The European Union is a Party to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) of 1992, which seeks to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of the diversity of species, habitats and ecosystems on the planet, as well as the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. In 2000, Parties to the CBD adopted the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety which seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms, taking into account human health. The EU has adopted a series of legislative measures in order to implement this Protocol. In 2010, CBD Parties also adopted a new Protocol, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from Their Utilization.
The EU is also implementing a broad range of biodiversity-related international agreements such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES); the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention) and the Agreement on international humane trapping standards (with Canada and Russia, and with the US in the form of agreed Minutes).
CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020
Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity decided to adopt a revised and updated ten-year Strategic Plan at their 10th meeting (COP 10) in October 2010 in Nagoya (Aichi Province), Japan. The Strategic Plan includes 20 headline targets (the “Aichi Targets”), organized under five strategic goals that are meant to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, reduce the pressures on biodiversity, safeguard biodiversity at all levels, enhance the benefits provided by biodiversity, and provide for capacity-building.
Among the targets, Parties agreed to at least halve and where feasible bring close to zero the rate of loss of natural habitats including forests and they established a target of 17 % of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 % of marine and coastal areas to be conserved through area-based conservation measures; Through conservation and restoration, Governments will restore at least 15 % of degraded areas; and will make special efforts to reduce the pressures faced by coral reefs.
Parties also agreed a strategy on resource mobilisation, with a substantial increase in the level of financial resources in support of implementation of the Convention. The Strategic Plan will be the overarching framework on biodiversity not only for the biodiversity-related conventions, but for the entire United Nations system. Parties agreed to translate this overarching international framework into national biodiversity strategy and action plans within two years.
The eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 11) was held in Hyderabad, India, from 8 to 19 October 2012. Following the ambitious package adopted at COP 10, COP 11 marked the move from policy-making to implementation. A number of important decisions were adopted, on issues such as biodiversity and climate change (relevant safeguards with regard to REDD+); better conservation and more sustainable use of marine biodiversity (ecologically or biologically significant areas – EBSAs); and the enhancement of cooperation and synergy within the three Rio Conventions and the biodiversity-related conventions. On the crucial issue of resource mobilisation, CBD Parties committed to an overall substantial increase of total biodiversity-related funding for the implementation of the Strategic Plan from a variety of sources, and resolved to achieve preliminary targets, to be reviewed at COP 12.
The Republic of Korea's offer to host CBD COP 12 in the second half of 2014 was accepted. COP 12 will inter alia undertake a mid-term review of progress towards achieving the Aichi targets; and tackling the many demands being placed on the Convention; ranging from new scientific work on marine and coastal biodiversity, to continued work towards the entry into force of the Nagoya Protocol.
Against that background, some urgent steps and actions need to be undertaken by the EU, with a view not only to implement its commitments, but also to enable the EU to maintain its leadership on biodiversity protection at international level.
EU actions to implement the Strategic Plan and achieve the 2020 Biodiversity Targets
The EU is strongly committed to further strengthening the CBD as the key international instrument for achieving global biodiversity targets and to making sure that it is effectively implemented. The EU Biodiversity Strategy outlines how the CBD's Strategic Plan for Biodiversity is implemented by the EU.
The new Strategy, 'Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020' (COM 2011/244 final, adopted in May 2011) lays down the framework for EU action during this decade, in order to meet the commitments made by EU leaders in March 2010. The Strategy is also the European Union’s means of implementing the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity into EU policies and actions, a 'National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan' (NBSAP) in the CBD terminology. In addition to the EU Biodiversity Strategy, nearly all EU Member States have also developed their own NBSAPs, further adding to the implementation of the CBD and related international agreements at national level through a wide range of national and sub-national policies and measures.
The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 is built around six mutually supportive targets which address the main drivers of biodiversity loss and aim to reduce the key pressures on nature and ecosystem services in the EU. Each target is further translated into a set of time-bound actions and other accompanying measures. Target 6 addresses the EU’s contribution to global biodiversity conservation, which requires concerted international action. The actions foreseen in the Strategy aim not only to ensure the EU fulfils the commitments it made in the CBD and in other international fora, but also, as the world’s biggest trading bloc, to reduce its own biodiversity footprint in the rest of the world and assist developing countries in their efforts to conserve biodiversity and ensure its sustainable use. Actions foreseen in this context will in particular aim to reduce the biodiversity impacts of EU consumption patterns; enhance the contribution of trade policy to conserving biodiversity, whilst eliminating as far as possible any negative impacts of EU trade agreements; ‘biodiversity-proof’ EU development cooperation programmes and projects in order to minimise their negative impacts on biodiversity; provide the right market signals for biodiversity conservation, including work to reform, phase out and eliminate harmful subsidies at both EU and Member State level and to provide positive incentives for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. In addition, the EU will aim to mobilise additional resources for global biodiversity conservation from all possible sources, and has recently proposed legislation to implement the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation so that the EU can ratify the Protocol as soon as possible.
Access and Benefit-Sharing
One of the key objectives of the CBD is the sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources in a fair and equitable way. Benefit sharing is inextricably linked to appropriate access to genetic resources, the transfer of relevant technologies, information exchange, and scientific co-operation – known as ABS for short.
Genetic resources – the gene pool in both natural and cultivated stocks – are a vital input for numerous industries. They play a significant and growing role in many economic sectors: food, development of medicines, development of bio-based sources of renewable energy, etc. For example, 26% of all new approved drugs over the last 30 years are either natural products or have been derived from a natural product.
The CBD obliges signatories to facilitate access to genetic resources over which they hold sovereign rights, and to share in a fair and equitable way the results of research and development and the benefits arising from the commercial use of such resources. But the Convention provides little detail on how access and benefit-sharing should be done in practice, and industrialized countries have been reluctant to adopt measures supporting effective benefit-sharing. As a consequence, several countries providing genetic resources have established increasingly restrictive conditions for access to genetic resources or associated traditional knowledge. This has seriously undermined global progress to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity, which is unfortunate as 'biodiversity-hotspots' stand to gain the most from an effective ABS framework. At the same time and in the absence of clear rules, European researchers and companies have been accused of 'biopiracy' by countries claiming a violation of their sovereign rights over their genetic resources.
A draft EU Regulation on ABS proposed in October 2012 and all accompanying documentation can be found here.
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
On 29 January 2000, the Conference of the Parties to the CBD adopted a supplementary agreement to the Convention, known as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living organisms modified by modern biotechnology. It establishes an advance informed agreement (AIA) procedure for ensuring that countries are provided with the information required to make informed decisions before agreeing to the import of such organisms and to their introduction in the environment in their territory.
The Cartagena Protocol promotes a precautionary approach and reaffirms the precautionary language contained in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development but it also elaborates further the precautionary principle by making it operational in the field of GMOs. The Protocol also establishes a Biosafety Clearing-House to facilitate the exchange of information on living modified organisms whatever their use and to assist countries in the implementation of the Protocol. The EU has adopted a comprehensive legal framework which effectively implements the Cartagena Protocol. Further information on the EU Regulatory Framework for GMOs or Biotechnology can be found here.
The 157 Parties to the Cartagena Protocol successfully finalised negotiations and adopted a supplementary Protocol on liability and redress for damage to biodiversity resulting from transboundary movements of living modified organisms during the Cartagena Protocol 5th Meeting of the Parties in Nagoya in October 2010. The EU is currently preparing for the ratification of this supplementary Protocol and the European Commission has already made a formal Proposal to the Council.
Other biodiversity-related international agreements
The European Union and its Member States are also Parties to and/or actively implement a number of biodiversity-related international conventions that aim at protecting certain species, regions or ecosystems.
For example, as one of the principal markets for trade in endangered species, the EU has been playing a very pro-active role within the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) by strictly regulating trade in species that are most at risk and ensuring that trade only takes place when it is sustainable.
Furthermore, the EU is a Party to the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and to the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats which are implemented by, among other instruments, the EU Habitats and Birds Directives (see further on the EU nature and biodiversity website).
Progress has also been made in creating synergies between the CBD and other biodiversity-related agreements. At CBD COP 11, Parties agreed to pursue their efforts to enhance such synergies, including in the context of the post-2015 development framework, with a view to strengthening Parties’ ownership of the process.