Convention on Biological Diversity

Convention on Biological Diversity is a legally binding treaty , which came as an outcome of Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993. It is commonly known as “Biodiversity Convention“.


It’s objectives are:

  • Conservation of biological diversity (or biodiversity);
  • Sustainable use of its components; and
  • Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources

The idea is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. The convention affirms the following:

  1. Intrinsic value of biodiversity
  2. Biodiversity conservation as common concern of humankind
  3. Sovereign rights of States over their biological resources
  4. Responsibility of States to conserve and sustainable use their biodiversity
  5. Precautionary approach towards biodiversity conservation
  6. Vital role of local communities and women
  7. Need for provision of new and additional financial resources and access to technologies for developing countries to address biodiversity loss.’

Members and Signatories to CBD

There are 196 parties and 168 signatories to the CBD, including India. US has signed but not ratified the convention. Main concerns of United States are the CBD provisions, which call for technology transfer to developing countries. US thinks that it could threaten US intellectual property interests. Further, there is another reason that the obligations for financial aid under the CBD are vague. Strangely, the other developed countries have not shared these concerns.


The governing body of CBD is the Conference of the Parties (COP), consisting of all governments (and regional economic integration organizations) that have ratified the treaty. So far twelve meetings of COP have taken place. The last meeting was held in October 2014, in Pyeongchang, South Korea.  In 2012, India had hosted COP-11 at Hyderabad.

The CBD Secretariat is based in Montreal, and it operates under the United Nations Environment Programme. There is a Subsidiary body for Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), which has experts from member governments competent in relevant fields. It plays a key role in making recommendations to the COP on scientific and technical issues.

Importance of CBD

CBD is a land mark in international law on environment because:

  • For the first time it recognized that the conservation of biological diversity is “a common concern of humankind” and is an integral part of the development process.
  • It covers all ecosystems, species, and genetic resources.
  • It links traditional conservation efforts to the economic goal of using biological resources sustainably.
  • It sets principles for the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, notably those destined for commercial use.
  • It also covers the rapidly expanding field of biotechnology, addressing technology development and transfer, benefit-sharing and bio-safety.
  • Since the Convention is legally binding; countries that join it are obliged to implement its provisions.

While past conservation efforts were aimed at protecting particular species and habitats, the Convention recognizes that ecosystems, species as well as genes must be used for the benefit of humans. The Convention also recognizes the close and traditional dependence of indigenous and local communities on biological resources and the need to ensure that these communities share in the benefits arising from the use of their traditional knowledge and practices relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

Protocols to CBD

The two protocols to CBD are Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and Nagoya Protocol.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was adopted in 2000 and it is a legally binding protocol as part of CBD. Is related to “Biosafety measures”, i.e. Biosafety concerns related to import & export of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) and commodities made from them. There are two major components of Cartagena Protocol viz. Advanced Informed Agreement (AIA) Procedure and Biosafety Clearing House.

Advanced Informed Agreement (AIA)

AIA under the Cartagena Protocol ensures that the countries are provided with the information necessary to make informed decisions before agreeing to the import of Living Modified Organisms into their territory.

Biosafety Clearing House

Biosafety Clearing-House facilitates the exchange of information on living modified organisms and to assist countries in the implementation of the Protocol.

Rights of parties of Cartagena Protocol

Every country, which is a party to Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety as the following rights:

  • To be told in advance if they are importing something that contains LMOs or commodities made of LMOs. This is done via the Advanced Informed Agreement.
  • If they don’t want to accept such imports, they will inform the world community via communicating the Biosafety Clearing House.
  • All commodities which may contain LMO elements should be clearly labeled by exporters.
  • The exporter of such commodity must inform the importing country in advance the shipment will contain LMOs. The importer must authorize such shipment.
  • Importing country has both opportunity and the capacity to assess risks involving the products of modern biotechnology.
  • The protocol allows the countries to ban import of LMOs.
Nagoya Protocol

This protocol, also known as Biodiversity Accord; saves the developing countries from “foreign illegitimate bioprospecting”. In earlier times, such bioprospectors would come, search for natural substances, develop a drug, got it patented and sold in markets at high price. No benefit was given to the country from which that natural substance was sourced.

The Nagoya Protocol was adopted in 2010 and is a legally binding protocol. It addresses the problem source countries of genetic resources by recognizing their right to get a share in benefits reaped by foreign bioprospectors.

Right of parties to Nagoya Protocol

A source country has right to benefit from any commercial application of its bioresources. Such benefits may include:

  • Share in Cash profits
  • Sample of what was collected
  • Participation or training of national researchers.
  • Transfer of biotechnology

The Nagoya Protocol reaffirms that a sovereign country has full rights on its genetic resources and use of its bioresources should be done only by mutual consent. It provides legal certainty and transparency and also covers Traditional Knowledge.

Obligations of parties to Nagoya Protocol

Under the Nagoya Protocol, there are certain requirements or obligations, which each country is required to fulfill:

  • Every country should create clear and unambiguous legal framework around access of its genetic sources. This framework should have clear laws, rules, procedures etc.
  • Every country should make clear that its consent is taken while accessing its bioresources and terms on which monetary or non-monetary benefits are to be shared. The terms should be mutually agreed and both the contracting parties must have access to justice.
Other Important Notes on Nagoya Protocol
  • The protocol is legally binding and open to only CBD ratified countries. (Excludes US and Andorra)
  • The protocol is applicable only when a country’s bio-resources are ‘used’. ‘used’ means to conduct research and development on the genetic and/or biochemical composition of genetic resources.
  • Covers derivative products of bio resources including drugs, antibodies, vitamins, enzymes, active compounds and metabolites; however, term derivatives is not explicitly expressed.
  • Does not apply to Human Genetic Material
  • Does not make reference to patents or other Intellectual property rights.
Aichi Targets

Nagoya protocol ends up with a strategic plan with 20 targets called “Aichi Target”. Objective of Aichi Target is to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, reduce the pressures on biodiversity, safeguard biodiversity at all levels, enhance the benefits provided by biodiversity, and provide for capacity-building.  Some of the Aichi targets include:

  • Bringing down rate of loss of natural habitats to half
  • Commitments to conserve 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of marine areas and coastal areas though establishing protected areas
  • Restore of at least 15% of degraded areas
  • Special efforts to reduce the pressures faced by coral reefs.
  • substantial increase in the level of financial resources in support of implementation of the Convention.

CBD and India’s Biodiversity Act

India enacted Biological Diversity Act in 2002 for giving effect to the provisions of the CBD. The same is true for many other developing countries also.

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