2.6 Difficulties and Problems Experienced in Implementation of the Convention
A number of common problems were raised at the workshop in London, in particular by those people in positions which gave them some official responsibility for implementing the Convention at a national level. They may have felt more able to speak freely in the working groups than in their more formal responses to the survey. The discussion, over two sessions, highlighted difficulties and problems under several headings.
Coordination at a national level
- In order to guarantee ratification of the Convention it was necessary to secure a political commitment. In most cases this was achieved at Rio, but in others the NGOs played a significant role. In certain instances anticipated international peer pressure arising from the 3rd Conference of Parties had probably prompted ratification;
- The primary key feature of the Convention is an international agreement to act at a national and local level. The second key component is that "biodiversity" is broader than just "conservation" and incorporates cross-sectoral concepts of sustainable use. The need for a cross-sectoral approach and public participation has been the main cause of problems limiting progress on implementation of the Convention;
- In some Member Countries, the Convention has been taken forward through a national committee. The membership has varied from a full representation of government departments, land owners and NGOs (e.g. UK, Sweden, Finland) to a small group of Ministries (e.g. the Netherlands). Difficulties have arisen when the land use interests, in particular, perceived the Convention to be a threat through increased designation of sites for conservation. The coordination committees worked most effectively when the representation was at an intermediate level and the parties saw benefit in compromise solutions.
Development of a national strategy
- The key objective is to develop a strategy which has cross-sectoral ownership. Most Member Countries used existing legislation to implement the Convention, although some have introduced new legislation. The main problem was to engage all sectors in the debate and to focus on the gaps in existing legislation. Progress was made in several Member Countries by broad circulation of the draft strategy;
- There are still many gaps in most national strategies. These relate to all areas, but the coastal and marine environment sector and international issues such as fisheries, whaling, technology transfer to developing countries, and property rights for genetic resources will require specific solutions outside the Convention framework, and the challenges of integration are greater.
Development of action plans
- The main objective of the action plans is to translate policy into action. This requires measurable actions with real targets. The difficulty has been to develop indicators as a basis for monitoring, audit and refocusing objectives. In most action plans the targets have been a compromise reached on a pragmatic basis. This may limit the short-term biodiversity gains but it was felt important to realise early successes, even if these were modest. In addition, the action plans are part of an evolutionary process. It was important to set these targets in place for sustainable use as well as conservation of biodiversity. Future agreements on free trade could threaten their objectives.
Indicators of sustainable use
- This was an important issue linking the Convention on Biological Diversity to Agenda 21, concerning Sustainable Development. The objective was to balance the need for economic development with sustaining biodiversity. The key problem has been to develop indicators for achieving biodiversity objectives (particularly for agriculture and forestry). These indicators and targets are essential if land use incentives are to produce ecological gains.
Fostering good practice in developing countries
- It was agreed that the international obligations of the Convention were less adequately covered in national action plans. There was little attention paid to economic activities in developing countries (the "ecological footprints" of developed countries actions and interests).
- There were several important issues (such as genetic erosion in isolated populations; genetic aspects of introduced species; consequences of invasions by alien species) which were only marginally considered in most national strategies. Access to genetic resources and national property rights were seen as an area of ongoing international negotiation. Most national strategies make no commitments on this issue.
- Most Member Countries have made no extra financial resources available to implement the Convention;
- Adequate progress is dependent on public awareness and political commitment;
- Little progress has been made on modifying economic instruments at the European level which impact on biodiversity at the national level;
- There has been limited progress on biodiversity indicators as indicators of sustainable development: this is a key area for future research.
Examples of other problems mentioned in national responses to the survey
- There were political difficulties in determining the Government Department responsible for the coordination of activities in elaborating the National Strategy;
- There were problems in creating a national committee on biodiversity where there are attempts to involve regional authorities as well as the private sector, NGOs and other social representatives;
- The time elapsing between consecutive COPs is too short to reach goals: it would be better to programme action on a triennial basis;
- The shift from implementing older Conventions such as Ramsar, Berne, Bonn, CITES, and EU Directives (Birds, Habitats, Biotechnology) towards the biodiversity component of the European Environment Agency, the Convention on Sustainable Development and the CBD itself, creates an excessive workload for national institutions, as they are charged with new communication and coordination duties on much broader policy issues.
- The content of the Convention does not fit into existing traditional competencies, partly due to the cross-cutting nature of the issues;
- There are difficulties in defining the responsibilities of departments other than environment, agriculture, forestry, hunting and fishery;
- There are difficulties in developing and implementing sustainable use methods in forestry, agriculture and fisheries;
- There are difficulties in defining the importance of biodiversity in urban areas, as well as in maintaining ecological relationships between green areas within urban areas;
- There are difficulties in realising the full potential values of biodiversity for sustainable development, for example in promoting the development of new energy sources and of new environmentally-friendly industrial, agricultural and pharmaceutical products;
- The total planning scheme for biodiversity has become rather complex and activities relevant to the implementation of the Convention are not always explicitly identified as being part of the national strategy on biological diversity;
- It is (more often than not) a matter of interpretation whether a given policy or measure can actually be said to be an implementation of a specific article in the Convention.
Limitations of knowledge
- Lack of biodiversity professionals in some sectors of society;
- Lack of quantitative and qualitative scientific information on the existing genetic resources, species, and habitats at the national level;
- Lack of operational networks between scientists and institutions which deal with relevant issues at the national, European and Mediterranean levels, and lack of funds for relevant joint research or implementation projects;
- Lack of standards and methodologies which are also reflected at international and European levels, especially in evaluating the ecosystem component. Broadly-used perceptions are either too general to allow wide interpretations or very country-specific.
- Financial mechanisms concerning implementation of the Convention should be viewed within the GEF framework, which is not fully adequate: restructuring and a sharing mechanism are necessary;
- Financial problems are being faced in order to develop different issues of the implementation of the Convention, like cooperation projects, organisation of seminars and publications;
- Funds and personnel in the competent authorities are insufficient to tackle the issues, especially since the efforts so far have concentrated on establishing and managing reserves for endangered species and habitats, which still remains a priority.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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