Executive Summary

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was signed at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 by 157 Parties or States, including the European Community and all 18 Member Countries of the European Environment Agency (EEA). In 1996 the EEA let a contract to ITE to assess progress in its Member Countries towards implementation of the Convention at the national level. A questionnaire survey was sent to official national focal points for the CBD: 16 replies were received and analysed; a Workshop was held for delegates from official bodies, scientific institutes and the EEA to discuss the responses and consider a number of relevant issues of common concern to all Member Countries.

The survey showed that ten countries had established a national biodiversity coordinating body; all had either developed a national strategy in response to the Convention or were in the process of doing so; three had published a biodiversity action plan, four were preparing one and seven intended to do so in the near future. All countries had integrated, or intended to integrate, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity into relevant sectoral or cross sectoral plans.

14 countries reported that they had identified relevant components of biodiversity in relation to conservation and sustainable use, and 16 had monitoring programmes in place or planned to evaluate the effects of adverse impacts. In most cases, these impacts had not been compared with the overall status and trends in biodiversity. All countries had implemented plans or used existing legislation to satisfy requirements for in-situ conservation; the EU Habitats and Birds Directives were frequently cited.

The main challenge for signatories to the Convention is to turn plans into effective action, and the survey showed that many Member Countries appeared to have problems in achieving this, thus slowing down the process. Examples of good practice which have been demonstrated in a few countries should act as guidance for others. A key question is whether the Convention has actually changed policies and actions at the national level, or would these have happened without the Convention? The survey at this early stage of implementation of the CBD could not answer this question.

Successful implementation of the Convention requires: cooperation and coordination both at different levels within a country and internationally; gathering suitable knowledge on biodiversity and disseminating it through education and information programmes; establishing a political, ethical, moral and financial commitment; adoption of suitable legislation and enforcement measures; setting targets and indicators.

Box 1: Biodiversity

Biodiversity is the whole variety of life-forms on Earth, ranging from mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects and other invertebrates, to plants, fungi, algae and micro-organisms. Scientists have tried to estimate the number of species and agree that the majority have not yet been described: they may number between 5 and 30 million. However the concept of biodiversity goes beyond the multiplicity of species, and includes the variability of genes and of forms within a species, and the assemblages of plants, animals and micro-organisms which together constitute ecosystems and natural habitats. The Convention on Biological Diversity 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.’

This definition therefore includes three levels of biodiversity: (a) diversity between and within ecosystems and habitats; (b) diversity of species; and (c) genetic variation within individual species. The linkage between species and their habitats is vital: changing a habitat will usually affect the diversity of species contained within it, while conversely a change in species number and composition may well affect the nature of the habitat. A crucial indicator of the "health" of a local environment is obtained from its wildlife community. If the rate of change (particularly, of loss) is markedly greater than long-term evolutionary processes would imply, this could indicate a systematic problem to which serious attention should be paid. UNEP(1) has estimated that species extinction has been 50 to 100 times the natural rate for the past four centuries, and that this is expected to rise to 1000 to 10000 times the natural rate.

Agenda 21, adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, states the importance of biological diversity to mankind as follows:

‘Our planet’s essential goods and services depend on the variety and variability of genes, species, populations and ecosystems. Biological resources feed and clothe us and provide housing, medicines and spiritual nourishment. The natural ecosystems of forests, savannahs, pastures and rangelands, deserts, tundras, rivers, lakes and seas contain most of the Earth’s biodiversity. Farmers’ fields and gardens are also of great importance, while gene banks, botanical gardens, zoos and other germplasm repositories make a small but significant contribution. The current decline in biodiversity is largely the result of human activity and represents a serious threat to human development.’

Figure 1: EEA Member Countries

1 UNEP(1995), Global Biodiversity Assessment


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