|Bridging the Gaps between the Conventions on Climate Change and
- The Earth Summit, which took place in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992,
was a time of near euphoria. Its highlights were the signing of two ground breaking
conventions, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) and the
Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The key objective of the FCCC is to achieve
"stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that
would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system"
[Article 2]. The CBD, the first convention to address in a comprehensive fashion all
genes, species, and ecosystems, is aimed at among other things "the
conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair
and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources"
[Article 1]. The two conventions, both signed by over 150 countries, are intended to
contribute to the establishment of a systematic, legal mechanism capable of balancing the
need for development with environmental protection and conservation.
- Important strides have been made in implementing these conventions
over the past seven years. In the context of the FCCC, the agreement in Kyoto in 1997 on
binding emissions reduction targets for the so-called Annex I countries (developed
countries) immediately comes to mind. Under both conventions, many countries have made
progress in reporting, public education, and the creation of national action plans. Of
great importance as well, a significant amount of funding has been made available through
the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other mechanisms to aid developing countries in
their efforts to implement these conventions.
- While the importance of these achievements should not be minimised,
it is clear that what has not been achieved is a comprehensive system for the protection
of both the atmosphere and the biosphere in the context of sustainable development. In the
fragmented system that presently exists, important conservation issues are falling between
the cracks. One of the central reasons for this fragmentation is a failure to build in
synergies between the two conventions, leading to piecemeal approaches to environmental
degradation, overlaps and gaps in monitoring and reporting mechanisms, waste of funds,
failures in communication, and a myriad of other problems.
- The following article points out five key areas where the lack of
synergy is evident and briefly discusses the reasons behind this state of affairs. It then
goes on to suggest possible actions that could be taken to strengthen the links between
the conventions and bring about a more holistic approach to environmental conservation.
Many of these actions can take place by building on strengths inherent to the conventions
or their implementing bodies Though the focus is on 'synergizing' the FCCC and the CBD,
the proposed solutions may very well be applicable to the numerous other environmental
agreements and conventions in existence, particularly the United Nations Convention to
Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
- A lack of synergy between the FCCC and the CBD is evident in the
timing and interpretation of the scientific research underpinning the conventions, the
process by which the conventions were drawn up, the content of the resulting conventions,
the implementation of the conventions, and the direction taken in the negotiations for
further protocols to the conventions.
- While the links between climate change and biodiversity loss have
become increasingly well understood over the past decade, this understanding played only a
limited role in the drafting of the FCCC and CBD. In part this was the result of political
factors, where protection of business interests and of sovereign rights to national
resources took precedence over environmental conservation. The timing of scientific
research was also problematic, particularly in the case of the CBD. While the FCCC was
drafted on the basis of interdisciplinary research conducted by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the drafters of the CBD had no such scientific body to
which to refer. It was not until after the adoption of the CBD that the United Nations
Environmental Programme (UNEP) launched a two and a half-year project resulting in the
Global Biodiversity Assessment. It can be argued that the very limited references to
climate change in the CBD result from this fact.
- The CBD and the FCCC were drafted during essentially the same period,
but in relative isolation from each other. Work on the CBD began in 1987 when the UNEP
Governing Council recognised a need to consolidate existing instruments and streamline
various efforts to protect biodiversity. An ad hoc working group was set up to this end
and, along with the UNEP Secretariat and a group of legal experts, was instrumental in
creating an initial draft of the convention. Formal negotiations began in 1991 and the CBD
was adopted on 22 May 1992.
- The first time extensive discussion formally occurred on the threats
of global warming was at a meeting of a group of scientists in 1985 in Villach, Austria.
In 1987, the Bellagio Conference was held in Italy involving both scientists and policy
makers who began discussion on measures necessary to stop global warming. The IPCC was
established in 1988 and issued its First Assessment Reports in 1990. Drafting of the FCCC
began at the same time and was completed in time for signature at the Earth Summit.
- Although the two conventions were drafted separately, it should be
noted that neither the FCCC nor the CBD completely ignore the synergies between climate
change and biodiversity loss. The FCCC already in Article 2 notes that greenhouse gas
concentrations should be reduced "within a time-frame sufficient to allow
ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change...". The Preamble and Article 4,
as well, make specific references to the need to protect ecosystems from changes in
climate, and the need to prepare natural systems to adapt to climate change. The CBD,
though not referring to climate change specifically, does call for integrated planning
[Article 6] and the monitoring of activities likely to have impacts on conservation
[Article 7]. These statements could be interpreted to include climate change impacts.
However, the national and regional action plans, legislation, public education, reporting
and other requirements included in the two conventions do not specify any integrated
approach to climate change and biodiversity loss.
- Given the fragmented approach of the two conventions to climate
change and biodiversity loss, it should come as little surprise that their implementation
has not been marked by integrated approaches to the two problems. At the international
level, the problem is exacerbated by the locations of the two secretariats on different
continents: the FCCC Secretariat is in Bonn (Germany) and the CBD Secretariat is in
Montreal (Canada). At the national level, the implementation of the two conventions is
often the responsibility of two or more different ministries, making cooperation
difficult. Perhaps as a result, there has been a failure in most countries to re-evaluate
existing policies and laws from a perspective, which holistically considers the
relationship between climate change and biodiversity.
- Negotiations that have taken place subsequent to the signing of the
conventions have focused in ways that widen the gap between them. This is especially
obvious in the negotiations on protocols to each convention. The Protocols have not been
the result of a holistic approach to the environment, but of priority placed on protecting
national interests. In the case of the FCCC, the Kyoto Protocol focused largely on
numerical targets and flexibility mechanisms such as emissions trading and the Clean
Development Mechanism, paying almost no attention to the biodiversity impacts of climate
- Similarly, negotiations on the first protocol to the CBD, known as
the Biosafety Protocol, have focused exclusively on the transboundary movement of Living
Modified Organisms╣. While targets for emissions reductions and rules for the movement of
LMOs are important, the failure to create any synergy in the follow-up to the two
conventions greatly limits their effectiveness.
- 1. The latest round of talks on the Biosafety Protocol -held in
Cartagena, Columbia in February 1999- failed
- The challenges involved in integrating the implementation of the FCCC
and the CBD are truly immense. Nonetheless, there are important strengths that can be
built upon to synergise the conventions and ensure that they begin to function jointly for
the protection of both the atmosphere and the biosphere in the context of sustainable
- The existence of the IPCC, which provides constant up-to-date
scientific information upon which sound policy on climate change can be based, is a boon
to the FCCC. To strengthen the scientific underpinnings of the CBD, the creation of a
scientific body similar to the IPCC, but focused on biological diversity, is an idea
worthy of consideration. Were such a body to be created, a system institutionalising
information exchange between it and the IPCC should be put in place.
- In both conventions, there are articles, which make reference to the
links between climate change and biodiversity loss. These references need to be more
explicit. Amendments that serve to encourage governments to consider the implications for
biodiversity of decisions made regarding climate change policy and vice versa are
- On the level of implementation, more coordination of effort is needed
at both the international and national levels. At the international level, the
coordination of reporting requirements among the convention secretariats would provide for
more efficient use of time and resources and would ensure that the links between climate
change and biodiversity loss were better recognised by the relevant government ministries
and agencies. Delegates to the "Expert Meeting on Synergies among the
Conventions", convened by the United Nations Development Program in Israel in early
1997, suggested that this coordination could be facilitated if the Conference of the
Parties (COPs) of the various conventions instruct their secretariats to work together.
The GEF may be uniquely placed to promote such synergy because it is the key funding
mechanism for both conventions.
- At the national level, delegates to the 11th Global Biodiversity
Forum held in Buenos Aires in November 1998 noted that implementation would be enhanced if
responsibility for implementation and compliance were to reside in the same institution of
government, particularly if that institution had strong links of communication with other
parts of government and to the society at large. In the short term, this could be
difficult to achieve, as ministries are sometimes in competition or more interested in one
convention than others. These problems could however be mitigated in part by ensuring that
regular exchanges take place between ministries. In the long term, the formation of a
national committee or even the creation of a single institution with authority over both
the FCCC and the CBD (and possibly other conventions, such as the UNCCD) could be
- Though the Kyoto Protocol and negotiations on biosafety have been
extremely important follow-up activities to the FCCC and the CBD respectively, future
follow-up protocols need to explicitly address the links between biodiversity loss and
climate change. Without such synergized follow-up, the conventions will not be able to
move beyond piecemeal responses to climate change and biodiversity loss.
- Biodiversity loss and climate change are inextricably linked in the
natural environment, particularly in climatically sensitive ecosystems such as coral reefs
and wetlands. The two conventions that now exist to address these issues are sadly not
designed to address the interface between the two problems. Greater synergy is needed
between the science, content, implementation, and follow-up of these two conventions. In
the absence of a holistic approach, it is unlikely that the FCCC and the CBD will truly be
able to help bring about the now desperately needed balance between development and
environmental protection and conservation.
- Akiko Domoto
- Member, House of Councillors,
- Japanese Diet
- President, GLOBE Japan
- Domoto, Akiko. "A Holistic Vision for the 21st Century: Creating
Synergy in Environmental Policy." In Views from Japan on Global Warming and
Biodiversity: Identifying Dangers and Recognising Links (forthcoming).
- Fernandez, Javier Garcia. IUCN-The World Conservation Union:
Statement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Fourth Conference
of the Parties. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 11 November 1998.
- Global Biodiversity Forum 11: Workshop on Coordinating National
Strategies and Action Plans under the FCCC, the CBD, and the UNCCD (Summary Report).
Buenos Aires, Argentina. November 1998.
- IUCN-The World Conservation Union. Coral Reefs Dying from
Heat-Stroke- Press Release. November 1998.
- McNeely, Jeffrey A. "Biodiversity and Climate Change: How the
Conventions Can be Mutually Reinforcing." Paper presented to the Global Biodiversity
Forum, Kyoto, Japan, November 1997.
THE COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was
created in December 1992 following the UN Conference on Environment and Development
(UNCED) which took place that same year in Rio de Janeiro.
The role of the Commission is to ensure effective follow-up of the
UNCED; to enhance international cooperation and to monitor and report on implementation of
the Earth Summit agreements at the local, national, regional and international levels. The
CSD is a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), with 53
The Commission meets annually at the UN Headquarters in New York.
Each of these meetings have been attended by over 50 ministers and more than one thousand
non-governmental organisations are accredited to participate in the Commissions
work. Since its creation, the CSD has ensured the high visibility of sustainable
development within the UN system and has helped to improve the UNs coordination of
environment and development activities.
The 7th Session (CSD-7)
The first session of the CSD took place in 1993 and was followed by 3
other sessions, each of which reviewed different sectoral chapters of Agenda 21. CSD-5,
which was convened in April 1997, negotiated the text to be adopted at the Earth Summit+5
and determined the CSD work programme for the following five years.
At its 7th session (19-30 April 1999), the Commission will address
the following issues:
- oceans and seas,
- consumption and production patterns, and
- sustainable tourism.
The State of the
Following the 1998 Year of the Ocean,
the CSD will focus its attention on ways of tackling urgent issues such as overfishing,
marine pollution and the destruction of coral reefs and ecosystems.
According to a new report prepared by the United Nations, "at
least 60 percent of world fisheries are either fully exploited or overfished, 58 percent
of the worlds coral reefs are threatened by human activity, and more than half of
the planets coastal areas are at high or moderate risk of environmental
Solutions brought forward to combat overfishing include, the
reduction of government subsidies to cut excess fishing capacity, the creation of "no
take" marine protected areas, taxes and financial incentives, and access restrictions
Regarding pollution, some 80 percent of marine pollution is caused by
land-based activities such as agricultural run-off, sewage and industrial waste.
Governments present at the CSD-7 will seek ways to improve the implementation of the
Global Action Plan on marine pollution adopted in 1995. Delegates will also discuss the
possibility of creating an Ocean Forum. At present, many international agencies and
treaties are addressing different ocean issues, but there is no single intergovernmental
institution to oversee the marine affairs in an integrated way.
Towards Sustainable Tourism
The tourism industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the
global economy. For many developing countries it means higher foreign investments and
earnings as well as increased employment opportunities. However, uncontrolled tourism
growth leads to environmental and social problems and consequently will undermine profits
and jobs creation in the long term.
The World Tourism Organisation expects the number of people
travelling internationally to increase from 612 million in 1997 to about 1.6 billion by
the year 2020. Altogether, earnings from international tourism will rise from $443 billion
in 1997 to more than $2 trillion in 2020.
Although, the tourism industry has already taken several initiatives
by putting into place guidelines for environmental practices, creating awards and
certification schemes as well as raising awareness, environmental groups say that the
tourism sector should be made more accountable. A larger share of profits and benefits
from tourism should come back to local communities, through purchase of local foods,
supplies and services or via the promotion of local crafts and businesses. Finally,
tourists themselves should also be made more aware of the social and environmental
consequences of their choices while on holiday. This can be achieved through eco-labelling
of hotels, screening of educational videos about environmental and cultural sensitivities
on in-flight and in-room television channels, and distribution of guidelines for
responsible tourism through travel agents.
For further information on the CSD and its 7th Session, contact the
GLOBE Office in Cape Town or access the CSD website at: http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/