The major challenge for the immediate future is to ensure that the first meeting of the Conference of Parties is a success. Although some delegates might have hoped that the ICCBD could relieve the COP from having to address a certain number of procedural or organizational matters, this will not be the case. The number of unresolved organizational matters, including three rules of procedure, the identification of a competent organization to serve as the secretariat, the periodicity of meetings of the COP, the operation of the financial mechanism and the election of the bureau, will dominate the first session of the COP.
The fact that the COP will be primarily organizational in nature should come as no surprise. Historically, the first session of any new institution or negotiating body is organizational. Most, if not all, of the COPs for environmental conventions focus on organizational matters at their first session. The Climate Change Convention was one of the first to actually extend the mandate of the negotiating body to ensure that the necessary organizational and substantive groundwork is in place for the first COP meeting. Although the Convention on Biological Diversity tried to emulate this goal, it was hindered by the fact that the ICCBD was not established until May 1993 -- a full year after the Convention was adopted -- and it met only twice during its nine-month life.
To lighten the over-burdened agenda for the first COP meeting and address some of the unresolved issues, there will be a number of informal intersessional activities. In particular, the following issues should be addressed: the GEF as the financial mechanism; how decisions regarding the financial mechanism will be reached (rules of procedure); the election of the Chair of the SBSTTA; and the location of the Secretariat. While these last two issues may not have been the major focus of the ICCBD, the lobbying in the corridors suggests the need for delegations to have clear ideas of what they want before they arrive in the Bahamas. Delegates will also need to pay attention to the constitution of the SBSTTA, since the success of the COP depends highly on the subsidiary body.
Regardless of the success of intersessional consultations in resolving some of these issues, expectations for the first meeting of the COP should not be set too high. At this point what is most important to the successful implementation of the Convention is the need to lay the groundwork for the effective functioning of the COP, its subsidiary bodies and the Convention secretariat. Once this organizational groundwork is laid and the mechanisms are in place, the Parties can begin the difficult process of monitoring the implementation of the Convention, addressing issues of non-compliance, and dealing with outstanding and emerging substantive issues such as biosafety, ownership and access to ex situ genetic resources, and the rights of farmers and other communities. Until the foundation is laid at both the international and the national levels, the cry for victory in the implementation of the Conservation on Biological Diversity is far from being attained.
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