Biodiversity: a (very) pale green agreement in Nagoya

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The headline of the Saturday afternoon edition of Le Monde announced that a “decisive world agreement” had been reached. On page 4, the title of the article on the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity which was held in Nagoya (Japan) from the 18th to 29th October spoke of – and the tone changed – a “limited but significant” agreement… So, was it a historical agreement or a pale green one?

It will of course be necessary to take a closer look at the decisions that were taken during this Cop10 to determine exactly what the extent of their impact will be. However the first pieces of available information, starting with the Press release by the Secretariat of the Convention, cast a doubt on the agreement’s historical nature. Its effects are not going to be spectacular, far from it.

In truth, the Nagoya Conference did not give rise to any citizen mobilisation and it did not really interest the press or public and private decision-makers. No high-ranking political officials bothered to attend even though this summit was supposed to be the climax of this year of Biodiversity.

This was in stark contrast with the Copenhagen Climate Conference: no demonstrations, very little media coverage, very few articles, no heads of State, no Al Gore, basically, no real interest in a summit of 193 states on a subject that – the IUCN is always reminding the world – is essential. Under such circumstances, it is hard to believe that this event was able to set any sort of dynamic action in motion.

Basically, three decisions were adopted:

• “a new ten year strategic plan to guide international and national efforts to save biodiversity through enhancing the objectives of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity,

• “a resource mobilization strategy which provides the way forward to a substantial increase to current levels of official development assistance in support of biodiversity;

• “new international protocol on access to and sharing of the benefits from the use of the planet’s genetic resources“.

The problem is that these decisions were mainly made up of objectives and they are not legally binding. Admittedly, the “legally binding” nature of a text should not be made sacred. Bylaws can remain completely unenforced even when sanctions have been put in place to make sure they are respected. The fact remains that things are even more complicated when an international law resembles a political declaration no-one pays any attention to.

In truth, the real problem with the Nagoya Conference was that it was organised as part of a convention – the Convention on biological diversity – that was not ratified by the United States.

And this convention that represented a way of protecting the environment was quite fragile and outdated. Indeed, the protection of the environment can no longer be considered in isolation as though it were disconnected from the global reflection on our economic system and other branches of law such as taxation and laws on intellectual property.

I therefore find it very hard to believe that the signing of “a new international protocol on accessing and sharing the profits generated by the planet’s genetic resources” will have any effect unless there is an extensive reform of national rights and international patents. It is similarly difficult to get excited about the objective to stop giving grants to polluting activities when one sees the lack of international and even European tax laws. It is also hard to see the relevance of the announced financial commitments without considering their utility and the conditions of their implementation.

Moreover, it is no longer certain that the policy of designating a few protected areas on a very limited surface of the globe is still an issue. The green and blue infrastructure based on the idea that the living world lives everywhere and not just in bubbles in a few places seems more ambitious and more useful to me. Putting Man back into nature and nature where Man lives is definitely more promising.

Thanks to the Nagoya conference, the UN avoided losing face so close to the Cancun Climate Change Summit which is not looking very thrilling. As far as I am concerned, Nagoya was especially the result of quite an old-fashioned negotiation and thought system.

However, I don’t like severe pessimism and I shan’t dabble in it! Biodiversity is definitely the carbon of the future. Its role and its position in the economy and the business world are better known thanks to the works of Bernard Chevassus au Louis and Pavan Sukdhev. Debates on the financialization of nature, compensating biodiversity and compensation for environmental damage are absolutely fundamental for our future. In short, biodiversity is becoming a serious issue. If Nagoya contributed a little bit to that, all the better.

Biodiversity: a (very) pale green agreement in Nagoya

by Arnaud Gossement

Text courtesy of the author

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