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MEA Bulletin

Guest Article

19 December 2006


By Stas Burgiel, Ph.D., Senior International Invasive Species Policy Advisor, The Nature Conservancy

Full article

The notion of cross-cutting issues and the need for sectoral integration are now common buzzwords in multilateral environmental fora, yet moving beyond words to actual collaboration has proven a challenge both nationally and internationally. Invasive species, one of the top three threats to biodiversity, are a prime example for cross-sectoral work given their impacts on trade, agriculture, livelihoods, transport and a range of economic industries. With globalization, the increased movement of people and goods has facilitated the introduction of invasive species to practically every corner of the world as shipping becomes faster and the range of goods and markets expands. Mitigating their threats and preventing new introductions is a challenge that extends well beyond the reach of environmental agreements into other areas of international law.

Failure to coordinate can hamper progress, as evidenced by the continued controversy over the trade-related implications of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) guiding principles on invasive species initially “adopted” in 2002. However, there is currently an opportunity to move forward by taking stock of ongoing international policy efforts, identifying gaps and developing plans to coordinate future work. The CBD’s next Conference of the Parties (COP-9, May 2008) will conduct an in depth review of work on invasive species. This could include a joint programme of work that builds on recent work on gaps and inconsistencies by establishing ties with other international processes that could best develop guidance in specific areas.

Within the field of multilateral environmental agreements, there is already some cooperation across conventions on invasive species, including the CBD, the Ramsar Convention, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Convention on Migratory Species. Looking more broadly, key areas of international law calling for cooperation include: trade, food and fiber production and transport. Coordination is also needed with other processes addressing human health, local livelihoods and sustainable development.

Clean Trade

International trade, including commodities and their packaging, transport vehicles and associated individuals, is arguably the main driver for invasive species introductions. This is the most important and difficult area for making progress given the inherent tension between promoting free trade and regulating that trade to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species. The World Trade Organization’s Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (WTO SPS Agreement) addresses this dynamic, yet lack of clarity and differing interpretations of the SPS Agreement have led to conflicts under the WTO’s dispute resolution body. This may be further discouraging countries from establishing more protective national systems. While revision of the SPS Agreement is highly unlikely, the CBD Secretariat has been liaising with the WTO on a number of issues, including links with the SPS Committee.

Recognizing this lack of clarity, regional organizations are developing models to clarify how trade rules can be applied to invasive species and their pathways of introduction. For example, NAFTA’s Commission on Environmental Cooperation is developing a risk assessment model for aquatic and terrestrial species and pathways that will be consistent with regional and international trade obligations. The Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation organization has been developing a strategy on invasive species, which is critical given the high percentage of goods produced and shipped in that region. These organizations operate within the framework of WTO rules, and it is therefore essential that their outputs be integrated into the CBD’s in depth review.

Pest Free Food and Fiber Production

Agriculture has the longest history with invasive species through management of crop pests, weeds and animal diseases. The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) and the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) are both active in this sector and enjoy the benefit of having their standards recognized by the SPS Agreement as consistent with international trade rules.

The IPPC has also developed a joint work plan with the CBD Secretariat and has started incorporating environmental issues into its work on risk assessment and living modified organisms. Having already established a standard on solid wood packaging material, a pathway well-known for introducing invasive pests and pathogens, the IPPC is currently considering whether and how to address the movement and trade of invasive plants (e.g., for horticulture), which also threaten native biodiversity. The working relationship with the CBD Secretariat could serve as a positive example for collaboration with international institutions to address key pathways. Finally, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, which hosts the IPPC Secretariat, relates to other aspects of invasive species including forestry, fisheries and aquaculture.

Green Transport

The most significant achievement to date in the transport arena is the adoption of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ship’s Ballast Water and Sediments under the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Ballast water is a major pathway for the movement of invasives, and momentum in this area will hopefully carry over to the IMO’s work on technical and policy solutions to the movement of invasives through hull fouling. In the area of air transport, the International Civil Aviation Organization has also recognized the issue of invasive species and has called for assistance in the development of international guidance for carriers, airports and relevant government authorities.

Other Sectors

The link between invasive species and impacts on rural livelihoods is increasingly being recognized in the areas of health, sanitation, local transport and food security, yet the policy linkages and most appropriate forms of guidance still need consideration. For example, what role does prevention and management of invasive species play in meeting the Millennium Development Goals? How can the achievement of environmental objectives also contribute to meeting socioeconomic needs?

Other relevant national and regional efforts are too numerous to mention within the scope of this article, but hopefully will be brought forward for consideration at CBD COP-9. These activities, along with the range of sectoral opportunities discussed above, are particularly important for the CBD’s in depth review, as the Convention itself does not have the resources, expertise or jurisdiction to address the full range of environmental, trade, transport and health issues posed by invasive species. However, it can help ensure that other relevant institutions are at the table, provide guidance for unaddressed gaps, and serve as a conduit for communicating this information to governments. The CBD in depth review provides this opportunity, which can ensure a truly cross-sectoral approach toward invasive species.

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