— Sri N Kiran Kumar Reddy, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh
Welcome to Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, and to the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Phew! Quite a mouthful of a name, eh? And why not, it has to match the scale of this gathering. They are calling it one of the largest biodiversity gatherings ever, with 170 nations taking part and thousands of delegates registered to attend! But do you know what’s more fascinating? The state government has handpicked 2000 University students and trained them to be the perfect hosts. They are the Prakrithi Mitras — friends of nature — and they are everywhere, taking care of everything. I was so impressed that I managed to pester these furiously busy young people to do one more thing. Help me edit this Summit Special edition of Gobar Times. Now read on…
“If this chance (to commit financial resources for biodiversity conservation) is missed it will be a collective failure,” Srimati Jayanthi Natarajan, Union Minister for Environment and Forests
What’s in Focus?
The Nagoya Way:
Access and Benefit Sharing
Slow was the process of setting up the Protocol and snails can outpace the process of implementation. Why the Nagoya Protocol took time to come about and takes even more time to come around…
The first protocol to address the business of biodiverity, the Nagoya Protocol on access to genetic resources and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from their utilisation went through a negotiation process almost as long as its name. The Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) Working Group set up to finalise the terms of the Protocol met 11 times over 10 years, not including the many inter-session, inter-regional meetings on the side. After a long-winding and complicated process, it was adopted at the COP 10 in Nagoya, Japan on October 29, 2010.
The Nagoya Protocol is an international agreement on legal guidelines for accessing genetic material and traditional knowledge associated with this genetic material. It includes rules for fair sharing of benefits from using genetic material. From agriculture to oil and natural gas, every sector benefits from the biodiversity of plant and animal species. The retail value of drugs derived from plants by pharmaceutical companies in the US in 1985 came to US $43 billion. The global biotechnology market was valued at US $50 billion in a 1992 study by the International Labour Organisation.
But why so much wrangling over setting up a transparent and fair regime of access to genetic resources? Negotiations were split between two major groups – the global North and South. The South wanted CBD provisions to be recognised as part of Trade Related Intellectual Property rights by the North. Many countries, mostly from Africa, called for retrospective implementation of benefit-sharing as most of their biological resources were held by the developed world. While the North said, nothing doing!
At the ninth meeting of the working group, talks broke down over the issue of disclosure. Developing countries wanted disclosure to ensure compliance, while developed countries wanted to keep international trade offices such as patent offices procedure free.
With COP 10 looming overhead as deadline, delegates decided to go with the draft protocol, despite their differences. Could this be why implementation of Nagoya Protocol is so disappointingly slow?
At the second meeting of Intergovernmental Committee in-charge of making sure the Protocol is implemented, in July, 2012, Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the CBD, admitted that implementation has been slow “owing to lengthy procedures and the legal and administrative requirements for implementation.” The ball is now in each country’s court to make national level policy to implement the Nagoya Protocol.
At the inaugural session of COP 11, Srimati Jayanthi Natarajan, said India was making meaningful contributions to the deliberations of Nagoya Protocol with the experience the country had gained in implementation of these concepts.
Be safe, be biosafe:
The Cartagena Protocol
Modern biotechnology is projected as the answer to hunger and malnutrition. But how safe are genetically modified living organisms for human health and the environment?
Biotechnology is touted to increase crop yields and hence, end world hunger. Then why is it that 80% of all biotechnology research is done by the private sector? Published in June 2000, a study by University of Illinois found that Bacillus Thurengiensis (Bt) is toxic to Swallowtail Caterpillars. A Cornell University study claimed that Bt kills Monarch Butterflies. Companies like Novartis and Monsanto, alter the genes of crops such as cotton and corn to contain Bt, since it works as an internal pesticide. The case of caterpillars and butterflies lead scientists and world leaders to admit that not enough is known of genetic engineering and its effects on human health and the environment.
Time tested and still relevant, the Cartagena Protocol is an internationally agreed upon set of rules governing the movement of genetically modified living organisms (GMO) or living modified organisms (LMOs) across national boundaries. After two failed attempts and five years of talks, it was adopted on September 11, 2003. Despite being the first Protocol that uses the precautionary principle in operation, its provisions were diluted by the ‘Miami Group’ - Australia, Argentina, Canada, USA, Chile and Uruguay.
Can you imagine world leaders being represented by stuffed animals at a global conference? Or a delegation of 300 representatives from 115 countries being broken down to five negotiating groups with only 2 representatives from each allowed to chime in? Such was the chaos at meetings, that president of the meeting Juan Mayr, Columbia’s environment minister, had to resort to these measures. At one point, he requested delegates to “stand up, clasp hands and ponder how to move the process forward.”
At the reconvened extraordinary Conference of Parties in Montreal and after year-long informal talks, the Protocol was born. It is still held as a mere stopgap measure. Now, the world is focusing on who will pay for damages from GMOs and how much…
Making sure the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, 2011-2020, is on track
No more grand talk… some action please!
The Plan was adopted at the 10th Conference of Parties. And it was decided that in all meetings in the future, the Parties would review its progress, share experiences, discuss the difficulties encountered and then advise each other.
Why has this become a central issue? Simple really. It has become pretty evident now that talking about ‘species loss’, and some grand schemes on how to deal with it, in gentle undertones is no longer enough. A stinging rap on the knuckle is the need of the day. Not merely because we have to be kinder to beings that cannot protect themselves from human onslaught. It is time, too, to remind ourselves that the functioning of ecosystems is at stake, and so is the existence of human beings!
We all want clean air, pure drinking water, food, medicine, as well as livelihoods. But the picture is incomplete without biodiversity.
The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed the decade from 2011 to 2020 as the Decade on Biodiversity. But what about conserving ecosystems that support it? What about forests, wetlands, and coral reefs? Well, the buzz has been around for a while. And here’s why. Believe it or not, the loss of species on our planet is steadily overtaking that which occurred over the last 65 million years! Thanks to tropical deforestation, overfishing, poaching… the list goes on and gets compounded by the looming, and sorely underestimated clouds of Climate Change.
Before the CBD actually got off the ground in 1992, international conservation treaties such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, and the Convention on Migratory Species, had already proposed ‘global lists’ for the protection and conservation of threatened ecosystems. When it came to CBD, heated debates arose between developed and developing countries over the funding of biodiversity programmes.
Since then, meeting after meeting of COP on CBD saw nations everywhere put their heads together – to mobilise scarce financial resources to safeguard the planet’s rich natural resources.
Even as India takes over the presidency of COP 11, there is no doubt that the need of the hour is the need for conservation. The conservation targets set at Nagoya were ambitious. By 2020, it was agreed to halve the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, and ensure that at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas — in comparison to the present 1.6 per cent — should be conserved. Targets were set to sustainably manage areas used for agriculture, aquaculture and forestry.
Reviewing Financial Resources and Mechanism
Err… Where will the money come from?
Ways and means to raise funds to meet the goals set (to conserve biodiversity, of course!) are the nub of ALL discussions that are on in this massive convention. The problem is also massive you see… Earlier this year, India and the UK sponsored a high level panel to assess resources needed globally to implement the strategic plan for biodiversity, and put the figures at between US $150 billion and 430 billion. Of which developing countries alone require somewhere between US $74 billion and 191 billion between 2014 and 2018. Currently, the international funds available for biodiversity are no more than US $6 billion per year.
So for the first time the Parties in Hyderabad agreed to set individual targets for each country. But they seemed to vigorously disagree on how to go about everything else! The Parties have now decided to set up a Contact Group to ‘deliberate’ the issues separately. This is usually done when there are strong disagreements among the member nations on a given topic.
In India, the scenario looks brighter with Environment Minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, declaring as she assumed charge as the President of COP11, “The present global economic crisis should not deter us, but encourage us to invest more towards amelioration of the natural capital for ensuring uninterrupted ecosystem services, on which all life on earth depends.”
But the road ahead is still a tough one. With the National Investment Board seeing environmental clearances as a spoke in forecasted infrastructure projects, India’s biodiversity may face stiff challenges from future developments. Read: roads, mining (especially coal), power, petroleum and natural gas, ports and railway projects.
Protecting Marine and Coastal biodiversity
Keep ‘development’ off the coasts…
According to a new study led by author William Cheung, of the University of British Columbia in Canada, fish are likely to get smaller by 2050 because of global warming. This is mainly because warmer water can hold less dissolved oxygen, which is needed for respiration and growth. “There is more demand for oxygen as the body grows. At some point the fish will stop growing,” says Cheung.
But Cheung’s findings are just a drop in the ocean. It is not just fish that are affected by climate change.
Coral reefs, often called “rainforests of the sea”, are under siege. Despite occupying less than 0.1 per cent of the world's ocean surface, they provide a home for 25 per cent of all marine species. But a recent report released by the World Resources Institute (in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund, Nature Conservancy and Conservation International) links rising ocean acidification, a result of excessive levels of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the seas, with the increasing formation of coral-deteriorating carbonic acid.
And it does not stop there. More than 85 per cent of reefs in Asia's Coral Triangle (covering Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, The Solomon Islands and East Timor) are directly threatened by human activities such as coastal development, pollution, and overfishing.
The CBD describes the threat to the world's seas from human activity as 'unprecedented'. Fishing, transportation, waste disposal, agricultural nutrient run-off are visible threats, which, along with absorption of higher levels of carbon dioxide, are altering their chemistry and affecting marine life.
COP 11 at Hyderabad saw conservation of blue biodiversity, or coastal and marine ecosystems, take centrestage at discussions.