The Convention on Biological Diversity,
its goals and functioning
and its implementation in the federal kingdom of Belgium.




  1. Introduction
  2. The Convention on Biological Diversity, its goals and functioning
  3. The Belgian ratification and the co-ordinating bodies for implementation
  4. The implementation of the Convention
  5. In conclusion


1. Introduction

In a modern concept the purpose of nature conservation is to preserve, or restore, the ability of the natural environment to fulfill on a long-term scale the vital functions it performs for humans, and to protect natural assets based on their intrinsic value (the first being an anthropocentric argument, the second having an ethical dimension).

The diversity of plants, animals and micro-organisms provides us with a multitude of resources (such as food, building materials etc.), with ecological services (such as water purification, oxygen production, soil fertility etc.) and with evolutionary potential (most needed in agriculture, in fighting diseases and pests etc).

All societies in industrialized and in developing countries are dependent on the conservation of biological diversity and on functional ecosystems. For the people in developing countries, their natural resources (food, materials, medicines, ..) are often the only, and in many cases the most important basis for economic development; moreover they constitute the core of their traditional lifestyles.

The loss of individual species is irreversible. A species of plant, animal or micro-organism which disappears is lost for ever. There is no alternative to the precautionary principle, even if no specific information is available in advance on the actual numbers of species, on the limits of carrying capacity of ecosystems or on the consequences of destruction.

If the current, tragical rate of destruction of nature, through clearing land of trees, expansion of infrastructure, urbanization, exploitation of raw materials and pollution continues, leading scientists predict that the Earth could lose 20% of all its extant species by the year 2020 and about 50% two or three decades later.

Since the need for protection and the level of urgency tend to be highest where the pressure for use is the greatest, it is a major challenge to balance the interests of "users" and "protectors" by wise political decisions. Major objectives such as poverty reduction and increasing economic performance can in the long run only be reached on the basis of well functioning ecosystems. We may not forget that the costs of restoring ecosystems (e.g. reforestation, production of drinking water, erosion combat, ..) tend to be much higher than the costs of precautionary nature conservation.

2. The Convention on Biological Diversity, its goals and functioning

Given the dramatic loss of biological diversity worldwide, and given a predicted doubling of the world population within the next 50 years, the Convention on Biological Diversity was inspired by the world community's growing commitment to sustainable development.

Negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Convention on Biological Diversity was opened for signature at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), the so called Rio Earth Summit in Brazil, on 5 June 1992. The Convention entered into force on 29 December 1993. To date, 171 countries and the EU have ratified the Convention, which contains three national level obligations:

  1. the conservation of biological diversity,
  2. the sustainable use of its components,
  3. the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

So far there have been four meetings of Conferences of the Parties, the first one (COP-1) took place in Nassau from 28.11-9.12.94. Delegates to the Conference reached agreement on basic machinery for the Convention's implementation. Some of the key decisions taken by COP-1 included: adoption of the medium-term work programme; designation of the Permanent Secretariat; establishment of the Clearing-House Mechanism (CHM) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSSTA); and designation of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as the interim institutional structure for the financial mechanism.

The second meeting (COP-2) was held in Jakarta in November 95, and initiated the process of major decisions including: designation of the permanent location of the Secretariat in Montreal; establishment of the Open-ended ad hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG); adoption of a program of work funded by a larger budget; designation of the GEF as the continuing interim institutional structure for the financial mechanism; and consideration of its first substantive issue, marine and coastal biodiversity.

The third meeting (COP-3) took place in Buenos Aires in November 96 and adopted decisions on several topics, including:

  • elaboration of a realistic work programme on agricultural biodiversity and a more limited one on forest biodiversity; a Memorandum of Understanding with the GEF; an agreement to hold an intersessional workshop on Art. 8(j) (indigenous communities traditional knowledge on biological diversity);
  • an application by the Executive Secretary for observer status to the World Trade Organizations Committee on Trade and the Environment; and a statement from the CBD to the Special Session of the UN General Assembly to review implementation of Agenda 21.

The Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) established by Art. 25 of the Convention provides the COP with timely advice relating to implementation of the Convention. So far SBSTTA met three times, in September 1995, September 1996 and September 1997.

The ad hoc Working Group on Biosafety (BSWG) established at COP-2 has a mandate to propose, before the end of 1998, a draft text to serve as the basis for negotiation by the COP of a protocol on biosafety. So far BSWG held four meetings (July 96, May 97, October 97 and February 98). One or two more meetings will be necessary in order to reach agreement on the draft negotiating text. After that an extraordinary COP will take the final decision.

The Workshop on Traditional Knowledge and Biological Diversity was convened in Madrid in November 97, to produce recommendations for the COP on how it might proceed to further the implementation of Art. 8(j). Recommendations have been presented to COP-4, but not all of them were endorsed.

In 1983 the FAO established an intergovernmental Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), and adopted a non-binding International Undertaking (IU) on Plant Genetic Resources, intended to promote harmonized international efforts to create incentives to conserve and sustainably use PGRFA. Subsequent revisions of this IU have emphasized national sovereignty over PGRFA, in line with Art. 15 of the CBD. Four extraordinary sessions of CGRFA have been convened. During the last one, participants produced consolidated text on a number of new articles under the IU, including a.o. conservation, collection, charactarization, evaluation and documentation of PGRFA; sustainable use of and global information systems on PGRFA. In addition, discussion continued on issues related to access and benefit sharing.

In preparation of each COP, four regional meetings are held for: the Latin American and Caribbean Group, the African Group, the Central and Eastern European Group and the Asian Group. The European Union organizes its coordinating meetings in Brussels.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) and other organizations organize meetings of the so-called Global Biodiversity Forum (GBF), in recent years precedent to COP-meetings. Topics of the tenth session of GBF in Bratislava included: financial innovations for biodiversity; trade and biodiversity; tenure and sustainability of resource use; and traditional knowledge.

This overview of biodiversity meetings is far from complete. Nevertheless it demonstrates the world community's growing commitment to move forward on issues such as the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components.

3. The Belgian ratification and the co-ordinating bodies for implementation

Belgium signed the Convention on Biological Diversity on 5 June 1992, the first day of the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. The ratification process however was complex due to the fourth set of the institutional reform (1993). After the ratification by the 3 Regions, the 3 Communities and the federal Parliament and Senate, the instrument of ratification of Belgium was deposited at the United Nations in New York on 22 November 1996. Belgium became hence a Contracting Party to the Convention on that day. On 20 February 1997, this is 90 days later, the Convention entered into force for Belgium.

For the implementation of international treaties several steering committees are currently operating under the direct authority of the Co-ordinating Committee for International Environmental Policy (CCIEP), the recommendations of which are officially endorsed by the Interministerial Conference for the Environment (ICE). One of these steering committees created in 1995, is called 'Biodiversity Convention'. As off the terms of reference for this steering committee, priority was given to the preparation of the First National Report to the CBD, following a decision of COP-3 focusing especially on the implementation of Art; 6 of the Convention (general measures for conservation and sustainable use). This report was issued April 1998 and officially presented to the CBD Secretariat and distributed during the 4th Conference of the Parties in Bratislava, 4-15 May 1998.

Also in 1995, the ICE designated the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) as the National Focal Point for the follow-up of the CBD. One of the priorities was the setting up of a Belgian Clearing-House Mechanism. It was launched on the Internet on 7 October 1996. For all matters related to the Biosafety Protocol the Scientific Institute of Public Health-L. Pasteur was designated as the National Focal Point. A proper website was launched on the Internet at the end of 1997.

The URL of the Belgian Clearing-House Mechanism is

Over the past few months the monthly average of hits is around 3.300.

4. The implementation of the Convention

The implementation of the key Art. 6-10 of the Convention depend mainly of the competencies of the Regions, matters related to the Belgian part of the North Sea being a federal competency.

4.1. The Flemish Region

4.1.1. Authority and competence

All services of the Flemish Region and the Flemish Community are concentrated in one ministry, which consists of 7 departments, divided into administrations and sections. The ministerial department dealing with the environment is also competent for spatial planning, transport and waterways. All matters related to environmental management and nature conservation has been united in AMINAL (= Environment, Nature, Land and Water Management Administration). Furthermore there are three public agencies each dealing with one specific environmental problem: the Flemish Land Agency (VLM) for land use planning, the Flemish Environmental Agency (VMM) for monitoring the quality of surface water and the air, and the Flemish Public Waste Agency (OVAM), involved with the prevention and management of waste. Finally there are two research institutions involved with applied ecological research with a view to nature conservation, recovery and management, presenting science based knowledge for policy makers: the Institute for Nature Conservation (IN) and the Institute for Forestry and Game Management.

4.1.2. Strategy and action plans

In recent years the Flemish Region has worked out a system of environmental planning based on a decree of 1995. Future policy will be based on three cornerstones:

  • environmental reporting by so called MIRA-reports; up till now to reports have been published (MIRA 1 in 1994 and MIRA 2 in 1996);
  • environmental policy plans; the first Environmental Policy Plan, drawn up for the period 1997-2001 was adopted on 8 July 1997;
  • annual environmental programmes, the first of which for 1998 is being carried out.

In accordance with Art. 6 of the Convention, strategies, plans and programmes are obviously developed in Flanders, sustainable development being the basic principle, paying a lot of attention to the conservation of biological diversity.

The Flemish Region has taken another important step in implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity by the adoption in 1997 of a new decree on nature conservation. With this decree a legal basis is created to establish an ecological network with core areas and the necessary stepping stones. The decree also provides instruments to rehabilitate and restore degraded ecosystems as well as to protect threatened species.

For the time being, the total expenses for the environment in Flanders fluctuate around 25 billion BEF/year. Approx. 2 billion BEF is destined for nature and forest policy. This amount can roughly be divided as following: 400 million BEF for the implementation of the first Nature Development Plan; 250 million BEF for managing wildlife and forest areas; 850 million BEF for the acquisition of nature and forest areas; 200 million BEF for supporting local administrations; 100 million BEF for supporting associations; 100 million BEF for auxiliary policy research; 150 million BEF for the two scientific institutions.

4.2. The Brussels Capital Region

4.2.1. Authority and competence

The environmental competencies of the Brussels Capital Region lay by the Brussels Institute for Management of the Environment (IBGE/BIM), a para-regional institution which serves as the environmental administration of the Region. The Institute collects and analyses the environmental data, distributes the information, gives advice and draws up plans of action, defines the strategies, intervenes in the fieldwork, promotes the environmental awareness etc. Spatial planning and land policy activities are carried out by the Administration for Urban Planning and Zoning.

4.2.2. Strategy and action plans

The environmental policy plan of the Brussels Government is the Plan of Regional Development, announced in the first Brussels policy declaration on 18 October 1989. The plan pursues a sustainable management of the urban development for the protection and improvement of an attractive living area for the population.

With respect to the management of green spaces and nature conservation, the Brussels Government declaration of 18 June 1995 gives priority to:

  • the development of the 'green network' concept adapted to the Brussels entity,
  • the protection of green spaces from building pressure,
  • the upgrading of waterways through the green spaces,
  • the providing of the necessary resources to implement the forest decree, which aims to regulate traffic and recreation in the forest,
  • the reinforcement of the protection of the ecological resources in the urban environment.

These priorities reveal two axes:

  1. protection of the existing green spaces through the creation of a 'green network',
  2. willingness to reinforce the ecological resources.

The planning will focus on the creation of the green network which emphasizes the cohesion and the continuity of the green spaces in the urban environment, and the creation of the blue network, which aims an integrated, durable and ecologically justified management of the smaller open waterways in the Region. The legal framework of both will be integrated in the urban development plans, presently being drawn up in the Brussels Capital Region.

The current monitoring programme for the assessment of biological diversity in the Brussels Region is carried out with a very limited annual budget of 3.3. million BEF.

Of crucial importance for the success of such an urban environmental policy is a good information and education programme towards the Brussels population, especially to raise awareness of the presence of biological diversity 'close at home'. In relation to nature conservation, the Brussels Capital Region spends about 30 million BEF a year on the development of environment-educational programmes, directed at school children and adolescents as well as adults, by granting subsidies to universities, institutes, education centres, nature conservation organizations, etc.

At present, the basis for intense co-operation with the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences is being laid as part of an exhibition programme on urban biodiversity (fauna in the city). This programme is carried out with the co-operation of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

4.3. The Walloon Region

4.3.1. Authority and competence

In the Walloon Region the administration of nature conservation is entrusted to the Nature Conservation Department (Office for Nature and Green Space Conservation, Nature and Forestry Division, Directorate general for Natural Resources and the Environment of the Ministry of the Walloon Region).

The Nature Conservation Department also initiates innovative projects for nature protection outside protected areas (e.g. ecological management of roadsides) and also grants subsidies to encourage biological diversity restoring actions (e.g. the planting of hedgerows).

Scientific support is given by the Gembloux Scientific Centre and through research agreements with several universities.

4.3.2. Strategy and action plans

The Environmental Plan for Sustainable Development (PEDD), adopted by the Walloon Government on 9 March 1995 sets the following objectives:

  1. maintaining, resorting and developing the host potentiality for wildlife over the whole of the territory,
  2. maintaining and restoring the natural constituent elements of the urban and rural landscapes,
  3. generalization of nature education.

The priority actions selected are:

  • to continue the inventory and the charting of areas of biological interest and provide them with legal protection,
  • to acquire further areas of biological interest and ensure the management of them,
  • to make good use of the host potentiality for wildlife over the whole of the space,
  • to provide for the setting up of the ecological network,
  • to restore, manage and develop landscapes by integrating elements of the natural setting,
  • to limit the use of fertilizers and pesticides in the natural environment,
  • to encourage research on biological diversity,
  • to establish connections between nature conservation law and other legislation,
  • to strengthen of role of municipalities,
  • to strengthen the authorities,
  • to popularize nature education.

In order to plan these objectives, a first five-year action plan is being drawn up. It will be based on the ecological network notion taking shape in three concrete areas:

  • core areas,
  • buffer areas,
  • everywhere else over the Walloon territory.

With respect to monitoring, an Observatory of Fauna, Flora and Habitats has been set up. It takes care of collecting of analyzing data related to biological diversity, and this is done through the collaboration of a wide network of naturalists, scientists and officials of the Nature and Forestry Division.

The aim for the years to come is to continue to develop four work programmes:

  • the Inventory and Monitoring of Biodiversity-Monitoring of the state of the environment through bioindicators (ISB-SURWAL),
  • the Inventory and Monitoring of Habitats (ISH),
  • the Inventory of Sites of Great Biological Interest (SGIB),
  • the System of information about Biodiversity in Wallonia (SIBW).

4.4. The North Sea

The Belgian federal government is competent for dealing with pollution at sea, marine nature conservation, fisheries, etc. while some other aspects are dealt with through co-operation agreements established between the Federal State and the Flemish Region. Planning and implementing the national policy concerning the North Sea is co-ordinated by the 'Technical Commission for the North Sea', which also participates in the 'Federal Council for Sustainable Development'.

The Belgian policy of sea management is based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the commitments of the International Conferences of the North Sea (NSC) and the regulations agreed on in the Oslo and Paris Conventions for the prevention of marine pollution (OSPAR).

As a member of the European Community, Belgium also executes the Directives of the European Commission (EC). Other treaties concerning nature conservation ratified by Belgium and relevant for the marine environment are ASCOBANS (Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of Baltic and North Seas; concluded under the Bonn Convention) and the Ramsar Convention.

Under the Ramsar Convention the coastal sandbanks west of Oostende are protected as 'Wetland of International Importance for Bird Species'. In accordance with the EC Habitats Directive, Belgium proposed a large part of the western part of the coast to be included in the NATURA 2000 network as a 'Special Area for Conservation'. As a consequence of the NSC and ASCOBANS, an intervention network for scientific research on cetaceans washed ashore on Belgian beaches has been established. For live stranded animals emergency equipment is available at Oostende. The intervention network is also dealing with scientific research on seals and stranded seabirds.

The international framework forms the basis of a new law concerning the protection of the North Sea which is being prepared by the federal ministry responsible for marine environmental protection. This 'Marien Milieu Marin' (MMM) bill was approved by the Cabinet on 25 July 1997. The new law will provide for:

  • the obligation for all users of the marine environment to take account of the principles of prevention, precautionary approach, sustainable management, compensation for damage and the pollutant pays-principle,
  • the creation of marine protected areas of five possible types,
  • the effective protection of a number of species,
  • the prohibition of introduction of 'alien' species or genetically modified organisms,
  • ship traffic schemes to preserve protected areas,
  • contingency planning for accidental pollution as well as a regime of compensation and restoration,
  • a procedure of environmental impact statements and studies for activities subject to a license or authorization,
  • enforcement through a reinforced control and high penalties.

The federal government funds a number of research and monitoring projects dealing with the sustainable management and the conservation of natural values of the marine environment. These programmes last for two to five years (1997-2001) and form a scientific support for the environmental policy of the government.

Thanks also to the Federal Government an oceanographic vessel ('BELGICA') is available for research and monitoring projects of universities and other institutions. A major role including the management of the BELGICA, is played by the Management Unit of the North Sea Mathematical Models (MUMM), as of 1 January 1998 a department of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

4.5. Overview of competent federal bodies

As mentioned earlier, the implementation of Art. 6-10 of the CBD is mostly a regional competence. However several federal bodies have also an important role to play in these articles as well as for the implementation of other articles of the Convention.

The Ministry for Social Affairs, Public Health and Environment is in charge of the elaboration of norms to which goods and products have to comply in order to be allowed on the market (including ecolabels). The impact assessment on biological diversity will be one of the criteria for the evaluation and the risk reduction of the use of chemical products, including pesticides, and will be inserted in the federal legislation shortly. Also under the authority of this Ministry, the Scientific Institute of Public Health - Louis Pasteur (IPH), formerly Institute for Hygiene and Epidemiology, is in charge of the scientific support to the federal biosafety policy. The Section of Biosafety and Biotechnology of the IPH was designated 'Belgian Focal Point for Biosafety' under the CBD.

The Ministry for Scientific Policy is in charge of the scientific aspects of sustainable development at the federal level and of the implementation of the international obligations contracted during the Rio Conference on Environment and Development. Its administration, the Federal Office for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs (OSTC), has launched and is managing a long-term plan for scientific support of the federal sustainable development policy. This plan, based upon a budget of 3 billion BEF, assures the financing of research activities and makes 156 million BEF available for the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, inter alia through the programmes Global Change, North Sea, Telsat and Antarctica.

In addition to a number of research contracts depending on this plan, the Ministry overarches ten scientific institutions, including the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS) and the Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA). These institutions represent an important part of the Belgian scientific expertise in the field of biological diversity, namely in taxonomy, systematics, ecology and nature conservation, necessary for the implementation of the first objective of the Convention, at a Belgian as well as at an international scale. The protection and the sustainable development of the North Sea ecosystem is entirely a federal competence. The leading role is played by the Management Unit of the Mathematical Models of the North Sea and the Scheldt Estuary, from 01.01.98 onwards a new department of the RBINS.

The Ministry for Small Enterprises, Traders and Agriculture is in charge of the follow-up of FAO activities, inter alia the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (IUPGR) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and possesses its own research centres such as the Agricultural Research Centres at Gembloux (CRA) and at Ghent (CLO), the Centre of Agricultural Economics (CAE), the Sea Fisheries Department (DZ) and the National Botanic Garden (NBGB).

The P 62 Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Co-operation assures the political follow-up of the international agreements contracted by Belgium, including the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Belgian Agency for Development Co-operation assures among others the Belgian financial contribution to the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).

Among the multilateral financial mechanisms, the GEF receives 1.68% of its total Core Fund budget from the Belgian Federal Government through the Belgian Agency for Development Co-operation (BADC), summing up 1.1 billion BEF, paid in cash, for the period from 1 July 1994 tot 30 June 1997, distributed as follows:

1994-1995: 320,000,000 BEF
1996: 390,000,000 BEF
1997: 390,000,000 BEF

Joint research projects are also initiated by the Federal Office for Scientific, Technical and Cultural Affairs (OSTC) within the frame of bilateral agreements with inter alia. China, Poland and Russia consisting in a transfer of Belgian know-how which has been developed through the national R&D programmes implemented by the OSTC. Yearly the financing of bilateral projects related to biodiversity and environmental protection amounts to ca. 10,000,000 BEF. Examples of such co-operations are the joint study of the endemic fauna (invertebrates) of Lake Baikal (since the beginning of the 90s the OSTC also supplied a contribution of 200,000 USD to the Baikal International Centre for Ecological Research (BICER)); the establishment of a forest database, using remote sensing techniques, for the monitoring of stands in the Kozienice Landscape Park and Zawierce Forest in Poland; the study and conservation of specific groups of actinomycetes and microfungi from the Yunnan province and Shanghai region in China.

Technology transfer to Central and Eastern European countries is also provided for by the OSTC through the granting of research fellowships to post-doc scientists from these countries allowing them to stay in Belgian laboratories during 6 to 12 months. The Belgian host units are those which are involved in the execution of the R&D programmes of the OSTC. Since 1991, 35 (out of 286) fellowships were situated in the field of biological resources (on the average 5 yearly).

5. In conclusion

The implementation of the CBD is a very complex matter, with many cross-sectoral issues, and needs a good interdepartmental co-ordination and multidisciplinary approach. The federal law of 5 May 1997 allowed the creation and the functioning of the Federal Council for Sustainable Development and of an Interdepartmental Commission in charge of making a federal plan for sustainable development. It is obvious that the set up, at the federal level, of a strategy for the conservation and the sustainable use of biological diversity will take place within the framework of this plan.


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