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The third meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP-3) to the Convention on BiologicalDiversity (CBD) will take place from 4-15 November at Parque Norte in Buenos Aires,Argentina. Observers have noted that the first meeting of the COP established the basicmachinery of the CBD and its second meeting emphasized programming, and suggestedthat COP-3 should address the implementation of the Convention. As a basis for theirdeliberations, delegates will consider 36 Secretariat papers and 43 information notes inorder to work their way through an ambitious agenda which revisits numerous items fromCOP-2, such as the financial mechanism, the clearing-house mechanism (CHM), accessto genetic resources, and intellectual property rights (IPR).


The Convention on Biological Diversity, negotiated under the auspices of the UnitedNations Environment Programme (UNEP), entered into force on 29 December 1993. Todate more than 160 countries have become Parties. The three goals of the CBD are topromote “the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and thefair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.”

COP-1: The first meeting of the COP (COP-1) took place in Nassau, theBahamas from 28 November-9 December 1994. Some of the key decisions taken byCOP-1 included: adoption of the medium-term work programme; designation of thePermanent Secretariat; establishment of the CHM and the SBSTTA; and designation ofthe Global Environment Facility (GEF) as the interim institutional structure for thefinancial mechanism.

SBSTTA-1: 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. The first session of the SBSTTA tookplace from 4-8 September 1995 in Paris, France. Delegates considered operationalmatters, as well as substantive issues, particularly with regard to coastal and marinebiodiversity. Recommendations on the modus operandi of the SBSTTA affirmedits subsidiary role to the COP and requested flexibility to create: two open-ended workinggroups to meet simultaneously during future SBSTTA meetings; Ad HocTechnical Panels of Experts as needed; and a roster of experts.

Substantive recommendations of SBSTTA-1 included: alternative ways and means forthe COP to consider components of biodiversity under threat; ways and means to promoteaccess to and transfer of technology; scientific and technical information to be containedin national reports; preparation of an annual Global Biodiversity Outlook by theSecretariat; contributions to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) meetings on plantgenetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA); and technical aspects concerning theconservation and sustainable use of coastal and marine biological diversity. On this lastissue, SBSTTA-1 identified three priorities: sustainable use of living coastal and marineresources; mariculture; and control of alien organisms. Time constraints preventedconsideration of education, training and public awareness as key delivery mechanisms forcoastal and marine biodiversity conservation and bio-prospecting of the deep sea bed.While the recommendation on coastal and marine biodiversity received a great deal ofattention at SBSTTA-1, some States noted that land-based sources of marine pollutionhad not been sufficiently emphasized.

COP-2: The second session of the COP (COP-2) met in Jakarta, Indonesia from6-17 November 1995. Some key decisions taken by COP-2 included: designation of thepermanent location of the Secretariat in Montreal, Canada; agreement to develop aprotocol on biosafety; operation of the CHM; adoption of a programme of work fundedby a larger budget; designation of the GEF as the continuing interim institutionalstructure for the financial mechanism; consideration of its first substantive issue, marineand coastal biodiversity; and agreement to address forests and biodiversity, including thedevelopment of a statement from the CBD to the Intergovernmental Panel on Forests(IPF) of the Commission on Sustainable Development.

COP-2 approved SBSTTA’s medium-term programme of work for 1996-97 and alsoaddressed the issue of PGRFA, adopting a statement for input to the FAO’s FourthInternational Technical Conference on PGRFA (ITCPGR-4). The statement notes theimportance of other conventions to the CBD’s three objectives, urges other internationalfora to help achieve these objectives through the CBD’s overarching framework, andinvites FAO to present the outcome of ITCPGR-4 to COP-3.


In 1983 the FAO established an intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources forFood and Agriculture, and adopted a non-binding International Undertaking on PlantGenetic Resources, which is intended to promote harmonized international efforts tocreate incentives to conserve and sustainably use PGRFA. Since the inception of theCBD, the FAO has begun to revise the International Undertaking, which originally calledPGRFA the “common heritage of mankind.” Subsequent revisions have emphasizednational sovereignty over PGRFA, in line with Article 15 (sovereignty over geneticresources) of the CBD. The next round of negotiations on revision of the InternationalUndertaking is scheduled for 9-12 December 1996 in Rome.

The Fourth International Technical Conference on PGRFA met in Leipzig, Germanyfrom 17-23 June 1996. Representatives of 148 States adopted the Leipzig Declaration, theConference’s key political statement, and a “delicately balanced” Global Plan of Action(GPA), an international programme for the conservation and utilization of PGRFA.Contentious issues included financing and implementing the GPA, technology transfer,Farmers’ Rights and access and benefit-sharing. Delegates were also presented with thefirst comprehensive Report on the State of the World’s Plant Genetic Resources.


Since the early 1970s, modern biotechnology has enabled scientists to genetically andbiochemically modify plants, animals and micro-organisms to create living modifiedorganisms (LMOs). Many countries with biotechnology industries already have domesticlegislation in place intended to ensure the safe transfer, handling, use and disposal ofLMOs and their products. These precautionary practices are collectively known as“biosafety.” However, there are no binding international agreements addressing situationswhere LMOs cross national borders.

Article 19.4 of the CBD provides for Parties to consider the need for and modalities of aprotocol on biosafety. At COP-2, delegates established an Open-ended Ad HocWorking Group on Biosafety (BSWG), which held its first meeting in Aarhus,Denmark, from 22-26 July 1996. It was attended by more than 90 delegations, includingscientific and technical experts representing both Parties and non-Parties to the CBD,inter- governmental organizations, NGOs and industry representatives.

BSWG-1 marked the first formal meeting to develop a protocol under the CBD and tooperationalize one of its key and most contentious components. Governments listedelements for a future protocol, agreed to hold two meetings in 1997 and outlined theinformation required to guide their future work.


The second session of SBSTTA took place from 2-6 September 1996 in Montreal,Canada. The crowded agenda included complex technical issues such as the monitoringand assessment of biodiversity, practical approaches to taxonomy, economic valuation ofbiodiversity, access to genetic resources, agricultural biodiversity, terrestrial biodiversity,marine and coastal biodiversity, biosafety and the CHM. Many Parties sent scientific andtechnical experts to the meeting, which was also attended by observers from non-Parties,NGOs, indigenous peoples’ organizations, industry groups and scientific organizations.

Chair Peter Johan Schei cautioned delegates against turning the SBSTTA into a “mini-COP,” but the issue of the identity and role of SBSTTA in managing the scientificcontent continued to occupy many participants at the conclusion of the meeting. Someissues, including economic valuation and taxonomy, were covered in adequate technicaldetail. The primary outcome of SBSTTA, however, seemed to be a desire to reform theprocess. Delegates’ suggestions included setting limits to the agenda and increasing theinvolvement of scientific organizations. Some privately called for more focusedbackground documents presenting specific options or proposals, presentations of casestudies, and delegations with greater technical expertise.


The Central and Eastern European (CEE) Regional Preparatory Meeting was held from30 September - 2 October 1996 in Bratislava, Slovakia. Participants recommended that:provisions be included in the budget of the Trust Fund of the CBD Secretariat to helpensure full participation of CEE Parties at future meetings; support be given for theformation of national and regional biodiversity support groups to assist in the preparationof national reports; sub-regional focal points be considered; and collaboration andinformation sharing be strengthened at the regional level.

The African Regional Preparatory Meeting was held in Victoria, Mahe (Seychelles) from9-10 October 1996. The Group recommended that: steps be taken to ensure the timelyavailability of documents in all UN languages; additional funding sources be identifiedfor developing countries to enable them to actively participate and contribute to theobjectives of the CBD; capacity-building be undertaken in taxonomy in developingcountries; and the CHM be implemented at the national level in Africa.

The Latin American and Caribbean Regional Preparatory Meeting was held in Castries,Saint Lucia from 24-25 October 1996. Recommendations for COP-3 included: theestablishment of a two-year budget cycle; a Secretariat staff position addressing the needsof small island developing States (SIDS); assurance that the CHM not be restricted to theInternet; and reduction of the SBSTTA-3 agenda.

The Asian Regional Preparatory Meeting was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 25-26 October 1996. With regard to the draft Memorandum of Understanding, delegatesemphasized both the authority of the COP over the financial mechanism and the interimnature of the GEF’s status. Delegates discussed the possible role of the CHM as amechanism for technology transfer and human resource development. Priority issuesincluded: focusing the work of the SBSTTA; regional approaches to access to geneticresources; and the need for capacity-building and infrastructure development forimplementation.


Concern over whether the Secretariat’s 1997 budget will enable it to carry out all of thetasks to be assigned by COP-3 has prompted some to speculate that the Secretariat mightraise this issue with the Bureau and budget committee. One proposal under considerationis a running tally of budgetary requirements in 1997, revised periodically during the COP,to inform delegates of the financial implications of their decisions.

Some expressed a related concern that the proliferation of Secretariat papers at thismeeting reflects a failure of Parties to anticipate the total workload resulting from theirown decisions at COP-2. Delegates privately confessed to difficulty in absorbing all ofthe background documentation.


PLENARY: The Plenary will convene at 10:00am. The opening ceremony isscheduled to commence with a statement by the President of COP-2, Indonesia’s Ministerof Environment Sarwono Kusumaatmadja. Minister Alsogaray, Argentina’s Secretary ofState for Environment and Natural Resources, is expected to be nominated President ofCOP-3. Deputy Executive Director of UNEP Reuben Olembo is also expected to addressthe Plenary, as is Calestous Juma, Executive Secretary of the CBD Secretariat. Delegateswill then elect the Bureau and adopt the agenda and organization of work.

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