CIESIN Thematic Guides

The Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity, commonly referred to as the Biodiversity Treaty, was one of two major treaties opened for signature at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992. The treaty defines biodiversity as "the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems." Parties to the Biodiversity Treaty "affirm sovereign rights over the biological resources found within their countries, while accepting responsibility for conserving biological diversity and using biological resources in a sustainable manner," according to an International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) assessment of the treaty.

Having secured its 30th ratification in September 1993, the Biodiversity Treaty entered into force December 29, 1993. One hundred sixty-seven nations have signed the treaty since it was opened for signature at UNCED. A United Nations press release lists nations that have ratified the treaty as of December 1993. The full text of the Biodiversity Treaty is also available here.

The CIESIN Thematic Guide section on Biological Diversity discusses the scientific and ecological concerns addressed by the Biodiversity Treaty. The essay on The Preservation and Management of Biodiversity describes some of the conservation efforts and agreements that preceded the Biodiversity Treaty.

One of the most controversial issues addressed by the Biodiversity Treaty is intellectual property rights related to biological and genetic resources. Groombridge (1992) reviews the state of relevant intellectual property law and its application to biodiversity prior to the Biodiversity Treaty in an excerpt from Global Biodiversity. This issue is closely linked to equity issues: Although much of the Earth's biodiversity is found in developing countries, these countries have not necessarily benefited equally with developed countries from industrial, medical, agricultural, and other uses of biological and genetic resources. The treaty, in its article on objectives, commits Parties to "fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources." Other treaty articles discuss Access to Genetic Resources, Access to and Transfer of Technology, and Handling of Biotechnology and Distribution of its Benefits.

A related topic is the role indigenous people play in maintaining biodiversity. Starr and Hardy (1993) examine the Biodiversity Treaty's treatment of indigenous agricultural practices and the relationship between indigenous agriculture and biodiversity in "Not by Seeds Alone." This article also contains a summary of the science of biodiversity and trends through which biodiversity is being diminished globally.

Another major issue addressed by the treaty is the level of financial commitment required of developed countries in support of developing countries. After much debate, the Parties agreed Article 20 would stipulate 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" the treaty, a commitment considered by some to be weaker than that sought by developing nations. Article 21 mandates establishing a mechanism for distributing financial aid to developing countries, but similarly does not suggest a mandatory funding level. The debate of the Biodiversity Treaty's financial provisions is detailed in an excerpt from Roberts' (1992) "International Funding for Conservation of Biodiversity."

A "Brief History of the Convention on Biological Diversity" is presented in the Earth Negotiations Bulletin (Bernstein et al. 1993). Halpern's (1993) Guide to UNCED and its Documentation lists documents produced during negotiations of the treaty provisions and provides a summary of negotiations. In the IUCN paper "The Biodiversity Convention Since UNCED," McNeely (1993) explores the issues still unresolved by the treaty, activities undertaken since its signing, and actions necessary for its implementation.

Although not formally connected with the Biodiversity Treaty, two other activities are worth noting. One is the Biodiversity Information Network, a group of nongovernmental organizations cooperating to share data on global biodiversity. The other is Merck Pharmaceutical's agreement with the Costa Rican Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad ( INBio). Their agreement states that Merck will pay INBio royalties from drugs based on materials found in Costa Rican ecosystems. Coughlin (1993) discusses the implications of the agreement for the Biodiversity Treaty in "Using the Merck-INBio Agreement to Clarify the Convention on Biological Diversity." The article outlines treaty provisions considered controversial, especially to developed countries, and examines how Merck's agreement may remove perceived ambiguities in these provisions.