Pavan Sukhdev

"We still have a lot to learn about the nature of value and the value of nature"

Biodiversity COP-11 : View from a Distance

I’ve been a week at Hyderabad, attending CBD COP-11, the bi-annual conference of parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Over 170 of the 193 signatories to the Convention worked away feverishly at Hyderabad till early Saturday morning, negotiating an outcome document as heavy as they always are. My recent work as chair of the High-level Panel on estimating the financing required to meet the 20 targets agreed at the previous COP at Nagoya, in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, two years ago, was among the inputs to their process.

As I came away from Hyderabad, with COP-11 discussions leading to a doubling of international commitments to biodiversity, from US$ 6 billion to US$ 12 billion out to 2015, I wondered if I should be pleased or disappointed? Our report on financing the Aichi Targets had not made things any easier for the negotiators: our estimates of what was needed truly to achieve the 20 Aichi Targets were an order of magnitude higher than existing baselines as well as commitments made.

Would this increase in billions make a difference when financing needs are in tens and hundreds of billions? Biodiversity is the living fabric of this planet, its ecosystems, species and genes. Conserving biodiversity includes reducing forest losses and restoring forest cover (Aichi Targets #5 and #14) to increase soil fertility, prevent droughts, mitigate flood damage, arrest the ingress of desertification, and provide better livelihoods for the world’s 1.3 billion small farmers. Increasing marine protected areas (part of Aichi Target#11) means increasing the stocks of fish in the sea, which provide the main source of animal protein for over a billion in the developing world. Controlling pollution (Aichi Target #8) will not just reduce biodiversity loss, it will improve human health, freshwater, agriculture, fisheries.. the list goes on. These Aichi Targets are a large part of Sustainable Development for the world – no wonder that their financing is not small change.

The results of COP-11 discussions were not disappointing in themselves, but it was sad that the wider goals of sustainable development for which they are essential were not receiving more urgent and widespread attention. Meanwhile, the need for transitioning to a ‘green economy’ to deliver these goals grows more palpable and urgent every year. The ‘silos’ in which we all operate are part of the problem. Desertification and Climate Change fall under separate UN Conventions (all born on the same day in Rio, 1992) even though they are inextricably linked to the maintenance and restoration of ecosystems, the large-scale layer of biodiversity.

But it is difficult to see anything in perspective if one is immersed in it, so I am lucky that I had to fly from Hyderabad to Bhutan just after COP-11, to attend a conference of Tiger Range countries, organzied by the World Bank’s Global Tiger Initiative.

You drive along the breathtaking Paro river valley from the airport to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. All along, you are greeted by legions of fluttering prayer-flags dancing out their hymns to the drumbeat of a bracing mountain wind. Far below, the crystal waters of the Paro sparkle in rhytmic company, flashing clear Himalayan sunlight. And carpets of red chillies, carefully laid out to dry on the low sloping tin roofs of Bhutanese homes, soak in this bright hot sun.

Biodiversity – the living fabric of the planet – is everywhere around you, abundant, healthy. People love it and respect it. This is the kind of world that those 20 Aichi Targets seek to achieve.

And yet, there are no billions being raised to finance this biodiversity conservation. It is engrained in the culture and history of the land. Their constitution commits 60% of Bhutan to forest cover. Their Agriculture and Forests minister, speaking at the conference says “there can be no justice unless other living beings have equal rights of existence on this planet”. We often hear of rights-based approaches to biodiversity conservation, but for the people of Bhutan, this is not just dreamy talk, it is their reality.

First published in Guardian Sustainable Business titled “Protecting global biodiversity will take more than ‘small change‘” on 25 October 2012.

October 22nd, 2012 Posted by | one comment