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Stepping up the fight for life (1)

Ahmed Djoghlaf is the executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. In the run up to a key summit on species protection, he tells Olivia Boyd and Joydeep Gupta why failure to reach agreement is not an option.

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Olivia Boyd: Remarkably few people seem to know there is a big summit on biodiversity next month, according to recent polls. Has the issue been given too little attention compared to, say, emissions reduction?

Ahmed Djoghlaf: Absolutely. I think one of the major problems we are facing with the unprecedented loss of biodiversity is the lack of awareness and sometimes, for policymakers, indifference. In May, we issued the Global Biodiversity Outlook – based on 150 reports we received from national governments. The news is very bad, and very frightening. The report confirmed that the loss of biodiversity today is maybe 1,000 times higher than the natural rate of extinction. And 89% of the reports we received indicated that climate change is emerging as a major driving force behind loss of biodiversity.

The report also predicts that if business-as-usual is allowed to continue, we will very soon reach what experts call the tipping point, meaning a state of irreparable and irreversible damage to the ecosystems and the services the planet offers. And it predicts the state of biodiversity in the million years to come will be determined in the few decades to come. Therefore, we call on all governments and stakeholders to participate, to raise the flag and say business-as-usual is not possible and we need – all of us – to change our relationship with nature.

On 22 September, we had a meeting in the UN general assembly. For the first time since the UN’s establishment in 1945, we had 192 heads of state or representatives discussing biodiversity for a whole day. The summary of that discussion will be sent to [the UN-led biodiversity conference in] Nagoya [in Japan], where we expect 10,000 participants and where a new strategic plan will be adopted. The strategy plan contains vision for 2050 – a long term target – and a short term target for 2020.

Joydeep Gupta: Countries around the world have failed to fulfil their 2002 commitments to preserve biodiversity. You and your colleagues have said this was because they failed to account for the value of biodiversity in their national plans. What gives you the confidence that countries will change their planning processes now?

AD: In 2002, in Johannesburg, 110 heads of state agreed to reduce the loss of biodiversity by 2010. In 2001, in Gothenburg [in Sweden], the European Union decided to stop the loss of biodiversity by 2010. But these targets have not been integrated as a national priority – they have remained at the conference level, at the [UN] general assembly, at the G8 summit. It was just lip service. We will not achieve the objective simply by gathering together, adopting the decision and reaffirming that we shall do it.

Any target that is adopted in Nagoya needs to be integrated as a national and local priority. All the parties without exception will be required to revise their national biodiversity strategies and action plans between 2010 and 2012. The strategy plans are the vehicle for translating the agreement of the consensus at international level into national action. Since the 1990s, 140 countries have adopted national strategy and action plans, but most of them are sitting on the shelf and they have also been completely outstripped by the events. We are also asking the mayors – and we will have 300 mayors attending the meeting – to have the same strategy plan at the city level, and also at the local and prefectural level.

It’s not only about having a plan, but also a means of implementation. The strategy plan that will be adopted in Nagoya will also have a full section on this, including the provision of new and additional financial resources, capacity building, the exchange of experience and promotion of best practice. And this plan will have monitoring and evaluation. We shall not get to 2020 and say we have failed. We will have a mid-term evaluation in 2015 and we are also calling on the UN general assembly in New York to have a heads of state meeting on September 2, 2015 to assess progress or failure in order to take the corrective measures. The governments will be obliged to submit a national report in 2015 on how they have implemented this Nagoya target and a final report in 2019, a year before the target deadline.

In addition, Japan, for example, has decided to establish a biodiversity fund in order to support developing countries in implementing the plan. It’s a substantial amount of money and the prime minister of Japan will announce it in Nagoya. Something else of tremendous importance will be a plan of action on south-south [developing world] cooperation. Some countries in the south like China, India, Brazil and South Africa have a status where they can and are morally obliged to help other countries in the south.

Lastly, these action plans will be accompanied by what we believe to be the most important legal instrument on environment, which is a protocol on access and benefit sharing (ABS) arising from the utilisation of genetic resources, which will also be adopted in Nagoya.

OB: Can you explain this a little? What would such a system mean for biodiversity protection?

AD: This is the result of an almost 18-year negotiation process. The idea is to give access to genetic resources in, say, the Amazon or Congo to cosmetic companies, pharmaceuticals, agro-biodiversity companies, to allow them to use the genetic resources as they have been doing, but to share the benefit arising from the commercialisation of the genetic resources with the owners of biodiversity – the indigenous people, the local communities. This will improve livelihoods and give people an incentive to protect biodiversity. Without an incentive, the local communities have no reason to protect biodiversity. This will be a major instrument for implementing the Millennium Development Goals, alleviating poverty, protecting biodiversity and achieving sustainable development.

JG: How confident are you of an effective agreement on ABS given diplomats have so far failed to finalise a draft?

AD: I am 100% convinced that no one in Nagoya can afford failure. Japan is very committed because they don’t want another Copenhagen. They have a very powerful ambassador for this meeting, who is travelling from capital to capital in Brazil, in India, in China, in the US to try to bridge the differences between the major users of biodiversity and the major owners of biodiversity.

All the ministers have been briefed about the outstanding issues and, if they cannot resolve them, to have a roadmap to resolve them after the adoption of the protocol. We don’t need to agree everything on 29 October. If you take climate change for example, we first had the framework convention on climate change in Rio, and we had the Kyoto Protocol five years later. But we need to agree on basic principles, on a legally binding treaty – and after that, we have time. This will be a fantastic political statement, a fantastic message from the OECD [developed world] countries.

The north [developed world] sometimes has short-sighted vision, it sees immediate interests. But we are all cemented by the same long-term interest, which is sustaining life on earth for our children. So if we fail in Nagoya, I can assure you that this will have consequences for Cancún. And if we have another Copenhagen in Cancún, I think we will have to wait centuries to restore what we have achieved since Rio, bringing the south as a partner with the north, the east, the west, with the government, with the private sector, in order to protect life on earth. I call on all governments without exception, including the United States – which is not a party but a major player – to reach agreement. I do not want to think of any option other than adopting the protocol on 29 October.

 

Olivia Boyd is assistant editor at chinadialogue.

Joydeep Gupta is project director (south Asia) for chinadialogue's third pole project.

NEXT: Moral duty meets self-interest

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furtherviews

为什么公众不关注生物多样性峰会

公众忽视生物多样性峰会的一个主要原因是,政客们热衷于压制公众焦虑——这会使他们自己的日子好过。他们缺乏足够的政治意愿引导我们进一步改变我们的生活方式以减缓气候变化,无论是通过自愿或者监管和税收。

Why is the public not aware of the biodiversity summit

A primary reason for lack of public awareness of the summit on bioversity is that politicians are keen to supress public anxiety - thereby making their own lives easy. There is much too little political will to induce us, whether voluntarily or through regulation and tax, to sufficiently change our lifestyles to mitigate climate change.

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dlee

意识问题

需要做许多事情,使公众知道丧失生物多样性的问题严重性。这对于媒体,并不是一个多么引起轰动的问题值得报道,因为并不如其他报道那么耸人听闻。物种的消失,虽然并不会直接影响人类 -- 但会带来间接的严重影响,对于全球生态系统带来毁灭性打击。

人类的天性就是关注短期问题。从进化论的角度讲,不是坏事情。毕竟,物种得以长期存在,依赖于短期个体生存。但我们已走过这一步。对于大多数人类来说,短期生存不再事关生死。眼光需要转移到长期上,并且公共需要接受教育,了解环境问题的累积影响和带来的间接后果,尽管乍一看这些问题似乎没多重要。

环境社会试图提供公众意识,用重要的物种,如熊猫、考拉来做宣传。但是,其他或许不那么可爱的物种的消亡问题,如果不是更重要,也同样重要。

Awareness Issue

More needs to be done to make the public aware of the issue of biodiversity loss. It is not as "sexy" an issue for the media to report on because there is less of a scare tactic involved. Losing species will not directly impact humans -- but indirectly, the impacts could be cumulatively severe, and the results to the global ecosystem could be catastrophic.

Humans by nature focus on the short-term. This was not such a bad thing from an evolutionary point of view - after all, the long-term survival of the species depended on short-term survival of the individual. But we have moved beyond that. For the majority of humans, short-term survival is no longer a life-or-death struggle. The focus needs to move towards the long-term, and the public needs to be educated about the cumulative impacts and indirect consequences of environmental issues that at first glance may not be as directly important.

The environmental community has tried to build public awareness using keystone species, like the panda or koala. But the loss of a species that may not be as cuddly and cute is just as, if not more, important.