in the implementation
of the work programme
on forests of the
Jean-Pierre Le Danff is on the Secretariat
of the CBD, Montreal, Canada, but wrote
this paper in his personal capacity.
Pierre Sigaud is Forestry Officer
(Genetic Resources) in the Forest
Resources Division, FAO Forestry
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is the only global framework addressing forest biological diversity and genetic resources, their conservation and sustainable use. The CBD entered into force in December 1993 as part of the outcome of the decisions of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992). In May 1998, the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the CBD adopted a work programme on forest biological diversity (Decision IV-7) which was reviewed during the fifth COP meeting in May 2000 (Decision V-4).
Forest ecosystems will be an item for in-depth consideration at the next COP meeting in 2002 which will deliberate on, inter alia, expanding the work programme from research to practical action. Several other items in the work programme of the CBD are of direct relevance to forest biological diversity such as its work on indicators, traditional knowledge, public education and awareness, cooperation and the ecosystem approach.
The stated objectives of the CBD are "the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources". To achieve its objectives, the convention promotes partnership within and among countries. The foundations of this partnership are the convention's provisions on scientific and technical cooperation, access to genetic resources and the transfer of environmentally sound technologies. The Global Environment Facility (GEF), the financial mechanism of the convention, helps to fund the added costs of making planned projects environmentally friendly and finances regional approaches to multinational problems.
The Secretariat of the CBD is based in Montreal, Canada. The Convention, which entered into force on 29 December 1993, has to date been ratified by 180 countries. Decisions are taken by the COP, which meets every two years to discuss thematic agendas. COP meetings are preceded by preparatory meetings of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), which provide relevant background information and make recommendations to the parties.
FOREST BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
The issue of forest biological diversity was discussed at the first and second meetings of the COP. However, the momentum was given at COP-4, in 1998, where the parties adopted a work programme for forest biological diversity (Decision IV-7). The work programme elaborates the following elements for inclusion:
COP-5 (May 2000) highlighted the need to expand the focus of the CBD programme of work for forest biological diversity from research to practical action. Decision V-4 calls upon parties, governments and organizations to take practical action within the scope of the existing work programme. It encourages the application of the ecosystem approach, a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources which promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way.
At COP-5, the parties also decided to establish an ad hoc technical expert group on forest biological diversity to assist SBSTTA in its work programme. The group's mandate includes a review of available information on the status and trends of, and major threats to, forest biological biodiversity, and identification of options and suggestions for action for conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and its genetic components. The group will report to SBSTTA at its seventh meeting in November 2001, in preparation for COP-6 (April 2002).
OTHER WORK PROGRAMMES RELEVANT TO FOREST BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
In addition to the work programme on forest biological diversity, the CBD addresses a number of issues directly affecting forest biological diversity and forest genetic resources.
One such issue is property rights on, and access to, genetic resources, and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use. The ongoing discussions in the framework of the convention have contributed to raising awareness of the actual or potential value of genetic diversity. Exchange of materials, even in the forest sector, where the issue has long been overlooked, is increasingly taking place under the terms of agreed contracts (Material Transfer Agreements), with recognition of the origin or provenance of the materials exchanged, even when exchange is made on a non-commercial basis.
Another relevant issue is biosafety - the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology - specifically focusing on transboundary movements. The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, adopted in January 2000, seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. It establishes a procedure for ensuring that countries are provided with the information necessary to make informed decisions before agreeing to the import of such organisms into their territory.
The CBD has also initiated, or given impetus to, work on a global taxonomic initiative; agrobiodiversity, including forest trees growing in agricultural ecosystems; marine and coastal ecosystems, including the protection and conservation of mangroves; introduced alien invasive species, a major threat to forest genetic resources in some Pacific islands and in some countries of southern Africa; and biological diversity of dry and subhumid lands.
The CBD is the only international legally binding instrument to which actions and activities relating to conservation, sustainable use, management and enhancement of forest genetic resources can be referred at the global level. Although the need for specific focus on the management of the genetic resources of trees and shrubs has received increasing attention over the past 30 years, there is to date no equivalent in forestry to the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which focuses on agricultural crop species. The plan, adopted by the Fourth International Technical Conference on Plant Genetic Resources in Leipzig, Germany in June 1996, makes reference to wild relatives of cultivated plants, often found in forest ecosystems, and to domesticated tree crops (fruit trees, rubber, etc.), but explicitly excludes forest genetic resources. The CBD work programme on forest biological diversity, together with other related work programmes and activities, provides a global framework for action in which the issues regarding forest genetic resources can be addressed in a comprehensive, although not very specific, way.
Recent and future meetings in the framework of the CBD with relevance to forests include: SBSTTA-6 (Alien Invasive Species, February 2001); SBSTTA-7 (Forest Biodiversity, November 2001); COP-6 (Forest Ecosystems and Alien Species, April 2002); SBSTTA-8 (Protected Areas); SBSTTA-9 (Mountain Ecosystems) and COP 7 (Protected Areas and Mountain Ecosystems). More detailed information is available from the Forest Biological Diversity page of the CBD Web site www.biodiv.org/areas/forest/).
1 Adapted from an article published in FAO's bulletin Forest Genetic Resources, 28: 46-47, 2000.