000. Over 430 participants, representing 130 governments, NGOs, the scientific community and indigenous peoples' organizations, attended the meeting.

SBSTTA-5 delegates met in two Working Groups. Working Group 1 considered: alien species; marine and coastal biological diversity, including coral bleaching; the programme of work for drylands, Mediterranean, arid, semi-arid, grassland and savannah biological diversity; and agricultural biological diversity. Working Group 2 discussed the ecosystem approach, development of biodiversity indicators, and sustainable use of the components of biological diversity. The Plenary reviewed cooperation with other bodies, the Global Taxonomy Initiative, the pilot phase of the Clearing-House Mechanism, guidelines for the second national reports, work programmes on inland waters and forest biological diversity, and rosters and terms of reference for ad hoc technical expert groups. The recommendations from SBSTTA-5 will be forwarded to the fifth Conference of the Parties (COP-5) to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 15-26 May 2000.

Biosafety Protocol:  

Since the early 1970s, modern biotechnology has enabled scientists to genetically and biochemically modify plants, animals and micro-organisms to create living modified organisms (LMOs). Many countries with biotechnology industries already have domestic legislation in place intended to ensure the safe transfer, handling, use and disposal of LMOs and their products. These precautionary practices are collectively known as "biosafety." However, there are no binding international agreements addressing situations where LMOs cross national borders. Article 19 of the CBD provides for Parties to consider the need for and modalities of a protocol on biosafety.

At COP-2, delegates established an Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG), which held its first meeting in Aarhus, Denmark, from 22-26 July 1996. Governments listed elements for a future protocol and outlined the information required to guide their future work. 

Four subsequent BSWG meetings, all held in Montréal, Canada, continued to identify and narrow the elements to be included in the protocol. Discussion ranged from: the protocol's scope, including which LMOs and "products thereof" would be covered; which LMOs would be subject to Advanced Informed Agreement and what that procedure would entail; whether there would be a clearing-house; who would conduct risk assessments and/or how risks would be managed; whether action would be based on the precautionary principle, scientific knowledge and/or some other criteria; and whether there would be liability and compensation/redress provisions. Additional issues on the table addressed capacity building, unintentional transboundary movement, handling, transportation, packaging and transit requirements, and monitoring and compliance. Most of the text remained bracketed going into the final week of negotiations in Cartegena, Colombia.

The sixth session of the Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG-6) was held from Sunday, 14 February, to Monday morning, 22 February 1999, in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. The first Extraordinary Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (ExCOP) to the CBD was held from 22-23 February 1999. Over 600 participants representing 138 governments, business and environmental NGOs and the scientific community, attempted to finalize a protocol on biosafety during the BSWG for adoption by the ExCOP. Despite ten days of non-stop debate, including weekend, late night and early morning sessions, delegates were not able to agree on a protocol. The main areas of contention centered on trade issues, treatment of commodities and domestic vs. international regulatory regimes. Instead the ExCOP adopted a decision to suspend the meeting and request the ExCOP President and the COP-4 Bureau to decide when and where the session would resume, no later than the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties. Delegates also decided that the Protocol will be called the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity. The text of the draft Protocol, set out in Appendix I to the Report of BSWG-6, as well as the statements by governments with respect to the text of the draft Protocol contained in that report, will be transmitted to the resumed ExCOP session for further debate.

The Informal Consultations regarding the Resumed Session of the Extraordinary Meeting Of The Conference of the Parties (ExCOP) for the Adoption of the Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity met in Vienna, Austria, from Wednesday, 15 September to Sunday, 19 September 1999. Approximately 300 representatives from over 115 governments and 70 representatives from intergovernmental, nongovernmental and industry organizations attended. The first two days of the meeting were devoted to consultations within negotiating groups; the third day was for informal exchanges between groups; and the final two days were devoted to resolving differences between groups on pending core issues. During the final two days of discussions, negotiating groups addressed the issues of commodities, the protocol�s relationship with other international agreements, the protocol�s scope and application of the advance informed agreement procedure. Negotiating groups agreed on a basic set of concepts for commodities and relations with other international agreements, while acknowledging that the central differences on those and other issues remain. (Note: ENB's briefing note covers only the final two days of consultations.)

The Resumed Session of the Extraordinary Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (ExCOP) for the Adoption of the Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity was held from 24-28 January 2000, in Montr�al, Canada. Over 750 participants, representing 133 governments, NGOs, industry organizations and the scientific community, attended the meeting. Following nine days of negotiations, including late evening and early morning sessions, delegates adopted the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in the early morning hours of 29 January 2000. 

The Cartagena Protocol addresses the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) that may have an adverse effect on biodiversity with a specific focus on transboundary movements. The Protocol establishes an advance informed agreement (AIA) procedure for imports of LMOs, incorporates the precautionary principle and details information and documentation requirements. The Protocol also contains provisions regarding documentation, confidential information and information-sharing, capacity-building, and financial resources, with special attention to the situation of developing countries and those without domestic regulatory systems. 

Last Updated 02/00