21 Oct 2010
In a recent interview with the Wilson Centre’s Environmental Change and Security Programme, the director of the Global Environmental Governance Project, Dr. Maria Ivanova, made the following comment on the issue of global environmental governance: “Global environmental problems cannot be solved by one country or one region alone, and require a collective global response. But they can also not be addressed solely at the global level because they require action by individuals and organizations in particular geographies. The conundrum with climate change is that the countries and regions most affected are the ones least responsible for causing the problem in the first case. We cannot therefore simply substitute a national or regional response for a global action plan, as more often than not, it would be a case of “victim pays” rather than “polluter pays”—the fundamental principle of environmental policy in the United States and most other countries. Importantly, however, our global environmental institutions do not possess the requisite authority and ability to enforce agreements and sanction non-compliance.”
Substitute biodiversity loss for climate change in that statement, and you get some sense of the depressing reality of what faces the delegates here in Nagoya at a conference which is intended to address the world’s deepening ecological crisis. Never before has it been so clear that the continuing loss of biodiversity represents a suite of risks to the global economy, global health and global security. The failure to reach the 2010 target set by the CBD in 2002 (to significantly reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010) limits the likelihood of achieving the Millennium Development Goals in many countries, exacerbates the human and economic impacts of the energy, food and financial crises currently underway, and in many regions threatens the sustainability of strategies to implement the World Health Declaration. Yet there are growing concerns in and around the meeting rooms here that the process will achieve little more than a set of voluntary agreements towards another set of aspirational targets. The much anticipated global protocol on access to – and equitable sharing of the benefits from – genetic resources, for which there seemed to be so much excitement during the opening ceremony of the COP, seems unlikely to happen this year. No ABS agreement in 2010, then, and perhaps not even in 2012 when the COP meets again. Why? There seems to be not enough agreement or political will to see the right choices made, according to a senior figure in one conservation agency we met with here today. When we asked what was the likely outcome of the negotiations, his response was simple enough: “disaster”. One delegate we met from Africa was also downbeat about limited progress in some areas today.
Writing for the Guardian on the day the meeting opened, George Monbiot was critical of the CBD process and of the fact that the 20 point plan to save the world’s biodiversity is not much more than an idealist’s framework which could at most result in a set of voluntary actions. He commended Ahmed Djoghlaf, the Executive Secretary of the CBD, as someone who can listen to the criticisms of the process he oversees and respond in a constructive manner. But, as Dr. Maria Ivanova infers, it is the way with multilateral environmental processes that it makes no difference how devoted and passionate the people in charge of the conventions are, if the UN members do not agree to give those institutions the power to enforce or sanction any failure to commit. Even when long term economic security is at stake, it is often the case that short term economic concerns matter more.
There are plenty of people here fighting for more than just promises. Although the atmosphere is perhaps less positive or vibrant than earlier COP meetings, everyone is at least aware of the need to halt biodiversity loss as a matter of urgency, but political will may be lacking. Is it true, then that we are destined to a future of ever decreasing living resources, deepening poverty, increasing disease risk and disaster impact, and less and less security? Well, no, we don’t believe so. The next post will explain why.