Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

The Convention on Biological Diversity is one of the most all-encompassing international agreements ever adopted, seeking both to conserve the diversity of life on Earth and to ensure that this diversity continues to maintain the planet’s natural life support systems. The agreement acknowledges the fact that identifying social and economic goals for use of biological resources and the benefits derived from them is central to ensuring sustainable development, in turn supporting conservation goals.

The Convention was adopted at a meeting in Nairobi in May 1992, and was signed by the heads of 156 nations or their representatives at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. The number of initial signatories to the convention, and the early entry into force of the Convention in December 1993, only 18 months after its adoption, were both equally unprecedented. By August 2005 the Convention had 188 Contracting Parties.

Objectives and Approach

The objectives of the Convention are threefold, the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components (species, genes and ecosystems), and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of biodiversity. These objectives are translated into binding commitments in the text of the Convention.

The aim of the Convention is to promote sustainable conservation and development practice. The Convention stresses that the conservation of biological diversity is a common concern of humankind, but recognises that nations have sovereign rights over their own biological resources, and will need to address these concerns within the national context of economic and social development and the eradication of poverty.

The Convention recognises that the causes of biodiversity loss are diffuse in nature, and mostly arise as a secondary consequence of activities in a range of economic sectors. Dealing with economic and institutional factors is therefore key to achieving the Convention’s objectives. As a result, management objectives for biodiversity must incorporate the needs and concerns of all stakeholders.

A traditional regulatory approach is therefore not appropriate. Most of the provisions of the Convention are expressed as overall goals and policies, with specific action for implementation to be developed by each Contracting Party, in accordance with its own circumstances and capabilities.

Institutional Structure

The Convention constitutes a framework for action that will take place mainly at the national level. It places few precise binding obligations upon Contracting Parties, but rather provides goals and guidelines which are further elaborated by decisions of the Conference of the Parties.

Conference of the Parties (COP): The principal function of the COP is to regularly review implementation of the Convention. Most of the provisions of the Convention require further elaboration in order to provide clear guidance to those involved in its implementation. The COP as the governing body to the Convention, provides this guidance by adopting decisions based on the recommendations of SBSTTA (see below), open-ended working groups (see below), and any other advice put before it. The types of output to be developed could include: guidelines, codes of conduct, manuals of best practice, programmes of work, guidance for the institutions of the Convention, criteria, and so forth. Most of the commitments adopted by the COP are qualified, and their implementation will depend upon national circumstances and priorities, and the resources available. Nonetheless, Contracting Parties are obliged to address the issues covered by the Convention. The COP currently meets every other year.

Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA): This is a subsidiary body of the COP, providing assessment of the status of biological diversity, assessment of the types of measures taken in accordance with the provisions of the Convention, and advice on any questions that the COP may put to it. COP takes decisions based on the advice of SBSTTA, which meets approximately once a year.

Secretariat: The principal functions of the Secretariat are to prepare for and service meetings of the COP and SBSTTA and associated meetings, to manage and/or coordinate ongoing services such as the clearing-house mechanism (see below) and to coordinate with other relevant international bodies. The CBD Secretariat is provided by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and is located in Montréal, Canada. The officer responsible for management of the secretariat is the Executive Secretary.

Clearing-house Mechanism (CHM): The Convention provides for the establishment of a Clearing-house Mechanism to promote and facilitate the technical and scientific cooperation necessary for implementation of the Convention. A pilot phase of the clearing-house mechanism took place from 1996 to 1998 and, following evaluation of this, the COP has approved a strategic plan and a programme of work for the CHM. The second strategic plan for the CHM is currently under consideration and is expected to be adopted by the eight meeting of the COP in 2006.

Financial mechanism: The Convention establishes a financial mechanism for the provision of resources to developing countries to support their implementation of the Convention. The financial mechanism is operated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Under the provisions of the Convention, developed country Parties undertake to provide ‘new and additional financial resources to enable developing country Parties to meet the agreed full incremental cost of implementing the obligations of the Convention’ either through the GEF or other bilateral and multilateral channels.

Inter-sessional bodies: The COP and SBSTTA are also able to establish inter-sessional bodies and meetings to carry out work and provide advice between ordinary meetings of the COP and SBSTTA, including preparing for the more substantive discussions and decision- taking at these meetings. These bodies, such as working groups or technical expert groups, are likely to include a range of experts in the subject matter being dealt with.

The work areas of the Convention

The activities of the COP are organised around programmes of work. The first programme of work (1995-1997) focused on development of procedures and modus operandi of the institutions, determining priorities, supporting development of national biodiversity strategies and developing guidance to the financial mechanism. The subsequent programme covered meetings of the COP during 1999-2004, and identified nine areas for in-depth consideration by the COP, ranging from sustainable use to mountain ecosystems. The current multi-year programme of work up to 2010 addresses review of progress made, with an increasing emphasis on implementation.

The COP has identified ecosystem themes and cross-cutting issues to organise its work. The ecosystem themes are agricultural biodiversity, biodiversity of dry and sub-humid lands, biodiversity of inland water ecosystems, forest biodiversity, marine and coastal biodiversity, and mountain biodiversity, with island biodiversity on the agenda of COP 8 in 2006.

Current cross-cutting issues include access and benefit sharing as related to genetic resources; alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats or species; biological diversity and tourism; climate change and biological diversity; economics, trade and incentive measures; ecosystem approach; Global Strategy for Plant Conservation; Global Taxonomy Initiative; impact assessment; indicators; liability and redress; protected areas; public education and awareness; sustainable use of biodiversity; technology transfer and cooperation; traditional knowledge, innovations and practice; and the 2010 biodiversity target.

For all the ecosystem themes and for some of the cross-cutting issues (e.g. Global Taxonomy Initiative; protected areas; communication, education and public awareness), the COP has adopted specific programmes of work. They are annexed to COP decisions, for example the Expanded Programme of Work on Forest Biological Diversity is annexed to COP decision VI/22. Most programmes of work follow a similar structure, with programme elements, which contain goals, goals containing objectives, and objectives containing activities. In addition, some programmes of work contain targets as well as ways and means, identifying institutions and organisations to carry out the activities. For some cross-cutting issues, the COP has adopted guidelines or principles (e.g. ecosystem approach, invasive alien species).

Protocols to the Convention

The Convention allows for the development of subsidiary agreements or protocols as legally binding instruments to address particular issues relevant to the Convention. Any Contracting Party to the Convention is also eligible to be party to the protocol. The protocol will have a separate governance process. In January 2001, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the CBD was adopted. It came into force in September 2003. As of August 2005, the Protocol has 125 Parties.

Strategic Plan

At its sixth meeting in 2002, the COP adopted a Strategic Plan for the Convention on Biological Diversity to guide its further implementation at national, regional and global levels. The strategic plan includes 19 objectives clustered under four strategic goals. The mission of the Strategic Plan includes the commitment of Parties “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on earth”. This 2010 biodiversity target was subsequently endorsed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development.