Biological Diversity Treaty: Fact Sheet

CRS Report for Congress
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Biological Diversity Treaty: Fact Sheet
Susan R. Fletcher
Senior Analyst in International Environmental Policy
Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division
As human activity continues to change and modify natural areas, widespread
extinctions of plants, animals, and other types of species result. Many scientists believe
that such extinctions are currently occurring at the fastest rate in human history.
Consequences for human welfare include loss of species needed for revitalization of food
crops, future medicines, new crops, and loss of ecosystems that regulate rainfall cycles,
control flooding, filter out water pollutants, and affect basic systems such as climate.
In 1992, negotiations conducted under the auspices of the United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP) were completed on a comprehensive global treaty to
protect biological diversity (also frequently called biodiversity). The treaty was rushed to
completion so that it could be brought to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro for
signature. The treaty was regarded by some environmentalists as too weak to be effective,
as it contained few requirements for action, instead promoting and encouraging member
nations to carry out research, collect data, conduct inventories of species, and formulate
action plans and strategies for protection of biodiversity. However, others opposed it
because it was somewhat vague on actions required, and there were some who worried
that future resolution of these issues could require unwelcome actions. Specific concerns
were raised about protection of intellectual property rights and how the financial assistance
mechanism to aid developing countries would be developed.
The treaty was acted upon internationally and in the United States as follows:
!It was opened for signature in June 1992 at the United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as
the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Most countries, including all
of the developed/industrialized countries, signed the treaty in Rio, with
the exception of the United States. President Bush cited concerns about
protection of intellectual property rights and about the vague nature of the
financial aspects of the treaty.
!In June 1993, President Clinton signed the treaty and sent it to the Senate
in November for advice and consent, along with an interpretive statement
that clarified how the United States would interpret the treaty in order to
avoid problems with intellectual property rights and other concerns. (See

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

U.S. Congress, Senate, Treaty Doc. 103-20, Nov. 20, 1993. This
document contains a copy of the treaty text.)
!No implementing legislation was submitted with the treaty or proposed,
as current U.S. law is regarded as sufficient to meet the obligations under
the treaty.
!On July 11, 1994, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations reported
favorably on the treaty, “subject to the seven understandings as set forth
in this report and the accompanying resolution of ratification.” (See U.S.
Congress, Senate, Exec. Report 103-30, the report of the Committee on
the treaty.) Minority views opposing the treaty were expressed by
Senators Helms, Pressler and Coverdell.
!In August 1994, a letter from 35 Senators to Majority Leader Mitchell,
urged delay by the Senate due to continuing concerns about the treaty.
The Administration prepared detailed answers to these concerns about
how industry would be affected by the Treaty, and several of the
constituent interests withdrew their objections. However, it was too late
in the session for the treaty to be taken up on the floor of the Senate, and
it was not approved before adjournment of the 103rd Congress. It is now
pending in the Senate.
!The treaty entered into force on December 29, 1993. As of May 15,

1995, 118 nations had ratified the treaty.

!The first Conference of the Parties was held November 28-December 9,

1994, and additional decisions were taken about how the treaty will work.

However, few major issues were addressed, and decisions related in large
part to organizational issues and future work.
!The United States sent a delegation to the first Conference of the Parties
(COP) which could act only as observers, since the United States had not
ratified the treaty.
!In April 1995, press reports indicated that India had stated to American
officials that if the United States does not ratify the treaty, that it would
seek to prevent American access to biological resources in developing
countries and to “prospecting” for species that might be useful in
medicines or for other uses.