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Convention on Biological Diversity’s 10th Conference of the Parties

Convention on Biological Diversity’s 10th Conference of the Parties

International Body Sets New Voluntary Goals for Protection of Animals, Plants, Traditional Knowledge

In 2002, member parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) laid out global conservation and sustainability targets to be met by the end of the decade, and labeled 2010 the “International Year of Biodiversity.” But as 2011 quickly approached on the heel of reports that one-fifth of the world’s plant and vertebrate species are threatened with extinction,1 there was unequivocal agreement that the Convention and its members failed to achieve their goals.2 Now, CBD member parties have returned from their most recent international meeting with new policies to guide their conservation efforts through 2020.

CBD is an international treaty that aims to conserve the world’s biological diversity, encourage sustainable use of its components, and promote fair and equitable sharing of benefits that come from genetic resources. The European Union and 192 member countries make up its governing body, called the Conference of the Parties (COP), which meets every 2 years to review the Convention’s progress, adopt new goals and programs, and provide policy guidance.3 Though the United States helped write the first draft of the Convention more than 20 years ago, the US Congress has not yet ratified it, leaving the nation unable to vote as a Party. The United States is the only major country and one of only 3 countries total (alongside Andorra and the Holy See) that have not ratified the convention.4

Seven thousand delegates gathered for the 10th COP (COP 10) from October 18-29, 2010, in Nagoya, Japan, and adopted 47 decisions.5 These included a 2011-2020 Strategic Plan, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, and an updated and revised Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). Though several parties consider some of these decisions to be imperfect, many are calling the reaching of consensus—which came after days of long negotiations—a historical achievement.6

The Strategic Plan

The Strategic Plan is considered a useful, flexible framework that country parties should use to revise or develop national and regional targets while taking into account their own priorities and capacities. The targets, summarized below, are to be met by 2020.5

Target I: Address underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity action across government and society

Ensure that people are aware of the values of biodiversity and what they can do to conserve and use it sustainably.
Integrate biodiversity values into national and local development and poverty-reduction strategies and ensure that planning processes are being incorporated.
Eliminate, phase out, or reform incentives (e.g., subsidies) that are harmful to biodiversity, and develop and apply positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
Ensure that governments, businesses, and stakeholders have implemented plans for sustainable production and consumption and have safely and ecologically used natural resources.

Target II: Reduce direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use

Halve, or bring to zero, the rate of natural habitat loss and significantly reduce degradation and fragmentation.
Sustainably manage and harvest all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants through legal approaches that ensure fisheries do not adversely impact threatened species and ecosystems.
Sustainably manage areas of agriculture, aquaculture, and forestry so that biodiversity is conserved.
Reduce pollution levels so they are not detrimental to ecosystems and biodiversity.
Identify and prioritize invasive alien species and pathways, control or eradicate priority species, and implement measures to prevent their introduction and establishment.
Minimize the multiple anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change or ocean acidification.

Target III: Improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species, and genetic diversity

Conserve at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas, and 10% of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity.
Prevent the extinction of known threatened species and improve and sustain their conservation status, particularly of those in most decline.
Maintain genetic diversity of cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their wild relatives, including economically and culturally valuable species.

Target IV: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services

Restore and safeguard ecosystems that provide essential services, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.
Enhance biodiversity’s contributions to carbon stocks through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15% of degraded ecosystems.
Ensure that the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization is in force and operational, consistent with national legislation, by 2015.

Target V: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management, and capacity building

Ensure that each Party has started implementing an effective, participatory, and updated national biodiversity strategy and action plan by 2015.
Respect and recognize indigenous and local communities’ customary use of biological resources, traditional knowledge, innovations, and practices.
Improve, widely share, and transfer biodiversity’s science base, technologies, values, functioning, status and trends, and consequences of its loss.
Mobilize and substantially increase financial resources for effectively implementing the Strategic Plan 2011-2020.
Controversy Over Benefit Sharing Decisions

Perhaps the most contentious element of CBD COP 10 was the Nagoya Protocol for Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS), mentioned in the Strategic Plan’s Goal IV.5 One of CBD’s main objectives is to promote fair and equitable sharing of benefits that come from genetic resources, such as plants, fungi, and pathogens, and member parties have discussed a treaty on this subject for many years.

After many late-night sessions and last-minute negotiations, the ABS Protocol was passed and adopted at COP 10. It will go into effect in 2015. “The final hours at Nagoya were very tumultuous,” said Katherine Davis, ABS advisor for Botanic Gardens Conservation International (e-mail, December 6, 2010). “The negotiating group worked at speed to try to finish, but still failed to reach agreement on the last key core points. So the Japanese presidency, with everything at stake, swooped in with some proposed compromises and managed to get agreement—this final maneuver added in some of the most ambiguous text.”

“The debate has always been in part about righting the wrongs of colonialism and neo-colonialism, and ensuring that the countries of origin will be involved in, and able to set the terms for, the development of profitable products from genetic resources—versus over-regulation that could make such development too complex and costly for profits ever to ensue,” Davis continued. “There’s a tension between sovereignty and cooperation—countries want to make their own rules, but they want other countries to be more responsive to their regulations.”

As the medicinal plant trade often includes the exchanging of resources, knowledge, and benefits among developed and developing countries or indigenous groups, the Nagoya Protocol has the ability to affect industry practices. This, however, will ultimately depend on the extent of related actions taken by members. Selected elements, summarized below, instruct member parties to do the following:5

  • Ensure that parties who supply genetic resources are given fair and equitable benefits (monetary and non-monetary) arising from the using of genetic resources, their subsequent applications, and commercialization. These benefits should be intended and used for conserving biodiversity and sustainability.

  • Ensure that access to genetic resources is decided by the country of origin of the resources or a party that has acquired resources in line with the Convention, and shall be handled in a fair, transparent, and legal way.

  • Ensure that traditional knowledge of genetic resources from indigenous and local communities is accessed with their involvement and previously informed consent, and that mutually agreed upon terms have been established.

  • Promote and encourage non-commercial research, especially which contributes to conservation and sustainability and that would be used to address threats to human, animal, and plant health.

  • Practice trans-boundary cooperation between local and indigenous groups, as well as between these groups and other parties, and respect their laws and community procedures.

  • Ensure that genetic resources are utilized within the policies of the Protocol and take necessary measures to support compliance and transparency, such as permits and checkpoints.

“It’s pretty amazing that the Protocol did get adopted, given the last-minute nature of the negotiations,” said Davis. “It is not a very elegant document but it does pull the main issues together and tackle compliance.” Though the passing of the Protocol is commendable, the document is not perfect in all parties’ eyes. During COP 10’s closing session, delegates from Venezuela expressed that it does not adequately stop biopiracy, and others from Africa and Asia said it is not the best document but that they would accept it as a starting point.5 Representatives from Bolivia voiced their disagreement with the Protocol, saying that many countries’ viewpoints were left unaddressed, as was recognition of indigenous groups’ contributions. Additionally, concerns about access to research material for conservation purposes remain, said Danna Leaman, chair of the Medicinal Plant Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC). “How national legislation deals with this issue is still to be determined” (e-mail, December 2, 2010). Leaman noted that SSC will be publishing a policy document on this issue in the upcoming months.

Concern with Loss of Plant Diversity

An additional important decision made by COP 10 was the updating and revising of the GSPC, which aims to stop the “continuing loss of plant diversity,” as well as focus on sustainable use and development and benefit-sharing that contributes to poverty alleviation.7 The new targets are summarized below:

  • Create an online flora of all known plants.

  • Assess the conservation status of as many known plant species as possible.

  • Secure at least 15% of each ecological region or vegetation type through using effective management and/or restoration techniques.

  • Protect at least 75% of the most important areas for plant diversity of each ecological region.

  • Sustainably manage at least 75% of production lands in each sector.

  • Conserve at least 75% of known threatened plant species in situ.

  • Make available at least 75% of threatened plant species in ex-situ collections, preferably in the country of origin, and at least 20% available for recovery and restoration programs.

  • Conserve 70% of the genetic diversity of crops, including wild relatives and other economically valuable plant species, while respecting, preserving, and maintaining associated indigenous and local knowledge.

  • Put effective management plans in place to prevent new biological invasions and to manage important areas for plant diversity.

  • Ensure that international trade endangers no species of wild flora.

  • Ensure that all wild-harvested plant-based products are sourced sustainably.

  • Maintain or increase plant-related indigenous and local knowledge, innovations, and practices in order to support customary use, sustainable livelihoods, local food security, and healthcare.

“From our perspective, the most important decision regarding plants was the adoption of the revised and updated GSPC,” said Suzanne Sharrock, director of global programs for BGCI (e-mail, November 11, 2010). “A significant number of countries voiced support for the GSPC, highlighting both the need to continue to have a specific strategy for plants, as well as the desire to ensure that GSPC targets are incorporated into national biodiversity strategies and action plans. BGCI is working on the development of a toolkit to assist national implementation of the GSPC. This will include identification of methodologies and case studies related to the conservation and sustainable use of medicinal plants.”

Other groups have also been taking steps toward implementing GSPC-related initiatives. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, for example, has been working in partnership with Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT) for several years to create a list of most of the world’s plant species and their accepted and synonym names.8 Additionally, MOBOT joined CBD’s international consortium of scientific partners at the beginning of COP 10,9 and Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership has thus far conserved 10% of the world’s plant species ex situ and aims to have 25% by 2020.10

In addition, the MPSG continues to work on contributing to specific toolkits for local protected areas managers, as called for by the GSPC update, said Leaman. It is also working with the FairWild Foundation to create a means for business investment in sustainable and equitable use of medicinal plants, as well as with the CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) secretariat and national CITES authorities to develop more effective means for monitoring trade in medicinal plant species and to improve methods for non-detriment findings. Finally, IUCN, the World Health Organization, World Wildlife Fund, and TRAFFIC are revising the 1993 Guidelines on the Conservation of Medicinal Plants to reflect the many advances in policy and practice (The original document can be found at medgd_en___complete.pdf.)

Future Outlook

COP 10 made additional decisions, such as the Strategy for Resource Mobilization, which lays out financing of the initiatives, a ban on geoengineering, and an urging of world governments to be cautious in releasing synthetic life into the environment.5 Additionally, many delegates urged the United States to quickly ratify the CBD.4

Considering the unmet 2010 biodiversity targets, the new goals’ ability to produce significant progress remains to be seen. The targets are completely voluntary and are implemented in the form of member countries’ national biodiversity plans, aspects which give no guarantee that actions will be completed or even initiated and how true to the Convention they will be.6 “Now we need countries to spring into action and actually set up their national focal points and competent national authorities,” said Davis.

“Of course the adequacy of these decisions depends entirely upon the commitment of the parties and more broadly on public and corporate willingness to meet the targets set by COP 10,” said Leaman. “The principal players for medicinal plants include the pharmaceutical/herbal products [industries], resource management authorities, health authorities, and of course, consumers.”

Another source of doubt over the potential success of the 2020 targets is inadequate funding, cited as one of the reasons for the unmet 2010 targets. While Japan, the host country of the meeting, pledged $2 billion toward the new policies, few other parties have shown the same dedication.

“For medicinal plants,” Leaman continued, “the major challenge in understanding and reporting on status and trends will be funding and capacity for conservation status assessments. So far, of the more than 25,000 species we have now documented as being published in pharmacopoeias, and of potentially 50-70,000 species used in medicine worldwide, only 500 medicinal plants have been assessed according to the global IUCN Red List categories and criteria, and many of these assessments are inadequately documented and out of date. While we recognize that status assessment is only the first small step towards conservation action for those species that are threatened, without better data on current status and trends over time, we will not be in a position to understand whether the 2010 biodiversity target is or is not being achieved for medicinal plants.”

Previous conservation work and the making of future conservation goals have not been completely in vain, however. A large, international, multi-organizational study presented at COP 10 reports that biodiversity would have eroded by an additional 20% without past conservation efforts.11 Additionally, many COP 10 participants and observers have said that the tone of the meeting and its resulting decisions reflect a sense of urgency to not allow history to repeat itself in the form of unmet targets in 2020.6

—Lindsay Stafford


  1. Nature’s backbone at risk [press release]. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: London, England. October 26, 2010. Available at: Accessed November 16, 2010.

  2. Convention on Biological Diversity. International Union for the Conservation of Nature website. Available at: Accessed November 16, 2010.

  3. Convention bodies. Convention on Biological Diversity website. Available at: Accessed November 5, 2010.

  4. Lederer E. US urged to ratify treaty to protect the planet’s animals and plants which it conceived. The Canadian Press. November 2, 2010. Available at: www. Accessed November 16, 2010.

  5. Summary of the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Earth Negotiations Bulletin. 2010;9(544). Available at: vol09/enb09544e.html. Accessed November 11, 2010.

  6. Hance J. Will biodiversity agreement save life on Earth? November 07, 2010. Available at: html.

  7. Global Strategy for Plant Conservation introduction. Convention on Biological Diversity website. Available at: Accessed November 9, 2010.

  8. Stafford L. The Plant List: The First Comprehensive Inventory of Most Known Plant Species. HerbalEGram: November 2010. Available at:

  9. Missouri Botanical Garden joins Convention on Biological Diversity’s Consortium of Scientific Partners [press release]. Missouri Botanical Garden: St. Louis, Missouri. November 5, 2010.

  10. Millennium Seed Bank. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew website. Available at: Accessed December 1, 2010.

  11. Hoffmann M, Hilton-Taylor C, Angulo A, et al. The Impact of Conservation on the Status of the World’s Vertebrates. Science: 1194442 Published online 26 October 2010 [DOI:10.1126/science.1194442].