CBD: The unmaking of a treaty

A convention whose formulation brought together developing countries as a unified bloc now faces the unfortunate proposition of disjointed Southern representation.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has been one of the hard negotiated international treaties as the negotiators from the South displayed unusual unity and negotiation skills. Negotiated amidst the global political ambience of the emerging unipolar world order and the unopposed Western war on Iraq; the result was a fairly balanced treaty that accommodates the legitimate interests of both the South and North. Formulated in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, this was touted as a comprehensive strategy for 'sustainable development'. The Convention establishes three main goals: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources.

But perhaps that is all that could be said of the Convention. More than a decade after its entry into force, its achievements remain volumes of repetitive documents, endless surrealistically named committees and fissiparous meetings. While the CBD process indulged in its own virtual world, in the real world biopiracy remained unabated. The proceedings of the recently held seventh meeting of the Conference of Parties (CoP) do not leave room for much hope either. The Kuala Lumpur meeting (February 2004), in fact, marked another retrogressive step in terms of enforcement. The Convention unequivocally recognises national sovereign rights over biodiversity, requires prior, informed consent for access to biodiversity and stresses that such access should be based on naturally agreed terms. CBD also stipulates that any commercial benefit derived out of the use of biodiversity should be equitably shared with the providing country, effectively making biopiracy an international offence, and setting the fundamental legal framework for providing access to biodiversity and benefit sharing.

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Himal Southasian