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The Convention on Biological Diversity: Articles Pertinent to Botanic Gardens

David A. Galbraith, Ph.D. Coordinator, Canadian Botanical Conservation Network
Royal Botanical Gardens
Ontario, Canada


Home | Contents |Abstract | Introduction | Complexity of the Convention on Biological Diversity | Structure and Function of the Convention | Aricle 1 | Aricle 6 | Aricle 7 | Aricle 8 | Aricle 9 | Aricle 10 | Aricle 12 | Aricle 13 | Aricle 14 | Aricle 15 | Aricle17 | Aricle 18 | The Canadian Response to the Convention On Biological Diversity | Development of a Canadian Biodiversity Action Plan for the Botanic Gardens Sector | Conclusions | Acknowledgements | References


Abstract

Botanic gardens have long been associated with their important roles as conservators, collectors, interpreters and disseminators of plants from around the world. While it would be an exaggeration to claim that the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is putting those roles in jeopardy, the CBD raises issues that botanic gardens must face if they are to continue their mission as they now understand it. It should also be noted that the Convention is generating new opportunities to develop the profile of botanic gardens as participants in biodiversity and conservation programs.

The CBD was formulated with three specific objectives: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of that diversity, and ensuring that benefits that come from the use of biodiversity resources are shared with the people to whom the resources are a natural patrimony. To date, it has had its effects primarily at the level of international exchanges of biological materials and knowledge, and in the generation of many very long and complex negotiations, including an increasing focus on the issues of genetic resources within collections. As the CBD is an agreement among sovereign nations, it recognizes that each of those nations has different laws and traditions regarding how the resources within its boarders are owned and how they may or may not be used.

The CBD was formulated with three specific objectives: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of that diversity, and ensuring that benefits that come from the use of biodiversity resources are shared with the people to whom the resources are a natural patrimony. To date, it has had its effects primarily at the level of international exchanges of biological materials and knowledge, and in the generation of many very long and complex negotiations, including an increasing focus on the issues of genetic resources within collections. As the CBD is an agreement among sovereign nations, it recognizes that each of those nations has different laws and traditions regarding how the resources within its boarders are owned and how they may or may not be used.

The CBD was formulated with three specific objectives: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of that diversity, and ensuring that benefits that come from the use of biodiversity resources are shared with the people to whom the resources are a natural patrimony. To date, it has had its effects primarily at the level of international exchanges of biological materials and knowledge, and in the generation of many very long and complex negotiations, including an increasing focus on the issues of genetic resources within collections. As the CBD is an agreement among sovereign nations, it recognizes that each of those nations has different laws and traditions regarding how the resources within its boarders are owned and how they may or may not be used.

This report examines the CBD and highlights articles that have particular consequences for the botanic gardens community, including access to genetic resources, sharing of benefits and biodiversity assessment, monitoring and conservation. The development of a botanic gardens action plan to implement the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy and the CBD is presented as an example of a pro-active response to the Convention.

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Introduction

Botanic gardens are uniquely qualified, both by their histories and their current missions, to be primary partners with governments, private sector enterprises and the general public in the critical endeavor of biodiversity conservation. The themes of conservation and sustainable use, which are deeply imbedded in the fabric of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, have long been practiced by botanic gardens.

For example, more than a century before American entomologist E. O. Wilson widely publicized the term Abiodiversity@ in his 1986 book of the same name, Charles Darwin was personally sponsoring the publication of one of the world=s first true databases on biological diversity: the index of Royal Botanic Gardens Kew=s herbarium.

In retrospect, the emergence of the Biodiversity Convention is very understandable, given the simultaneous rise of awareness of the current global extinction crisis, the rise of biotechnology and the spread of trade globalization in the 1980s. Although these broad trends are easily identified, the Convention on Biological Diversity is complex. It must also acknowledged that botanic gardens and arboreta are a diverse population of institutions, with variation in capacities, missions, and national and biological environments.

The purpose of this paper is to review some of the most important articles of the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for botanic gardens and place them in context relative to the development of a new global agenda for botanic conservation. As an example, the current development of an action plan for implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity among Canadian botanic gardens and arboreta is highlighted

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Complexity of the Convention on Biological Diversity

The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity is a complex treaty, both because of the number of issues it addresses and the manner in which it addresses those issues. Four key points should be kept in mind about the CBD.

First, unlike many international agreements, the CBD presents several interlocking objectives. In addition to the widely-recognized objective of conservation of biological diversity, the CBD also has as objectives the sustainable use of biological diversity and the equitable sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources, within a framework intended to facilitate access to those resources. Each of these objectives encompasses the activities of human societies and economies and our scientific, aesthetic, utilitarian and even spiritual interactions with other species. These objectives are as much instruments of social change as they are of wildlife conservation.

Secondly, the CBD is a detailed list of goals and objectives, including mechanisms to move towards those goals, but it is not a prescription or mechanism for immediate regulatory action. It is therefore quite different from other, more familiar international treaties such CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Thirdly, it seeks to achieve multilateral agreements on complex issues of biological conservation, human rights, sustainable and economic development. The CBD is complex in part because it is an agreement among the parties to it, and these are nations or groups of nations. As the Convention recognizes national sovereignty over issues such as natural resources, it must be remarkably flexible in the approach it takes to achieving its objectives.

Fourthly, the Convention on Biological Diversity is dependent both on government action and widespread participation by non-governmental parties to achieve its objectives. Government action alone cannot solve the fundamental social and economic challenges that arise because of humanity=s simultaneous dependence upon and degradation of natural biological diversity.

The Convention on Biological Diversity was several years in the writing, and was opened for signature at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It formally came into force in December, 1993. Despite the formidable challenges listed above, the CBD has now been ratified by over 170 parties.

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Structure and Function of the Convention

1993, the function of the CBD has been developed through regular meetings of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), which meets between COPs to develop expert advise for the Parties to the Convention.

The complete text of the Convention includes 42 articles, plus a lengthy preamble and appendices. About ten or eleven articles are of direct relevance to botanic gardens and arboreta, either because the activities of botanic gardens (such as conservation of endangered species, plant taxonomy, education, supporting research, activities in economic botany, etc.) are relevant to the goals of the CBD, or because the national and international consequences of the Convention may entail changes to botanic gardens=legal, scientific and educational environments and roles.

The numerous contributions of botanic gardens to the process of implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity were summarized for the third Convention of the Parties, which met in 1996 in Beunos Aires (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Botanic Gardens Conservation International, 1996)

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Article 1. Objectives

The Preamble and Article 1 of the Convention set the tone and define its objectives. The CBD has three primary objectives:

These three are frequently described as being the complete list of objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. It should also be noted that AArticle 1. Objectives@ of the Convention recognizes that appropriate access to genetic resources, appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, and appropriate funding, are important elements toward achieving the goals.

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Article 6. General Measures for Conservation and Sustainable Use

Parties to the Convention are required to make sure that they develop national strategic plans to deal with the challenges of the Convention. Article 6 sets out this requirement, but also recognizes that many national strategies and policies already deal with elements of the Convention. Article 6 also indicates that the objectives of the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity should be integrated into policies and programs across sectors.

Botanic gardens are involved in these activities in many countries through integration into national programs of conservation and the conservation of natural resources.

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Article 7. Identification and Monitoring

Botanic gardens have traditionally been centres of research on the identification of components of biological diversity, particularly through plant taxonomy research. Article 7 specifies that participating nations should identify and monitor the Acomponents of biological diversity@ and identify factors that might have significant negative effects.

Botanic gardens contribute to many elements of both identification and monitoring, and have made the results of these activities available through monographs, flora, checklists and other products. More recently, botanic gardens have been involved in the production of geographic information systems and electronic biodiversity inventories.

Article 7 also makes reference to Annex I, the Aindicative list@ of categories of significant elements of biological diversity which should be identified and monitored. While it is broadly taken that the Convention recognizes three levels of biological diversity(ecological, species and genetic levels) as being important, Annex I to the Convention provides a little more detail. Annex I specifies that the following are important for identification and monitoring:

A1. Ecosystems and habitats: containing high diversity, large numbers of endemic or threatened species, or wilderness; required by migratory species; of social, economic, cultural or scientific importance; or, which are representative, unique or associated with key evolutionary or other biological processes;

2. Species and communities which are: threatened; wild relatives of domesticated or cultivated species; of medicinal, agricultural or other economic value; or social, scientific or cultural importance; or importance for research into the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, such as indicator species;

3. Described genomes and genes of social, scientific or economic importance.@ (Glowka et al., 1994)

Thus, the CBD places restrictions on which elements of the natural world are considered to be of importance to its process, placing emphasis on those things which are either unique or are of utilitarian value.

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Article 8. In-situ Conservation

Many botanic gardens are involved in the conservation of protected areas, either on their own sites or in collaboration with government and non-governmental agencies involved in protecting sensitive ecological areas. Article 8 also calls for the recovery of endangered species and degraded ecosystems, of which many botanic institutions and networks, such as the Center for Plant Conservation in the United States, have been taking an important part for many years.

Many botanic gardens are also involved directly in the protection and maintenance of nature sanctuaries and other protected areas. In some cases, botanic gardens supply native plants for rehabilitation of in-situ habitats.

Article 8 also addresses the issue of invasive alien species, through prevention of new introductions and control or eradication of those species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or other species. Controlling the process of new introductions, and especially assessing the risk of a new introduction to become invasive, should be a priority for all botanical gardens.

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Article 9. Ex-situ Conservation

Institutions maintaining ex-situ collections of the components of biological diversity B including botanical gardens B are recognized by Article 9 of the Convention on Biological Diversity genetic resources as being of value in the conservation of biological diversity, especially in roles they can play in integrated conservation efforts. The Convention encourages the establishment and maintenance of ex-situ collections, but also places emphasis on developing collections within the country-of-origin of the resources.

Botanic gardens have long been active in ex-situ conservation, through seed gene banks and living plant gene banks, the conservation of threatened species, and in species recovery programs.

Article 9 also requires that the collection of biological resources Afrom natural habitats for ex-situ conservation purposes@ does not threaten ecosystems or the survival of in-situ populations. (Glowka et al., 1994).

Although botanic gardens are not mentioned explicitly in Article 9, I have encountered individuals who maintain that this is the only article relevant to botanic gardens. It should be obvious that botanic gardens participate in many more activities related to the Convention than the maintenance of ex-situ collections alone.

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Article 10. Sustainable Use of the Components of Biological Diversity

Article10 seeks to integrate the principles of sustainable into decision making at all levels, and to ensure that customary uses of biological resources are protected and encouraged. Botanic gardens have traditionally been strong proponents of economic botany and ethnobotany in all their forms, and have supported the identification and development of economically-important species. Some institutions are involved in sustainable biological prospecting, and the development of horticulture and horticultural training.

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Article 12. Research and Training

Central to the objective of conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity is both research and training, especially important in the developing nations which hold the bulk of the world=s biological diversity. Article 12 emphasizes the need to enhance research and training capacities. Botanic gardens have traditionally been deeply involved in both biodiversity research and in training taxonomists and other biodiversity specialists, both in developed countries and in developing countries. Other relevant activities of botanic gardens in research and training relative to biological diversity include evolutionary studies, population and conservation genetics, ecology, biogeography, conservation techniques, plant anatomy and the social and economic aspects of plant use.

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Article 13. Public Education and Awareness

One of the strongest roles of botanic gardens relevant to the CBD is in raising public awareness and the delivery of public education programs about plants. Through interpretive signs and displays, educational literature, school programs and even traveling exhibits, botanic gardens have educational contact annually with millions of people around the world.

Article 14. Impact Assessment and Minimizing Adverse Impacts

Article 14 enjoins parties to the CBD to apply impact assessment to development projects. Botanic gardens have been important participants in assessing the impacts of development projects, especially through floristic inventories of natural areas.

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Article 15. Access to Genetic Resources

Article 15 consists of 7 paragraphs which outline the rights and obligations of Parties to the Convention regarding access to genetic resources and related issues. This article is of great importance to institutions maintaining collections of plants, because it sets out the basic conditions under which genetic resources (defined by the CBD as biological materials containing functional units of heredity which are of actual or potential value ) are to be made available for sustainable use. It also requires that Parties to the Convention arrange for Afair and appropriate sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

Beyond a general definition, the Convention does not provide detailed definitions of genetic resources. In general, Article 15 is aimed at research for commercial development of plant products or products derived from plant genes. The wording of the Convention and emerging national assess policies place freedom of exchange of plant specimens for non-commercial research in jeopardy if not addressed. Many nations have imposed or are planning to impose restrictions on the movement of biological specimens if there is the potential for their use as a source of genetic material. Under some circumstances, for example, it is possible that herbarium specimens and related scientific materials can be considered genetic resources if DNA can be retrieved from them.

The CBD requires that nations owning genetic resources make those resources available to others for research and commercial use, under conditions which include mutually agreeable terms (MAT) and prior informed consent (PIC).

Globally, about 50% of all known species of vascular plants are in botanical garden collections and were collected prior to the CBD. These plant specimens and their descendants are therefore outside of CBD provisions linking economic use of genetic resources with their country-of-origin. This has lead to some exploration of gardens=collections by pharmaceutical companies, and vocal concern by critics that gardens are seeking to side-step the CBD for financial gain.

Prior to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the drafters of the CBD passed a resolution in Nairobi calling upon the FAO=s Global System for the Conservation and Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources to seek solutions to questions of access to pre-existing ex-situ collections of genetic resources. As of the date writing (late 1998) the FAO has yet to release its answers to this question. It should be noted, however, that the FAO process is intended to address the problems posed by collections made prior to the CBD coming into force of those plants which are of agricultural and food significance.

Of all the aspects of the CBD, perhaps the concept of sharing benefits from the use of genetic resources with the country-of-origin of those resources presents the most difficulties. Article 15 enjoins Parties to the Convention to adopt policies and practices aimed at:

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Article 17. Exchange of Information

The Convention directs its Contracting Parties to facilitate the exchange of information on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity through Article 17. The need to support this exchange has resulted in the development of the Clearing House Mechanism of the CBD. Botanic gardens have long contributed to information exchange, as sharing of research results, providing access to libraries and data bases, helping to standardize information exchange through the International Transfer Format for Botanic Gardens Records, and in services such as taxonomy.

Article 18. Technical and Scientific Cooperation

International cooperation in science and technology related to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity are promoted through Article 18. As is the case for information exchange, botanic gardens maintain programs of staff exchange between gardens, herbaria and laboratories, and often develop joint research programs that directly support cooperative research and the transfer of technical and scientific information.

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The Canadian Response to the Convention On Biological Diversity

Many nations have now prepared their initial responses to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and have acted on Article 6, which requires Contracting Parties to produce strategies, plans or programmes to reflect the measures set out by the convention, or modify existing policies or plans to the same effect. Canada has enjoyed a prominent position among nations in the development and implementation of the Convention, and has produced its own response to the CBD.

The initial response of the Canadian government to the Convention on Biological Diversity was a multi-sector stakeholder consultation process, through a series of Focus Groups which met in 1994. Each focus group considered the implications of the Convention for a different sector of society, and drafted extensive recommendations as to what should be done in Canada to achieve the objectives of the Convention. These recommendations were then reviewed and edited by an office within the Ministry of the Environment, specifically created to administer Canada's CBD commitments. The recommendations were among the material which was compiled as the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy: Canada's Response to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Canadian botanic gardens played a role in the development of the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy through participation by individuals in the Ex-situ Focus Group. The recommendations of the Ex-situ Focus Group included important items through which botanical gardens could increase their participation in fulfilling the commitments of the CBD. One practical consequence of these recommendations was the creation of the Canadian Botanical Conservation Network, in part to aid the botanical gardens and arboreta of Canada with their participation in the CBD process.

The Canadian Biodiversity Strategy (CBS) was released in 1995. It incorporated several of the suggestions of the Ex-situ Focus Group, but many more were not used in the final draft. The final form of the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy begins with AA vision for Canada@ of -

society that lives and develops as a part of nature, values the diversity of life, takes no more than can be replenished and leaves to future generations a nurturing and dynamic world, rich in its biodiversity

The CBS presents all sectors of Canadian society with five goals by which to achieve the objectives of the Convention:

  1. to conserve biodiversity and use resources in sustainable manner
  2. to improve understanding of ecosystems and increase resource management capability
  3. to promote conservation and sustainable use
  4. to apply incentives and legislation to achieve conservation
  5. to cooperate with global partners in conservation and the sharing of benefits from genetic resources

Each of these goals was then iterated in detail through numerous Strategic Directions. In total the Strategy includes more than 100 Strategic Directions. Several Strategic Directions of the CBS are of direct relevance to the botanic gardens and arboreta community in Canada.

Although it takes its objectives from Article 6 of the CBD, The Canadian Biodiversity Strategy has a somewhat different balance in its approach to the three principal goals of the Convention. The Strategic Directions of the CBS place a much stronger focus on sustainable use of biological resources than does the Convention on Biological Diversity, and relatively little weight on the issues of access to genetic resources and the sharing of benefits from their use, the so-called AArticle 15" issues.

Canada is still evolving its response to the Convention. In 1996, all ten Provincial and two Territorial governments signed a general statement with the Federal Government acknowledging that they are committed to the principles of biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of biological resources, and that they will be guided by the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy in those efforts.

Despite the positive efforts of the Canadian government to implement the CBD, the pace of change has not been sufficient. In May of 1998, the Auditor General=s Office of Canada released a report by the Commissioner on Biodiversity and Sustainable Development which widely criticized the apparent slow progress in implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity. Of particular concern to the Commissioner was the lack of objective measures of success in implementing the Convention and the CBS.

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Development of a Canadian Biodiversity Action Plan for the Botanic Gardens Sector

Canadian botanic gardens and arboreta are a diverse group of institutions, only a few of which are operated by departments of the Federal Government (e.g. Morden Arboretum, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in Manitoba). For the most part, Canada=s botanic gardens are either provincial institutions (e.g. Royal Botanical Gardens), municipal institutions (e.g. Montreal Botanical Gardens), or are departments within provincial universities (e.g. University of British Columbia Botanical Garden; Devonian Botanical Garden in Alberta; Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden; The Arboretum of University of Guelph). Others are departments within municipal institutions (e.g. Botany Department of Toronto Zoo; Calgary Zoo and Botanical Garden). Furthermore, several institutions are privately operated (e.g. VanDusen Botanical Gardens in British Columbia; Frank Skinner Arboretum in Manitoba). Canada does not operate a national botanic garden. The Canadian Biodiversity Strategy lists numerous strategic directions that the community of botanical gardens and arboreta are ideally suited to address. Many of these strategic directions are already part of the missions and practices of institutions maintaining collections of living plants. Key themes of the strategic directions include:

The Canadian Botanical Conservation Network is researching these roles and their elaboration, and is preparing a draft Action Plan by which the roles of Canadian botanic gardens and arboreta in supporting Canada=s commitment to the CBD can be recognized and further developed. Among the elements being prepared for the Action Plan are a national program to recognize existing collections of conservation significance and encourage the development of new conservation gardens and a seed bank program for native plants at risk. Also of note is the participation by CBCN in an international program to harmonize the practices and policies of botanical gardens with the access and benefits-sharing provisions of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity over the next two years. The harmonization program is an initiative of Royal Botanic Garden Kew of the United Kingdom.

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Conclusions

  1. The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity is a far-ranging treaty that has been ratified by roughly 95% of all nations on earth, and which is generating consequences for the botanic garden communities of all regions.
  2. The Convention is an agreement among signatory parties, almost all of which are nations. The responses of individual botanic gardens and regional or national networks of gardens must be in harmony with their national responses. The botanic garden community must work pro-actively with government agencies shaping the legal outcomes of the Convention if those outcomes are to facilitate the roles of our institutions in achieving the objectives of the Convention.
  3. Although the Convention is a treaty among nations, achievement of its important objectives of conservation, sustainable use and the equitable sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources must be taken on as goals for all sectors of society, governmental and non-governmental, public and private.
  4. Botanic gardens are affected by developments linked to at least 10 articles of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
  5. No single response to the Convention on Biological Diversity by all botanic gardens is possible or desirable. Instead, individual gardens will find different responses to the Convention, in accordance with individual institution missions, capacities and national environments.
  6. Botanic gardens should be looking to harmonize their policies with their colleague institutions to ensure that their future access to plant resources is not jeopardized by the evolving international regulatory environment surrounding genetic resources.
  7. National and regional networks of botanic gardens have an especially important role in facilitating the participation of their members in implementing the Convention.

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Acknowledgments

I thank Peter S. Wyse Jackson (Botanic Gardens Conservation International), Kerry ten Kate (Policies and Conventions Office, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), and Greg Thompson (Biodiversity Convention Office, Government of Canada) for their many discussions which have contributed substantially to the ideas within this paper.

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References

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