The Convention on Biological Diversity

Sustaining Life on Earth

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How the Convention on Biological Diversity promotes nature and human well-being


3 - National Action

The Convention on Biological Diversity, as an international treaty, identifies a common problem, sets overall goals and policies and general obligations, and organizes technical and financial cooperation. However, the responsibility for achieving its goals rests largely with the countries themselves.

Private companies, landowners, fishermen, and farmers take most of the actions that affect biodiversity. Governments need to provide the critical role of leadership, particularly by setting rules that guide the use of natural resources, and by protecting biodiversity where they have direct control over the land and water. Under the Convention, governments undertake to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity. They are required to develop national biodiversity strategies and action plans, and to integrate these into broader national plans for environment and development. This is particularly important for such sectors as forestry, agriculture, fisheries, energy, transportation and urban planning. Other treaty commitments include:

  • Identifying and monitoring the important components of biological diversity that need to be conserved and used sustainably.
  • Establishing protected areas to conserve biological diversity while promoting environmentally sound development around these areas.
  • Rehabilitating and restoring degraded ecosystems and promoting the recovery of threatened species in collaboration with local residents.
  • Respecting, preserving and maintaining traditional knowledge of the sustainable use of biological diversity with the involvement of indigenous peoples and local communities.
  • Preventing the introduction of, controlling, and eradicating alien species that could threaten ecosystems, habitats or species.
  • Controlling the risks posed by organisms modified by biotechnology.
  • Promoting public participation, particularly when it comes to assessing the environmental impacts of development projects that threaten biological diversity.
  • Educating people and raising awareness about the importance of biological diversity and the need to conserve it.
  • Reporting on how each country is meeting its biodiversity goals.


One of the first steps towards a successful national biodiversity strategy is to conduct surveys to find out what biodiversity exists, its value and importance, and what is endangered. On the basis of these survey results, governments can set measurable targets for conservation and sustainable use. National strategies and programmes need to be developed or adapted to meet these targets.

Conservation and sustainable use

The conservation of each country's biological diversity can be achieved in various ways. "In-situ" conservation - the primary means of conservation - focuses on conserving genes, species, and ecosystems in their natural surroundings, for example by establishing protected areas, rehabilitating degraded ecosystems, and adopting legislation to protect threatened species. "Ex-situ" conservation uses zoos, botanical gardens and gene banks to conserve species.

Promoting the sustainable use of biodiversity will be of growing importance for maintaining biodiversity in the years and decades to come. Under the Convention, the "ecosystem approach to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity" is being used as a framework for action, in which all the goods and services provided by the biodiversity in ecosystems are considered. The Convention is promoting activities to ensure that everyone benefits from such goods and services in an equitable way.

There are many examples of initiatives to integrate the objectives of conservation and sustainable use:

  • In 1994, Uganda adopted a programme under which protected wildlife areas shared part of their tourism revenues with local people. This approach is now being used in several African countries.
  • In recognition of the environmental services that forests provide to the nation, Costa Rica's 1996 Forestry Law includes provisions to compensate private landowners and forest managers who maintain or increase the area of forest within their properties.
  • In different parts of the world, farmers are raising crops within mixed ecosystems. In Mexico, they are growing "shade coffee," putting coffee trees in a mixed tropical forest rather than in monoculture plantations that reduce biodiversity. These farmers then rely entirely on natural predators common to an intact ecosystem rather than on chemical pesticides.
  • Tourists, attracted in large numbers by the spectacular beauty of marine and coastal diversity of the Soufrière area of St. Lucia, had a negative impact on the age-old and thriving fishing industry. In 1992, several institutions joined with fisherfolk and other groups with an interest in conservation and sustainable management of the resources and, together, established the Soufrière Marine Management Area. Within this framework, problems are dealt with on a participatory basis with the involvement of all stakeholders.
  • Through weekly "farmer field schools," rice farmers in several Asian countries have developed their understanding of the functioning of the tropical rice ecosystem - including the interactions between insect pests of rice, their natural enemies, fish farmed in the rice paddies, and the crop itself - to improve their crop management practices. This way they have increased their crop yields, while at the same time almost eliminating insecticide use with positive benefits in terms of environmental and human health. About 2 million farmers have benefited from this approach.
  • In Tanzania, problems surrounding the sustainable use of Lake Manyara, a large freshwater lake, arose following increased usage in recent decades. The formation of the Lake Manyara Biosphere Reserve to combine both conservation of the Lake and surrounding high value forests with sustainable use of the wetlands area and simple agriculture has brought together key users to set management goals. The Biosphere Reserve has fostered studies for the sustainable management of the wetlands, including monitoring the ground water and the chemistry of the escarpment water source.
  • Clayoquot Sound on the western coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, encompasses forests and marine and coastal systems. The establishment of adaptive management to implement the ecosystem approach at the local level is currently under development with the involvement of indigenous communities, with a view to ensuring rational use of the forest and marine resources.
  • Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve in Mexico has great cultural value with its 23 recorded Mayan and other archaeological sites while also being the home of some 800 people, mainly of Mayan descent. The reserve forms part of the extensive barrier reef system along the eastern coastline of Central America and includes coastal dunes, mangroves, marshes and inundated and upland forests. The inclusion of local people in its management helps maintain the balance between pure conservation and the need for sustainable use of resources by the local community.


Each government that joins the Convention is to report on what it has done to implement the accord, and how effective this is in meeting the objectives of the Convention. These reports are submitted to the Conference of the Parties (COP) - the governing body that brings together all countries that have ratified the Convention. The reports can be viewed by the citizens of all nations. The Convention secretariat works with national governments to help strengthen reporting and to make the reports of various countries more consistent and comparable, so that the world community can get a clearer picture of the big trends. Part of that work involves developing indicators for measuring trends in biodiversity, particularly the effects of human actions and decisions on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The national reports, particularly when seen together, are one of the key tools for tracking progress in meeting the Convention's objectives.