Achim Steiner's speech to the 4th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety Bonn, Germany 12th to 16th May 2008

Honourable Sigmar Gabriel, Minister of Environment,

Mr. Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the CBD,

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour to assist, in the opening of 4th Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. I do so on behalf of Mr. Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, who wanted very much to be with you today but owing to other prior commitments this was not possible. He asked me to transmit to you his apologises and to present on his behalf the following statement.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We cannot overstate the importance of this meeting which constitutes a further milestone on the long journey which started in Rio de Janeiro with the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

I must pay tribute to the 147 Parties that have ratified the Cartagena Protocol to date and would like also to take this opportunity to call on those that have not yet done so to urgently expedite their internal process of accession and subsequent ratification of the protocol.

The issue of Living Modified Organisms (LMOs) can be a polarizing one with many strongly held views on their role in the economic and development trajectory of the 21st century, not least in relation to current and future debates surrounding food security and the kind of agricultural production systems that will best serve the world over the coming years and decades.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety establishes a framework that at its core is the environmentally sound application and management of the products of modern biotechnology.

The Protocol in short is designed to maximize the benefits from modern biotechnology while at the same time protecting biodiversity and human health from potential risks posed by LMOs.

A central role for UNEP in this regard is the critical area of capacity building that will allow developing countries to establish regulatory frameworks and make informed choices on whether an LMO is a risk or an opportunity for its economy in the widest sense of these words.

Article 22 of the Protocol stresses the need for capacity building across a broad range of the Protocols other elements, including risk assessment and management, monitoring, socio-economic considerations, public awareness and participation, all of which you will be addressing in this week's meeting.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

UNEP, under the Bali Strategic Plan adopted by its Governing Council in 2005, is mandated to provide more coherent, coordinated and effective delivery of environmental capacity building.

It is also mandated under the Plan to provide the same service in respect to technical support at all levels and in response to well-defined country priorities and needs, including for biosafety.

UNEP and the Global Environment Facility (the GEF) have developed a global capacity building programme to help countries develop their national biosafety frameworks (NBFs) alongside promoting regional and sub-regional cooperation and facilitating the exchanges of experiences. The programme was launched in June 2001 and has made substantial progress thus far.

As of April 2008, more than 100 countries had already finalized their national biosafety frameworks having been formally endorsed by their Governments and made ready for implementation. The total amount for these projects was close to $50 million.

A further support to this process has been assistance on the implementation of these national frameworks. Since 2002, UNEP has supported 19 countries to do this with a total of almost $20 mn of funding.

The challenge now is to assist more countries given that the majority of those who have ratified the Cartagena Protocol are also ready to implement their own national biosafety laws.

The UNEP/GEF project has also supported over 100 parties to build their capacity to make full use of the Biosafety Clearing House-a key instrument in the implementation of the Protocol. Total funding for these activities has been more than $13 million.

Meanwhile in August 2006, the GEF Council approved a renewed Strategy for Financing Biosafety, as a framework for projects designed to implement the protocol. In addition, last month the GEF Council approved a new Biosafety Programme.

I am sure that you will all join me in paying tribute to the Convention's Financial Mechanism for this timely responsiveness and substantial financial support to the Protocol.

Ladies and Gentlemen

You will recall that, the UNEP international technical guidelines for safety in biotechnology equally identify capacity building as crucial for implementation of NBFs, particular in developing countries.

Initial lessons learned from the above projects have clearly demonstrated a strong national demand for support in the development of technical documentation to facilitate transboundary movement of LMOs, among other needs.

The challenge now is to translate the objectives of the protocol into reality. Addressing these challenges will require systematic and concerted efforts. It will require the establishment of new forms of strategic partnership and networks between countries and their partners, including the private sector, the civil society and the scientific community.

This meeting therefore is timely and provides the unmatched opportunity to establish and/or review necessary frameworks and mechanisms for capacity building, information sharing, compliance with the Protocol, liability and redress as well as for monitoring and reporting- issues that form an important part of your agenda in this meeting.

To this end, clear targets as well as indicators and benchmarks for measuring progress and for monitoring the successes and shortcomings need to be clearly articulated.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would finally like to thank the excellent preparatory work for this meeting done by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Executive Secretary, Mr. Ahmed Djoghlaf.

I would also like to thank our host country Germany and its environment minister, Mr. Sigmar Gabriel for all their sterling efforts and support for this meeting and the CBD COP opening in only a few days time.

As the world moves to address the current food and energy crisis, the issue of biosafety is gaining centre stage. In addition, the prospect of climate change is leading scientists and countries alike to seek adaptive solutions to our energy, food, and natural resource problems. Biosafety is thus becoming yet more critical and of rising significance. Developing countries in particular will need the best possible advice and adequate capacities and systems in place to meet these challenges.

I wish you every success over the coming week and would like to express the sincere hope that the biosafety agenda can be advanced and evolved to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and the urgent need for more sustainable development and intelligent management of the planet's biodiversity and genetic resources.


 

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