Curtain raiser

2nd Meeting of the CBD Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA)

The second meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and TechnologicalAdvice (SBSTTA-2) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will openMonday, 2 September and continue until Friday at the Palais des Congres, Montreal. Themeeting will assess the factual information governments will need for making policydecisions at the third annual session of the Conference of the Parties (COP-3) in BuenosAires from 4-15 November 1996. At the Opening Plenary of SBSTTA-2, delegations willdeal with organizational matters including election of the Bureau, adoption of the Agendaand organization of work. The SBSTTA-2 Chair, Peter Johan Schei (Norway), waselected by COP-1. The meeting will convene two Open-Ended Working Groups.


The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which was negotiated under the auspicesof the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was adopted in May 1992 andwas opened for signature at the Earth Summit (UNCED) in Brazil on 5 June 1992. Itentered into force on 29 December 1993. As of 1 July 1996, 152 countries had becomeParties to the Convention. Article 25 of the CBD establishes a Subsidiary Body onScientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) to provide the Conference ofthe Parties with “timely advice” relating to implementation of the Convention.

COP-1: The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD (COP-1)took place in Nassau, the Bahamas, from 28 November-9 December 1994. Some of thekey decisions taken by COP-1 included: adoption of the medium-term work programme;designation of the Permanent Secretariat; establishment of the clearing-house mechanismand SBSTTA; and designation of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as the interiminstitutional structure for the financial mechanism. The location of the PermanentSecretariat and the permanent financial mechanism were left unresolved.

SBSTTA-1: The first session of SBSTTA convened on 4-8 September 1995 inParis, France. Delegates considered operational matters, as well as substantive issues,particularly over coastal and marine biodiversity. Recommendations on the modusoperandi of SBSTTA affirmed its subsidiary role to the COP, and requested theflexibility to create: two Open-Ended Working Groups to meet simultaneously duringfuture SBSTTA meetings; Ad Hoc Technical Panels of Experts as needed; and aroster of experts.

Substantive recommendations of SBSTTA-1 included: alternative ways and means for theCOP to consider components of biodiversity under threat; ways and means to promoteaccess to and transfer of technology; scientific and technical information to be contained innational reports; preparation of an annual Global Biodiversity Outlook by the Secretariat;contributions to FAO meetings on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture; andtechnical aspects of the conservation and sustainable use of coastal and marine biologicaldiversity. On this last issue, SBSTTA-1 identified three priorities: sustainable use of livingcoastal and marine resources; mariculture; and the control of alien organisms. Timeconstraints prevented consideration of education, training and public awareness as keydelivery mechanisms for coastal and marine biodiversity conservation, and of bio-prospecting of the deep sea bed including access to its genetic resources, both of whichwill be taken up by SBSTTA-2.

Although the recommendation on coastal and marine biodiversity received adisproportionate share of attention at SBSTTA-1, some states noted that land-basedsources of marine pollution had not been sufficiently emphasized. Others called therecommendation imbalanced. One non-Party to the CBD criticized inclusion of the issueof deep sea bed bio-prospecting as outside the scope of the CBD.

COP-2: The second session of the Conference of the Parties (COP-2) to theConvention on Biological Diversity (CBD) met in Jakarta, Indonesia, from 6-17November 1995. The theme of the session was “Biodiversity for the Equitable Welfare ofall People.” COP-2 initiated the process of implementation of the CBD. Some of the keydecisions taken by COP-2 included: designation of the permanent location of theSecretariat in Montreal, Canada; agreement to develop a protocol on biosafety; operationof the clearing-house mechanism; adoption of a programme of work funded by a largerbudget; designation of the GEF as the continuing interim institutional structure for thefinancial mechanism; consideration of its first substantive issue, marine and coastalbiodiversity; and agreement to address forests and biodiversity, including the developmentof a statement from the CBD to the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) of theCommission on Sustainable Development.

COP-2 approved SBSTTA’s medium term programme of work for 1996-97, and alsoaddressed the issue of genetic resources for food and agriculture, adopting a statement forinput to the FAO’s Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resourcesfor Food and Agriculture (ITCPGR-4). The statement notes the importance of otherconventions to the CBD’s three objectives, urges other international fora to help achievethese objectives through the CBD’s overarching framework and invites FAO to presentthe outcome of ITCPGR-4 to COP-3 of the CBD.

PLANT GENETIC RESOURCES FOR FOOD AND AGRICULTURE: TheFAO established an intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources for Food andAgriculture in 1983, and adopted a non-binding International Undertaking on PlantGenetic Resources, which is intended to promote harmonized international efforts tocreate incentives to conserve and sustainably use plant genetic resources for food andagriculture (PGRFA). Since the entry into force of the CBD in 1993, the FAO hasengaged in a process of revising the International Undertaking. While the originalInternational Undertaking called PGRFA the “common heritage of mankind”, subsequentrevisions have emphasized national sovereignty over PGRFA, in line with Article 15(sovereignty over genetic resources) of the CBD.

The Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources (ITCPGR-4)met in Leipzig, Germany, from 17-23 June 1996, part of a series of international technicalconferences on this issue. Representatives of 148 states adopted the Leipzig Declaration,the Conference’s key political statement, and a “delicately balanced” Global Plan of Action(GPA), an international programme for the conservation and utilisation of PGRFA.Contentious issues included financing and implementing the GPA, technology transfer,Farmers’ Rights and access and benefit-sharing. Delegates were also presented with thefirst comprehensive Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources.

The next round of negotiations on revision of the International Undertaking are scheduledfor December 1996.

BIOSAFETY: Since the early 1970s, modern biotechnology has enabledscientists to genetically modify plants, animals and micro-organisms to create livingmodified organisms (LMOs). Many countries with biotechnology industries already havedomestic legislation in place intended to ensure the safe transfer, handling, use anddisposal of LMOs and their products (these precautionary practices are collectively knownas “biosafety”). However, there are no binding international agreements addressingsituations where LMOs cross national borders.

Article 19.4 of the CBD provides for Parties to consider the need for and modalities of aprotocol on biosafety. At COP-2, delegates established an Open-Ended Ad Hoc WorkingGroup on Biosafety (BSWG), which held its first meeting in Aarhus, Denmark, from 22-26 July 1996. It was attended by more than 90 delegations, which included scientific andtechnical experts, representing both Parties and non-Parties to the CBD,intergovernmental organizations, NGOs and industry.

BSWG-1 marked the first formal meeting to develop a protocol under the CBD and tooperationalize one of its key and most contentious components. Governments listedelements for a future protocol, agreed to hold two meetings in 1997 and outlined theinformation required to guide their future work.

SBSTTA-2: The second session of SBSTTA will conduct two simultaneousOpen-Ended Working Groups. Working Group 1 will consider: assessment ofbiodiversity; standards for national reports; monitoring of components of biodiversity;indicators of biodiversity; agricultural biodiversity; terrestrial biodiversity; and coastal andmarine biodiversity. Working Group 2 will consider: capacity building for taxonomy;technology transfer, including biotechnology; knowledge, innovations and practices ofindigenous and local communities; capacity building for biosafety; the role of theclearinghouse mechanism in technical and scientific cooperation; and economic valuationof biodiversity.


FOURTH SESSION OF THE GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY FORUM: The fourthsession of the Global Biodiversity Forum (GBF) convened at the Palais des Congres on 31August and 1 September. The GBF provides an independent, open process to fosteranalysis and dialogue among parties interested in the development and implementation ofthe Convention on Biological Diversity.

At the opening Plenary, SBSTTA-2 Chair, Peter Johan Schei (Norway), welcomed the“horizontal” dialogue promoted by the GBF and challenged the organizers to invite the“non-converted”. He also noted the importance of the development of the CBD’s role inagricultural biodiversity and its cooperation with the FAO on this issue.

Four parallel workshops discussed recommendations to SBSTTA-2:

Forests and Biodiversity: Participants discussed elements for a framework forimplementing the CBD in relation to forests, specifically a proposal that SBSTTA-2 provide advice for the COP on a work programme on forests and a statement to theIntergovernmental Panel on Forests.

Marine and Coastal Biodiversity: Participants endorsed the CBD ecosystemmanagement approach. They also agreed on the need for marine ecosystem classificationand a user-friendly assessment of marine and coastal biodiversity.

Economic Incentives for Biodiversity: Participants discussed incentives forconservation, including perverse or negative incentives; elimination of damaging subsidies;decentralization; and local tenure rights.

Protected Areas: Participants discussed, inter alia, a recommendation thatSBSTTA-2 and the COP prepare guidelines on form and substance of national systemsplans, recognizing that they cannot be completed on government lands alone; bioregionalapproaches; standing conflict resolution mechanisms to deal with interests opposed tobiodiversity needs; and IUCN categories of land and people.

NORWAY/UN CONFERENCE ON ALIEN SPECIES: The Norway/UNConference on Alien Species, held in Trondheim, Norway from 1-5 July 1996, sought tocontribute to the development of a scientific knowledge base on issues related to alienspecies and also to provide a forum for cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary dialoguebetween scientists and policy makers. The conclusions and recommendations note,inter alia, that problems resulting from invasive species need to be addressed at thegenetic, species and ecosystem levels and that all sectors must have a role in implementingpreventative and corrective action. For information contact: Odd Terje Sandlund, NINA,Tungasletta 2, N-7005 Trondheim, Norway, tel: +47 73 58 05 00; fax: +47 73 58 06 70;e-mail:


Informal consultations with a few developing country Parties on the draft Memorandum ofUnderstanding (MOU) between the COP and the GEF were convened this weekend inMontreal. Following a previous informal meeting in Frankfurt, Germany on 2-4 June1996, these consultations were chaired by Razali Ismail (Malaysia). Participating countriesincluded: China, Zaire, Madagascar, Republic of Guinea, Malaysia, Brazil, North Korea,India, Hungary, Kenya and the Slovak Republic. According to observers, the aim was tocollect views on a possible revised draft MOU, before the GEF meeting in October, forconsideration by COP-3. Main areas of discussion included the question of the authority ofthe COP over the GEF, the interim nature of the GEF and the determination of funding.


PLENARY: The Opening Plenary will convene at 10:00 a.m. at the Palais desCongres in room 407 A.

WORKING GROUPS: Working Groups 1 (room 407 A) and 2 (Rooms 406 A,B& C) are expected to convene from 11:00 a.m. until the afternoon.

GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY FORUM: A summary of recommendations fromGBF-4 will be circulated.

INTERNET CAFE: The Internet Cafe will be located in room 402 A. Look forthe Earth Negotiations Bulletin World Wide Web page for SBSTTA-2, with pictures and audio, at

Further information


National governments
Non-state coalitions