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      Summary table on the scientific advisory bodies and processes of the global biodiversity-related conventions



          Convention



          Scientific advisory body

          Membership of scientific advisory body

          Mandate, terms of reference, modus operandi

          Related scientific processes, rosters, working groups and tools

          Linkages between scientific and governance bodies

          Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)102

          Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA)

        • Open to participation by all Parties, it comprises government representatives competent in the relevant field of expertise, and to observers.

        • The Chair is elected at ordinary meetings of the COP; candidates should be recognized experts, qualified in the field of biodiversity and experienced in CBD and SBSTTA processes. S/he also chairs the Bureau. As a general rule, the chair rotates among regional groups.
        • The SBSTTA Bureau is composed of 10 members elected for fixed two-year terms by the Parties at SBSTTA meetings (2 from each of the 5 regional groups). They take office at the end of the meeting at which they are elected. In order to facilitate continuity only one of the regional representatives is replaced at each meeting.




          Article 25 establishes SBSTTA as an open-ended scientific advisory body to COP and, as appropriate, its other subsidiary bodies. As per Annex III of Decision VIII/10 (Consolidated modus operandi of the SBSTTA), its specific functions include, inter alia, to: provide assessments of the status of biological diversity; prepare assessments of the effects of types of measures taken in implementing the Convention; identify innovative, efficient and state-of-the-art technologies and know-how relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and advise on the ways and means of promoting their use; identify new and emerging issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity; provide advice on relevant scientific programmes and international cooperation; respond to scientific, technical, technological and methodological questions that the COP and its subsidiary bodies may put. Additional elements to its modus operandi are included in Decision IX.29. The meetings of the SBSTTA place as necessary and sufficiently in advance of each regular meeting of the COP.

        • Scientific processes include the review of programmes of work of the Convention (e.g. agricultural biodiversity) and other initiatives of the Convention (e.g. 2010 biodiversity target indicators) as well as CBD publications, such as the Global Biodiversity Outlook

        • SBSTTA establishes, under the guidance of the COP, ad hoc technical expert groups (AHTEG) on specific priority issues (e.g. on the Review of Implementation of the Programme of Work on Forest Biodiversity).
        • SBSTTA established a Roster of experts: however, its maintenance and use was discontinued (Decision VIII/10).


        • SBSTTA works closely with the CBD Clearing-House Mechanism (CHM) and the Consortium of Scientific Partners on Biodiversity as well as with other processes such as the CMS/FAO jointly convened Task Force on Avian Influenza.

        • The SBSTTA fulfils its mandate under the authority of, and in accordance with, guidance laid down by the COP, and upon its request.

        • As a subsidiary body of the COP, SBSTTA is to report regularly to the COP on all aspects of its work.

        • The SBSTTA, in carrying out its functions, supports the implementation of the multi-year programme of work of the COP and the Strategic Plan of the Convention, in a manner consistent with other internationally agreed goals relevant to the objectives of the Convention.

        • SBSTTA Chair to attend relevant meetings of the COP Bureau.

        • The AHTEGs are established under the guidance of the COP.

          Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

          Animals Committee

          Plants Committee

          Initially there was only one Technical Committee, and for some time there was a Nomenclature Committee.



          A proposal was made to merge the Committees, but this was rejected.

          For each of the 2 Committees:

        • Government-designated experts, serving in their personal capacity, elected at COP meetings as representative of six geographical regions. Ideally candidates should be, associated with a Scientific Authority and have appropriate experience.

        • One nomenclature expert, appointed by the CoP who would be ex-officio and non-voting;
        • Observers: any Party as well as any person/organization invited by the Chair.


        • A Chair and Vice-Chair are elected by the Committee.

        • Membership is reviewed at every regular COP meeting. Terms of office of members commence at the close of the meeting at which they are elected and expire at the close of the second regular meeting.

          Established at COP-6, the role of the Committees is to provide technical support to decision-making. They have similar terms of reference, detailed in Resolution Conf. 11.1 (Rev. CoP14), Annex 2, which include inter alia: providing scientific advice and guidance to the COP, the other committees, working groups and the Secretariat; dealing with nomenclatural issues; undertaking periodic reviews of species, in order to ensure appropriate listing; advising when certain species are subject to unsustainable trade and recommending remedial action (through a process known as the ’Review of Significant Trade’); and drafting resolutions on animal and plant matters for consideration by the COP. Doc SC54 Inf.4 describes the evolution of the ToRs of the Committees. The Committees meet twice between CoP meetings.

        • Regional directories prepared by the Committees, listing the zoologists and botanists who are experts in CITES-listed species in each Party.

        • Working Groups established under the Standing Committee or one of the scientific committees to assist it in implementing certain Decisions.

        • CITES trade database (maintained by UNEP-WCMC for the Secretariat).

        • Review of Significant Trade
        • CITES partners with other organizations in order to obtain the population status and distribution information that it does not regularly collect through its annual, biennial or special report.




        • The two Committees report to the CoP at its meetings and, if so requested, provide advice to the Standing Committee between such meetings.

        • The two Committees are invited on a regular basis to the meetings of the Standing Committee.



          Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS)

        • Scientific Council (ScC)

        • Open to participation by all Parties which are entitled to nominate a qualified expert who will be serving in individual capacity as scientists.

        • No more than eight additional experts, selected and appointed by COP, to specific topics related to taxa, threats, and geographic regions.

        • Observers: the Chairperson may invite any person or representative of any Party, non-Party State or organization to participate in meetings of the Council as an observer without the right to vote, and shall inform the Secretariat accordingly.

        • A Chair and a Vice-Chair elected by the members of the Council among the Party-appointed Councillors, for intervals corresponding to those of meetings of the COP.

        • Other than the experts appointed directly by the Parties, specialists appointed to the Council are reviewed at each ordinary meeting of the COP.

          Established in accordance with Article VIII of the Convention, the ScC provides scientific and technical advice to, inter alia, the Conference of the Parties, the Secretariat, and to any Party to the Convention. In particular, it advises, between the meetings of the Conference of the Parties, on the development and implementation of the Convention’s work programme from a scientific and technical standpoint, and advises on the priorities for sponsorship of conservation activities. Current Rules of Procedure were adopted by the Scientific Council on 8 April 1997 and approved by the Conference of the Parties on 15 April 1997 (e.g. UNEP/CMS/ScC15/Inf.2).

          The ScC should meet at least once between ordinary meetings of the COP. Meeting of the Council shall be convened at the request of the Chairperson or, in exceptional cases, of at least 1/3 of the members, in both cases in consultation with the Secretariat.


        • Working groups of the ScC may be established in order to further the Council’s work programme intersessionally, taking into account provisions of any relevant resolutions of the COP.

        • CMS/FAO jointly convened the Task Force on Avian Influenza and recently the CMS/FAO co-convened the Scientific Task Force on Wildlife Disease;

        • CMS Information Management System (IMS) and Global Register of Migratory Species (GROMS).

        • The ScC shall liaise, through its Chairperson or a member or members nominated for this purpose, with other comparable bodies established under the Convention.

        • A “Survey of the Expertise of Scientific Council Members” has been undertaken at the CMS ScC Activity Planning Meeting (13 June 2009).

        • The Chair shall submit to each ordinary meeting of the COP a written report on the Council’s work since the previous ordinary meeting.

        • The COP shall determine the functions of the ScC, and frequently directs the ScC to provide specific advice.

        • The ScC shall meet at the request of the Secretariat as required by the Conference of the Parties.

        • The Chair of the ScC shall liaise with other committees and with the Standing Committee between meetings of the Council.

        • The Chair of the Standing Committee shall have the right to participate in meetings of the Council as an observer without the right to vote.

        • The ScC has adopted a Strategic Implementation Plan that mirrors the Conventions’ Strategic Plan and guides the Convention’s Work.

          Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance

        • Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP)

        • Regional representatives appointed for each of the six Ramsar regions.


        • Thematic experts relevant to the STRP priority thematic work areas (approved by COP). For these members, gender and regional balance is sought, with appointed members based in different Ramsar countries or regions and/or from northern and southern parts of the world. One additional member appointed with expertise in Communications, Education, Participation & Awareness. These experts are appointed by the STRP Oversight Committee.

        • Each of the Convention’s International Organization Partners (IOPs) is a member of the Panel.

        • Observers: a list of invited observer organizations, as per COP Resolutions.

        • The Chairperson is appointed by the STRP Oversight Committee as supernumerary post, while the Vice Chairperson is appointed by the same Committee from amongst the appointed STRP members.

        • The Panel shall seek additional expertise as and when required through various means, including through collaboration with the scientific advisory bodies of other international conventions and agencies, and through IOPs, STRP invited observers and STRP invited experts.

        • A minimum of 1/3 of the appointed members of the STRP should be reappointed for a second terme.

          Established by Resolution 5.5 to provide scientific and technical guidance to the Conference of the Parties, the Standing Committee, and the Ramsar secretariat. Current modus operandi for 2009-2012 based on Resolution IX.11 with refinements in Resolution X.9. As per Resolution X.10, ongoing functions of the STRP include, inter alia, (i) strategic scientific and technical advice; (ii) ongoing advisory functions; (iii) STRP National Focal Points – support and network development; (iv) CEPA advice on guidance preparation; and (v) review of draft COP Resolutions. Two meetings of the STRP as well as midterm workshops are held in the period intersessional to the COP.


        • Thematic Work Area (TWA) Working Groups within the STRP, to be led or co-led by appointed STRP members. Membership may include inter alia other appointed STRP members, representatives of STRP observer organizations, STRP National Focal Points with relevant expertise, and other invited experts.

        • A small task force for the delivery of a particular high priority task in the STRP’s programme for the period can be established by a Working Group or the Chairperson.

        • Affiliated centres and committees (e.g. MedWet Committee, Ramsar Regional Center for Central and Western Asia, Ramsar, Iran).

        • STRP Support Service, operated by Wetlands International.

        • Indicators of Effectiveness of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

        • Member of the CMS/FAO jointly convened Task Force on Avian Influenza

        • Review of scientific and technical support amongst partners to improve core science foundation support to the STRP and the Ramsar Convention, as agreed at the 26th meeting of the Standing Committee.

        • The Chair of the STRP will report to each Standing Committee meeting on the STRP progress.

        • STRP will report to the Standing Committee on any adjustments to its programme it considers necessary and on new tasks proposed during the intersessional period in relation to emerging issues.
        • STRP Oversight Committee composed of the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee, the Chair and Vice-Chair of the STRP, and the Secretary General and the Deputy Secretary General ex officio. Among its responsibilities: (i) appoint the members, Chair and Vice Chair of STRP and (ii) provide intersessional advice, guidance and support to the operations of the Panel under the revised modus operandi.


        • The Standing Committee will continue to have overall responsibility for the work of the STRP.

        • Participation of StC Chair in STRP meetings, and participation of STRP Chair in StC meetings.

        • The value of participation by STRP members in meetings of the COP and Standing Committee has been emphasised by the COP (Resolution X.9).



          World Heritage Convention (WHC)

          Three organizations are named in the Convention as advisory bodies, IUCN, ICOMOS and ICCROM

        • IUCN is an international organization which brings together national governments, NGOs, and scientists in a worldwide partnership.

        • ICOMOS is an international non-governmental organization.

        • ICCROM is an international intergovernmental organization established by UNESCO.

          The bodies’ roles are to: a) advise on the implementation of the Convention in the field of their expertise; b) assist the Secretariat, in the preparation of the Committee's documentation, the agenda of its meetings and the implementation of the Committee’s decisions; c) assist with the development and implementation of the Global Strategy for a Representative, Balanced and Credible World Heritage List, the Global Training Strategy, Periodic Reporting, and the strengthening of the effective use of the World Heritage Fund; d) monitor the state of conservation of World Heritage properties and review requests for International Assistance; e) in the case of ICOMOS and IUCN evaluate properties nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List and present evaluation reports to the Committee; and (f) attend meetings of the World Heritage Committee and the Bureau in an advisory capacity. Specific roles for IUCN, ICOMOS, ICCROM are contained in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the WHC (Section I.G).


        • Thematic initiatives, e.g. “Central Africa World Heritage Forest Initiative”; and “Climate Change and World Heritage”.

        • World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA); and its utilization by IUCN for its thematic studies.

        • Reactive monitoring, i.e. the reporting by the World Heritage Centre, other sectors of UNESCO and the advisory bodies to the Committee on the state of conservation of specific World Heritage properties that are under threat.

        • Additionally support from the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).



        • IUCN and ICOMOS report to the World Heritage Committee.

        • IUCN, ICOMOS, and ICCROM attend the meetings of the Committee and of the Bureau.



          International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA)

          The second session of the Governing Body agreed that establishment of a permanent subsidiary body was premature, and that ad hoc technical bodies with focused, specialised and outcome-oriented ToRs offered the best approach for the time being.





        • Panel of experts for project appraisal.

        • FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA).

        • The FAO State of the World on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, which also contributes to the development and implementation of the Global Plan of Action.
        • Ongoing collaboration with FAO on the development of the global information system on PGRFA.


        • Global Crop Diversity Trust.





      Summary descriptions of the scientific advisory bodies and processes for the global biodiversity-related conventions and Rio conventions

        Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA)

  1. Article 25 of the Convention establishes SBSTTA “to provide the Conference of the Parties and, as appropriate, its other subsidiary bodies with timely advice relating to the implementation of the Convention” and anticipates that the body will be multidisciplinary, and “shall comprise government representatives competent in the relevant field of expertise”. The following tasks: (a) Provide scientific and technical assessments of the status of biological diversity; (b) Prepare scientific and technical assessments of the effects of types of measures taken in accordance with the provisions of this Convention; c) Identify innovative, efficient and state-of-the-art technologies and know-how relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and advise on the ways and means of promoting development and/or transferring such technologies; (d) Provide advice on scientific programmes and international cooperation in research and development related to conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity; and (e) Respond to scientific, technical, technological and methodological questions that the Conference of the Parties and its subsidiary bodies may put to the body.
  2. COP 5 recognized the need to improve the quality of scientific, technical and technological advice provided to the COP103 and to undertake sound scientific and technical assessments on issues critical for the implementation of the Convention. The COP requested SBSTTA to continue to improve the way it conducts its work, and asked SBSTTA to identify and develop methods for undertaking or participating in scientific assessments, to undertake a limited number of pilot scientific assessment projects, and to identify and regularly update assessment priorities and information needs (decision V/20). In response, SBSTTA 6 and SBSTTA 9 addressed assessments, and SBSTTA 8 considered a draft strategic plan for the subsidiary body.


  3. COP 7 tasked the Ad Hoc Open-ended Working Group on Review of Implementation of the Convention (WGRI) with a review of the impacts and effectiveness of existing processes under the Convention, including SBSTTA (decision VII/30). Following the 1st meeting of WGRI, COP 8 endorsed a consolidated modus operandi for SBSTTA. The consolidated modus operandi identifies strategic ways and means of improving the quality of scientific, technical and technological advice of SBSTTA as follows (decision VIII/10):

        “Improving the scientific, technical and technological inputs into SBSTTA meetings by, inter alia: (a) Strengthening relationships with the scientific and technical community through: (i) providing material about the work of the Subsidiary Body in a format that is accessible and relevant to the scientific and technical community; (ii) Actively disseminating the results of the work of the Subsidiary Body through scientific literature, both as reporting items and scientific papers, as reviewed and approved by the Conference of the Parties; (iii) Participating in, and contributing to, the scientific and technical components of other biodiversity-related processes; (iv) Using other bodies as a bridge between the Subsidiary Body and the scientific and technical community in relation to work programmes; (v) Engaging the scientific community in scientific assessments.

        “Improving the scientific, technical and technological debate during SBSTTA meetings by, inter alia: (a) Raising delegates’ awareness about, and encouraging informal debate on, key issues through the provision of scientific and technical publications, keynote speakers, poster sessions, round-table debates and other side events during meetings of the Subsidiary Body; (b) Identifying other opportunities to prepare delegates, particularly those with limited experience, for the discussions on scientific and technical matters; (c) Dedicating sufficient time to the consideration of results of scientific and technical assessments. 


  1. COP 8 also discussed the handling of new and emerging issues, and in decision VIII/10 added to the list of functions that SBSTTA carries out “identify new and emerging issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity”.

  2. The modus operandi of SBSTTA allows for the establishment of a relatively limited number of Ad Hoc Expert Groups (AHTEGs) on specific issues identified by the COP to ‘provide scientific and technical advice and assessments. The establishment of AHTEGs is guided by the following104:

        1. AHTEGs should “draw on the existing knowledge and competence available within, and liaise with as appropriate, international, regional and national organizations, including non-governmental organizations and the scientific community, as well as indigenous and local community organizations and the private sector”;

        2. SBSTTA is requested, whenever it convenes AHTEGs “to provide oversight to ensure that terms of reference clearly indicate their mandate, duration of operation, expected outcomes and reporting requirements, and that their mandates are limited to the provision of scientific and technical advice and assessments”;

        3. Parties are asked to nominate experts for AHTEG meetings, and in doing so are requested “to give priority to the nomination of appropriate scientific and technical experts”, from these nominations, the Executive Secretary, in consultation with the SBSTTA Bureau, selects up to fifteen “scientific and technical experts from the nominations submitted by Parties” for each AHTEG and can also invite a limited number of experts; and
        4. The reports produced by the AHTEG should, as a general rule, “be submitted for peer review” (which is particularly important as the number of participants is capped).


  1. To date AHTEGs have reviewed and reported on a wide range of issues based on terms of reference usually prepared by SBSTTA and agreed by COP. These issues are as follows: inland water biodiversity, marine and coastal protected areas; mariculture; forest biodiversity; biodiversity of dry and sub-humid lands; genetic use restriction technologies; biological diversity and climate change; in-depth review of the implementation of the programme of work on forest biodiversity; mountain biodiversity; integrated marine and coastal area management; protected areas; technology transfer and scientific and technical cooperation; gaps and inconsistencies in the international regulatory frameworks in relation to invasive alien species; indicators for assessing progress towards the 2010 target; and island biodiversity. Based on SBSTTA recommendations, the COP has frequently welcomed and made extensive use of AHTEG reports.

  2. Each in depth review of an issue by SBSTTA is informed by a document prepared by the Secretariat summarising the status and trends in biodiversity, and providing an overview of the drivers and the impact of measures taken. Even when no AHTEG has taken place, these documents are based on consultations, and undergo review by key experts.
  3. The original modus operandi of SBSTTA included the compilation of rosters of experts in the relevant fields of the Convention, with the following purpose: “The experts on the rosters are invited to make available, upon request of the Executive Secretary, Parties or other countries and relevant bodies, their specific expertise in order to contribute to the further development of the scientific, technical and technological issues of the work programme of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Such requests could entail, inter alia, peer reviews, questionnaires, clarifications or examinations of scientific, technological and technical issues, specific contributions to the compilation of documents, participation in global and regional workshops and assisting in connecting the Convention-process to international, regional and national scientific, technical and technological processes (decision IV/16). However, through decision VIII/10, the COP decided to discontinue the use of the roster of experts.


  4. In summary, the Convention has taken up the challenge of improving the quality of scientific, technical and technological advice provided to the COP, and of undertaking sound scientific and technical assessments on issues critical for the implementation of the Convention. There have been several suggestions for improving the workings and operations of SBSTTA, including the endorsement of a consolidated modus operandi. SBSTTA and COP have drawn extensively on the reports of AHTEGs, which comprise experts nominated by Parties and selected by the Executive Secretary in cooperation with the SBSTTA Bureau. The use of a roster of experts in relevant fields of the Convention was discontinued in favour of the more flexible mechanism of Party nominations of experts for AHTEG meetings and other purposes.

  5. However, despite all efforts, in the closing session of SBSTTA 13 in 2008, concerns were expressed at the failure to make significant progress, and one Party expressed “disappointment that despite the scientific and technical advice mandate of SBSTTA, there had been very little focus on scientific and technical issues during the thirteenth meeting” and that “SBSTTA must refocus its work to deal with scientific, technical and technological issues in order to fulfil its mandate” (report of SBSTTA 13, document UNEP/CBD/COP/9/3).




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