Global Biodiversity Outlook 1

Chapter 4 Review of Implementation of the Convention


Conservation and management of biodiversity take effect in the field, and result from actions taken within national policy and legislative frameworks. Advice given to the Conference of the Parties, and the decisions it adopts, will largely focus on recommendations for action to be taken by the Parties, as the principal avenue for advancing implementation of the Convention. However, such guidance has to be translated into action at national level in order for it to be effective. This is ultimately where the best intentions of Parties to the Convention will succeed or fail. This chapter will review and assess national implementation.

Information on implementation

The main sources for such a review are the national reports submitted to the Conference of Parties and the case studies that Parties and other groups have submitted following the various calls for action and information made by the Secretariat in response to decisions of the Conference of Parties. The chapter therefore draws on the first national reports, submitted in 1998, and national reports on alien invasive species, submitted in late 2000, together with case studies submitted on Article 8j and related provisions, benefit sharing, incentive measures for conservation and sustainable use (Article 11), environmental impact assessment (Article 14). It will consider in more detail the specific case of agricultural biological diversity.

Implementation of the Convention is overwhelmingly the responsibility of Parties and most action for implementation needs to be taken at the national level. What needs to be done is laid out in a general way in the operative articles of the text of the Convention, and these are clarified and expanded upon in the cumulative decisions of successive meetings of the Conference of the Parties. Each Party has autonomy to decide how to go about implementing the general provisions of the Convention and the specific guidance provided by the Conference of the Parties. Given the nature of the Convention and the specific conditions in each country with regard to the characteristics and status of its biodiversity, available financial and institutional resources, and national development priorities, it would be difficult for it to be otherwise.

However, the task of assessing the state of overall implementation of the Convention is therefore dependent upon the submission of information by all Parties on the measures each has taken to implement the provisions of the Convention and the effectiveness of these measures. Article 26 of the Convention contains the obligation for each Party to provide this information. Without comprehensive compliance with this requirement, the Conference of the Parties will operate in the dark. It will not have the necessary information to assess implementation, identify progress made and obstacles encountered, and identify priorities for future action. It will not be able to provide timely and targeted guidance to Parties, the secretariat, the financial mechanism or any of the other bodies with a role to play in implementation.

Almost eight years after the entry into force of the Convention it is still not possible to construct more than a partial picture of overall implementation. Many Parties have not provided information, either through national reports, case studies or other types of submissions. This chapter draws on the information submitted, without pretending to offer an overall assessment.

There are a number of reasons why this is the case: some Parties felt that the guidelines for the first reports were not clear; the focus on implementation of Article 6 meant that information on other key areas of implementation was not submitted; many Parties felt unable to report on their implementation of Article 6 before completion of their national biodiversity strategy and action plan. The preparation of reports absorbs, often scarce, resources and time. The accumulation of reporting requirements under different biodiversity-related and environmental conventions can impose serious burdens on the national agencies responsible, when these lack resources. Finally, despite the fundamental importance of reporting on implementation, many countries harbour misgivings about reporting on difficulties encountered or lack of effective action, and wish to avoid what are perceived as unfavourable comparisons between themselves and other Parties.

First National Reports

A total of 114 first national reports have been submitted, most of these by mid-1998. Although this means that almost two-thirds of the Parties submitted a report of some kind, it would be unwise to assume that the information they contain can be taken as representative of implementation overall. The reports vary widely in size, format and content. Some are intended as final reports, while others are interim reports or drafts, and this argues for care when making comparisons.

The Conference of the Parties decided that the first national reports should focus on the implementation of Article 6 of the Convention `General Measures for Conservation and Sustainable Use'. It was anticipated, therefore, that Parties would provide details of the development of national biodiversity strategies and action plans and on the integration of the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity into the plans, programmes and policies of other relevant economic sectors.

That a large number of Parties did not complete national reports, even within the extended deadlines, whilst others provided only interim or partial information, in itself amounts to a delay in implementation of the Convention. Many countries were unable to report, or may have not wished to report until the process of developing national strategies and action plans was complete. This appears to have been the case particularly with countries applying for support from the financial mechanism for assistance with the development of their national biodiversity strategies and action plans (see next section).

The variability of information and treatment in the first national reports and the difficulties of drawing comparisons between the experiences of implementation, the patchy response to calls for the submission of case studies and the absence of standard outlines for their preparation, and the difficulties of obtaining accurate and timely information about the status of national biodiversity strategies and action plans have meant that it has so far been difficult to develop a global picture of the experiences of Parties in carrying out measures for the implementation of the Convention, and the effectiveness of the measures taken.

The new format for national reports, which calls for submission of information on action taken in pursuit of all the obligations on Parties under the Convention and on the experiences of Parties in undertaking such actions, including the reasons for the selection of relative priorities and constraints to implementation, will go a long way to overcoming the existing information deficit and the problems of comparability.

The near-universal membership of the Convention means that, if all Parties submit complete reports, there is the possibility of obtaining a reliable global overview of implementation. Preliminary analysis of the reports received shows that most Parties have used the format and that the information in the reports can be analysed in a way that enables a picture of the status of implementation to be developed. In particular, it will be possible to identify where Parties have identified constraints to implementation.

Although a reliable picture of this sort is not yet available, preliminary conclusions can be drawn from the information contained in the first national reports, from reports prepared by the GEF and its Implementing Agencies on implementation of biodiversity enabling activities, and from other information provided by Parties which indicate that the implementation of the Convention is proceeding in most countries. This is illustrated by:

  • The ongoing preparation of national biodiversity strategies and action plans in most countries,
  • Increasing efforts to reform institutional and legislative arrangements, with a view to integrating biodiversity issues into sectoral activities,
  • Increased recognition of the importance of the identification and monitoring of biological diversity,
  • Renewed emphasis on in situ conservation of biological diversity,
  • Continuing requests for financial and technical assistance to complete the strategies and action plans and to focus on national and local implementation,
  • Emerging interest among Parties in promoting regional cooperation for implementation of the Convention.

Reporting on the status of biological diversity and its conservation

The form and content of the biodiversity information provided in the first reports varies widely, in part perhaps because Parties were not clear how much information was actually required and for what purpose. It appears that most Parties have a reasonable knowledge of the status and distribution of the larger species and main ecosystems within their territories, and some have very detailed information; although nearly all note the need for more information. In general, rather less information is available on genetic resources than on species and ecosystems, except in the case of major crop species.

Reporting on threats to biodiversity also varies greatly. This might imply that significant differences exist in the way threats are addressed at the national level; it might also reflect a tendency to avoid reporting on negative issues. Where threats are referred to, specific threats are usually identified (such as pollution or habitat fragmentation), and the steps being taken to deal with them are briefly discussed. However, it is clear that a systematic approach to the identification of threats to biodiversity is lacking in many countries. Some countries have carried out systematic reviews to identify the potential impacts on biodiversity of other sectors, such as agriculture or transport. This is a potentially valuable approach as it moves from looking at the pressures themselves towards an initial assessment of the driving forces behind them. A number of Parties have assessed the socio-economic conditions and trends associated with adverse impacts on biodiversity.

All countries have some form of environmental legislation in force, although the form and function of that legislation can vary widely, as can the extent to which it is implemented. Of particular interest are the arrangements (both legal and institutional) in those countries with a federal system of government, in part because of the extra steps required to ensure coordination between the different levels of government. Another issue of particular interest in certain parts of the world, particularly in the Pacific, is the relative importance of customary law and traditional management structures, and the efforts to build effective conservation programmes into such practices.

A number of Parties have provided the Secretariat with information on their efforts to conserve plant and animal genetic resources for food and agriculture. This includes information on regulatory frameworks in place, on in-situ conservation of landraces and indigenous cultivars, on measures taken for ex-situ conservation of genetic resources within the country, and details of national institutions with important germplasm collections. Difficulties in obtaining adequate funding for the maintenance and further development of national ex-situ facilities have been noted, and there is also a lack of coordination in certain areas.

There appears to be a lack of coordination in the application of national legislation in a number of countries, and in some, difficulties in its implementation. Closer integration of national policies and legislation with international agreements is commonly needed. On the other hand, many countries work with international organizations and participate in international programmes that directly or indirectly provide means for the implementation of the Convention. Examples include UNESCO's Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme, and the activities of member institutions of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Further development of such collaborations has the potential to support and improve national implementation of the Convention.

Because many Parties are in the early stages of preparation of their biodiversity plans and strategies, much discussion in the first national reports concerns existing environmental measures. Some reports stress research and monitoring, while others place more emphasis on conservation action, but almost everywhere initiatives exist that can be developed as a means of implementing the Convention. In general, these activities place more emphasis on the species and ecosystem levels of biological diversity than on the genetic level, both in conservation activities and in research and monitoring programmes.

The form of institutional responsibility clearly varies quite considerably, as does the extent to which institutions at the national level interact and coordinate with each other. Indeed, a number of the national reports explicitly note the lack of coordination in activities concerned with biodiversity conservation, and identify this as an impediment to the efficient implementation of the Convention.

One report by a developed country Party stresses the steps taken to assess the impact of all its activities, past and present, on the world's biodiversity. This type of assessment of a nation's `ecological footprint' serves not only to demonstrate the extent of a country's impact on the world, but also the dependence of that country's citizens on biodiversity and the products and services that biodiversity provides. Further studies of this sort would be valuable.