The term "clearing-house" originally referred to a financial establishment where checks and bills are exchanged among member banks so that only the net balances need to be settled in cash. Today, its meaning has been extended to include any agency that brings together seekers and providers of goods, services or information, thus matching demand with supply.
The clearing-house is based on the philosophy that broad participation and easy access must be a top priority. Its database can therefore be tapped through both traditional and electronic means of communication. Special efforts are made to ensure the participation of indigenous communities, whose unique knowledge and expertise are so important.
The clearing-house is coordinated by the Executive Secretary and overseen and guided by an informal Advisory Committee (IAC) set up by the Parties to the Convention. The committee works in a transparent and cooperative manner to promote awareness of the multiple needs and concerns facing various communities, countries and regions.
The COP has adopted certain guidance to Parties with regard to the development of the CHM. COP 2 called on Parties that had not already done so to designate their national focal point for the CHM [decision II/3 paragraph 7]. COP 4, inter alia,
·recommended that each Party organise an appropriate multidisciplinary national CHM steering committee or working group [decision IV/2 paragraph 3];
·recommended that in building up the content of information in the CHM at the national, subregional, and regional level, the following be included: country profiles; biodiversity strategies and action plans; appropriate legislation; scientific and technological information; and financial sources [decision IV/2 paragraph 5(a)]; and
·requested Parties to link their national CHMs to the Secretariat CHM via the internet where possible [decision IV/2 paragraph 6].
As noted above, Annex I to decision V/14 contains further specific guidance to Parties with regard to the development of the CHM.
Promote and facilitate technical and scientific cooperation, within and between countries·
Develop a global mechanism for exchanging and integrating information on biodiversity·
Develop the necessary human and technological network
Compatible with different levels of national capacity·
Provides access to information·
Has no vested interest in controlling the expertise or information·
Created for the mutual benefit of all participants
As of 30 November 2000 there are 152 CHM National Focal Points (104 of which have email and 41 of which have web sites). The clearing-house mechanism seeks to support the Convention's thematic and cross-cutting programmes of work by promoting cooperation in six key areas: tools for decision-making, training and capacity-building, research, funding, technology transfer, and the repatriation of information.
The mechanism's first priority was to ensure universal access to the Convention's official records. The texts of the Convention and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, lists of signatories and Parties, and official reports and documents have been made available through the Convention's website, on CD-ROM and in paper form.
Since then, the range of available information has been greatly expanded. Users can now readily access case studies, national and other reports, and initiatives and programmes such as the Global Taxonomy Initiative and those on sustainable tourism and traditional knowledge. Technical and scientific expertise is promoted through a roster of government-nominated experts in relevant fields relevant.
The clearing-house also seeks to increase public awareness of Convention programmes and issues. It is establishing an Internet-based system to facilitate greater collaboration among countries through education and training projects, research cooperation, funding opportunities, access to and transfer of technology, and repatriation of information.
Experts are being linked to facilitate joint work programmes. For example, the mechanism works with the Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP) and with the Convention's scientific body to develop a joint scientific initiative on invasive alien species. The clearing-house also strives to link the rich human resources of developing countries with cutting-edge scientific initiatives in developed countries to create a mutually supportive and beneficial approach to problem-solving.
Still another initiative is the creation of a section dedicated to the Biosafety Clearing-House to support the Cartagena Protocol. The will allow the clearing-house mechanism to facilitate the exchange of scientific, technical, environmental and legal information and experience relating to living modified organisms (LMOs).
The secretariat of the Convention is promoting the clearinghouse and its goals through workshops addressing the scientific and technical information needs of developing countries. These workshops give priority to issues identified by the countries themselves, such as assessing national capacities for implementing the Convention, improving access to new information technologies and expertise, and strengthening education and public awareness.