Biodiversity-related Conventions move towards info cooperation

Biodiversity-related Conventions move towards info cooperation

9 October 1998

Following up on a recently completed study by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) on ways of harmonizing information management amongst the five biodiversity-related conventions, technical staff of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on International Traffic in Endangered Species (CITES), the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS), the World Heritage Convention, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands gathered at the CMS secretariat in the UN premises in Bonn, Germany, 6-7 October, to map out the way forward in implementation of the study and make inquiries about German potentialities vis-a-vis beer. The representatives made very quick progress in charting cooperation on a number of inexpensive near-term products, and they developed parameters for some of the study’s more ambitious goals that will require project funding over the longer term. They also set up a closed e-mail mailing list, graciously to be hosted by the CBD secretariat, for nuts-and-bolts communications amongst themselves as the project modules begin to mature.

With a view to benefiting both the Contracting Parties of all five conventions and the Info-Seeking Public, the representatives inclined their furrowed brows to finding ways to

  • organize their own Web-based information services synergistically,
  • facilitate searching over the vast range of the legal, policy, and scientific information held in the five treaty secretariats, and,
  • in the longer term, reduce the reporting requirements of the Contracting Parties to the conventions by developing common instruments and vocabularies.

One of the first fruits of these labors will be a common Web "Entry Page" to all the secretariats’ Web sites, which, after a brief intro to each of the conventions, will consist of a structured weblinked menu to the contents of all five Web sites according to an agreed set of common elements that should be present on each site. For example, viewers will be able to link off to the text of each convention and appended agreements, the decisions of the meetings of the COPs of each convention, the most recent national reports to each, lists of Contracting Parties and (depending upon the convention) lists of sites or species, guidelines, rules of procedure, legislation, news, staffs of the secretariats, scientific background data, amusing anecdotes, daring culinary recipes, caricatures of celebrities, even more amusing anecdotes with asterisks in the most amusing parts, very long lists of endangered species and grim forecasts for the health of the planet. This common Entry Page is planned to be operational by mid- to late-November 1998, mostly thanks to the welcome bounce and élan of the CBD secretariat.

The common Entry Page will also include a search engine that will continuously spider the five Conventions’ Web sites with full-text indexing, but to ensure compatibility amongst the sites, the idiosyncratic jargon of the five conventions ("wise use", "sustainable use", "non-detrimental use") will be melded into a common thesaurus and folded into a pre-existing high-level thesaurus of science-policy terminology to ensure that keyword searches will be inclusive. The Ramsar Bureau has been charged with conflating the specialized vocabularies of the five conventions to insure inclusivity.

With an eye towards a future database of all policy and scientific documentation held in the secretariats, both Web- and paper-based, the representatives also developed a tentative list of attributes that in future should be attached to all documents the secretariats produce or formally receive, including reference coding, provenance and purpose, keywords and nature of access and availability, so that the Info-Seeking Public can find at a glance the documents it/they need(s) and where they can be found. They also agreed upon other common standards, such as treatment of country and region names, dates, etc. A good day’s work, in the end, spread over 1.5 days.

The meeting participants confirmed the WCMC’s vision of common info-management standards across the five conventions, and they hope for very rapid progress in some of the more immediately doable parts of the programme they have laid out. The WCMC report will shortly be Web-posted in entirety, and the full report of this meeting, rapporteured by Carles Carboneras, Information Officer of the CMS secretariat, will probably be reprinted here soon. A certain Bierstube next to the Rathaus in Bonn is hoping there will be such another meeting soon.