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The term 'biological diversity' or 'biodiversity' refers to the number, variety, and variability of all living organisms in terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems. In its widest sense it is synonymous with 'life on earth'.


About the Convention

What is the Convention?
The Convention on Biological Diversity is a far-reaching agreement that has now been ratified by 176 countries and the European Community. This nearly universal participation of Governments together with its comprehensive mandate and access to financial, scientific and technologic resources has enabled the Convention to begin transforming the international community's approach to biodiversity.

The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the Convention's decision-making body. It meets, regularly to review progress on the implementation of the Convention and to decide on work programmes to achieve its objectives. The Conference also considers reports on measures taken by the Parties to the Convention and is the forum for the adoption of amendments or protocols to the Convention. To date, the COP has adopted programmes of work in four areas: forest ecosystems, marine and coastal areas, agricultural biodiversity and inland water biodiversity.

The Conference is supported by a subsidiary body that provides scientific, technical and technological advice (SBSTTA). All Parties to the Convention are free to participate in this multidisciplinary body, which is made up of government representatives with expertise in relevant fields. It reports regularly to the Conference of the Parties on all aspects of its work and advises it on the course of action that needs to be taken to address various issues relating to the practical implementation of the Convention. SBSTTA has encouraged members of the scientific community and other relevant sectors to contribute to its work.

Other subsidiary bodies established by the Conference of the Parties deal with access to genetic resources and the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their use, and with traditional knowledge and biological diversity.

Various other expert groups have been convened on an ad hoc basis to provide advice on specific topics such as indicators of biological diversity, agricultural biodiversity, drylands biodiversity and traditional knowledge.

The Convention establishes a Financial Mechanism to provide funds to help developing countries achieve its objectives. This Mechanism is operated by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) under the guidance of the Conference of the Parties. To date, GEF has disbursed some $960 million on biodiversity-related projects.

Also set up under the Convention is a clearing-house mechanism to promote technical and scientific cooperation. The clearing-house mechanism depends on a decentralized process to gather and organize the information that its users need. Driving this process are networks of focal points and partners. These are national and international centres and institutions with expertise that coordinate initiatives among themselves on topics of common interest. Each focal point also contributes to the clearing-house information system, which is accessible to all users. In this way, focal points encourage networking among all levels of government, expert groups, non-governmental organizations and private enterprise.

With the adoption by the Conference of the Parties of a supplementary agreement to the Convention known as the "Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety" on 29 January 2000, the Convention process has been given a new dimension. The Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. It establishes a procedure for ensuring that countries are provided with the information necessary to make informed decisions before agreeing to the import of such organisms into their territory. It has been hailed as a breakthrough in that it enshrines the "precautionary approach" as a principle of international environmental law and puts environment on a par with trade-related issues in the international arena. The Conference of the Parties, the financial mechanism and the Secretariat set up under the Convention will each perform the same functions under the Protocol as they do for the Convention. The Protocol also establishes a Biosafety Clearing-House to facilitate the exchange of information on living modified organisms and to assist countries in the implementation of the Protocol.


How does the Convention work?
The Convention encourages countries to act in the following areas:

  • Conservation of ecosystems and natural habitats and the protection and restoration of populations of species in and outside their natural habitats;
  • Sustainable use of biological resources;
  • Identification and monitoring of biodiversity;
  • Exchange of information relevant to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity;
  • Technical and scientific cooperation for meeting the objectives of the Convention;
  • Incentives for economically and socially sound conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity;
  • Research and training on the identification, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity;
  • Public education to raise awareness about the importance of biodiversity;
  • Impact assessments of proposed projects that are likely to have significant adverse effects on biodiversity;
  • Access to genetic resources and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of their utilization;
  • Transfer of technology among parties to the Convention to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity;
  • Handling of biotechnology to ensure the safe transfer, handling and use of genetically modified organisms;
  • National reporting to the Conference of the Parties on the effectiveness of measures taken to implement the Convention


About the Clearing-House

What is a clearing-house?

The term "clearing-house" originally referred to a financial establishment where checks and bills are exchanged among member banks so that only the net balances need to be settled in cash. Today, its meaning has been extended to include any agency that brings together seekers and providers of goods, services or information, thus matching demand with supply.

Information and technology
Biological diversity is the variety of life on Earth, from the simplest bacterial gene to the vast, complex rainforests of the Amazon. Human beings are an integral part of this diversity, as is the food, medicine, clothing and other biological resources that sustain us.

Recognizing the importance of biodiversity to our daily lives and the pressure that human activities are placing on our living world, governments adopted the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992 as a framework for action. From the start it was understood that scientific knowledge and technological know-how would have a vital role to play.

However, expertise in managing information and technology varies enormously from country to country. For this reason, the Convention has established a "Clearing-House Mechanism" to ensure that all governments have access to the information and technologies they need for their work on biodiversity.

The Clearing-House Mechanism (CHM) of the Convention on Biological Diversity has been established further to Article 18.3 of the Convention. Its mission is to contribute significantly to the implementation of the Convention through the promotion and facilitation of technical and scientific cooperation, among Parties, other Governments and stakeholders. More »

The Strategic Plan of the Clearing-House Mechanism identifies three major goals:

  1. The promotion and facilitation of technical and scientific cooperation
  2. The promotion and facilitation of information exchange among Parties, other Governments and stakeholders
  3. A fully operational mechanism with participation of all Parties and an expanded network of partners.

The implementation of the Clearing-House Mechanism has been guided by several decisions of the Conference of the Parties.

Today the Clearing-House Mechanism consists of the following components:

The Clearing-House Mechanism is currently in the process of being improved to better contribute to the enhanced implementation phase of the Convention and the achievement of the 2010 biodiversity target.


Gaining access
The clearing-house is based on the philosophy that broad participation and easy access must be a top priority. Its database can therefore be tapped through both traditional and electronic means of communication. Special efforts are made to ensure the participation of indigenous communities, whose unique knowledge and expertise are so important.

The Clearing-House is coordinated by the Executive Secretary and overseen and guided by an Informal Advisory Committee (IAC) set up by the Parties to the Convention. The committee works in a transparent and cooperative manner to promote awareness of the multiple needs and concerns facing various communities, countries and regions.

In addition, a network of national focal points for the mechanism is being established to address matters relating to technical and scientific cooperation. The Parties have recently emphasized the need to strengthen the role of these focal points. Building a network of non-governmental organizations and other institutions working on biodiversity could contribute to this goal. Establishing National, Regional, Subregional and Thematic Clearing-House Focal Points for specific topics could also help.

The Clearing-House mission

  • Promote and facilitate technical and scientific cooperation, within and between countries
  • Develop a global mechanism for exchanging and integrating information on biodiversity
  • Develop the necessary human and technological network

Resources and activities
The Clearing-House Mechanism seeks to support the Convention's thematic and cross-cutting programmes of work by promoting cooperation in six key areas: tools for decision-making, training and capacity-building, research, funding, technology transfer, and the repatriation of information.

The mechanism's first priority was to ensure universal access to the Convention's official records. The texts of the Convention and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, lists of signatories and Parties, and official reports and documents have been made available through the Convention's website, on CD-ROM and in paper form.

Since then, the range of available information has been greatly expanded. Users can now readily access case studies, national and other reports, and initiatives and programmes such as the Global Taxonomy Initiative and those on sustainable tourism and traditional knowledge. Technical and scientific expertise is promoted through a roster of government-nominated experts in relevant fields.

The Clearing-House also seeks to increase public awareness of Convention programmes and issues. It is establishing an Internet-based system to facilitate greater collaboration among countries through education and training projects, research cooperation, funding opportunities, access to and transfer of technology, and repatriation of information.

Experts are being linked to facilitate joint work programmes. For example, the mechanism works with the Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP) and with the Convention's scientific body to develop a joint scientific initiative on invasive alien species. The Clearing-House also strives to link the rich human resources of developing countries with cutting-edge scientific initiatives in developed countries to create a mutually supportive and beneficial approach to problem-solving.

Still another initiative is the creation of a section dedicated to the Biosafety Clearing-House to support the Cartagena Protocol. This will allow the Clearing-House Mechanism to facilitate the exchange of scientific, technical, environmental and legal information and experience relating to living modified organisms (LMOs).

The secretariat of the Convention is promoting the clearing-house and its goals through workshops addressing the scientific and technical information needs of developing countries. These workshops give priority to issues identified by the countries themselves, such as assessing national capacities for implementing the Convention, improving access to new information technologies and expertise, and strengthening Public Education and Awareness.

The mechanism's key characteristics

Compatible with different levels of national capacity
Structurally decentralized
Provides access to information
Supports decision-making
Has no vested interest in controlling the expertise or information
Created for the mutual benefit of all participants

For more information
The Clearing-House Mechanism web site is located at

Further information is also available at:

Clearing-House Mechanism
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity
413 Saint-Jacques, Suite 800
Montréal, Québec, Canada H2Y 1N9
Telephone: +1 514 288 2220
Fax: +1 514 288 6588