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What is the GTI?

The Global Taxonomy Initiative was started by governments, under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and is implemented by many actors including governments, non-government and international organisations, as well as taxonomists and the institutions where they work. Taxonomy is important for all types of ecosystems, and therefore the initiative is a cross-cutting issue applicable to all of the work under the Convention.

Why the GTI?

Taxonomy is the science that detects, describes, names and, through the application of the theory of evolution, classifies all organisms. Through this process taxonomists have achieved far-going causal understanding of past and present biodiversity. Although in the framework of the CBD only extant organisms are considered, taxonomists also study extinct life forms, including so-called neo-extinctions that result from human interference, either directly (e.g. hunting to the very last individual, cf. the dodo) or indirectly (e.g. habitat perturbation by pollution, cf. the Chinese dolphin or baiji).

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 craves 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 mega-diverse countries of the developing world. A problem that the CBD has recognised as ‘the taxonomic impediment'. In order to resolve this taxonomic impediment, the Global Taxonomy Initiative (GTI) was set up under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Its overacting objectives are:

  • adequately assess the global and the local taxonomic needs;
  • swiftly develop a satisfying amount of human and infrastructural capacity so that taxonomic research will speed up;
  • improve the access to taxonomic know-how and information and, thereby improve decision-making in biological conservation.

More information on why taxonomy matters is available on the site of BioNET INTERNATIONAL.

How does the GTI operate?

Since the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP-6) an operational programme of work (PoW) for the GTI has been endorsed (Decision VI/8). This PoW set the following 5 operational objectives:

Operational objective 1- Assess taxonomic needs and capacities at national, regional and global levels for the implementation of the Convention.
Operational objective 2 - Provide focus to help build and maintain the human resources, systems and infrastructure needed to obtain, collate and curate the biological specimens that are the basis for taxonomic knowledge.
Operational objective 3 - Facilitate an improved and effective infrastructure/system for access to taxonomic information; with priority on ensuring that countries of origin gain access to information concerning elements of their biodiversity.
Operational objective 4 - Within the major thematic work programmes of the Convention include key taxonomic objectives to generate information needed for decision-making in conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and its components.
Operational objective 5 - Within the work on cross-cutting issues of the Convention, include key taxonomic objectives to generate information needed for decision-making in conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and its components.

At its eighth meeting, the COP carried out an in depth revision of the PoW and made some amendments and additions in Decision VIII/3. Most eye-catching was the request to: (i) develop specific taxonomic, outcome-oriented and timed deliverables for each of the planned activities of the PoW, (ii) establish a widely accessible checklist of known species names and, (iii) set on track a special fund for the GTI.

Arising from Decision VIII/3, Decision IX/22 endorsed the identified set of outcome-oriented deliverables, and emphasised that continuing capacity-building activities in taxonomy (including taxonomic training) would be needed to implement them. Decision IX/22 can safely be considered an important step forward for the GTI as it resonates the call for effective taxonomic work louder then ever and, more important, sets specific and timed targets for taxonomic output. Some of these targets are very clear (e.g. keys to the bee genera of the world by 2012; produce a guide to the major groups of marine algae by 2012,...), others remain more vague (e.g. 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. checklist of known species names).

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