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Awareness of the need for environmental protection and the sustainable use of natural resources for development has grown steadily over the past decades. In recognition of the continuing global degradation of the environment and recalling the Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972 and publication in 1987 of the “Brundtland Commission Report” entitled “Our Common Future”, the United Nations General Assembly by its Resolution 44/228 convened the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992.

The overall aim of the Conference, in the words of its Secretary General, Mr. Maurice Strong, was “to lay the foundation for a global partnership between developing and more industrialized countries, based on mutual need and common interests, to ensure the future of the planet”. The Ministerial level segment of the Conference (3–11 June), which included interventions by Governments, International Organizations and NGOs; and its Summit segment (12–13 June), during which 102 Heads of State took the floor, resulted i a. in the following:


The above Convention, negotiated through seven sessions of an intergovernmental negotiating committee and approved by a diplomatic conference in Nairobi, Kenya in May 1992, was opened for signature on 5 June. The Convention, the implications of which are of major importance to our readers, was signed in Rio de Janeiro by 154 countries; it will come into force after national, governmental ratification by 30 signatory countries.

The objectives of the Convention 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, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technology.” While underlining sovereign rights of countries to exploit their own resources pursuant to national environmental policies and in line with the overall philosophy of the Convention, it stresses the responsibility to ensure that such activities do not cause damage to the environment of other States or areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction; and calls for Contracting Parties to cooperate directly or through competent international organizations to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity through in and ex situ conservation measures. The Convention further stresses the right to customary and local use of resources, and highlights the need for incentives, research, exchange of information and know-how, training and education. The authority to determine access to genetic resources rests with national Governments which, however, agree to “endeavour to create conditions to facilitate access to genetic resources for environmentally sound uses by other Contracting Parties and not to impose restrictions that run counter to the objectives of [the] Convention”. The Convention calls for sharing “in fair and equitable way the results of research and development and the benefits arising from the commercial and other utilization of genetic resources with the Contracting Party providing such resources … upon mutually agreed terms”. Great stress is placed on the right of access to technology, with explicit mention of relevant biotechnologies. In relation to the transfer, handling and use of genetically transformed organisms, the Convention calls for a protocol on “advanced informed agreement” and appropriate national legislation. Regarding financial resources, the Convention stipulates that “developed country Parties shall provide new and additional financial resources to enable developing country Parties to meet the agreed full incremental costs to them of implementing measures which fulfil the obligations of this Convention..”. A Financial Mechanism, governed by the Conference of Parties, will be created for the provision of financial resources to developing country Parties on a grant or concessional basis. The developed country Parties may also provide financial resources related to the implementation of the Convention through bilateral, regional and multilateral channels; contributions from other countries and sources on a voluntary basis would be encouraged.

The implications of the Convention for forestry are significant, particularly in relation to protected areas, in and ex situ conservation of forest and wildlife genetic resources, and the availability, development and sustainable use of such resources.

1 For additional information, see e.g.: Lanly, J.P. Forestry Issues at the United Nations conference on Environment and Development. Unasylva 172, October 1992. FAO, Rome.

Copies of the documents and agreements produced by UNCED may be obtained though the UNCED Secretariat, 160 Rue de Florissant, P.O. Box 80, CH-1231 Conches, Switzerland.

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