Guide and glossary to CBD

International meetings on biodiversity have led to landmark agreements and spawned some characteristic phrases. Copyright: Flickr/Branto

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The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has spawned a series of agreements and technical phrases.

Since it entered into force in 1993, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has firmly established that natural resources are limited and their use must follow the sustainability principle. The CBD calls for an ‘ecosystems’ approach that protects and conserves species and genes while benefiting humans. But issues have arisen around fair and equitable sharing of genetic resources, especially around negotiations at the World Trade Organisation. The wrangling over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and their possible impact on the environment and food safety portrays best the conflict between different interest sets. Attempts to resolve these contentious issues have resulted in a maze of agreements with attendant terms and phrases that are not always readily comprehensible to the casual reader. 

Key agreements and conferences

I) Convention on Biological Diversity:

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force on 29 December 1993. It has three main objectives:

  1. Conservation of biological diversity;
  2. Sustainable use of the components of biological diversity and
  3. Fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources.

II) Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety under CBD:

This is an international agreement aimed at ensuring safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may endanger biological diversity and human health. It was adopted on 29 January 2000 and entered into force on 11 September 2003.

III) The Nagoya–Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety:

Liability and redress in the context of the Caratgena Protocol concerns damage caused by the transboundary movement of LMOs. This was one of the themes on the agenda during the Biosafety Protocol negotiations. No consensus could be reached regarding the details of a liability regime under the Protocol. The matter was, nevertheless, considered both critical and urgent and an clause was included in the final text of the Protocol (Article 27).

The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol (COP-MOP) established an open-ended ad hoc Working Group of Legal and Technical Experts on Liability and Redress to fulfil the mandate under Article 27.

IV) The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation to the CBD:

This agreement aims at sharing the benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way, taking into account all rights over those resources and technologies, and by appropriate funding, thereby contributing to the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components. It was adopted by the COP to the CBD at its tenth meeting on 29 October 2010 in Nagoya, Japan, and will enter into force 90 days after the date of deposit of the 50th instrument of ratification.

V) Conference of the Parties (COP): The COP to the CBD is an intergovernmental decision-making body with regard to the implementation of the Convention.

VI) Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA): An intergovernmental scientific advisory body that provides the COP and subsidiary bodies with timely advice relating to the implementation of the Convention. SBSTTA functions include: providing assessments of the status of biological diversity; providing assessments of the types of measures taken in accordance with the provisions of the Convention and responding to questions that the COP may put to the body.

Traditional Knowledge, Innovations and Practices: Article 8 (j) under CBD states that each contracting party shall, ‘as far as possible and as appropriate, subject to national legislation, respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilisation of such knowledge innovations and practices’.

Aichi Targets on Biodiversity: A  set of 20 global targets under the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. They are grouped under five strategic goals:

  1. Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society.
  2. Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use.
  3. Improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity.
  4. Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  5. Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building.

Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures: Approved at the conclusion of the Uruguay Round of the Multilateral Trade Negotiations, this applies to all sanitary (relating to animals) and phytosanitary (relating to plants) measures that may have a direct or indirect impact on international trade.

Glossary of key terms/phrases:

Alien species: A species introduced from outside its natural past or present distribution including any part, gametes, seeds, eggs, or other material of such species that might survive and subsequently reproduce.

Alien Invasive Species: An alien species which becomes established in a natural or semi-natural ecosystem or habitat, is an agent of change, and threatens native biological diversity. 

Biological Diversity or Biodiversity: The variability among living organisms from all sources including—inter alia—terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems—and the ecological complexes of which they are part. This includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.

Biotechnology: The application of science and engineering in the direct or indirect use of living organisms, or parts or products of living organisms, in their natural or modified forms.

Containment: Application of phytosanitary measures in and around an infested area to prevent spread of a pest.

Contamination: Presence in a commodity, storage place, conveyance or container of pests or other regulated articles, not constituting an infestation.

Ecosystem: A dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit.

Endangered area: An area where ecological factors favour the establishment of a pest whose presence in the area will result in economically important loss.

Habitat: Place or type of site where an organism or population naturally occurs.

Horizontal gene transfer: Refers to the direct (nonsexual) transfer of genetic material between unrelated species.

Indigenous Species (also native species): A species living within its natural range (past or present) including the area which it can reach and occupy using its natural dispersal systems.

Integrated Pest Management:  A holistic or integrated approach to controlling the risks and damage associated with natural predators, diseases and pests. It involves using site-specific information to determine the most effective combination of physical, chemical, biological, or cultural practices to reduce impacts on the environment, biological diversity and human health.

Introduced Species: Any species transported intentionally or accidentally by a human-mediated vector into habitats outside its native range. 

Organism: Any life form from the conventional plant and animal kingdoms and including fungi, bacteria and viruses.

Precautionary principle: Allows policy makers to make discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from taking a particular course or making a certain decision when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is not available.

Risk: The likelihood of the occurrence and the likely magnitude of the consequences of an adverse event to public, aquatic animal or terrestrial animal health in the importing country during a specified time period.

Sanitary or phytosanitary measures: These are designed to protect humans, animals, and plants from diseases, pests, or contaminants.

Sustainable Development: Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the resources for future generations.

Traditional Knowledge: Generally refers to the long-standing traditions and practices of certain regional, indigenous, or local communities. Traditional knowledge also encompasses the wisdom, knowledge, and teachings of these communities