Tag Archives: CBD

A Moratorium on Geoengineering? Really?

In the end of October 2010, participants in the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) included in their agreement to protect biodiversity , a moratorium on geo­engineering. This CBD moratorium came timely as the debate around geoengineering virtually exploded internationally with several high-profile reports being published by, amongst others, the British Royal Society, and the U.S. Congress. The IPCC has announced it will organize several expert meetings in 2011 to focus on geoengineering, to help prepare the next review of climate science, due for completion in 2014.

But what does this “moratorium” really imply? This is not a trivial question considering the often acclaimed fragmentation of global environmental governance, and the fact that most geoengineering schemes would have impacts on additional planetary boundaries such as land use change and biodiversity. Two main (and highly simplified of course) interpretations seem to exist in a quite complicated legal debate.

One is that the CBD moratorium places a considerable limit on geoengineering experimentation and attempts. The only exception are “small-scale” controlled experiments that meet specific requirements, i.e.: that they are assumed in controlled settings and for explicit scientific purposes, are subject to prior environmental impact assessment, and have no impacts beyond national jurisdiction. Proponents of this position note that even if the CBD moratorium is not legally binding, governments launching large geoengineering experiments would “risk their credibility and diplomatic reputations”, a strong enough disincentive that effectively “blocks risky climate techno-fixes”. The Canadian NGO ETC Group elaborates this point here.

The second position instead highlights several points that undermine the strenght of the CBD moratorium. The first is that the agreement has no legally binding power, and that formal sanctioning mechanisms are absent. The CBD moratorium is “soft law” which implies that States  still could launch geoengineering schemes unilaterally. Note also that the United States has not formally ratified the CBD convention.

Second, even though the CBD moratorium might be seen as defining an upper limit on the scale of geoengineering experiments, key definitional questions remain to be teased out. What is to be defined as “small-scale” and  “experiment”? And what is its status compared to other related pieces of international law, such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the London Convention, and the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, just to mention a few.

Third, as the US Congressional Research Service notes in its report, international agreements are best equipped to deal with disputes between countries, and not necessarily between one country and one private actor, or between private actors that may shift locations to suit their interests (pp. 29). And major private or semi-private actors and funders are out there, including the Bill Gates and Richard Branson $4.6 million Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Resources, Ice911, Intellectual Ventures (see WJS article “Global warming might be solved with a helium balloon and a few miles of garden hose”), Carbon Engineeering, Planktos Foundation, and GreenSea Ventures (featured in Nature here).

So, do we really have a real, effective global moratorium on geoengineering? Far from it it seems. Feel free to disagree in the comment field below.

Originally posted in adaptiveness.wordpress.com

Persepctives on Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya

Eight perspectives on the recent Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Nagoya.

1. Environmental economist Charles Perrings interviewed by Earth and Sky on his recent Science article 20 Biodiversity targets for 2020:

Charles Perrings: The rate of species decline is increasing, not reducing. And it’s across the board. It’s not just the charismatic megafauna [large animals] that attract the most attention – but a range of species extending across the board.

The new targets follow the acronym ‘SMART’ – meaning, specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic, and time-bound.

Charles Perrings: We’re arguing that it’s important that they not only be SMART but they also be relevant. The targets need to speak to the real interests people have got in ecosystem services and the biodiversity that’s needed to support these services. The targets need to recognize trade-offs between interests.

For example, Perrings said, one of the targets states, “Areas under agriculture, aquaculture, and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.” He pointed out that the primary interests of food production and forestry are to feed and shelter people. Those basic human needs will likely overshadow the intent of conserving biodiversity.

Charles Perrings: It’s important to acknowledge that no matter how efficient we make agriculture, it’s almost certain that an expanding human population is going to involve further loss of habitat for other species. We claim that the trade-off should be addressed directly.

He said that in contrast to the 2010 target, it’s important that 2020’s targets are achievable, and that they go along with a set of indicators that can measure the progress towards success. But due to the trade offs, Perrings writes in the paper, “It may not be possible to meet all of the 2020 targets.”

2. Outcomes of the Nagoya meeting  (non-final version from CBD)

The documents provided below are advanced unedited texts reflecting the decisions as adopted on the basis of the documents presented to Plenary (the “L.” document available as in-session documents) and any amendments made during the closing Plenary session. They have not been formally edited. The final official versions of the decisions will be issued as part of the report of the meeting in due course. Statements made by Parties at the time of the adoption of the decision will also be included in the report.

3. Science Insider quotes our colleague Thomas Elmqvist and reports:

…the strategic plan sets 20 specific targets to achieve by 2020. Key targets include conserving in protected zones at least 17% of the world’s terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of coastal and marine areas, halving the rate of loss of all natural habitats, including forests, and preventing the extinction of known threatened species.

Other targets call for eliminating subsidies harmful to biodiversity, managing fisheries sustainably, and minimizing anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs.

… Negotiators also agreed to increase funding to support the efforts of the strategic plan, though specific targets for percentages or amounts are to be worked out by the time of the COP 11 meeting, scheduled for 2012 in New Delhi, India.The third key agreement is a new protocol to ensure that benefits flow back to countries and indigenous peoples who supply genetic resources that are commercialized. Developing countries had wanted the provisions of the access and benefit-sharing protocol to apply retroactively. They had also hoped for the agreement to specifically assign responsibility for tracking the use of genetic materials to patent offices, research universities, scientific journals, and other “checkpoints.” Retroactivity was stripped from the final text, though the agreement now calls for the investigation of a “global multilateral benefit-sharing mechanism” to address cases where plant or animal resources were commercialized prior to the new agreement. And how to enforce compliance will be left up to each country. “It is not the text we would write ourselves, but it is a good compromise,” says Paulino Franco de Carvalho, head of the Brazilian delegation.

Among other business, delegates agreed to call for a moratorium on geoengineering schemes and to endorse a request to the United Nations General Assembly to create an Intergovernmental Science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services that would produce scientific assessments on biodiversity issues much as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change works on the science of climate change. “We’re quite excited about this, it’s really needed,” says Thomas Elmqvist, an ecologist at Stockholm University and a member of the Swedish delegation.

4. Reflection on Nagoya from CGIAR in  Biodiversity International welcomes Nagoya Protocol

Emile Frison, Director General of Biodiversity International, which has represented the Consortium of international agricultural research centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) in all the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the Nagoya Protocol, was jubilant.

“The Protocol addresses issues that have pitted countries of the North and South against one other for decades. Its adoption should act as a balm on old wounds. It will help to create transparency and trust between countries, and trust is absolutely essential for countries to cooperate in using genetic resources in ways that promote food security and economic development.”

The adoption of the Nagoya Protocol  has ended six years of hard-scrabble negotiating. At issue were the conditions under which countries will provide access to genetic resources within their boundaries, the kinds of benefits that should be shared when those resources are used, and how far countries will cooperate with one another when there are allegations of illegal uses.

5. From IUCN:

“We’ve seen history in the making here in Nagoya with a landmark agreement now in place that defines the future for life on earth,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “Here in Japan the international community have moved closer to the realisation that it’s time we stopped considering nature as expendable, and any related expenditure a write-off – it’s time we valued and conserved nature.”

The stakes have been high at the Nagoya conference. The latest IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, released two days ago, showed that nature’s very backbone is at risk – with a third of species assessed seriously threatened and many among them facing the risk of extinction. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study, known as TEEB, warns us that many of the benefits of nature that we have been taking for granted and enjoyed for free up until now are at risk of running out. The Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 showed that we are on the verge of catastrophic and irreversible tipping points.

“What we’ve decided at this meeting will change the future of life on Earth – and many solutions are available to us,” says Jane Smart, Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group. “We know that targeted conservation action works. Results from the latest Red List show us that the status of biodiversity would have declined by an additional 20 percent at least, if conservation action had not been taken.”

6. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) welcomes:

the adoption of an international agreement that aims to halve the dramatic loss of ecosystems and species by 2020, and to establish ground rules for sharing and accessing the world’s genetic resources.

… Sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystem services is essential to achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and to combating poverty.

UNDP is committed to scale up its biodiversity work to help meet the Aichi Targets and to assist countries with improving management of their ecosystems.

Billions of people depend on natural ecosystems for their water supply as well as for food, medicines and other essentials.

7. The World Bank Launches Scheme To Green Government Accounts promotes ‘green’ national accounts:

The five-year pilot project backed by India, Mexico and other nations aims to embed nature into national accounts to draw in the full benefits of services such as coastal protection from mangroves or watersheds for rivers that feed cities and crops.

…”For economic ministries in particular, it’s important to have an accounting measure that they can use to evaluate not only the economic value but the natural wealth of nations,” Zoellick told Reuters in an interview.

8. And to conclude IISD’s Linkages which reports on global environmental negotiations, provides a summary of the conclusion of the Nagoya meeting:

The adoption of the package, in particular the Nagoya Protocol on ABS, was rightfully celebrated as a major success in the history of the CBD. And in this light, fears of “another Copenhagen,” popularized by the media, seem both overblown and inadequate. Aside from the package, COP 10 adopted more than 40 other decisions, including unprecedented developments on new complex issues such as geo-engineering and synthetic biology. Not all other decisions lived up to expectations, but taken together, they represent a significant step forward in multilateral cooperation on biodiversity. The CBD’s approach to implementation based on the ecosystem approach, and its mechanism for addressing new and emerging issues would have allowed work on implementation of the Convention to continue whether or not the package had been adopted. In contrast to the climate change regime, where key activities on implementation, such as the carbon market, depend on adopting a global deal on mitigation, the CBD’s agenda is being advanced through a multi-facetted system of work programmes, collaborations and partnerships across the environmental-policy board. So, even if COP 10 had failed to adopt “the package,” the remaining decisions would have allowed work on implementation of the Convention to continue.

A number of developments indicate that the CBD is in the middle of an important transformation process, towards an approach that integrates biodiversity concerns into all areas of human activity. The Strategic Plan and activities such as the TEEB study can give an important impulse to accelerate this transition. With the adoption of the ABS Protocol, it can be expected that future COPs will devote more attention to repositioning the CBD as the key international instrument to further efforts towards “life in harmony with biodiversity.” COP 10 has been a necessary and important step in that direction, not least because it showed that “Copenhagen” was a phenomenon specific to the politics of global climate change cooperation, rather than a crisis of the UN System and of global environmental multilateralism as a whole.


Satoyama – a Japanese cultural landscape

Many parents of small children will have seen Miyazaki’s classic animated film My Neighbour Totoro about Totoro, a forest spirit, who befriends two young girls.  Totoro inhabits a beautiful agricultural landscape known as Satyoyama.  Satoyama is a Japanese agricultural landscape that combines small scale agriculture and forest – if well managed it can be a multi-functional agriculture landscape that provides provisioning, regulating, and cultural ecosystem services.  Satoyama is an iconic Japanese cultural landscape that has been destroyed in Japan by development and rural out-migration, however is now being promoted in Japan and by the Japanese government for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Nagoya.

In honour of the CBD meeting in Japan, The Kyoto Journal (issue 75) has a special issue on Biodiversity that includes a large section on the ideals and reality of satoyama.  The table of contents for the section on the Worlds of Satoyama is:

UN university is conducting research on satoyama, and has a number of online resources (1, 2, and 3).

Via Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog