Read in: French

Curtain raiser

5th Meeting of the CBD Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA)

The fifth session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA-5) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) begins in Montreal today and will continue until 4 February 2000.

SBSTTA delegates are expected to meet in two working groups. Working Group I will consider: alien species; marine and coastal biological diversity; the programme of work for drylands, Mediterranean, arid, semi-arid, grassland and savannah biological diversity; and agricultural biological diversity. Working Group II will discuss: the ecosystem approach; development of biodiversity indicators; and sustainable use of the components of biological diversity. The Plenary will review: the global taxonomy initiative; the pilot phase of the clearing house mechanism; guidelines for the second national reports; and work programmes on inland waters and forest biodiversity; and the rosters and terms of reference for the ad hoc technical experts groups.

Cristián Samper (Colombia) will assume his duty as SBSTTA-5 Chair. SBSTTA will report its recommendations to the fifth Conference of the Parties (COP-5) to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 15 - 26 May 2000.


The Convention on Biological Diversity, negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), entered into force on 29 December 1993. To date, 176 countries have become Parties. Article 25 of the CBD establishes a Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) to provide the COP with "timely advice" relating to implementation of the Convention. SBSTTA has convened four times, during which it has developed 35 recommendations for COP consideration.

COP-1: The first meeting of the Conference of the Parties took place in Nassau, the Bahamas, from 28 November - 9 December 1994. Some of the key decisions taken by COP-1 included: adoption of the medium-term work programme; designation of the Permanent Secretariat; establishment of the Clearing-House Mechanism (CHM) and SBSTTA; and designation of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as the interim institutional structure for the financial mechanism.

SBSTTA-1: SBSTTA-1 met from 4-8 September 1995 in Paris, France. Recommendations on the modus operandi of SBSTTA affirmed its subsidiary role to the COP and requested flexibility to create two open-ended working groups to meet simultaneously during future SBSTTA meetings, ad hoc technical panels of experts as needed, and a roster of experts. Substantive recommendations included: alternative ways and means for the COP to consider components of biodiversity under threat; ways and means to promote access to and transfer of technology; scientific and technical information to be contained in national reports; contributions to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) meetings on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture; and technical aspects of the conservation and sustainable use of coastal and marine biodiversity.

COP-2: COP-2 met in Jakarta, Indonesia, from 6-17 November 1995. Some of the key decisions taken by COP-2 included: agreement to develop a protocol on biosafety; operation of the CHM; adoption of a work programme funded by a larger budget; designation of the GEF as the continuing interim institutional structure for the financial mechanism; consideration of marine and coastal biodiversity; agreement to address forests and biodiversity, including the development of a statement from the CBD to the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD); and designation of the permanent location of the Secretariat in Montreal, Canada.

SBSTTA-2: SBSTTA-2 met in Montreal, Canada, from 2-6 September 1996. Agenda items included: monitoring and assessment of biodiversity; approaches to taxonomy; economic valuation of biodiversity; access to genetic resources; agricultural biodiversity; terrestrial biodiversity; marine and coastal biodiversity; biosafety; and the CHM.

COP-3: COP-3 met in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 4-15 November 1996. Delegates adopted: work programmes on agricultural and forest biodiversity; a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the GEF; an agreement to hold an intersessional workshop on traditional knowledge (Article 8(j)); a decision instructing the Executive Secretary to apply for observer status in the WTO Committee on Trade and the Environment; and a statement from the CBD to the UN General Assembly's Special Session (UNGASS) to review implementation of Agenda 21.

SBSTTA-3: At its third meeting, held in Montreal, Canada, from 1-5 September 1997, SBSTTA delegates considered the implementation of the pilot phase of the CHM and a progress report on the work of SBSTTA and the effectiveness of its advice. Additional decisions were adopted on: biodiversity in inland waters; marine and coastal biodiversity; agricultural biodiversity; forest biodiversity; and biodiversity indicators. SBSTTA-3 also adopted a recommendation on participation in SBSTTA by developing countries.

COP-4: The fourth COP met in Bratislava, Slovakia, from 4-15 May 1998. Delegates discussed agenda items on: inland water, marine and coastal, agricultural and forest biodiversity; the CHM; biosafety; implementation of Article 8(j); access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing; a review of the operations of the Convention; national reports; administrative and budgetary matters; and a review of the financial mechanism. A Ministerial Roundtable discussed integrating biodiversity concerns into sectoral activities, specifically tourism.

SBSTTA-4: During its fourth meeting in Montreal, Canada, from 21-25 June 1999, SBSTTA-4 delegates made recommendations on: the SBSTTA programme of work; the global taxonomy initiative; principles to prevent the impact of alien species; control of plant gene expression; options for sustainable use of terrestrial biological diversity; incorporation of biodiversity into environmental impact assessments; and approaches and practices for the sustainable use of resources, including tourism. SBSTTA-4 reviewed the terms of reference of ad hoc technical expert groups, but deferred concluding a recommendation to SBSTTA-5.

ISOC-1: The first Intersessional Meeting on the Operations of the Convention (ISOC-1) met in Montreal, Canada, from 28-30 June 1999 and was convened on the basis of COP-4 Decision IV/16, which calls for an open-ended meeting to consider possible arrangements to improve preparations for and conduct of COP meetings. ISOC also held preparatory discussion on: access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing, focusing on the Experts’ Panel on Access and Benefit Sharing, which met in October 1999; ex situ collections that were acquired prior to the Convention’s entry into force; and the relationship between intellectual property rights and the relevant provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights and the CBD.


NORWAY/UN CONFERENCE ON THE ECOSYSTEM APPROACH FOR SUSTAINABLE USE OF BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY: The Norwegian Ministry of Environment in collaboration with UNEP, convened an international workshop on developing the ecosystem approach for the sustainable use of biodiversity, from 6-10 September 1999 in Trondheim, Norway. The conference sought to build upon the results of the Workshop on the Ecosystem Approach held in Lilongwe, Malawi, in January 1998, which developed a set of 12 principles and characteristics of the ecosystem approach to biodiversity management (the Malawi Principles). The conference's three objectives were to: contribute to a sound scientific knowledge base on issues related to the sustainable use of biodiversity; further develop the concept and principles of an ecosystem approach to sustainable use; and provide a forum for cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary dialogue between scientists and policy-makers on research and management issues.

CONFERENCE ON THE MULTIFUNCTIONAL CHARACTER OF AGRICULTURE AND LAND: The conference took place from 12-17 September 1999 in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Organized jointly by the FAO and the Government of the Netherlands, the conference's objective was to provide a high-level technical forum to help identify new practices and the necessary enabling environments that will lead to increased sustainability in agriculture. There was a particular emphasis on raising awareness at all levels of the multiple contributions that agriculture and related land use can make toward increasing sustainability and food security. Discussion focused on reviewing progress toward fulfilling the principles contained in Agenda 21, as well as identifying main issues to be addressed in the future.

EXPERTS' PANEL ON ACCESS AND BENEFIT-SHARING: The Experts' Panel met from 4-8 October 1999 in San José, Costa Rica. COP Decision IV/8 called for the establishment of a regionally balanced panel of experts on access and benefit sharing which received guidance from the ISOC. The meeting was co-hosted by the Governments of Costa Rica and Switzerland, and focused on four items: access and benefit-sharing arrangements for scientific and commercial purposes; review of legislative, administrative and policy measures at national and regional levels; review of regulatory procedures and incentive measures; and capacity building. The Panel developed a set of recommendations, which included general conclusions and specific points on prior informed consent, mutually agreed terms, information needs and capacity building.

The International Conference on Biotechnology in the Global Economy: The conference took place at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, from 2-3 September 1999. The conference, organized and hosted by the Center for International Development (CID) and the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, attracted over 200 participants from academic institutions, civil society, industry, government departments and international organizations, including the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development, UNCTAD, FAO and GEF. The conference broadened the debate on biotechnology beyond the confines of the biosafety question and fostered dialogue between researchers, entrepreneurs, political leaders, policy makers and practitioners.

EXPERT CONSULTATION ON CORAL BLEACHING: The Expert Consultation took place at the headquarters of the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management in Manila, Philippines, from 11 - 13 October 1999. The Expert Consultation was convened by the CBD Executive Secretary to assist the work of SBSTTA-5 in response to COP decision IV/5 and SBSTTA recommendation IV/1. The outputs of the meeting were an analysis of the coral-bleaching phenomenon to assist the preparation of a Secretariat note for SBSTTA-5, and recommendations on priority areas for action, including information gathering, capacity-building, policy development/implementation and financing.


SBSTTA PLENARY: Opening Plenary is scheduled for 10:00 am in the ICAO building, and will address the agenda and organization of work.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Steering Committee will sponsor a lunchtime briefing and panel discussion on how the proposed Millennium Assessment can best meet the needs of Parties to the CBD. The discussion will take place at 1:30 pm in room 6 of the ICAO building.

Further information


National governments