What Is The Convention On Biological Diversity (CBD)?

by Matthew Harris

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international treaty that aims to conserve biological diversity, ensure the sustainable use of biological diversity, and share the benefits of it in a fair and equitable way [1,2]. The CBD originated from five years of meetings and negotiations, first started by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in November 1988. Five years later, on 29 December 1993, the Convention entered into force, with 168 signatures [3]. The convention defines biological diversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources … includ[ing] diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems” [1].

The Role of the Convention

As a multilateral treaty (a treaty between multiple parties), the CBD brings together 196 Parties (with 168 signatures) in an agreement to conserve and protect Earth’s biodiversity [4]. It reflects the global commitment to ensuring sustainable development by recognising the importance of maintaining biodiversity and sharing its benefits. 

Every two years, the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity meets to review the progress and priorities of the convention [5]. This COP includes all Parties who have ratified the treaty, similar to but not the same as the COP to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the one with which most of us are familiar.

The CBD has a broad remit, focusing not only on conserving biological diversity, but also on genetic diversity, its benefits for humanity, and the technology needed to make use of it [1]. As part of the Convention, Parties must develop or adapt existing strategies for conserving and using biological diversity, as well as integrating it into their wider policies. The Convention includes a focus on identifying and monitoring (Article 7) which requires Parties to monitor certain aspects of biological diversity and identify activities that may have negative impacts on it. Article 8 includes the creation of protected areas that require special conservation measures to protect natural ecosystems and habitats.

As well as direct conservation measures, the Convention also asks Parties to create and maintain training programmes for identifying, conserving and using biological diversity, as well asto promote public awareness of the importance of biological diversity.

Implementing the Convention – and its challenges

In 2002, at COP 6, Decision VI/26 recognised the challenges and obstacles in implementing the CBD, including lack of political will; limited human resources and technical capacity; inefficient information sharing; limited international public and private cooperation; socio-economic pressures; and the inherent challenges of climate change and natural disasters [6]. Reviews of the CBD also mention challenges in creating national targets based on CBD articles and the limited inclusion of indigenous voices and issues [7]. 

In a review of the national challenges and opportunities, the countries with the greatest capacity for information sharing, stakeholder coordination and economic incentives had made the most progress [7]. The authors highlighted the importance for developing countries to increase efforts to share information, engage indigenous communities, and create sustainable finance for conservation [7]. To overcome the challenges of implementing the CBD, it was recommended that countries: create incentives to engage skilled professionals in conservation; ensure user-friendly communication strategies and information sharing; use market-based financial instruments to incentivise sustainable finance; develop formal partnerships; and mainstream the integration of biodiversity into national projects [7].

The text of the Convention emphasises the importance of sovereign rights – undermining the focus on international cooperation and information sharing – and qualifies the requirements with ‘as far as possible or appropriate’, reducing the legal weight of the CBD.

Lim (2021)

The 2011-2020 biodiversity plan of the CBD stated that it’s objective was to create a world ‘living in harmony with nature’ [8]. However, an analysis of the CBD’s ability to achieve this goal  suggested that the terms of the Convention actually waters down its aims [9]. The text of the Convention emphasises the importance of sovereign rights – undermining the focus on international cooperation and information sharing – and qualifies the requirements with ‘as far as possible or appropriate’, reducing the legal weight of the CBD [9]. In the context of the post-2020 framework, the author recommends that the operation of the CBD needs to be overhauled, including the need to re-imagine our relationship with nature, coordinate and integrate the international legal and policy landscape, and to change the focus of the CBD from aspiration to action [9].


Almost 30 years ago, the Convention on Biological Diversity came into force, bringing together 168 Parties in an agreement to ensure that biological diversity is safeguarded and used sustainably by humanity. However, implementing the Convention has had significant socio-economic, technical, political, and financial challenges. Furthermore, the text itself undermines the Convention’s purpose with its hesitant and cautious language. To overcome these challenges, countries must increase cooperation, engagement, and finance, as well as re-imagining the nature-society relationship and the focus of the CBD.


[1] United Nations. (1992). Convention on Biological Diversity. https://www.cbd.int/doc/legal/cbd-en.pdf
[2] Convention on Biological Diversity, Introduction. https://www.cbd.int/intro/, accessed on 20th January 2022.
[3] Convention on Biological Diversity, History of the Convention. https://www.cbd.int/history/, accessed on 20th January 2022.
[4] Convention on Biological Diversity, List of Parties. https://www.cbd.int/information/parties.shtml, accessed on 20th January 2022.
[5] United Nations, Convention on Biological Diversity, key international instrument for sustainable development. https://www.un.org/en/observances/biological-diversity-day/convention, accessed on 20th January 2020.
[6] COP6 Decision VI/26. https://www.cbd.int/decision/cop/?id=7200
[7] Chandra, A. and Idrisova, A. (2011). Convention on Biological Diversity: A review of national challenges and opportunities for implementation. Biodiversity and Conservation, 20(14), 3295–3316. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-011-0141-x
[8] CBD. (2010). The Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets [UNEP/BD/COP/DEC/X/2]. https://www.cbd.int/doc/decisions/cop-10/cop-10-dec-02-en.pdf
[9] Lim, M. (2021). Biodiversity 2050: Can the Convention on Biological Diversity Deliver a World Living in Harmony with Nature? Yearbook of International Environmental Law, 30(1), 79–101. https://doi.org/10.1093/yiel/yvaa079
Categories Biodiversity

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