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Moving forward on biodiversity

by Mathieu Régnier

Opinion

The Nagoya Protocol covers fungi: Basket stinkhorn, Borneo/Malaysia

The Nagoya Protocol covers fungi: Basket stinkhorn, Borneo/Malaysia

The 10th Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biodiversity passed an historic agreement. The language was not as strong as some environmentalists and developing countries hoped, but it is a good sign that the multilateral process hasn’t stalled. [ By Mathieu Régnier ]

COP-10 resulted in the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (ABS). It is a major success in the history of the Convention on Biological Biodiversity (CBD). The new treaty to manage the world’s genetic resources and share the multibillion-dollar benefits with developing nations lays down basic rules and principles. Corporations and research institutes will need to obtain consent from local communities before they use genetic resources. The Protocol is open for signature from February 2011 to February 2012. It will only bind the countries that sign.

The Nagoya Protocol covers a wide range of genetic resources, from plants and fungi to pathogens. Conceivably, it should also cover “derivatives” of genetic resources. The inclusion of derivatives was an important demand of developing countries and one of the most contentious points. In the end, derivatives were completely left out of the operative text. Negotiators arrived at a broad definition and left the details to lawyers. The wording on the Protocol’s temporal scope is also unclear. Developing countries had wanted it to be enforced retroactively, an option the rich nations opposed.

The Earth Negotiations Bulletin considers the Protocol a “masterpiece in creative ambiguity”, suggesting that this may be its biggest asset. A certain degree of ambiguity allows for necessary refinements that inevitably lead to real action on the ground in a few years time.

Another item on the COP-10 agenda was funding for poor and developing countries’ national biodiversity programmes. Unfortunately, only little pro­gress was made. COP-10 did not specify how much money would be made available; it only agreed to prepare such a plan by 2012. The developing countries had demanded clear numbers. In the long term, however, the Nagoya Protocol may prove to be the most interesting financing mechanism.

Compared to previous COP meetings, a stronger emphasis was placed on the mainstreaming of biodiversity across all human activities. This feature of the new 2011–2020 Strategic Plan is historic. Accordingly, the conference also stated that concern for biodiversity must have a bearing on poverty eradication strategies and developmental efforts. An expert group on the matter was established. The Group of 77 and China (G77+China) insisted on the idea that the CBD should be “a development, and not merely a conservation convention”.

The more holistic approach is prob­ably an implicit acknowledgement of the failure to reach to 2010 target “to reduce significantly the rate of biodiversity loss”. The new vision was spelled out in the Strategic Plan for the next ten years and its outlook until 2050. There was consensus, for instance, on including biodiver­sity issues in national GDP statistics. That was a proposal made in UNEP’s report on “The economics of ecosystems and biodiversity” (see interview with Achim Steiner, in D+C/E+Z 2010/9, p. 334 f.). Following the same idea, the World Bank launched a pilot project to incorporate ecosystem services in national accounting.

It is promising that the COP results included a stand-alone statement on poverty and development for the first time in the history of the CBD. On the other hand, the new Strategic Plan does not mention to ensure an equitable access to ecosystem services to all. Seasoned observers bemoan, moreover, that the developed world is not paying enough attention to how biodiversity conservation and the fight against poverty are interrelated.

On the bright side, a plan of action for South-South cooperation on biodiversity for development was adopted and many donor agencies – bilateral as well as multilateral ones – pledged to mainstream the Nagoya results in their activities. All summed up, COP-10 was a big step in the right direction in spite of some disappointments. The most important aspect is that the multilateral process to protect biodiversity has not stalled, it is still moving forward.