Prof. P. Schei of Norway reported on the work of the informal group convened yesterday on the multidisciplinarity of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA). The Group agreed on the necessity for expertise in molecular biology, genetics, ecosystem functions and management, landscape ecology, terrestrial and marine (increased focus) systems. Regarding the sustainable use of biodiversity and the fair and equitable sharing of resources, the following were deemed crucial: new sectors such as biotechnology (expertise in biosafety was stressed); bioeconomics and resource management; and the social sciences. Substantial legal expertise is needed in the total implementation of the CBD. Emphasis was given to the place of indigenous people. In addition, expertise in the area of information, education, social communication, public awareness raising and data collection, management and transfer are also crucial. The report would be availed to the Group.
The meeting, chaired by the Vice-Chair, Mr. F. Urban (Czech Republic) considered document UNEP/CBD/IC/2/12, Consideration of the need for, and modalities of, a protocol on biosafety. Urban stated that the Group might want to outline the modalities, including guidelines or codes of conduct, on the need for a protocol. Many countries recognized the need for ensuring biosafety and agreed broadly on the need for international action, either in the form of an international framework which could lead to a more legally binding agreement, or a more immediate legally binding instrument. Broadly classified, these view are:
INTERNATIONAL FRAMEWORK AND GUIDELINES: Germany, on behalf of the European Community noted that two European directives have established a common biosafety regime in the Community. In the short-term, the development of technical guidelines on biosafety was favored, without prejudice to the medium-term development of international legal instruments on biosafety, and while assessing the need for and modalities of a protocol. The Netherlands stated that an international agreement on biosafety should eventually be given the form of a binding agreement, and that such an agreement should pay attention to both capacity building and timing. The Netherlands supported the recommendations from two regional meetings: the African Regional Conference for International Cooperation on Safety in Biotechnology held in Zimbabwe in October 1993; and a joint US/Dutch meeting in Colombia in June 1994. In addition, the UK and Netherlands held an expert-meeting on technical guidelines in biosafety in March 1994 whose findings could be made available as background information. The UK announced its plan to co-host a meeting on biosafety in 1995 in Asia. Canada, Switzerland, Spain, US and New Zealand and others welcomed the initiatives of the UK and The Netherlands. Spain stated that it did not object to carrying out a study on developing a protocol but wanted to develop guidelines as an interim measure. The US stated that a protocol on biosafety is not warranted. He recognized the needs specified in Article 19, and stated that guidelines cannot be substituted for scientific evaluations and needs based requirements. Japan stated that decisions on this issue should be made on the basis of accumulated scientific knowledge based on ongoing examinations like those of the OECD.
PROTOCOL: Many countries including Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Sweden, Norway, Malawi, India, Uruguay, Tunisia, Denmark, Brazil, Burundi, Zambia, Ethiopia, Gambia, Cte d' Ivoire, Pakistan, Argentina, Morocco Kenya, Nepal and Syria supported the need for a legally binding agreement on biosafety. Malaysia was concerned about the issue of transnational corporations using developing countries as a place to transfer and test living modified organisms (LMOs). He also called for the establishment of a subsidiary body to consider the issue under discussion and report to the COP. Sri Lanka noted that LMOs are subject to mutations. Colombia stated that a binding regulatory process will need a structure and pointed out that some of the more serious concerns in the LMOs may be short-term research needs. It was noted that the report of the Colombia meeting sponsored by the UK and the Netherlands discussed a body of regulations that could be submitted to the Interim Secretariat. Sweden, supported by Norway and India, noted that concerns expressed in the UNEP Panel IV report regarding potential threats to biological diversity of LMOs from biotechnology were not adequately reflected in the document prepared by the Interim Secretariat. Sweden welcomed the UK and Netherlands initiatives, and invited international organizations including FAO, UNIDO and the OECD, to contribute. He also suggested that this issue be put on the agenda of the COP. India wanted an open-ended mechanism for developing a protocol. Norway indicated an error in the documents in paragraph 19: the quotation from Agenda 21 omitted the words "safety and border-control". He also stated that a legally binding instrument should be developed as soon as possible to ensure a common international standard. China wanted guidelines based on regional initiatives that would then lead up to an internationally binding instrument. Denmark stressed the need for an international agreement but also wanted guidelines. Burundi, supported by Nigeria, emphasized the importance of regional group meetings. Brazil and Finland said that the precautionary principle should prevail. Cte d' Ivoire stated that the real issue was bioethics and called for a joint African strategy on biosafety. Many developing countries agreed on the need for national capacity building to ensure biosafety measures.
Representatives from three NGOs, Greenpeace, Third World Network and Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN), stressed the need for a binding international regulatory mechanism in the areas of testing, release and trade of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and LMOs. Greenpeace noted that the development of an "international framework", which appeared to be used as a euphemism for voluntary, non-legally binding guidelines, had been proposed in the trade on toxic wastes as well. The Third World Network appealed to delegates to learn from earlier experiences of chemical and nuclear technology and put into place safety regulations on biotechnology given the danger of mutations and non-reversibility. He gave several instances where the ecological risks of transgenic crops were borne by developing countries. GRAIN, reaffirming this, stated that developing countries were used as testing ground because of their weaker legislation and socio-economic problems. The Secretariat is preparing a draft of the proceedings.
In the afternoon, the Group then completed discussion of agenda item 4.1.4 on the Secretariat as contained in document UNEP/CBC/IC.2/WG.I/CRP.2.
SELECTION OF A COMPETENT ORGANIZATION TO CARRY OUT THE FUNCTIONS OF A SECRETARIAT
There was consensus on paragraph 1 that outlines the scope of the report: attributes of competent international organizations; procedure of receiving offers from interested organizations; and other relevant matters on the establishment of the Secretariat. Paragraph 2 and 3 details the requisite attributes of the international organizations. It was agreed that: the two paragraphs should be merged; and that the preamble of paragraph 2 should be replaced by that of paragraph 3, preceded by the phrase, "With regard to paragraph 1 (a) above...." Cte d'Ivoire also wants subparagraphs 3 (c) and 2 (g) considered together. Sweden proposed an additional sentence to subparagraph 3 (a) that calls for high overhead costs, paid to the host organization to be avoided by providing cost-effective administrative services. Subparagraph 3 (c) requires that the organization be accessible by and collaborate with governments. Subparagraph 3 (d) calls for the organization, in consultation with the host country, to be willing to accommodate any future decisions by the COP regarding the location of the Secretariat.
Paragraph 4: The preamble now reads: "The Working Group realizing the need of the autonomy of the Secretariat, recommended that interested organizations shall indicate to the COP." The words, "possible" and "ability" were deleted from subparagraphs a, b and d as they weaken the provisions. Subparagraph e was altered to ensure that the decisions to be made by the Secretariat are based on those of the COP.
Paragraph 5: The amended text reads, "With respect to the procedure for receiving offers, ...there was discussion whether, under Article 24, paragraph 4 of the Convention, interested international organizations should contact the Secretariat on their own initiative, or whether the Interim Secretariat should take the task...." The second sentence now reads, "The Working Group agreed to recommend that, in accordance with Article 24, paragraph 2 of the Convention, all interested competent international organizations should notify their interest to the Interim Secretariat before 15 August 1994, accompanied by the details of their offer."
Paragraph 6 generated protracted debated due to the listing of six UN agencies as potential Secretariats. The list which includes UNEP, UNDP, UNESCO, DPCSD, IOC and the IUCN, with the addition of the FAO, was retained in spite of the UK and US' concern that this prejudges the selection process.
Paragraph 7 provides for a Secretariat drawn from a consortium of, or joint effort by, organizations. After a half hour debate, there was no consensus and the Chair said the Secretariat would submit new text.
There was no debate on Paragraphs 8 and 9, which respectively, provide for the process to evaluate the bids, and the criteria to determine the location of the Secretariat.
Paragraph 10 focuses on the possibility of the co-location of the Secretariat with other environmental secretariats. Spain, supported by Costa Rica, Uruguay and others, said the paragraph should incorporate the idea of decentralization.
Paragraph 11 relates to the possible reviewing and subsequent relocation of the Secretariat, if found necessary. There was no discussion.
Paragraph 12 entails the possible duration of the Interim Secretariat. The word "permanent" was deleted since the CBD does not provide for a "permanent Secretariat."
[Return to start of article]