Nairobi — Developing countries rich in plants and animals but poor in financial and technical resources refused to make binding commitments to halt the unraveling of the planet’s biological infrastructure at the close of a major meeting Friday at the U.N.’s African headquarters in Nairobi.
For their part, rich countries balked at a 50-fold increase in funding to support efforts to slow and reverse the loss of species and ecosystems.
“Anything to do with finance has been a big problem here at this meeting,” said James Seyani, a delegate from Malawi and spokesperson for the African countries.
It takes money to protect, conserve and enhance biodiversity – the term for all living things that make up Earth’s ecosystems that are our life support system. Exploitation and destruction of vital ecosystems like forests and peatlands generates millions of dollars in revenue, but conserving or using these lands in ways that preserves biodiversity often costs governments money.
Reversing the declines in biodiversity is a matter of great urgency and countries with much of the world’s remaining species and intact ecosystems “are prepared to meet their commitments but we need the technical, human and financial resources to do this”, the delegate from Mexico said at the conclusion of the meeting that began May 10.
The absence of such resources is why biodiversity is in its current crisis, he said.
“The developing world needs to remember their previous commitments and provide new additional finances and resources. Those promises are not being adhered to,” Seyani told delegates late Friday afternoon at the end of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) meeting to establish targets and an action plan to end the biodiversity crisis over the next decade.
At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the international community agreed biodiversity loss and climate change were two clear and present dangers facing humanity. Rich countries promised poor countries they would provide the resources to take action and together they created the CBD as the legal and technical tool for stemming the loss. Ten years later, countries set an overall target to at least reduce rates of biodiversity loss by 2010.
Instead, rates of biodiversity loss – as measured by reduction in abundance and extent of species – increased in most parts of the world, according to the Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 (GBO 3) released here at the start of the meeting. The report, a scientific review of the current state of biodiversity, warned that if the losses continue, “tipping points” may soon be reached where ecosystems that provide human society with essential services could collapse.
“Many economies remain blind to the huge value of the diversity of animals, plants and other life-forms and their role in healthy and functioning ecosystems from forests and freshwaters to soils, oceans and even the atmosphere,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme, which is headquartered here in Nairobi.
“Humanity has fabricated the illusion that somehow we can get by without biodiversity or that it is somehow peripheral to our contemporary world: the truth is we need it more than ever on a planet of six billion heading to over nine billion people by 2050,” Steiner said in a statement.
Delegates here are not blind to those realities. They agree on the importance and need for urgent action and, for the first time, set targets to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss in a way that will permit implementation in their respective countries. Under this “Strategic Plan”, by 2020 each of the 195 member countries are committed to reduce the rate of loss of natural habitat by half, end overfishing, eliminate harmful subsidies, ensure agriculture is sustainable and conserves biodiversity, reduce the impact of pollution on ecosystems, minimise all impacts on coral reefs, and more.
Before the Strategic Plan becomes binding, it has to be submitted to the 195 member countries for approval at the biennial Conference of the Parties (COP) in Nagoya, Japan this October.
The specific details of the 2020 target were contested and watered down so they were somewhat less ambitious than what the GBO 3 and the CBD’s own expert and technical committee had advised.
“These targets are not ambitious enough,” said Gunter Mitlacher, of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Germany. “There is a clear need to get to zero net deforestation by 2020 for both climate change and biodiversity, but forests were bracketed,” Mitlacher told IPS.
“Bracketed” is a way of objecting to the target. China, the world’s biggest furniture exporter, and Malaysia, with some of the highest rates of deforestation, were the only countries to object. Despite their economic success, China, Brazil and others still consider themselves developing countries.
Overall Mitlacher agreed that there was wide consensus among delegates on what needs to be done but disagreements arose over details and whether the targets were realistic – and over who was going to pay for the implementation and how much. The Strategic Plan calls for a 50-fold increase in funding. Delegates from developed countries objected saying they did not have the authority to make such large financial commitments.
That failure to commit new resources led developing countries to reject the entire Strategic Plan at the very last moment.
“Addressing the goals and targets of the convention without addressing the chronic lack of resources – financial, scientific, technological and human – in developing countries is an enterprise doomed from the start,” said the Brazilian delegate representing the ‘mega-diverse countries’ – those with the highest levels of biodiversity.
“The full implementation costs of biodiversity conservation lie primarily with developing parties of the convention where such resources are scarce and unpredictable,” he said.
Seyani of Malawi agreed. He acknowledged that delegates here may not have the authority to make financial commitments, but warned that without funding, the Strategic Plan was an “ivory tower”.
The chair of the meeting, Jochen Flasbarth of Germany, concluded that it was now up to the heads of state to solve the issues that couldn’t be resolved here. “I think we are sending a strong statement to the world,” Flasbarth said.
While billions and trillions of dollars were suddenly available for the banking crisis, there is little money for protecting Earth’s biological infrastructure, noted several delegates.
What Africa, Brazil and the others are asking is reasonable, said Mitlacher. World leaders need to be fully engaged in this issue but the issue is not well understood by them or the public he said. “We have a big global problem but we are not providing the funding to solve it.”