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UNEP and partners to renew efforts towards a biosafety protocol

Nairobi, 26 August 1999 - Informal consultations - aimed at resuming the Extraordinary Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to adopt a Protocol on Biosafety - are due to be held from 15 to 19 September 1999 in Vienna.

In preparation for the upcoming meeting, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), through its Regional Office for Africa, hosted a meeting of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) at UNEP headquarters on 23 and 24 August 1999. Twenty countries participated.

"It is very important to create a platform that will enable as many countries as possible to discuss in-depth vital questions relating to biosafety", said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director. "The potential benefits as well as risks of modern biotechnology go well beyond those we, as humans have ever faced directly from previous technological revolutions" he said.

A major issue of particular concern to Governments is how to regulate the use and release of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern technology which may have an adverse impact on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity through a protocol on biosafety under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) (art. 8 (g) and art 19).

"Technologies as powerful as those of modern biotechnology carry with them a heavy responsibility on our part - that of making wise and informed decisions regarding how to use them. For example we have the responsibility of asking and answering pertinent questions about their safety and the responsibility of putting in place mechanisms for assessing and managing what risks are acceptable to our human society. It is up to all of us as journalists, scientists, policymakers, and concerned members of civil society to help make those decisions and choices", said Toepfer.

Negotiations are at a delicate stage and will necessitate that Governments work together to resolve certain core issues that remained pending at the meeting of the Sixth and Final Open- Ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG-6) and at the Extraordinary Meeting held in Cartagena, Colombia, earlier this year. Eventually, participants hope to produce an Agreed Text of the Protocol, satisfactory to all, at the resumed Extraordinary meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD, scheduled for early 2000.


Please see attached background notes. For more information, please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
UNEP Spokesman and Director of Communications and Public Information Branch, Nairobi, Kenya.
Tel: (254-2) 623292; Fax: 623692;
Patricia L. Jacobs,
Information Officer, Media Unit, CPI,
Tel.: (254-2) 623088, fax: 623692,

UNEP News Release 1999/93


Background Notes:


The Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety was established in Jakarta in 1995 by decision II/5 of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (UNEP/CBD/COP/2/19). To date, it has met six times, in Aarhus, Denmark, from 22 to 26 July 1996, and in Montreal, from 12 to 16 May 1997, 13 to 17 October 1997, 5 to 13 February 1998, 17 to 28 August 1998 and, in Cartagena, Colombia, from 14 to 19 February 1999.

The Sixth and Final Open-Ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG-6) held in Cartagena, Colombia, was expected to produce an "Agreed Text of the Protocol", which would then be presented to the Extraordinary Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (ExCOP) to be officially adopted as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The ExCOP was also expected to lay the foundations for the first Meeting of the Parties (MOP-1) upon the Protocol's entry into force.

The Draft Negotiating Text, (which was the basis of negotiations at BSWG-6 in Cartagena), had over 600 square brackets, whose removal depended on a number of core issues being resolved on the basis of consensus

Following intensive consultations and extended negotiating sessions that continued into late nights, early mornings, and throughout the weekend, BSWG-6 could not produce an "Agreed Text of the Protocol". The ExCOP that followed was similarly unable to produce an Agreed Text of the Protocol, because consensus on most of the core issues could not be reached. However, it produced the Chairman's Text. Accordingly, the ExCOP decided to suspend its meeting until further notice, and requested the President and the Bureau to decide on the date and venue for the resumed meeting, to be held before the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the CBD scheduled for May 2000.

The core issues and related issues that remained unresolved by the ExCOP in Cartagena are contained in the following articles of the Chairman's text:

Article 4: Scope of Protocol: Whether the Protocol should cover only LMOs or also include "Products thereof"

Article 5: Application of Advanced Informed Agreement (AIA) Procedure

Article 6: Notification: Who shall make notification, and who is responsible for the accuracy of information provided under the AIA?

Article 15: Handling, Transport, Packaging and Identification

Article 21: Non-Parties: Trade with Non-Parties, and issue of non-discrimination in respect of domestic vs. imported LMOs

Article 22: Non-Discrimination: Would the measures to implement the Protocol not discriminate unjustifiably between or among domestic and imported LMOs and would they create unnecessary obstacles to international trade?

Article 23: Illegal Transboundary Movement: Who shall be responsible for adverse impacts resulting from Illegal Transboundary Movement of LMOs?

Article 24: Socio-economic impact considerations

Article 31: Relationship with other international agreements: Should the protocol be subordinate to trade-related agreements, such as the WTO?



In order to decide on the intersessional arrangements for the resumed ExCOP session, an informal Consultation on the process to resume the Extraordinary Meeting of the COP to adopt a Protocol on Biosafety was held on 1 July 1999 in Montreal, Canada, following the fourth session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA-4) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) from 21-25 June 1999 and the first Intersessional meeting on the Operations of the Convention (ISOC) from 28-30 June.

This consultation, held under the auspices of the CBD Secretariat, was attended by the UNEP Executive Director and chaired by the Colombian Environment Minister, Juan Mayr. It was also attended by the representatives and their advisers from the core negotiating groups from Cartagena, including the Miami Group, the Compromise Group and the Like-minded Group.

At the Consultation it was agreed that there would be informal consultation(s), which, upon attaining satisfactory progress, will be followed by a resumed ExCOP likely in February 2000. Each of the core negotiating groups stated its commitment to concluding a Biosafety Protocol at the next ExCOP. As part of this commitment, it was agreed not reopen issues that had been agreed upon in Cartagena and only to deal with those remaining articles, including the scope of the Protocol and its relationship with other international conventions.

The President of the ExCOP, Minister Juan Mayr, has recently announced, through the Secretariat of the CBD that the next Informal Consultations on the process to resume the Extraordinary Meeting of the COP to adopt a Protocol on Biosafety would be held from 15-19 September 1999 in Vienna, Austria.

In the light of the upcoming Informal Consultation, the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), in collaboration with UNEP Regional Office for Africa, has just held a Special Expert Consultation on the Protocol on Biosafety, from 23-24 August 1999.

Wednesday 01 Sep 1999
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