Bedrock of sustainable development

International agreements on the preservation of biodiversity

Rwanda: Villagers seen through eucalyptus trees

The foundation for the key multilateral environmental agreements on biodiversity, climate action and combating desertification was laid at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Subsequent conferences were held in New York in 1997 (Rio+5), Johannesburg in 2002 (Rio+10) and again in Rio in 2012 (Rio+20).

Convention on Biological Diversity

The most important international agreement for conserving biodiversity is the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). A total of 196 countries (also including the EU) have acceded to the Convention (as at March 2017). The Federal Republic of Germany has been party to the Convention on Biological Diversity since it entered into force on 29 December 1993.

Its three goals, each of them equally important, are the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of biodiversity, and the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. Developing countries, which are host to the biggest proportion of biological diversity, suffer disproportionately from biodiversity loss. That is why the industrialised countries have pledged to support them in implementing the CBD.

Programmes built around thematic goals have been launched (for instance forest, mountain and coastal biodiversity) as well as programmes featuring multi-sector goals (such as expansion of protected areas, environmental communication and education, and public relations efforts). The industrialised countries provide funding under their respective bilateral development programmes but also as funds paid into the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).

The exchange of scientific and technical knowledge, technology transfer and the development of access rules for genetic resources, and for the just sharing of profits derived from their use, are all measures designed to help partners move closer to achieving the CBD goals.

A Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) was established as a way of promoting scientific collaboration among the parties to the CBD: the CHM is an information and communications system for the exchange of biodiversity-related data.

The parties to the CBD meet every other year to discuss the status of implementation and to provide new impetus to the process.

Cartagena Protocol

The use of genetic methods in agriculture has raised high hopes for global nutrition as well as for the development of new medicines. There may however be risks associated with releasing genetically modified organisms into the environment. For this reason, the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) agreed in 2000 on a supplemental agreement on biosafety (Cartagena Protocol). It entered into force in September 2003.

Under this protocol, countries can ban the import of genetically modified organisms (referred to in the protocol as "living modified organisms") if they fear a threat to biodiversity or human health. There are 170 members signed up to the Protocol (as of May 2017). Of the five countries that cultivate 90 per cent of all genetically modified plants, the United States, Argentina and Canada are not members of the Cartagena Protocol. Brazil and India, the remaining two, have however ratified the Protocol.

Nagoya Protocol

Negotiations were ongoing for more than twenty years until, finally, at the 10th Meeting of the Parties to the CBD, the Nagoya Protocol was passed. This protocol is intended to regulate access to genetic resources and the equitable sharing of benefits arising from their use (ABS, access and benefit sharing). With the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol, the international community now has an effective instrument for preventing bio-piracy and one that validates biodiversity as crucial in the context of development and improving quality of life.

A central component of Germany’s work to implement the Nagoya Protocol is the ABS Initiative. It was established in 2006 by the Dutch and German governments and has enjoyed the support of other donors since 2009. The ABS Initiative supports development of expertise and negotiating skills in countries from the African, Caribbean and Pacific states (ACP states). The goal is to make greater use of the potential of ABS for poverty reduction.

Nagoya – Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol

At the 10th Conference of Parties to the Convention the Nagoya – Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol was adopted. It regulates issues relating to liability and redress if the biodiversity in a given country is damaged through the legal or illegal transboundary movement of living modified organisms. Thirty-eight countries have acceded to the supplementary protocol (as at May 2017), just two short of the number required for the protocol to enter into force.

Developing countries that ratify the protocol assume a range of new responsibilities. For example, they are obliged to develop liability laws and appoint or establish responsible authorities. Since the protocol, which is binding under international law, only makes provision for an administrative approach to liability, governments are left to draw up additional provisions under civil law at their own national level.

International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources

The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) was adopted in Rome in 2001. The Treaty makes an important contribution to achieving food security. Focal areas include the preservation of farmers’ rights, the protection of traditional knowledge, and the right to fair and equitable participation in the commercial use of agro-biodiversity. The Treaty also regulates the handling of plant genetic resources stored in national and international research facilities and institutions.


Since its original signing in 1973, 183 countries (as at May 2017) have acceded to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The aims of the convention are to control the trade in endangered species, to preserve species and to ensure international cooperation regarding the trade in animal and plant species.

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), also known as the Bonn Convention, was finalised and signed in Bonn in 1979. Worldwide there are several thousand animal species which regularly cover huge distances to reach food sources, and nesting, wintering or mating sites. These include many whose numbers are endangered, some acutely so, such as the albatross, whales, sea turtles and desert antelopes.

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