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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
Montral, 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 HocWorking 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 Montral, 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
theIntergovernmental 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 FAOs 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 Montral,
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 Montral, 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 Montral, Canada, from 21-25 June 1999. The
first Intersessional meeting on the Operations of the Convention (ISOC) convened in
Montral 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 Montral, 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 SBSTTA5 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 Montral, 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 (BSWG6) 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 protocols relationship with other international agreements, the


protocols 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 Montral, 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.
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What are the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity?

The objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity are expressed in its article
1:

the conservation of biological diversity;

the sustainable use of its components; and

the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of
genetic resources, including by appropriate
o

access to genetic resources,

transfer of relevant technologies,

funding.

The Convention is thus the first agreement to address all aspects of biological
diversity: species, ecosystems and genetic resources. It is indeed the first time that
genetic diversity is specifically covered in a binding global treaty.

The Convention also recognises - for the first time - that the conservation of
biological diversity is "a common concern of humankind" and an integral part of the
development process. In other words, the Convention recognises that all humanity
has an interest ensuring the conservation of biological diversity, including poor
nations, women and indigenous people, and that it needs to be addressed by
concerted international action.
Why was the Convention on Biological Diversity established?
Our natural environment provides the basic conditions (oxygen, water, food, shelter,
materials, etc.) without which we could not survive, and therefore biological
resources are vital for the world's economic, social and cultural development.
In addition, the richer the diversity of life, the greater the opportunity for medical
discoveries and adaptive responses to new challenges such as climate change.
Biological diversity is a global asset of tremendous value to present and future
generations. At the same time, due to human activities, species and ecosystems are
more
threatened
today
than
ever
before
in
recorded
history.
The growing concern over the unprecedented loss of biological diversity inspired
negotiations for a legally-binding instrument aimed at reversing this alarming trend.
As early as 1973, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) identified the
"conservation of nature, wildlife and genetic resources as a priority area".
In the 1980s, it became clear that existing environmental legislations and
conservation programmes were not sufficient. In 1988, UNEP asked experts to
explore the need for an international convention on biodiversity. Soon after, in May
1989, it established a working group of technical and legal experts to prepare an
international legal instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of biological
diversity.
On 22 May 1992, in Nairobi (Kenya), the nations of the world adopted a draft for the
Convention on Biological Diversity, the so-called "Nairobi Act". It was presented to
the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de
Janeiro (Brazil) in June 1992. The definitive text of the Convention was signed on 5
June
1992
by
more
than
150
countries.
What are the main milestones of the Convention on Biological Diversity?

The Convention on Biological Diversity was signed during the Rio Earth Summit, in
Brazil, on 5 June 1992, and entered into force on 29 December 1993.
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the assembly where political decisions are
taken.
So far (2014), there have been twelve meetings of the Conferences of the Parties.
The information below summarises some of their outputs. It is not exhaustive. For
more information, we refer you to the website of the CBD Secretariat.
COP-1, Nassau (Bahamas), November-December 1994.
Delegates reached agreement on basic issues of implementation:

the adoption of a general programme of work for the Convention;

the designation of the permanent Secretary;

the establishment of the Clearing-House Mechanism (CHM) and the


Subsidiary Body for Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSSTA);

the designation of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as the interim


structure for the financial mechanism.

COP-2, Jakarta (Indonesia), November 1995.


It initiated the process of major decisions including:

the designation of the permanent location of the international Secretariat in


Montreal;

the establishment of a working group on biosafety issues;

the consideration of its first major issue, 'marine and coastal biodiversity'.

COP-3, Buenos Aires (Argentina), November 1996.


It led to

the elaboration of a programme of work on agricultural biodiversity;

the establishment of a 'Memorandum of Understanding' with the GEF;

an agreement to hold a workshop on indigenous communities' traditional


knowledge on biological diversity (also referred to as Art. 8j).

COP-4, Bratislava (Slovakia), May 1998.


The COP adopted

three programmes of work on inland water ecosystems, marine and coastal


biodiversity, and forest biodiversity;

the long-term general programme of work for the Convention.

various decisions on specific topics (e.g. agricultural biodiversity, national


reports, cooperation with other agreements, institutions and processes, etc.);

COP-5, Nairobi (Kenya), May 2000.


The fifth meeting adopted

a programme of work on dry and sub-humid lands;

the description and principles of the ecosystem approach,

various decisions on cross-cutting issues (e.g. indicators, access to genetic


resources, alien species, sustainable use, biodiversity and tourism, impact
assessment, etc.).

COP-6, The Hague (the Netherlands), April 2002.


Major decisions concerned the adoption of

a revised programme of work on forest biodiversity;

guiding principles on invasive alien species;

the Bonn Guidelines on access and benefit-sharing (ABS);

the Strategic Plan of the Convention.

COP-7, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), February 2004.


The COP adopted

programmes of work on mountain biodiversity, protected areas and


technology transfer and cooperation,

a decision to initiate negotiations on an international regime on access and


benefit-sharing (ABS).

a decision to review the implementation of the Convention, including its


Strategic Plan and the progress towards achieving the 2010 target;

various decisions on specific topics (communication, education and public


awareness, tourism, sustainable use, incentive measures, etc.).

COP-8, Curitiba (Brazil), March 2006.


COP-8 adopted, among others,

a programme of work on island biodiversity;

priority activities for communication, education and public awareness;

a decision to evaluate the evaluation of progress towards implementation of


the Convention.

various decisions on specific topics (e.g. biodiversity of dry and sub-humid


lands, the Global Taxonomy Initiative, technology transfer, cooperation with
other conventions, and the engagement of the private sector).

COP-9, Bonn (Germany), May 2008.


The COP adopted

the Strategy for Resource Mobilization,

scientific criteria and guidance for marine areas in need of protection

a roadmap for the negotiation of the international ABS regime

and established an ad hoc technical expert group (AHTEG) on biodiversity


and climate change.

various decisions on specific topics (Agricultural biodiversity; Global Strategy


for Plant Conservation; Invasive alien species; Forest biodiversity; Incentive
measures; Ecosystem approach; Progress in the implementation of the
Strategic Plan and progress towards the 2010 target and relevant Millennium
Development Goals; Financial resources and the financial mechanism)

COP-10, Nagoya (Japan), October 2010.


The CBD COP adopted:

the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and
Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, which sets out
rules and procedures for implementing the Conventions third objective

the CBD Strategic Plan for the period 2011-2020, including the Aichi
biodiversity targets

a decision on activities and indicators for the implementation of the Resource


Mobilization Strategy.

various decisions on specific topics (Inland waters biodiversity, Marine and


coastal biodiversity, Mountain biodiversity, Protected areas, Sustainable use
of biodiversity, Biodiversity and climate change)

COP-11, Hyderabad (India), October 2012.


COP 11 marked the move from policy-making to implementation. The meeting
adopted a set of decisions including on

ecosystem restoration,

marine and coastal biodiversity and

customary sustainable use, with a focus on implementation at the national


and local levels.

an interim target of doubling biodiversity-related international financial


resource flows to developing countries by 2015

maintaining this level until 2020, coupled with targets aiming to improve the
robustness of baseline information, as well as a preliminary reporting
framework for monitoring resource mobilization.

COP-12, Pyeongchang (Republic of Korea), October 2014.


Highlights from COP 12 include:

Agreement on the Pyeongchang Roadmap, containing five decisions on:


o

mid-term review of progress towards the goals of the Strategic Plan;


and the Aichi targets;

biodiversity and sustainable development;

review of progress in providing support in implementing the objectives


of the Convention;

cooperation with other conventions;

strategy for resource mobilization.

The launch of the fourth edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-4).

Deliberations also focused on: resource mobilization and other financerelated matters; improving the efficiency of the Conventions processes;
biodiversity and sustainable development; biodiversity and health;
cooperation with other organizations; marine and coastal biodiversity;
biodiversity and climate change; biofuels; Article 8(j) (traditional knowledge);
sustainable wildlife management; invasive alien species (IAS); synthetic
biology; and ecosystem conservation and restoration.

What are the bodies and mechanisms of the Convention on Biological


Diversity?

What is a COP?
COP stands for "Conference of the Parties". It is the Convention's ultimate
authority and assembles representatives of all countries having signed the
Convention (the 'Parties') as well as observers such as non-Party countries,
UN agencies, international and non-governmental organisations.
Its basic function is to steer and supervise the entire process of implementing
and further developing the Convention: it examines what progress has been
made and sets work plans for future actions. The COP can also make
amendments to the Convention and collaborate with other international
treaties and processes.
The Conference of the Parties meets regularly to discuss important matters.
There have already been 12 meetings. COP-12 took place in South-Korea in
2014. The thirteenth meeting, COP-13, will take place in 2016.
The website of the CBD's international Secretariat provide complementary on
the background and status of theConferences of the Parties.
What is a SBSTTA?
SBSTTA stands for "Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological
Advice". It is a committee composed of experts from member Parties, as well
as of observers from non-Party countries, UN agencies, international and nongovernmental organisations. Its aims are to provide the Conference of the
Parties with advice and recommendations on scientific, technical and
technological matters. The SBSTTA acts under the authority of the Conference
of the Parties and, therefore, must comply with the guidelines adopted by the
Conference.
Further reading is provided on the website of the CBD Secretariat, under the
item Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice.
What is the Clearing-House Mechanism?
The Clearing-House Mechanism (CHM) under the Convention on Biological
Diversity is an information sharing mechanism set up to facilitate the
exchange of scientific and technical information on the Convention.
The CHM operates mainly, but not exclusively, via the Internet. It is built up
as a structurally decentralised and distributed network of focal points, who
work together with the CBD Secretariat to develop and manage tools for the
electronic exchange of information (websites, discussion lists, etc.).

The Belgian Clearing-House Mechanism (Be CHM) is the Belgian node of this
worldwide network. Its role is not only to answer the information needs of
Belgian actors involved in implementing the Convention but also to share its
information and expertise with anyone interested in CBD-related matters.
The central web portal of the Clearing-House Mechanism is maintained by the
CBD Secretariat.

The Belgian website for the CHM is ... the website you are currently visiting!

What is a National Focal Point?


National Focal Points are set up by each member Party. These official
structures bodies are in charge of all the flow of information about the
Convention at national level. In particular, they are expected to facilitate and
promote the implementation of the Convention. They transmit information
from the CBD Secretariat to their national authorities and, conversely, report
to the Conference of Parties how their country is meeting its biodiversity
goals.
There are different types of focal points pending on the issues to be
addressed. For more information on the subject, visit thewebsite of the
Belgian National Focal Point.