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GEO Year Book 2004/5  
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PROTECTING BIODIVERSITY AND BIOSAFETY

A number of new initiatives were strengthened in 2004 aimed at preserving biodiversity on land and in marine ecosystems, both in wild species and those cultivated in human agriculture. With the conclusion of negotiations on the ballast water convention (Box 4), the entry into force of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) and the outcomes of the first Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (Box 5), the international community has added new dimensions to global efforts in protecting biodiversity.

Box 4: New regulations to keep invasive species out of ballast water

In February 2004, the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments was adopted at a Diplomatic Conference attended by representatives from 74 states.

Every year an estimated 3 to 10 billion tonnes of ballast water is carried round the globe (IMO 2004). It is taken on by ships to provide balance and stability, but aquatic species are also inadvertently taken on board and can travel thousands of kilometres before being dumped at the port of destination. It is estimated that at least 7 000 different species are being carried in ships' ballast tanks around the world (Global Ballast Water Management Programme 2004). When organisms are dumped in waters similar to their origin, they can become established in the new environment (Wittenberg and Cock 2001). The problem is getting worse as globalization multiplies international trade - over 90 per cent of the world's traded goods are carried by sea (IMO 2004).

One the most infamous introductions via ballast water was that of the zebra mussel into the Great Lakes in North America. The mussel polluted local water supplies and damaged underwater infrastructure. Cleanup costs totalled almost US$1 billion between 1989 and 2000 (IMO 2004).

The new treaty, sponsored by the UN's International Maritime Organisation (IMO), was 10 years in the making. Its first tier of regulations applies to all ships, while the second tier gives countries the option to take additional precautions before allowing ships into their ports. Countries agreed on a phase-in period for different regulations, between 2009 and 2016, giving shipping companies time to comply. Starting in 2009 ships will have to ensure that ballast discharges contain fewer than 10 viable organisms larger than 50 µm/m3. The challenge ahead is to achieve the ratifications needed: for the treaty to enter into force, 30 countries representing 35 per cent of the world's shipping tonnage must approve it (IMO 2004).

The year 2004 also saw some developments in the areas of biotechnology, including a signaling of support for the use of biotechnology by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and emerging political interest, particularly for boosting agricultural productivity in Africa.

Box 5: Protecting against the risks of Living Modified Organisms

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is the only international instrument dealing exclusively with living modified organisms (LMOs). It aims to protect biodiversity from the potential risks of LMOs. It focuses specifically on transboundary movements, and takes into account risks to human health. The protocol establishes an advance informed agreement procedure for imports of LMOs for intentional introduction into the environment, and also incorporates the precautionary approach and mechanisms for risk assessment and risk management. The protocol establishes a clearinghouse to facilitate information exchange. It contains provisions on capacity building and financial resources with special attention to developing countries and those without domestic regulatory systems. By November 2004 there were 110 parties to the protocol.

The Meeting of the CBD COP, serving as the first meeting of the parties to the protocol, in Kuala Lumpur in February 2004, established a framework for implementation. The parties adopted an interim identification system to strengthen the safe handling of genetically engineered organisms. This system requires identification and contact information for all bulk shipments of genetically modified or living modified organisms intended for processing, feed or food.

Key issues that still need to be resolved include the percentage of modified material that these shipments may contain and still be considered GMO-free, and the inclusion of any additional detailed information. These matters will be considered at the next meeting of the parties in June 2005. The first meeting also adopted procedures and mechanisms for promoting compliance with the protocol and assisting countries in cases of non-compliance. A 15-member Compliance Committee will submit regular reports and recommendations to the meeting of the parties. A negotiating group of legal and technical experts on liability and redress for damages resulting from transboundary movements of LMOs was also launched and requested to develop a regime by 2008.

Source: CBD 2004d


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