United Nations

7th Earthwatch Working Party


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Invasive Species

Invasive species are organisms (usually transported by humans) which successfully establish themselves in, and then overcome, otherwise intact, pre-existing native ecosystems. Invasive species constitute a global-scale problem affecting inter alia health, agricultural potential, and biodiversity. Increasing global trade and changing land use patterns may aggravate this problem in the coming years. Pest prevention and control have been on-going for many decades but many countries still lack the expertise or have limited access to technology to overcome this problem. The control of invasive species can be difficult, if not impossible, making prevention particularly important. The invasion of alien species continues to cause biodiversity loss and can have negative economic impacts. Despite the fact that a considerable amount of information now exists on invasive species, that information is not easily accessible.
Eradication, control, mitigation of their impacts combined with legislation and guidelines at national, regional and international levels are some of the ways that the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is addressing the issue of Invasive species. Paragraph h of Article 8 (In-situ conservation) of the Convention notes that "Each Contracting Party shall, as far as possible and as appropriate, ….prevent the introduction of, control or eradicate those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or species;…". The Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) of CBD identified alien species that threaten ecosystems as a priority issue for discussion both at its sixth meeting and for the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the convention. In thematic national reports sent to SBSTTA, countries indicated that while the effect of invasive alien species was a very important issues for biodiversity management, most countries ability to address the issue was extremely limited and national capacity-building and facilitation of collaborative efforts were therefore essential.
SBSTTA has noted that there is an urgent need to address the impact of invasive alien species. It has also noted that while different multilateral processes address specific aspects of invasive species there are gaps, overlaps and inconsistencies in existing instruments at all levels.
The Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG) is part of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of IUCN. The ISSG is a global group of 146 scientific and policy experts on invasive species from 41 countries. ISSG provides advice on threats from invasive species and control or eradication methods to IUCN members, conservation practitioners, and policy-makers. The group's activities focus primarily on invasive species that cause biodiversity loss, with particular attention to those that threaten oceanic islands. It aims to reduce threats to natural ecosystems and the native species they contain by increasing awareness of invasions and of ways to prevent control or eradicate them.

The Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP) was established in 1997 to develop the knowledge base; the scientific, technical, economical and institutional tools; and a global strategy to deal with invasive species, thus helping to maintain biological diversity. The programme is coordinated by SCOPE (Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment), in conjunction with IUCN (World Conservation Union), CAB-I (Commonwealth Bureau of Agriculture - International) and UNEP. GISP also contributes to DIVERSITAS, an international partnership on biodiversity science and is linked to the action of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

GISP hopes to assemble the best information and approaches for prevention and management, to disseminate them in the form of databases, manuals and capacity-building training programs to governments and communities, and to lay the groundwork for new tools in science, information management, education, and policy that must be developed through collaborative international action. Further, the programme hopes to assist countries to meet the obligations of Article 8h of the Convention on Biological Diversity as described above.

The GISP Global Clearing House for invasive species will provide information on scientific, technical and other aspects of invasive species and support to scientific and technical co-operation on related issues. GISP hopes to foster co-operation and co-ordination between international institutions involved in work on invasive species.

There may be other partners in Earthwatch that could contribute information to this effort. The Working Party members may wish to discuss data collection, response to the impact of invasive species, what other UN partners should be involved in related work, and whether any strategic planning or coordination of efforts are necessary on this issue.


Vulnerability is an issue resulting, for example, from exposure to natural disasters or due to increased poverty and has direct economic effects that can lead to consequent environmental effects. In the context of these two situations, the work being undertaken by the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are particularly relevant.

ISDR serves as the focal point within the United Nations system for the coordination of strategies and programmes for natural disaster reduction, and ensures synergy between disaster reduction strategies and those in the socio-economic and humanitarian field. The secretariat of ISDR also serves as an international clearing house for the dissemination and exchange of information and knowledge on disaster reduction strategies. In addition, ISDR aims to increase public awareness of the risks that natural hazards and related technological and environmental disasters pose to societies, and to increase awareness of existing solutions to reduce vulnerability to hazards, in order to build a global community dedicated to making risk and disaster prevention a public value. To raise public awareness of disaster reduction, there is a need for standardized and widely known indicators to assess risk and implement early warning systems and mitigation programs.

Exchange of experience and approaches between local communities, cities, countries and regions is being targeted as an effective means of increasing public awareness, which may enable vulnerable communities to apply best practices and techniques to both risk management and disaster reduction. To this end ISDR means to develop sustained programmes of public information, include disaster prevention in educational programmes and curricula and institutionalize training pertaining to hazards and their impact, risk management and disaster prevention practices, for all age-groups. As part of its strategy, the ISDR theme for the 2001 World Disaster Reduction Campaign is Countering Disasters, Targeting Vulnerability. The aim of the Campaign is to give practical examples of what societies may do to be less vulnerable to natural hazards such as earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods, droughts and landslides.

The ability to survive and recover from a natural disaster is not only linked to the type and importance of the disaster itself but also to the socio-economic conditions of the inhabitants of the affected area. At the Millennium Summit held in September 2000 in New York, the world's leaders pledged to mobilize political will, financial resources and innovative policies to cut global poverty in half by 2015. UNDP is charged with helping to make this happen. For the past four years, UNDP has led a global campaign to commemorate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (IDEP). In 2001, the theme is the role of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in poverty reduction.

UNDP is in the process of producing an annual World Vulnerability Report to promote the role of effective policy frameworks and best practice examples in reducing disasters. The report will highlight the evolution of patterns of risk and vulnerability and promote the adoption of appropriate policies, legislation and governance structures for managing and mitigating disasters. As part of the report, UNDP will also present a Global Risk-Vulnerability Index, which will assess countries according to their relative disaster risk levels over time.

Poverty is considered to be a central component of vulnerability. The relationship between socio-economic conditions and possible impact on the environment can be demonstrated in the siting of housing for and by the poor on land not suited for construction or within the confines of fragile ecosystems. Lack of planning in these instances, can lead to erosion, deforestation and habitat destruction including uncontrolled wastes, lack of suitable water and consequent health impacts.

Closely related to this is the problem of vulnerability arising from food insecurity.
The World Food Summit (Rome, November 1996) recognized the urgency of improving the information available to governments, their international partners and all members of civil society in every country, in order to guide their actions against food insecurity and to make them as effective as possible. As a result, in 1997, the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information Mapping System was launched as a co-operative venture among about twenty multi- or bi-lateral organizations, inter- or non-governmental organizations in order to assist countries and the international community to identify the "who, where and why" threatened by food insecurity.

UNEP, as part of its environmental early warning mandate, is concerned about the long-term vulnerability of communities and countries to environmental resource degradation and global change, as exemplified in the Global Environment Outlook reports.

Taking these issues into account, the Working Party members may wish to review which organizations are active in the field of vulnerability information, look for compatibility and aim for coherence in work being undertaken, as well as to determine ways to assist countries needing information on any of the above-mentioned issues.

Coral reefs

Coral reefs are one of the world's richest and most productive ecosystems, but also one of the most sensitive to human impacts. The widespread bleaching and die-off of corals over the last few years has been linked to climate change and global warming including the El Niño event in 1998. Reefs are also stressed by over-fishing, destructive fishing practices, heavy tourist use and land-based sources of pollution. They are smothered by sediment and choked by algae growing on nutrient rich sewage and fertilizer run-off. Coral reefs are being affected by the spread of coral diseases that, in recent years, have decimated entire reef areas of the Caribbean. Another concern is the recent discovery that coral reefs are threatened by rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which may lower calcification rates of corals, coralline algae and coral-algal communities Coral reefs are the first major ecosystem to show significant widespread impacts of human induced global change

In response, the UNEP Coral Reef Unit was established in December 2000 within the Division of Environmental Conventions, in close collaboration with the Division of Early Warning and Assessment and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and is helping to lead international efforts to save the planet's threatened coral reefs. It works actively with international partners around the world to increase international, national and local support for coral reef conservation and sustainable use. It is responsible for UNEP's participation in the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN) which is leading action to reverse the decline in coral reefs, build consensus and public awareness on principal causes of coral stress, and improve coordination, integration and delivery of practical information, assistance and training on coral reef management. Through assessment, awareness-raising, training and demonstration projects in four Regional Seas (the Caribbean, Eastern Africa, East Asia and the South Pacific), ICRAN will catalyse action worldwide. ICRAN is an initiative of several global organizations active in coral reef conservation and sustainable use, supported by the United Nations Foundation. Data and reports on monitoring and assessment projects on coral reefs are used to communicate coral reef information to ICRAN partners, other key stakeholders, scientists and policy makers.

There is scope for wider collaboration among UN system partners on coral reffs. Working Party members may wish to inform the meeting of any activities related to coral reef protection in which they are involved and to determine the need for further concerted action in this field.

Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety

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 advance 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 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.

The biosafety clearing-house is expected to facilitate the exchange of scientific, technical, environmental and legal information on, and experience with, living modified organisms and to assist Parties to implement the Protocol, taking into account the special needs of developing countries, in particular the least developed and small island developing States among them, and countries with economies in transition as well as countries that are centres of origin and centres of genetic diversity.

Capacity building is one of the critical elements for the effective implementation of the Protocol. Article 22 (Capacity-building) of the Protocol states that "Parties shall cooperate in the development and/or strengthening of human resources and institutional capacities in biosafety, including biotechnology, to the extent that it is required for biosafety, for the purpose of the effective implementation of this Protocol, in developing country Parties, in particular the least developed and small island developing States among them, and in Parties with economies in transition, including through existing global, regional, sub-regional and national institutions and organizations and, as appropriate, through facilitating private sector involvement. For the purposes of implementing paragraph 1 above, in relation to cooperation, the needs of developing country Parties, in particular the least developed and small island developing States among them, for financial resources and access to and transfer of technology and know-how in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, shall be taken fully into account for capacity-building in biosafety. Cooperation in capacity-building shall, subject to the different situation, capabilities and requirements of each Party, include scientific and technical training in the proper and safe management of biotechnology, and in the use of risk assessment and risk management for biosafety, and the enhancement of technological and institutional capacities in biosafety. The needs of Parties with economies in transition shall also be taken fully into account for such capacity-building in biosafety."

In view of the above, Working Party members might consider what role can be played by Earthwatch partners to assist countries to adhere to the requirements of the Biosafety Protocol, including determining what relevant information systems there are on living modified organisms and their relatives, and which issues could be considered inter-agency issues concerning information for decision-making on the topic.



7th Working Party


UNEP/DEWA/Earthwatch 1996-2003