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CBD COP 2014: Mainstreaming Biodiversity… Biodiversity Policy?

[Simone Lovera] Perhaps it was because the freezing temperatures in the negotiation rooms cooled the tempers of certain countries, but the 12th Conference of the Parties of the Biodiversity Convention succeeded to adopt a wide range of decisions in a remarkably smooth way. Even a polemic issue like the need to apply the precautionary principle to synthetic biology as a new risky technology was resolved before the final hours of the conference. And while the outcome on this issue could have been even stronger, it could have been much worse as well – The decision clearly calls for the precautionary approach to be applied and regulations and risk assessments to be established.

Other decisions that are of great importance to a more rights-based and socially just biodiversity policy were adopted even more smoothly. The decision on the Chennai Guidance for Implementation of the Integration of Biodiversity and Poverty Eradication, for example, does not only recognize that biodiversity is key to poverty eradication and should thus be fully integrated in poverty eradication strategies, but also that poverty eradication and other social considerations should be fully integrated in biodiversity policy. Moreover, the guidelines explicitly recognize the value of indigenous peoples and local communities’ conserved territories and areas (ICCAs) and the role and rights of indigenous peoples, local communities in biodiversity conservation in general.

Other importance decisions that were adopted by the Biodiversity Conference include a firm commitment to mainstream gender in biodiversity policy making, and a groundbreaking new plan of action on customary sustainable use that recognizes that traditional practices by indigenous peoples, local communities and women contribute significantly to biodiversity conservation. The Parties to the CBD also decided, finally, to use 21st century terminology and refer to ‘indigenous peoples’ rather than indigenous communities in future decisions, thus recognizing their autonomy and self-determination in line with the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

These decisions do justice to the overall theme of the conference, which was biodiversity and sustainable development. However, the challenge will be to ensure all this important new policy guidance is mainstreamed in other policies. The need to mainstream biodiversity policy into other sectoral policies, including the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, was reiterated by almost every Minister and other high-level government official that made it to the cold and remote mountain village of Peyongchang. But regretfully the overwhelming majority of these Ministers and officials were biodiversity policy-makers themselves. Since forests, agriculture, fisheries and other important sectors that are key to biodiversity conservation have vanished from the CBD COP agenda, few if any policy makers from these other sectors tend to attend biodiversity meetings so the message that biodiversity should be mainstreamed biodiversity might not reach the non-converted.

Similarly, the draft Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were to the UN General Assembly in September 2014 fail to integrate contemporary awareness of community conservation and other rights-based approaches to biodiversity conservation as well. The COP was quite untimely in this respect, as it was originally supposed to provide further guidance to the elaboration of these SDGs, which are to be formally adopted in September 2015 only. Yet it is clear that a majority of countries does not support re-opening the text of the SDG package that was proposed in September 2014. And while NGOs and other major groups would have liked to further improve the goals, most agree that opening the current package might provide an opportunity to some malevolent countries to cut out a lot what has been achieved until now, including perhaps the entire biodiversity related goals themselves.

The only thing that still has to be negotiated are the indicators to measure the achievement of the proposed goals and targets. And while some propose this to be a technical discussion, it is hoped that the indicators to the Biodiversity SDGs will at least correct some of the big problems in the current text. By failing to pay any attention to the rights, role, needs and aspirations of people in biodiversity conservation and restoration the current SDGs form a classic example of the segregation of economic, social and environmental goals that so many people would have liked to prevent. Moreover, the forest related target that was adopted under the terrestrial ecosystems goal includes a target for afforestation, and without appropriate definitions and indicators for reforestation and afforestation this target might actually be detrimental to biodiversity as it will incentivize the establishment of large-scale monoculture tree plantations.

So it is hoped the indicators to the biodiversity SDGs will include indicators to value the indispensable value of the efforts of indigenous peoples, local communities and women in biodiversity conservation, and collective action in general, and that they will clearly distinguish biodiversity-rich forests from the monotonous stands of exotic trees that continue to dominate too many landscapes on this planet. For this to be achieved, biodiversity policy-makers will have to step down from their cold mountain and become more strategically involved in this and other policy-processes.

Simone Lovera, 20.10.2014
Global Forest Coalition and Sobrevivencia, Paraguay