“Catching a Leopard by its Tail”: SBSTTA 18 Wraps Up, Ahead of COP12

By

SBSTTA Chair Gemedo Dalle Tussie
The 18th meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) closed on 28 June 2014 after six intensive days of discussions and negotiations among the Parties and observers. In keeping with the format first used at the SBSTTA 17 in October 2013, the CBD Secretariat developed official and information documents, but left the task of developing draft recommendation to committees convened during the meeting. As the Chair of SBSTTA Gemedo Dalle Tussie (Ethiopia) stated in opening the meeting, this format was akin to catching a leopard by the tail, and once you have done so, you must hold on tight.

Several major issues were on the agenda this year, including Item 3: Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO 4). The GBO 4 will be launched at this year’s COP. The GBO 4 concludes that while some progress is being made toward many of the Aichi Targets, they will not be reached by 2020, and we are actually moving away from several targets, in particular targets 4, 8, 10, 12, and 14. Item 4: Marine and Coastal Biodiversity included sub-item 4.1 on ecologically or biologically significant marine areas (EBSAs). Currently, the criteria for determining whether an area is an EBSA have a western scientific focus, although the draft recommendation on EBSAs does note the importance of traditional knowledge and calls for Indigenous and local communities to participate in the process. Item 5: Invasive Alien Species included sub-item 5.1 on Management of Risks Associated with Intro of Alien Species as Pets, Live Bait and Live Food. Notably, the draft recommendation for this agenda item includes voluntary guidelines to be known as “Guidance on devising and implementing measures to address the risks  associated  with the introduction of  alien species as pets, aquarium and  terrarium species, and as live bait and live food.”
Item 6: New and Emerging Issues: Synthetic Biology, generated much debate during the plenary sessions. One of the major disagreements among countries is over whether synthetic biology can be considered a “new and emerging issue” that would bring it within SBSTTA’s mandate. Some countries such as Brazil argued that synthetic biology does not satisfy the new and emerging issue criteria set forth in decision IX/29, while other such as Costa Rica argued that it was a new and emerging issue. Ultimately, the Parties decided to put the decision off to a later date, and the draft recommendation to COP suggests that synthetic biology be addressed at another SBSTTA meeting before COP 13. With regard to Item 8: Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), there still appears to be some questions on the part of the Parties as to how IPBES will coexist with SBSTTA. IPBES is certainly moving forward, however, and it has received funding from countries and is in the process of hiring experts to meet its deliverables.
Item 9: Issues in Progress included sub-items Items 9.1 and 9.2, which relate to developing deeper links between the biodiversity and climate change agendas. These items generated much debate, and the statements of many Parties indicated a general reluctance to integrate biodiversity and climate change, especially with regard to REDD and biodiversity safeguards. The draft recommendation does encourage Parties and invites other Governments to integrate ecosystem-based approaches into their national policies and programmes related to climate change adaptation, but otherwise much of the text is bracketed. Item 9.4 dealt with ecosystem restoration and conservation. The draft recommendation references ICCAs by inviting “Parties and other Governments, intergovernmental organizations and other relevant organizations: … To support indigenous and local communities in their efforts to conserve biodiversity via mechanisms such as inter alia indigenous and local community conserved areas (ICCAs) with a view to contributing to the achievement of Aichi Biodiversity Targets 11, 13, 14, 16 and 18.”
Overall, while many important items were on the SBSTTA agenda this year, some of the big decisions, such as on synthetic biology and integrating biodiversity and climate change safeguards, do not look like they will be taken up at COP 12.

30 June 2014

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