United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD)

It provides a global legal framework for action on biodiversity. It brings together the Parties in the Conference of the Parties (COP) which is the Convention’s governing body that meets every two years, or as needed, to review progress in the implementation of the Convention, to adopt programs of work, to achieve its objectives, and provide policy guidance.

It entered into force on 29 December 1993. It has 3 main objectives:

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

The COP is assisted by the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), which is made up of government representatives with expertise in relevant fields, as well as observers from non-Party governments, the scientific community, and other relevant organizations. SBSTTA is responsible for providing recommendations to the COP on the technical aspects of the implementation of the Convention.

Other subsidiary bodies have been established by the COP to deal with specific issues as they arise. These are called “ad hoc open-ended Working Groups” because they are established for a limited mandate and period of time, and because they are open to all Parties as well as the participation of observers. Current Working Groups are:

  • Working Group on Access & Benefit-Sharing (ABS) is currently the forum for negotiating an international regime on access and benefit sharing.
  • Working Group on Article 8(j) addresses issues related to protection of traditional knowledge.
  • Working Group on Protected Areas is guiding and monitoring the implementation of the program of work on protected areas.
  • Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI) reviews progress in implementing the Convention and identifies strategic actions to enhance implementation, including how to strengthen the means of implementation. It also addresses issues associated with the operations of the convention and the Protocols.
  • Open-ended Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Committee (ICNP) for the Nagoya Protocol on ABS was established as an interim governing body for the Nagoya Protocol until the first meeting of the Parties to the Protocol at which time it will cease to exist.

All living organisms, plants, animals and microbes, carry genetic material that could be potentially useful to humans. These resources can be taken from the wild, domesticated or cultivated. They are sourced from environments in which they occur naturally (in situ), or from human-made collections such as botanical gardens, gene banks, seed banks and microbial culture collections (ex-situ).

What is access and benefit-sharing?

It refers to the way in which genetic resources may be accessed, and how the benefits that result from their use are shared between the people or countries using the resources (users) and the people or countries that provide them (providers).

Why is it important?

Providers of genetic resources are governments or civil society bodies, which can include private landowners and communities within a country, who are entitled to provide access to genetic resources and share the benefits resulting from their use.

The access and benefit-sharing provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) are designed to ensure that physical access to genetic resources is facilitated and that the benefits obtained from their use are shared equitably with the providers.

In some cases, this also includes valuable traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources that come from ILCs. The benefits to be shared can be monetary, such as sharing royalties when the resources are used to create a commercial product, or non-monetary, such as the development of research skills and knowledge. It is vital that both users and providers understand and respect institutional frameworks such as those outlined by the CBD and in the Bonn Guidelines. These help governments to establish their own national frameworks which ensure that access and benefit-sharing happen fairly and equitably.

How does it work?

Access and benefit-sharing are based on prior informed consent (PIC) being granted by a provider to a user and negotiations between both parties to develop mutually agreed terms (MAT) to ensure the fair and equitable sharing of genetic resources and associated benefits.

  • Prior informed consent (PIC): is the permission given by the competent national authority of a provider country to a user prior to accessing genetic resources, in line with an appropriate national legal and institutional framework.
  • Mutually agreed terms (MAT): is an agreement reached between the providers of genetic resources and users on the conditions of access and use of the resources, and the benefits to be shared between both parties.

These conditions are required under Article 15 of the CBD, which was adopted in 1992 and provides a global set of principles for access to genetic resources, as well as the fair and equitable distribution of the benefits that result from their use

In 2021, 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNCBD was held virtually in Kunming, China. The COP 15’s major goal was to create and accept a post-2020 “Global Biodiversity Framework” to replace and update the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity (SPB) 2011-2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Aichi Biodiversity Targets

  • Strategic Goal A: Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society
  • Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use
  • Strategic Goal C: To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
  • Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building

For the next ten years, the framework will comprise a set of global goals, targets, and indicators that will guide biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, protection, restoration, and sustainable management.

The first draft of the GBF was released in July 2021, containing 21 targets for 2030 and 4 Goals to achieve humanity “living in harmony with nature,” vision by 2050.

Parties will reconvene in 2022 for further negotiations and to come to a final agreement on the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

Highlighting feature of the COP

Kunming Declaration:

  • The declaration called for immediate and comprehensive action in all areas of the global economy to reflect biodiversity concerns.
  • More than a hundred countries, including India, have pledged to
  • Work together to design, adopt, and implement a viable post-2020 global biodiversity framework.
  • Reverse the current biodiversity loss.
  • Ensure that biodiversity is on the mend by 2030 at the very latest.
  • China established the Kunming Biodiversity Fund with a budget of around USD 230 million to fund programs that safeguard biodiversity in underdeveloped nations.
  • It also praised many countries’ efforts and commitments to safeguard 30% of their land and sea regions by 2030 (30 by 30 objective), which is crucial for reversing a major cause of environmental degradation.
  • The summit emphasised the importance of private sector participation, including an open letter from company CEOs to international leaders encouraging decisive action.
  • Global Environment Facility, UNDP, and UNEP have pledged to expedite financial and technical assistance to developing countries to help them implement the Global Environment Facility.
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