What is the Global Taxonomy Initiative?
The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro gave birth to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The three goals of the CBD - conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of its components, and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources - have since then become prime points on the political agenda of most of the world's governments.
However, without taxonomy, none of the three objectives of the CBD can be met, not proximally at the national echelon, not ultimately at the global level. How can one adequately conserve biodiversity if one does not know its composing organisms? How can one sustainably use the components of biodiversity if one does not know unambiguously what these components are? How can one fairly and equitably share the genetic resources that arise from the diversity of life if one cannot characterise/differentiate the distinctive bearers of those resources?
In short, the CBD has from the very start craved for taxonomic data and expertise because the CBD needs:
- unique scientific names that denominate the components of biodiversity,
- the identifiers that underscore these names (e.g. characters and their states, gene sequences, distribution patterns etc.) and,
- the tools that taxonomy delivers to recognise the diversity of life (e.g. identification keys, barcodes, databases with taxonomic information, etc.).
Unfortunately, knowledge gaps in the taxonomy of many taxa continue to exist and the taxonomic workforce needed to cure these gaps is largely missing, especially in the developing world. A problem that the CBD has recognised as ‘the taxonomic impediment'.
In order to resolve the taxonomic impediment, the Global Taxonomy Initiative (GTI from here onwards) - a crosscutting issue of the Convention on Biological Diversity - was established. Already in 2002, a Program of Work (PoW from here onwards) was adopted (COP 6 Decision VI/8). This PoW holds several objectives that through specific activities must get implemented. However, build up and exchange of taxonomic data, expertise and infrastructure, technological and technical cooperation and guidance as to how the gained capacity must be used to achieve a better implementation of the Convention was initially not fully developed in the PoW. To that end, the 8th Conference of the Parties requested outcome-oriented deliverables for the planned activities as put in the PoW of the GTI (COP 8 Decision VIII/3). These were developed and adopted during COP-9 (cf. COP 9 Decision IX/22).
COP 9 Decision IX/22 definitely is a step forward for the GTI and taxonomy in general. The call for effective taxonomic work sounded louder than ever and, more important, targets for tangible taxonomic output were set. Some of these are very clear (e.g. produce keys to the bee genera of the world; elaborate field guides to marine algae,...), others more vague (e.g. achieve a more complete taxonomic needs assessments for at least two thematic areas or cross-cutting issues of the CBD by the end of 2009), others mere repetition of work already in progress (e.g. obtain a checklist of known species names).
The five operational objectives, the planned activities and the proposed outcome-oriented deliverables for each of them can be found in the annex of COP 9 Decision IX/22.