On 29 January 2000, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a supplementary agreement to the Convention known as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology. The Protocol contains reference to a precautionary approach and reaffirms the precaution language in Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. The Protocol also establishes a Biosafety Clearing-House to facilitate the exchange of information on living modified organisms and to assist countries in the implementation of the Protocol.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, the Conference of the Parties, established an Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety to develop a draft protocol on biosafety, specifically focusing on transboundary movement of any LMOs resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effect on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.
The Open-ended Ad Hoc Working Group on Biosafety held six meetings between July 1996 and February 1999. At its conclusion, the Working Group submitted a draft text of the Protocol, as well as the outstanding concerns of the Parties, for consideration by Conference of the Parties at its first extraordinary meeting, convened for the purpose of adopting a protocol on biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The first extraordinary meeting of the Conference of the Parties was opened on 22 February 1999, in Cartagena, Colombia. The Conference of the Parties was not able to finalize its work in the time available. As a result, the Conference of the Parties suspended its first extraordinary meeting and agreed that it should be reconvened as soon as possible and in any event no later than the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties.
The resumed session took place in Montreal from 24 to 29 January 2000 and was preceded by regional and inter-regional informal consultations from 20 to 23 January 2000 at the same venue. On 29 January 2000, the Conference of the Parties, adopted the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity and approved interim arrangements pending its entry into force. It established an open-ended ad hoc Intergovernmental Committee for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (ICCP) with a mandate to undertake the preparations necessary for the first meeting of the Parties to the Protocol.
The Biosafety Clearing House
Under the Catagena Protocol on Biosafety, the Biosafety Clearing House (BCH) was designed as a global mechanism for the exchange of information pertaining to the movement and trade of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The primary goal of the BCH is to assist parties in complying with their obligations under the Catagena Protocol. This is achieved through the systematic sharing of technical, scientific, legal and administrative information.
The hub of the BCH is a central portal housed by the Convention on Biological Diversity on their website, which is designed to be interoperable with other databases. Each party is required to contribute specific information to this global portal, and this information must be supplied within set time frames. Ideally, this is achieved by linking local and regional Biosafety Clearing Houses to the International central BCH portal, therefore allowing the central portal to relay that information to stakeholders and other interested parties.
Unlike other clearing houses, the BCH is the first of its kind which must be used in order to fulfil legal obligations under its parent protocol. Under Article 11.1 of this protocol decisions taken by parties to the convention at a domestic level, which involve the use of a GMO that may cross international borders at any point, must be communicated to other potentially affected parties through the BCH. For this reason, its proper implementation is key.
The primary objective of the upcoming workshop is to find solutions to problems faced by member states participating in the Regional Biosafety Project, and to work towards the successful and sustainable implementation of the regional and national BCH systems.