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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 Montreal, 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), are expected to conclude in February 1999.

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: 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 Montreal, 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.

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 Montreal, 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 Montreal, 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.

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 Montreal, 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 remains bracketed going into the final week of negotiations (14-21 February 1999) in Cartagena, Colombia. An extraordinary session of the COP will meet 22-23 February 1999, also in Cartagena, to adopt the protocol.

Last Updated 10/98