INTOSAI – Working Group on Environmental Auditing

Focus on Biodiversity: International agreements

Since many environmental issues do not respect national borders,  they require the concerted action of many countries working together.  Various bilateral, regional and international environmental agreements (IEAs) have been developed to conserve natural heritage. SAIs can play a major role by auditing how these agreements are carried out and reminding governments of their obligations under them.


To learn more about international conventions and treaties in general, see the following WGEA publication


The Division of Environmental Law and Conventions (DELC) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) undertakes activities to support the implementation of international accords for biodiversity protection:
Regional environmental agreements are also signed by countries to deal with more specifics concerns. More information about them is found below or click here.
International Environmental Agreements
The main international environmental agreements related to biodiversity are described below. All of the information provided was taken from the websites indicated: 
Climate Change
Endangered species
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was the first international agreement to address all aspects of biodiversity. It was also the first to address the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. It entered into force on 29 December 1993. It has 3 main objectives:
1.      The conservation of biological diversity
2.      The sustainable use of its components
3.      The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources.
National biodiversity strategies and action plans as well as progress reporting are some of the key features of the Convention. You can have access to these documents for any countries on the CBD Web site.
In 2002, the Conference of the Parties of the CBD adopted a strategic plan “to achieve, by 2010, a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level, as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.” Parties (countries) to the convention committed to achieving the 2010 Biodiversity Target.
The Strategic Plan encourages parties and other actors to review their activities, especially their national biodiversity strategies and action plans. The Conference of the Parties adopted a framework with specific focal areas, goals, and targets for assessing progress towards the 2010 Biodiversity Target. These goals and targets could be a source of criteria for auditors.
Thematic Programmes and Cross-Cutting Issues of CBD:
The Conference of the Parties (COP) has established seven thematic programmes of work which correspond to some of the major biomes on the planet. Each programme establishes a vision for, and basic principles to guide future work. They also set out key issues for consideration, identify potential outputs, and suggest a timetable and means for achieving these. They are:
    • Agricultural Biodiversity
    • Dry and Sub-humid Lands Biodiversity
    • Forest Biodiversity
    • Inland Waters Biodiversity
    • Island Biodiversity
    • Marine and Coastal Biodiversity
    • Mountain Biodiversity
The COP has also initiated work on key matters of relevance to all thematic areas. These cross-cutting issues correspond to the issues addressed in the Convention's substantive provisions in Articles 6-20, and provide bridges and links between the thematic programmes. Some of them are: 
    • Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit-sharing
    • Biodiversity for Development
    • Climate Change and Biodiversity
    • Impact Assessment
    • Protected Areas
    • Sustainable Use of Biodiversity
More information about CBD programmes can be found at:
On 29 January 2000, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted a supplementary agreement to the Convention known as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The Protocol seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology. It establishes an advanced informed agreement (AIA) 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.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Roughly 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 species of plants are protected through the convention against over-exploitation through international trade. They are listed in three Appendices. Species are grouped in the Appendices according to the degree of protection they need.
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (also known as CMS or Bonn Convention) aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range. Since the Convention's entry into force, its membership has grown steadily to include 112 (as of 1 August 2009) Parties from Africa, Central and South America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
This international convention provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

Negotiated through the 1960s by countries and non-governmental organizations that were concerned at the increasing loss and degradation of wetland habitat for migratory waterbirds, the treaty was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975. It is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem, and the Convention's member countries cover all geographic regions of the planet.
Each signatory to the Ramsar convention is obliged to select at least one wetland site for inclusion in the “List of Wetlands of International Importance”, in accordance with the Criteria for Identifying Wetlands of International Importance set out in the convention.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972.
UNESCO's World Heritage mission is to:
    • encourage countries to sign the World Heritage Convention and to ensure the protection of their natural and cultural heritage;
    • encourage States Parties to the Convention to nominate sites within their national territory for inclusion on the World Heritage List;
    • encourage States Parties to establish management plans and set up reporting systems on the state of conservation of their World Heritage sites;
    • help States Parties safeguard World Heritage properties by providing technical assistance and professional training;
    • provide emergency assistance for World Heritage sites in immediate danger;
    • support States Parties' public awareness-building activities for World Heritage conservation;
    • encourage participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage;
    • encourage international cooperation in the conservation of our world's cultural and natural heritage.
To date, close to 900 properties have been selected for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List based on their cultural and/or natural heritage values.
There are several marine conventions that address marine pollution. This is the first agreement that deals specifically with harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens contained in ship ballast water and sediments. The Convention seeks to prevent, minimize and eliminate the transfer of organisms and pathogens into the marine environment from these sources. Management and control requirements for ships as well as standards are set out in the Annexes to the Convention. Parties to the Convention should ensure that ballast water management practices do not cause greater harm than they prevent to their environment, human health, property or resources, or those of other States. Parties are also given the right to take more stringent measures, consistent with international law. .
This convention was adopted in 2004 but has not yet entered into force.
Social and economic issues, including food security and political stability are closely linked to land degradation and drought. So are environmental concerns, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity and reduced freshwater supplies. The objective of this Convention is to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa.
The Convention is being implemented through action programs. At the national level, they address the underlying causes of desertification and drought and identify measures to prevent and reverse it. National programs are complemented by subregional and regional programmes.
The Convention entered into force in 1996. More than 190 countries are parties to the Convention.
Biodiversity and climate change are closely linked, and each impacts upon the other: biodiversity is threatened by human-induced climate change, but the growth of biodiversity resources can reduce the impacts of climate change on population and ecosystems.
The Framework Convention on Climate Change establishes an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The Convention enjoys near universal membership, with 192 countries having ratified.
Under the Convention, parties:
    • gather and share information on greenhouse gas emissions, national policies and best practices
    • launch national strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to expected impacts, including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries 
    • cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change
The Convention entered into force on 21 March 1994.
The Kyoto Protocol cover page of the document is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These amount to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012.
The major distinction between the Protocol and the Convention is that while the Convention encouraged industrialized countries to stabilize GHG emissions, the Protocol commits them to do so.
Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.”
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. 184 Parties of the Convention have ratified its Protocol to date.
Navigational rights, territorial sea limits, economic jurisdiction, legal status of resources on the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, passage of ships through narrow straits, conservation and management of living marine resources, protection of the marine environment, a marine research regime and, a more unique feature, a binding procedure for settlement of disputes between States - these are among the important features of the treaty. In short, the Convention is an unprecedented attempt by the international community to regulate all aspects of the resources of the sea and uses of the ocean, and thus bring a stable order to mankind's very source of life.
This convention is an international agreement on plant health with 172 current signatory countries (Dec. 2009). It aims to protect cultivated and wild plants by preventing the introduction and spread of pests and to promote appropriate measures for their control. The Secretariat of the IPPC is provided by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
This agreement entered into force with the establishment of the World Trade Organization on 1 January 1995. It concerns the application of food safety and animal and plant health regulations. 
In September 2000, 191 countries adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration that led to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs are a set of specific targets for poverty reduction, health, education, gender equality, environmental sustainability and global partnerships to be reached by 2015.
Goal 7 of the MDGs is to ensure environmental sustainability. One target (target 2) specifically concerns biodiversity. The target is to reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss.
Here we present some of the regional agreements by geographic area. Web links are provided where available.
  • Africa
  • Asia
Plant protection
Marine habitats and their resources
  • South Pacific Islands
Nature Conservation
Marine habitats and their resources
  • South and Central America
Forest resources
Marine habitats and their resources
  • Caribbean
Marine habitats and their resources

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