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A Review of International Conventions Which Affect the Work of Botanic Gardens

Volume 3 Number 2 - February 1999


These review articles have been compiled from information provided on the Web by the relevant Convention Secretariats, published sources as well as unpublished information.

The Convention on Biological Diversity

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD or Biodiversity Convention) was signed in June 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - the "Earth Summit". It has now been signed by 175 countries.

The objectives of the Convention set out a balance between conservation, sustainable use and benefit-sharing (Article 1). The objectives are:

  • the conservation of biological diversity;
  • the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity; and
  • the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources,
    including ensuring:
  • relevant access to genetic resources;
  • the transfer of relevant technologies;
  • that appropriate funding is available.

The Convention defines biological diversity as  "the variability among living organisms from all sources, . . . including within species, between species and of ecosystems".

One of the ways in which the CBD differs from some other international conventions is that it sets goals, rather than any specific targets or objectives, for the countries (Parties) seeking to implement it. There are no lists of priority habitats, sites or species to be conserved (as in CITES or the World Heritage Convention). The Convention leaves it up to individual national governments to decide how it is to be implemented.

At the heart of the Convention are provisions on scientific and technical cooperation, access to genetic resources, technology transfer and financial mechanisms. The Conference of the Parties to the Convention has adopted the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as its interim financial mechanism. The GEF was established in 1991 and is run by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Over US$2. billion has been pledged by donor countries for the “first implementation phase”. This finance is available mainly to the governments of developing countries to support environmental projects.

Implication for Botanic Gardens

The Convention provides opportunities for botanic gardens and botanic garden networks to become involved in global and national conservation issues and the sustainable use of biodiversity. Each country is expected and obliged to prepare national strategies or action plans to implement the measures in the Convention. The CBD offers botanic gardens opportunities for greater influence, profile and recognition of their central role in plant conservation and in the implementation of the CBD nationally and internationally. New funding sources for biodiversity conservation are becoming available and botanic gardens are well placed to receive support from them. The American Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboreta (AABGA) has passed a resolution endorsing in principle the CBD at a meeting in 1998 in Mexico City. The Board also resolved that AABGA will develop a broader awareness of the CBD among its members, encourage them to comply in principle and in practice with its provisions, and work to encourage the U.S. Government to sign the CBD.

Although ex situ conservation has and continues to be an important concern for botanic gardens, it is clearly not the limit of their current importance or potential. Many other key activities undertaken by botanic gardens are specifically recognized within the text of the CBD as of fundamental importance to its implementation, such as research, in situ conservation, training, identification and monitoring, public awareness and education and cooperation (see Box).

Key Articles of relevance to botanic gardens and their primary contributions to their implementation

Article 6.    General Measures for Conservation and Sustainable Use
General contributions made by botanic gardens to national biodiversity strategies and sustainable development.

Article 7.    Identification and Monitoring
A wide body of work undertaken by botanic gardens in plant systematics, floristics, inventories, surveys, etc.

Article 8.    In situ Conservation
Contributions made by botanic gardens through development, designation, care and management of protected areas, habitat restoration or recreation and wild plant population research, recovery or management.

Article 9.    Ex situ Conservation
Botanic gardens are major practitioners of ex situ conservation through the development and maintenance of germplasm collections including seed banks, field genebanks, tissue collections in culture, individual species recovery programmes, databanks, etc.

Article 10.   Sustainable Use of the Components of Biological Diversity
Many botanic gardens play important roles in the identification and development of economically important species, in commercial horticulture, forestry and agriculture and in bioprospecting.

Article 12.   Research and Training
Botanic gardens undertake research in many relevant fields, such as taxonomy, ecology, biochemistry, ethnobotany, education, horticulture, plant anatomy, biogeography. Many botanic gardens provide training opportunities and courses in conservation and conservation-related disciplines, often available to national and international trainees.

Article 13.   Public Education and Awareness
Public education and developing environmental awareness including programmes to promote public understanding of biodiversity, its importance and loss are priority tasks of many botanic gardens. Many botanic gardens play important roles in school and university teaching.

Article 15.   Access to Genetic Resources (and benefit sharing)
Botanic gardens worldwide currently hold in excess of 4 million accessions. These represent a vast conservation resource of stored and managed biodiversity for the future. Many botanic gardens already share benefits - collecting fees, research support, equipment, information, training, shared specimens and in many other ways help to develop the capacity of partner institutions for biodiversity conservation.

Article 17.   Exchange of Information
Most botanic gardens are active in making information on their collections and the results of their research, widely available through published and unpublished literature and accessible databases. Many botanic gardens can share collections data using the International Transfer Format for Botanic Garden Plant Records (ITF).

Article 18.   Technical and Scientific Cooperation
Technical and scientific is a hallmark of many major botanic gardens, often involving joint research and staff exchanges.

Botanic Gardens' Collections and the Convention

Under the provisions of the CBD, national sovereignty over genetic resources is recognized, as well as obligations to facilitate access, to secure stakeholders prior informed consent, and to reach mutual agreement on the terms of access to these resources, including a fair and equitable sharing of the benefits that arise from using them. Unless botanic gardens comply with these requirements and are seen to be reliable and fair partners, they will be denied access to genetic resources. Similarly, unless providers decide to whom they are prepared to supply genetic resources and on what terms and unless they develop policies on commercialisation, they will not benefit fairly from providing access.

Botanic gardens have drawn up Plant Material Transfer Agreements to ensure that all parties are aware of their rights and responsibilities with regard to the transfer of genetic resources. These Agreements specify:

  • how the receiving institution may use the plant materials (eg. not to transfer this plant material to other third parties without the express permission of the original suppliers);
  • how the receiving institution must report back to the supplying institution on the results of scientific research undertaken on the material transferred; and
  • how benefits gained from the use of the materials (financial or otherwise) are shared with the institution or country that supplied the material.

Example of a Plant Material Transfer Agreement included in BG-Recorder 2 (BGCI's computer software package for the management of plant records)

[Name of Botanic Garden]

Plant Material Supply Agreement

Data Source Number [ ]

As part of the commitment by this botanic garden to implementing the provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the plant material listed below is supplied on condition that:

  1. it is used for the common good, for research, education, conservation and display;
  2. genetic material or resources or products derived from it are not passed to, or transferred in any way, to a third party without prior written permission from the above named botanic garden, and then only subject to a legally binding material supply agreement consistent with the agreement contained herein;
  3. publications resulting from research undertaken on the material supplied, or related to the study of that material, will acknowledge the source of this material;
  4. copies of any such publications will be lodged with the above named botanic garden within one year of the appearance of those publication;
  5. if the recipient of the material seeks to commercialize that material, or its progeny, or any derivatives thereof, that prior informed consent must first be obtained from the above named botanic garden. It is expected that any such commercialisation will be subject to a separate agreement.

I hereby accept the conditions above and agree to implement these provisions.

Name: ____________________________________Date: _______________

Position/Designation: __________________________________________________

Signature: ______________________________________________

Signed on behalf of the following organization/institution

Name: _____________________________________________________



Please return this form to: The Director, [Name and address of Botanic Garden]

The Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG), Kew, U.K. has undertaken a project with a series of other botanic gardens worldwide to produce common policy guidelines for botanic gardens to the access and benefit-sharing provisions of the CBD. The project has been funded with support from the Department for International Development (DFID), U.K.

This project involved workshop meetings of fifteen gardens to produce a draft policy for the participating gardens. In addition to Kew, botanic gardens from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Germany, Ghana, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, South Africa and the U.S.A. were involved. BGCI and IABG were invited as observers. The policy was approved at a meeting of the group held in Beijing, China in May 1999. For further information, please contact Kerry ten Kate, Biodiversity Convention Officer, Conventions and Policy Section, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AE, U.K.

Many gardens have produced written institutional policies on the Convention. For instance the Fairchild Tropical Garden, Florida, U.S.A. has a comprehensive policy which has broad principles (see Box) and includes detailed policies on the exchange of biological materials, horticultural operations, the sale of plants and plant material and agreements for receiving and supplying biological material.

Policy on the Convention on Biological Diversity of the Fairchild Tropical Garden, Florida, U.S.A.

The Convention on Biological Diversity was created in June 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and signed there by 150 nations. Since then, over 170 states have ratified the Convention, and it came into force on 29 December 1993. It now carries the authority of an international treaty.

The Convention has three broad objectives. The first is to conserve biological diversity; the second is to encourage the sustainable use of biological diversity; the third is to ensure the equitable sharing of the benefits of biological diversity, particularly genetic resources.

The Convention does not detail any specific implementation to achieve these goals, but leaves individual countries to decide programs and legislation.

It is the policy of Fairchild Tropical Garden in all its activities to abide by the spirit and letter of the Convention on Biological Diversity. To comply with the Convention, Fairchild Tropical Garden:

  • recognizes the sovereign rights of States over their biological resources, their authority to determine access to such resources through national legislation, and the right of all peoples and nations to share in wealth created from their biological resources;
  • requires its staff to make reasonable and sincere efforts to be aware of and comply with all national and international permitting, reporting and other regulations that govern the conservation, study and use of biological diversity in the countries in which we have programs;
  • requires its staff to follow procedures that minimize adverse impacts on biological diversity including the safe handling of any exotic or genetically modified plants;
  • participates in the scientific study of the components of biological diversity including ecosystems, communities, species, and genomes;
  • participates in the conservation of biological diversity in its original setting and function, and supports the conservation of biological diversity outside their natural habitats as a complement to conserving biological diversity in natural habitat;
  • participates in biodiversity education including public programs, technical training, and technology transfer on the sustainable use and conservation of biological diversity;
  • shares the information on biological diversity which Fairchild Tropical Garden itself possesses, by scientific communication, education, and access to its collections;
  • participates in efforts to increase the human and institutional capacity of less developed countries to implement sound biological diversity conservation and sustainable use practices.

Fairchild Tropical Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Road, Miami, Florida 33156, U.S.A. Tel: +1 305 667 1651, Fax: +1 305 667 6930.

A CBD checklist for botanic gardens

  • Obtain and read a copy of the text of the Convention on Biological Diversity and make it available to others in your Botanic Garden.
  • Ensure that staff of your Garden know about the CBD and understand its provisions and implications.
  • Initiate a debate in your Garden towards the formulation and agreement of an official policy on the CBD and a strategy for its implementation.
  • Prepare and follow an institutional Code of Conduct on collecting and the acquisition of plant material.
  • Develop Material Transfer Agreements to ensure that the benefits arising from the distribution of plant material are fairly and equitably shared.
  • Review your Garden's current activities that are relevant or contribute to the implementation of the CBD - undertake a "CBD-audit" or strategic review for your Garden and its collections.
  • Consider how the mission of your Garden is relevant to the CBD and to biodiversity conservation in general or/and consider reviewing your mission to become more involved in biodiversity conservation.
  • remember that the CBD is relevant to the national situation, that it is not just for Gardens with international programmes.
  • Make sure that all staff are aware of and follow the Garden's policies, procedures and practices relating to implementing the CBD.
  • Ensure that all the actions of your Botanic Garden are in line with the spirit and letter of the Convention.
  • Seek to publicise the CBD and its objectives to your Garden's visitors and supporters.
  • Become involved in the development of national biodiversity conservation strategies and offer advice on plant diversity matters to national policy-makers.
  • Ask for your government's support and official recognition for your Garden's role in implementing the CBD.
  • Seek to be included or represented in official delegations sent by your government to the Conference of the Parties of the CBD or to Convention on Biological Diversity's Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA), or seek accreditation and attend meetings in your own right as a non-governmental organization.
  • Become involved in processes and working groups established by organizations such as BGCI to develop international policies for botanic gardens.
  • Develop and strengthen partnerships with institutions in other countries, particularly those that are rich in biodiversity but poor in resources and assist them in all ways possible to meet their challenges and obligations in implementing the Convention.

This article was based on an article by Peter Wyse Jackson, 1997 Botanic Gardens and the Convention on Biological Diversity BGCNews 2(8):26-30. The article is now available in Spanish and Russian and on the Web site of the Canadian Botanical Conservation Network (CBCN) at

Web sites
Text of the Convention on Biological Diversity (1992)
Joint Website of the Biodiversity-Related Conventions.
The Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) promotes technical and scientific cooperation at all levels among Parties to the Convention by gathering information and then redistributing it to those who can make use of it. The main benefits of the CHM is to provide faster access to information, prevent duplication of work, facilitate comparisons of information and knowledge, generate new information, help implement the Convention effectively and efficiently, operate at both national and international levels and involve the private sector. It is proactive in that it encourages the development of a network of partners and focal points and provides information on and facilitates access to the partners and focal points. It also supports focal points and partners in developing specific training for the effective participation of users in the clearing-house mechanism network and assists in linking the non-connected clearing-house mechanism national focal points to the World Wide Web.
Internet site of the 13th Session of the Global Biodiverstiy Forum. The IUCN Global Biodiversity Forum is a series of fora that have been held to assist in the evolution and effective implementation of the CBD.
Information Unit for Conventions (IUC)

Joint Website of the Biodiversity-Related Conventions at 
The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity
World Trade Centre, 393 St Jacques Street
Office 300
Montréal, Québec, Canada H2Y 1N9. Tel: +1 514 288-2220; Fax: +1 514 288-6588; E-mail:; Internet site: