Cop-11 to Convention on Biological Diversity

Biodiversity encompasses the variety of all life on earth. Biodiversity manifests itself at three levels

  • ‘species’ diversity which refers to the numbers and kinds of living organisms;
  • ‘genetic’ diversity which refers to genetic variation within species;
  • ‘ecosystem’ diversity which denotes the variety of habitats, biological communities and ecological processes.

Importance of Species / Genetic Biodiversity

  • A species is defined as a group of closely related, structurally and functionally similar organisms which interbreed with one another in nature, but not with organisms of other groups.
  • Species are the building blocks of biodiversity and ecosystems. Species have significant aesthetic, cultural, spiritual and educational values.
  • Species form the very foundations of our livelihoods, by providing us with what are known as goods and services. These range from physical goods including food, fuel, clothes and medicine, to essential services such as the purification of water and air, pollination, soil formation and the prevention of soil erosion.
  • Species also provide an invaluable resource for economic activities including fisheries, forestry and tourism.
  • With continuing decline of species, nature’s ability to provide us with these vital goods and services becomes severely diminished, and the livelihoods of billions of people across the globe are left in jeopardy as a result.
  • Biodiversity forms the web of life of which humans are an integral part and upon which we so fully depend. This diversity is often understood in terms of the wide variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. So far, about 1.75 million species have been identified, mostly small creatures such as insects.
  • Scientists reckon that there are actually about 13 million species, though estimates range from 3 to 100 million..
  • Biodiversity also includes genetic differences within each species – for example, between varieties of crops and breeds of livestock. Chromosomes, genes, and DNA – the building blocks of life – determine the uniqueness of each individual and each species

Importance of Ecosystem Diversity

  • Yet another aspect of biodiversity is the variety of ecosystems such as those that occur in deserts, forests, wetlands, mountains, lakes, rivers, and agricultural landscapes.
  • In each ecosystem, living creatures, including humans, form a community, interacting with one another and with the air, water, and soil around them. It is the combination of life forms and their interactions with each other and with the rest of the environment that has made Earth a uniquely habitable place for humans.
  • Biodiversity provides a large number of goods and services that sustain our lives.

The Convention on Biological Diversity

In 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a historic set of agreements was signed that included two binding agreements, the Convention on Climate Change, which targets industrial and other emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, and the Convention on Biological Diversity, the first global agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. The Convention has three main goals:

  • The conservation of biodiversity,
  • Sustainable use of the components of biodiversity, and
  • Sharing the benefits arising from the commercial and other utilization of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way.

The Convention has near universal membership with 193 countries as Parties. India is a Party to the CBD. USA is the only major country which is not a Party to the CBD. It has signed but not ratified the treaty.

The features of CBD

CBD is a landmark in international law, which recognized for the first time – that the conservation of biological diversity is “a common concern of humankind” and is an integral part of the development process.

The agreement 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 biosafety.
  • Importantly, the Convention is legally binding; countries that join it are obliged to implement its provisions.
  • The Convention reminds decision-makers that natural resources are not infinite and sets out a new philosophy for the 21st century, that of sustainable use.

What was the situation before the CBD

Pre-CBD, biological resources were considered as a common heritage of mankind and National rights were not recognized.

Recognizing the sovereign rights of States over their natural resources, CBD stipulates that the authority to determine access to its genetic resources rests with national governments and is subject to national legislation. The CBD thus sets out a new philosophy regarding the use of genetic resources.

National Action under CBD

The Convention on Biological Diversity, as an international treaty, identifies a common problem, sets overall goals and policies and general obligations, and organizes technical and financial cooperation. However, the responsibility for achieving its goals rests largely with the countries themselves.

The convention says that the Governments need to provide the critical role of leadership, particularly by setting rules that guide the use of natural resources, and by protecting biodiversity where they have direct control over the land and water. Thus, each government is required to develop national biodiversity strategies and action plans, and to integrate these into broader national plans for environment and development. This is particularly important for such sectors as forestry, agriculture, fisheries, energy, transportation and urban planning.

International action under CBD

The success of CBD depends on the combined efforts of the world’s countries. Though the responsibility to implement the Convention lies with the individual countries, yet to a large extent, compliance also depends upon the peer pressure from other countries and from public opinion.

Via CBD, a global forum for serial meetings has been created where governments, non-governmental organizations, academics, the private sector, and other interested groups or individuals share ideas and compare strategies. Thus the ultimate authority of the CBD is the Conference of the Parties (COP), consisting of all governments (and regional economic integration organizations) that have ratified the treaty. This COP is the governing body of the CBD. Its functions are as follows:

  • COP reviews progress     under the Convention, identifies new priorities, and sets work plans for members.
  • COP can also make amendments to the Convention, create expert advisory bodies, review progress reports by member nations, and collaborate with other international organizations and agreements.

COP relies upon the expertise and support from several other bodies that are established by the Convention such as

  • Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA): The SBSTTA is a committee composed of experts from member governments competent in relevant fields. It plays a key role in making recommendations to the COP on scientific and technical issues.
  • The Clearing House Mechanism: This Internet based network promotes technical and scientific cooperation and the exchange of information.

The Secretariat: Based in Montreal, it is linked to the United Nations Environment Programme. Its main functions are to organize meetings, draft documents, assist member governments in the implementation of the programme of work, coordinate with other international organizations, and collect and disseminate information.

In addition, the COP establishes ad hoc committees or mechanisms as it sees fit. For example, it created a Working Group on Biosafety that met from 1996 to 1999 and a Working Group on the knowledge of indigenous and local communities.

Sharing of Benefits: What is it?

One of the important parts of the biodiversity debate involves access to and sharing of the benefits arising out of the commercial and other utilization of genetic material, such as pharmaceutical products.

  • It is a fact that most of the world’s biodiversity is found in developing countries, which consider it a resource for fuelling their economic and social development.
  • Historically, plant genetic resources were collected for commercial use outside their region of origin or as inputs in plant breeding.
  • Foreign bioprospectors have searched for natural substances to develop new commercial products, such drugs. Often, these products would be sold and protected by patents or other intellectual property rights, without fair benefits to the source countries.
  • Since, the treaty recognizes national sovereignty over all genetic resources, and provides that access to valuable biological resources be carried out on “mutually agreed terms” and subject to the “prior informed consent” of the country of origin.
  • When a microorganism, plant, or animal is used for a commercial application, the country from which it came has the right to benefit. Such benefits can include cash, samples of what is collected, the participation or training of national researchers, the transfer of biotechnology equipment and know-how, and shares of any profits from the use of the resources.
  • This would need for making benefit-sharing arrangements. The countries have started establishing the controls over access to their genetic resources, same is true with India also.
  • The bioprospector is required to meet certain conditions, such as the submission of duplicate samples of genetic resources collected to a designated institution; including a national institution in the collection of genetic resources; sharing existing information; sharing research results with the competent national authority; assisting in the strengthening of institutional capacities; and sharing specific financial or related benefits.
  • Through the Convention, countries meet to develop common policies on these matters.

CBD and Traditional Knowledge

The CBD 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.

Member governments have undertaken “to respect, preserve and maintain” such knowledge and practices, to promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the communities concerned, and to encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from their utilization.

Nagoya Protocol

On 29 October 2010, some 18,000 participants representing the 193 Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and their partners closed the Nagoya Biodiversity Summit 2011 by adopting historic decisions that will permit the community of nations to meet the unprecedented challenges of the continued loss of biodiversity compounded by climate change.The Governments agreed on a package of measures that will ensure that the ecosystems of the planet will continue to sustain human well-being into the future.

Goals of Nagoya Protocol:

The meeting achieved its three inter-linked goals:

  • Adoption of a new ten year Strategic Plan to guide international and national efforts to save biodiversity through enhanced action to meet the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity
  • A resource mobilization strategy that provides the way forward to a substantial increase to current levels of official development assistance in support of biodiversity
  • A new international protocol on access to and sharing of the benefits from the use of the genetic resources of the planet.

Nagoya’s Outcome: Aichi Target

The strategic plan which is outcome of the Nagoya Protocol is “Aichi Target”. It includes 20 headline targets, organized under five strategic goals that 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.

The important agreements were as follows:

  • At least halve and where feasible bring close to zero the rate of loss of natural habitats including forests
  • Established a target of 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of marine and coastal areas
  • Through conservation and restoration, Governments will restore at least 15 percent of degraded areas
  • Will make special efforts to reduce the pressures faced by coral reefs.
  • Parties also agreed to a substantial increase in the level of financial resources in support of implementation of the Convention.

The Nagoya Access and Benefit Sharing Protocol

This is called the new ABS Rules.

  • The treaty is a Protocol to the main convention, and lays down basic ground rules on how nations cooperate in obtaining genetic resources from animals to plants and fungi.
  • Please note that countries could not reach to a legally binding protocol, yet it outlines how the benefits, arising for example when a plant’s genetics are turned into a commercial product such as a pharmaceutical, are shared with the countries and communities who have conserved and managed that resource often for millennia.
  • The new Nagoya Protocol on ABS lays out rules on how derivatives-substances and compounds derived from genetic resources- will be dealt with under an ABS regime.
  • It addresses the issue of traditional knowledge and pathogens-for example how developed countries may in emergency situations obtain a flu virus in order to develop a vaccine to counter a possible epidemic.
  • It says governments should begin considering ways of recompensing developing countries for genetic material that may have been collected years, decades even centuries ago- if in future they become used to produce say a new pharmaceutical or crop variety.

What was not achieved last year at Nagoya?

One of the three objectives of the CBD relates to ABS, which refers to the way in which genetic resources may be accessed, and benefits resulting from their use shared by the users with the countries that provide them. The CBD prescribes that access to genetic resources is subject to national legislation.

Accordingly, India after extensive consultative process had 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. However, in the near absence of user country measures, once the resource leaves the country providing the resources, there is no way to ensure compliance of ABS provisions in the country where it is used. Towards this, a protocol on access and benefit sharing was negotiated at Nagoya, Japan in October 2010. India has participated actively and contributed meaningfully in the ABS negotiations which formally started about six years back. The objective of the Nagoya Protocol on ABS is fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies.

The CBD envisages the provisions that access to genetic resources and realization of benefits is subject to national legislation through formalization of prior informed consent (PIC) and mutually agreed terms (MAT). India has been a victim of Bio-piracy. India says that national action alone is not sufficient to ensure realization of benefits to the country of origin or provider country. Thus, the demand of the developing countries of an international legislation for the realization of benefits to the country of origin or provider country, has not been fulfilled.

What were the agendas of COP-11 at Hyderabad?

The CBD press release on the event explained that “The mobilization of resources for action on the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets will be at the top of the agenda.” These targets were agreed at the last COP at Nagoya. They include commitments to conserve 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of marine areas and coastal areas though establishing protected areas and to restore of at least 15% of degraded areas. Regarding where the money would come from, the CBD text includes a commitment by developed countries to provide new and additional resources to developing countries, but unfortunately most developed countries are in cash crunch these days. One more agenda was to focus on how more money for biodiversity can be brought out of the private sector.

Outcome of the Hyderabad Summit

The relevant outcomes are as follows:

  • India has taken over as president of the COP.
  • The countries of the world agreed on to increase funding in support of actions to halt the rate of loss of biodiversity. Developed countries agreed to double funding to support efforts in developing states towards meeting the internationally-agreed Biodiversity Targets, and the main goals of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.
  • Special attention to be given to the Saragasso Sea, the Tonga archipelago and key corals sites off the coast of Brazil.
  • The countries have agreed to take new measures to factor biodiversity into environmental impact assessments linked to infrastructure and other development projects in marine and coastal areas.
Agreements on Funding
  • Developed countries agreed to increase funding to support efforts in developing states towards meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
  • Using a baseline figure of the average annual national spending on biodiversity between 2006 and 2010, developed countries said they would double biodiversity-related international financial flows by 2015. The COP also set targets to increase the number of countries that have included biodiversity in their national development plans, and prepared national financial plans for biodiversity, by 2015.
  • All Parties have agreed to substantially increase domestic expenditures for biodiversity protection over the same period.
  • The developing countries at COP 11, including India and several African states, have pledged additional funds above and beyond their core funding towards the work of the CBD.
  • Hyderabad Call for Biodiversity Champions was laucned. The programme will accept pledges from governments and organizations in support of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. India has committed $50 million (over Rs. 264 crore) for the so called the ‘Hyderabad Pledge’ as India takes over the two-year presidency of the Convention on Biological Diversity
Marine Biodiversity
  • It was decided to classify a diverse list of marine areas, some renowned for containing ‘hidden treasures’ of the plant and animal world, as ecologically or biologically significant.
  • To meet the Aichi Biodiversity Target of ensuring that 10 per cent of marine areas are protected by 2020, an additional 8 million square kilometres of marine and coastal areas would need to be recognized as protected – an area just over the size of Australia.
  • The countries agreed to for moving forward for development of an international agreement for biodiversity conservation in marine areas beyond national jurisdiction.
  • More research to be done into the potential adverse effects of underwater noise from ships on marine and coastal biodiversity.
  • The growing concern on the adverse effects of marine litter was highlighted.
  • Growing challenge of climate change impacts on coral reefs was recognized and the it was agreed that it will require significant investment to overcome.
National Biodiversity Plans
  • Much of the COP 11 negotiations revolved around practical and financial support for countries in implementing national biodiversity plans to meet the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity and the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets.
  • Highlighted the need for enhanced technical and scientific cooperation among countries, while underlining the potential for enhanced cooperation among developing countries.
  • A new National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans Forum (NBSAP Forum) was launch at COP11 by UNEP, CBD, The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). This is an online forum which provides easy-to-access, targeted information such as best practices, guidelines and learning tools for countries.
  • Agreed to a number of measures to engage the main economic sectors, such as business and development organizations, to integrate biodiversity objectives in their plans and programmes.