Convention on Biological Diversity

By Ian Teñido

Image result for convention on biological diversity UN

This Paper is a partial fulfillment of the program requirement for the Master of Natural Resources at Virginia Tech.


The Convention on Biological Diversity is otherwise known as the Biodiversity Convention is the primary multilateral treaty dealing with conservation of natural resources and their ecosystems. The notion of having an international convention on biological diversity was first conceived at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya. An ad hoc working group of experts on Biological diversity conceived the idea in 1988 in the preparatory stages of the then-upcoming ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio De Jeneiro. Realizing that the world’s ecosystems were deteriorating faster than they could rejuvenate themselves, a group of technical and legal experts was established in 1989 to draft a legal text that addressed the issues of conservation; sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources among the sovereign states and local communities as well as incorporate the provisions on sustainable use of biological diversity[1]. These three aspects, later, became the pillars of CBD as outlined:

  • Conservation of biological diversity
  • Sustainable use of biological diversity components
  • Fair and equitable sharing of benefits which arise from genetic resources

Later on, in 1991, an intergovernmental negotiating committee was set up, with a primary responsibility of finalizing the convention’s text. In 1992, a Conference for the adoption of the Agreed Text was held in Nairobi which resulted in the Nairobi Final Draft; this would be the final draft to be presented to nations at the Earth Summit for discussions and adoptions by the nations. On 5th of June 1992, the text was opened for signatures at the Earth Summit, and by the closing date of 4th of June 1993, a year later, 168 signatures had been collected, and on the 29th of December the same year, the treaty went into force. As recent as 2016, the Convention had 196 parties to it including 195 sovereign states and the European Union. Actually, all the UN-Member states apart from the United States have ratified the treaty. Equally, non-UN member states like Niue, State of Palestine and Cook Islands have also ratified the convention. The commitment of the U.S. in ratifying the CBD has remained mild over the years just as is the case with UNFCCC. In fact, the recent withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement points to a rather ugly future in terms of U.S. commitment to this treaty.

For the first time in international law, the treaty recognized that conservation of biological diversity is a common concern for the entire humanity and therefore its integration as part of the development process is invaluable in securing a sustainable future which the future generations will be happy to inherit. The CBD covers all ecosystems, species as well as genetic resources. The most phenomenal aspect of the convention is its linkage to the traditional conservation efforts as well as the economic goal of utilizing the natural resources in a sustainable way. By setting the principle of fair and equitable sharing of benefits gotten from the genetic resources, it captures the aspirations and needs of the local communities so that their efforts of conservation bare fruits when such products are traded[2].

Due to the rising popularity of biotechnology in all corners of the world, CBD has been quick to address the pending concerns through the precautionary principle. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety as an extension of CBD addresses development and transfer of biotechnology as well as benefit-sharing and biosafety issues. This protocol was adopted in 2000 with the primary duty of protecting biological diversity from the otherwise unknown risks posed by the genetically modified organisms. As stated above, this protocol draws its life from the precautionary principle requiring action to be taken to minimize the ecological risks even when scientific knowledge of the risk is not well established. The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources as well as equitable sharing of Benefits of benefits arising from the use of these resources was adopted in 2010 in Nagoya. It is a supplementary agreement to CBD and provides a transparent legal framework to actualize the third objective of CBD. In so doing, the goal on conservation and sustainable use of Biodiversity are achieved.

The impact of the agreement

The impact of CBD in the countries that ratified the treaty greatly varies depending on several socioeconomic scales. All the UN member states with the exception of the US ratified the treaty in addition to a host of other non-member states. It is expected that with such a broad acceptance of the treaty as being one that concerns all humanity, the impact would be significant and all-encompassing. Data in the specific objectives of the treaty remains scanty with Annex I countries having a privilege of better research and Annex III countries having no data at all[3]. The continued loss of natural resources such as decreasing forest covers globally as well as the high rate of species extinction point to a gloomy outcome of this treaty. On the other hand, the CBD has been able to necessitate states to establish national instruments to ensure the conservation of biodiversity.

Map 18. Parties and signatories to the Convention on Biologicial Diversity

For instance, the “The National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans” (NBSAPs) are coined as the primary instruments for implementation of CBD at the national level. Article 6 of the convention requires that each member country prepare a national biodiversity strategy or any equivalent. The strategy should ensure that tenets of the treaty are mainstreamed into the planning and all activities related to conservation of Biodiversity including at the sector level of the country. It is important to note that countries like Tanzania and the United Kingdom have put in place elaborate instruments for the conservation of specific species and habitats. The U.S, although not yet ratified, has put in place the most comprehensive and successful implementation programs through the Species Recovery Programs in addition to the Endangered Species Act which has largely acted in favor of the CBD. Singapore has equally been at the forefront by establishing a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. So many other countries have shown a positive response to the treaty and despite the mixed results, there is a general consensus that an action must be in place to ensure that biodiversity is concerned.

Some of the other impacts are discussed in the following paragraphs. The level of competition between the need to conserve the natural ecosystems and clear land for agriculture has heightened in the recent decades as a result of increased global population and the need to feed more mouths. The nearly 8 billion people living on earth are constantly in need of food, and this food is primarily grown on land. The stress is further stretched by the need of energy and settlement. For instance, a study from the University of Florida indicates that replacing the U.S. gasoline supply with biomass energy will require at least 60% of available cropland[4]. What this means to conservation is that the goal of attaining sustainability is far from being realized. In fact, the double-edged sword nature of the CDB tenets makes it too difficult to decide on what will be a better path for CBD.

Equally, the rate of deforestation to meet the global demands for housing, food, and infrastructure seems to have outdone the conservation efforts by CBD since its adoption in 1993. Coupled with the increased effects of climate change, conservation efforts have been halted in most rural areas as attention shifts to climate adaptation. Water scarcity in most parts of the world adds to the pain already suffered in trying to conserve biodiversity. Equally, the number of the world’s poor who live primarily in conservation hotspots make it harder to achieve the envisioned objectives of CBD. I think it is the highest time the Conference of Parties on CBD modified it to ensure that it reflects the mutated lifestyles of the vulnerable yet critical sections of the populations in conservation efforts. Climate change was not a major concern during the adoption of this treaty in 1993; however, today it is more evident that without addressing the impacts of climate change, conservation efforts might not be achieved. Equally, the CBD can be modified to reflect the plight of the poor people and instead of focusing directly on the conservation of ecosystems and species; efforts should be made to ensure that poverty is addressed.

The principles in the treaty

Customary law at the international level denotes the acceptance of general principles of law along with the treaties and which the United Nations, jurists, international court of justice and member states consider to be a primary source of law. Custom reflects how things are done by the people in certain jurisdictions such as sharing of transboundary resources. The international court of Justice defines customary international law as “evidence of a general practice accepted as law.” There is a lot of evidence of customary law in CBD. Before raising the concern of biodiversity conservation to the international level in 1992, nations had existed with programs and methods on how they shared and used the transboundary resources[5]. For instance, River Nile is the largest in Africa. While it draws its waters from Lake Victoria and empties into the Mediterranean Sea, more than 80% of the river’s waters are utilized in Egypt and not in other developing countries like Tanzania in which it crosses. This is the same with resource conservation, before the advent of the CBD, communities considered certain sections of nature, ecosystems, and species to be sacred to them, and thus they conserved such places and some of them are still sacred and intact to date like the Kaya Forest in Kenya.

A host of other principles exists in the specific programs envisioned by the CBD. For instance, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities is conspicuous throughout the implementation of this treaty by parties. It should be noted that, although the treaty envisions a common goal, the member parties inhabit and are affected by different kinds of environmental issues. The peculiarity of each country’s nature, ecosystem and species force each one of them to implement the treaty based on their unique programs. For instance, lions as a species of interest inhabit tropical environments mainly in East Africa and thus, the programs to conserve such a species are different from those implemented in the U.S. to conserve the wolves. However, the difference in programs aimed at achieving the objective of conserving biodiversity. This is equally true when it comes to the precautionary principle, where most parties established orphanages to conserve threatened and endangered species of animals and plants. At least, each of the sustainable development principles is represented through the programs advocated by the CBD.

Usefulness of the CBD agreement

The usefulness of the CBD agreement is embedded in the objectives it envisions to achieve. No single environmental manager can claim to gain nothing from this agreement. As a resource manager, I am bound to deal directly with the environmental resources which are of particular interest of conservation by this treaty. In understanding what CBD entails and what it entails to achieve, I am able to allocate environmental resources as well as predict the future patterns of resource allocation in a beneficial way so that such allocations remain sustainable in the long run. Since its adoption, the CBD has encountered an immeasurable number of hurdles, and from such challenges, it is possible to coin a future that is in tandem with the sustainable development principles. CBD is equally useful to any policymaker across the world.

The data bank on CBD offers the policymakers an opportunity to infer and inquire into the past programs and how such programs succeeded or failed. Furthermore, from the national biodiversity strategies, learning continues as new strategies are developed to counter the existing inefficiencies in the CBD system. Conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of biodiversity resources offer any resource manager with the requisite tenets on which their decisions must be based. It is not possible to manage natural resources in the present era without integrating the conservation and sustainability principles.

In using this agreement to inform the decisions on resource management or policymaking, one is encountered by both ethical and unethical concerns thereby limiting the manner in which actions can be carried out. For instance, in the interest of ensuring that the world consumes more of green energy, we are forced to make a decision that will ensure that massive stretches of land are cultivated with energy-producing crops[6]. This might require that we stop any further development and even cut back on food production in order to produce such crops. Therefore, fully applying this treaty limits or in some ways negates the very principle of sustainability. Equally, the treaty does not expressly indicate how bacteria, fungi, and protists should be conserved; as such, there is limited action on these microorganisms, yet they play an integral part in maintaining the health and diversity of ecosystems.

Other questions that might be included in this paper are as follows:

  • What country/party has outperformed the rest in implementing and realizing the three objectives of CBD?
  • What is the impact of the U.S. not ratifying the CBD until now? Does this affect the developing nations’ ability to implement CBD?
  • What are the prospects or the future of CBD? Will the U.S. ratify it? Will some parties pull out of the agreement? Will more non-UN members join the agreement?
  • Is it necessary to continue investing in the implementation programs of CBD? Validate such programs.
  • Does the Nagoya Protocol have any impact on the milestones of CBD?


Extra Information

Table 3.1 Meetings of the Conference of the Parties

Meetings of the Conference of the Parties Location Date No. of decisions
First ordinary meeting (COP-1) Nassau, Bahamas 28 November – 9 December 1994 13
Second ordinary meeting (COP-2) Jakarta, Indonesia 4-17 November 1995 23
Third ordinary meeting (COP-3) Buenos Aires, Argentina 3-14 November 1996 27
Fourth ordinary meeting (COP-4) Bratislava, Slovak Republic 4-15 May 1998 19
First extraordinary meeting (ExCOP) Cartagena, Colombia and Montreal, Canada 22-24 February 1999 and 24-29 January 2000 3
Fifth ordinary meeting (COP-5) Nairobi, Kenya 15-26 May 2000 29


Table 3.2 Major themes at meetings of the Conference of the Parties

Meeting of the Conference of the Parties Items for in-depth consideration
First (1994) Guidance to the financial mechanism
Medium-term programme of work
Second (1995) Marine and coastal biological diversity
Access to genetic resources
Conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity
Third (1996) Agricultural biodiversity
Financial resources and mechanism
Identification, monitoring, and assessment
Intellectual property rights
Fourth (1998) Inland water ecosystems
Review of the operations of the Convention
Article 8(j) and related issues (traditional knowledge)
Benefit sharing
Fifth (2000) Dryland, Mediterranean, arid, semi-arid, grassland and savannah ecosystems;
Sustainable use, including tourism;
Access to genetic resources
Sixth (2002) Forest ecosystems;
Alien species;
Strategic plan 2002-2010
Seventh (2004) Mountain ecosystems;
Protected areas;
Transfer of technology and technology cooperation.


There are plenty of information regarding the CBD that misses in the outline yet essential in ensuring that the agreement succeeds. One such section is the issues surrounding its adoption and implementation in party countries. Some of the issues include:

  • Inadequate technical and scientific sharing
  • Poor global coordination of taxonomic expertise
  • Fragmented impact assessment
  • Lack of proper education and public awareness of the agreement
  • Insufficient national reporting on the efforts to implement the treaty
  • Inadequate provision of financial resources
  • Failure to absorb the indigenous knowledge in conservation efforts


References (2017). The Convention. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Oct. 2017].

[1] Jha, K. (2012). Biodiversity: Convention, Administration and Implementation. SSRN Electronic Journal.

[2] Jha, K. (2012). Biodiversity: Convention, Administration and Implementation. SSRN Electronic Journal.

[3] Valentine, H. (2000). Report of the Eleventh Global Biodiversity Forum: Exploring Synergy between the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity. Pacific Conservation Biology, 6(2), p.177.

[4] (2017). Environmental management. Digital Textbook Library. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Oct. 2017].

[5] Min, W., Zhe, L., Xiangzhao, F., & Chunxiu, T. (2014). Cross-boundary issues under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Convention on Biodiversity. Biodiversity Science, 22(4), p.431.

[6] (2017). Environmental management. Digital Textbook Library. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Oct. 2017].


Download Link: Convention on Biological Diversity_pdf_Tenido

Comments are closed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: