Dr Bob Bloomfield has coordinated the UK response to the International Year of Biodiversity working with diverse partners from more than 400 partner organisations in the UK (www.biodiversityislife.net). Bob has an academic background in biological science but has devoted his career to science communication and public engagement around science issues including, and especially Evolution and Biodiversity.
In some extraordinary scenes at the United Nations General Assembly the threats associated with biodiversity loss discussed in today’s special session began with the stark message that; addressing biodiversity loss was not a luxury but a duty. In his remarks Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon rang the alarm bells saying biodiversity loss needed an emergency, internationally-agreed rescue package akin to the global bank crisis. He underscored the imperative stressing that Governments had to stop thinking about environmental (biodiversity) protection as a loss but as an investment which Heads of State and all areas of government had to consider alongside the other measures needed to ensure long-term stability.
Speakers in the assembly were in accord with the significance of the problem, the European Commission President Jose-Manuel Barroso highlighting that mitigating climate change and adapting to its impact would be impossible without effective measures to protect ecosystems and biodiversity. While the spokesperson for the Group of 77 developing countries and China said that without comprehensive measures to address biodiversity loss the Millennium Development Goals would be unobtainable.
As the main session took place in the assembly Ahmed Djoghlaf, Chief Executive of the Convention on Biology, held a press conference with biodiversity experts and celebrity champion of the International Year of Biodiversity actor Edward Norton. Norton urged people to use their purchasing power to influence opinion - saying that in some ways this could have a bigger impact on industry, which is a primary driver of biodiversity impacts, than the progress of government policy. This press conference ended in slightly chaotic scenes as the panel rose to ring a Memorial Bell as a call for recognition of the issues at stake. This event coincided with bell-ringing in sympathy around the world, including here in England by Anglican Churches. Peterborough Cathedral tolled 492 times – one for each species known to have become extinct in England in recent history.
However, while the International Year of Biodiversity and the International Bell-ringing were intended to celebrate the importance of Biodiversity there were signs that behind the scenes in the UN the international negotiators were not pulling in harmony, but more like a group of new bell-ringers desperately trying to get into rhythm. There was an undercurrent of concern that next months crucial meeting in Nagoya could end up in a cacophony as efforts to meet agreement falter.
There are two primary causes of concern. The first is that one county won’t fully join in. The CBD has almost universal support, now with 194 countries having full status. However, as Ed Norton highlights, the rope left dangling pulls the primary bell in the bell tower – the United States, which only has observer status at the CBD. This is not only hugely politically embarrassing, it has a major impact on key decisions which need to be made in Japan in October when the CBD meets to agree the way forward for the next decade.
The second and bigger threat to the world chiming in unison became apparent as the nuances emerged from the speakers in the main assembly meeting. While Brazil, Germany and the EU all heralded the establishment of IPBES (Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) as a major breakthrough, a threat has emerged over its full implementation. This panel, biodiversity’s equivalent to the International Panel on Climate Change is seen as essential in getting better informed responses and action at global and national levels – so what’s the crack in the mould that could put it out of tune?
Brazil’s Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira emphasised that there were three components to the Nagoya negotiations which were indivisible, these include:
• A comprehensive Strategic Plan with new country targets to implement measures to protect biodiversity and ecosystems.
• An agreement on access on benefits – that is how particularly developing countries with important genetic resources in their biodiversity will benefit from any commercial development of these ‘assets’.
• The creation of an essential strategic and financial plan to build capacity and mobilise the resources required to make the difference.
The political problem lies in the indivisible nature of these components and at least some of the countries in the Group of 77 wanting clear agreements on financial support for them – and potentially not supporting the implementation of IPBES if this cannot be agreed.
While these issues are surmountable what the CBD and the United Nations are saying is that global society has to change, change fast and change dramatically if the consequences of biodiversity loss are to be avoided – including major setbacks to address climate change and global poverty alleviation. The subtext was clear, that rate of damage caused by man in recent years and in the few decades to come will have a monumental impact for thousands of years to come. And the call is for an unprecedented programme of global ecosystem restoration which has to be supported in all areas of governance from heads of state, through all government departments. The value of ecosystems natural assets has to be in our economic accounting – and this is currently in the RED. The movement towards a green economy places biodiversity centre stage and the greatest challenge of the decade ahead. The representative for Japan – the incoming Presidency of the CBD recognised the imperative calling on the UN accept a resolution that the 2010-2020 be called the International Decade of Biodiversity.
What is dispiriting is the real lack of Media interest and response to this event. They could be doing so much more to engage the public and we need millions of people to understand, to ring bells, glockenspiels, mobile ring tones, maracas, bang tins and empty plastic bottles and demand that governments take heed. I hope that Nagoya will be cause for celebration and not the knell for biodiversity actions because of short-sighted and narrow political positioning. To coin a phase, For whom the Bell Tolls, The Bell Toll for You, and Me, and You and You and You….