June 2000 Sprouting Up: THE CBD COMES OF AGE Having reached the ripe old age of 7 years, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) seems to have entered its adult life. In late May, the CBD held its fifth Conference of the Parties (COP5) in Nairobi, Kenya. This COP had a markedly different character from the earlier four. The heated political conflicts, in particular North-South, which used to dominate, were much less consuming. This is not to say that conflicts have disappeared or been resolved. It is rather that after a number of years, delegations are so well aware of each others positions that they can anticipate what reactions to expect, and largely adapt their tactics to the maneuvering space they think they have. This can be confusing to the casual observer, as more and more of the political discussion takes place between the lines of the decision texts. What is also obvious is that the CBD is moving into the huge challenges of the implementation phase. In its attempts to translate lofty principles into practical action, the COP has been transformed into a huge department store of biodiversity policies. The Nairobi meeting adopted 30 different decisions on a wide variety of issues including alien invasive species, ecotourism, the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, the ecosystem approach, monitoring and assessment, indicators, and sustainable use. One consequence of this shift is that technical experts are proliferating. Total participation at COP5 ran to more than 1,500 (the participant list was almost 170 pages long), many of which were specialists in one narrow field of biodiversity. With the emphasis moving from the political to the technical, Southern delegations tend to be at a disadvantage. Few can match the North in technical expertise and financial constraints prevent them from sending the 10-20 person delegations typically presented by developed countries. The net effect, perhaps compounded by political and/or economic crises in several key countries in the South, was a lower level of input from their side. The access and benefit sharing (ABS) provision was expected to be most controversial at COP5. The technical expert panel set up by COP4 (held in Costa Rica in 1999) did not have a formal mandate to continue, so the main question was whether or not to prolong its mandate. In the end, it was decided that the expert panel would meet one more time prior to the establishment of an open-ended working group open to all Parties and observers, in line with normal CBD rules of procedure. It was generally expected that the South would press for clear language on inclusion of its traditional concerns in the ABS groups mandate, such as the relation between ABS and IPRs, protection of traditional knowledge, and the status of ex situ collections. Yet other delegations, notably the EU, were more active in pushing for their inclusion. As it stands, the mandate was left very open, giving the working group freedom to discuss those aspects of ABS it judges most relevant. In the agrobiodiversity field, COP5 addressed two new issues, the decline of pollinators and the introduction of GURTs (Genetic Use Restriction Technologies), better known as Terminator and Traitor technologies. GURTs are controversial, and the text proposed in 1999 was subject to long and tricky negotiations. It recommends in relatively strong wording that Parties should at present neither field test nor market those technologies. It was expected that both proponents and opponents of the technologies would try to achieve changes to the text, but these did not materialise. But language was added to the effect that GURTs will now be considered under each element of the work programme and a report on the issue will be given to COP6. Both the agrobiodiversity decision and the access decision also include identical language urging the FAO to complete the renegotiation of the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources (IU). The issue of the formal relationship between the IU and the CBD was not directly addressed. It is not clear that there will be support to make it a protocol to the CBD, and even if there is, this may not even be possible given the formal intricacies of co-ownership between two independent UN bodies. Article 8(j) issues, on the rights of indigenous people and local communities, were mainly dealt with in a separate contact group. Here much of the anticipated political conflict also failed to materialise. In fact, in their final statement, the indigenous peoples present expressed their satisfaction with the work of the COP5, in particular because their opportunities for participation in the discussions had radically improved. It is clear that the intersessional process which has developed since 1997 has strenghthened the position of the indigenous representatives, although as they also noted basic differences of opinion regarding in particular IPRs have not changed. The whole high-level segment was devoted to the biosafety protocol. Not very many ministers were present (Nairobi is a long way to go to read a speech and write your name), but there was definitely a sense of pride and historic achievement in the air as ambassadors made their statements. No doubt the successful conclusion of the Cartagena Protocol (see Seedling, March 2000, p2) was another factor behind the relative absence of open political controversy at COP5. A total of 68 countries signed the protocol in Nairobi, including Argentina and Chile, member of the so-called "Miami Group" that had resisted it so strongly. In a separate plenary discussion on the work programme of the ICCP (Intergovernmental Committee on the Cartagena Protocol, the body which will meet to prepare the implementation before it is formally in force), Argentina however made a renewed attempt at obstructing the work, proposing that the mandate of the group should be severely limited. But there was virtually no support, and in fact Canada, one of Argentinas Miami Group partners, openly dissociated itself from the proposal. From GRAIN sources at the CBDs COP5, Nairobi.