|

COP10

COP10 to take on genetic, indigenous issues

by Eric Johnston

From Oct. 18 to 29, the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity, known as COP10, takes place in Nagoya.

Billed by some NGOs and Japanese government officials as the conference that will sign a “Kyoto Protocol for all living things,” COP10 has a number of goals, including setting targets to conserve biodiversity systems over the next decade and creating a new body of experts to advise the U.N. on biodiversity.

Most controversially, it will seek to establish a new global agreement on how to more equitably share the benefits of genetic resources, often found on indigenous people’s lands, that are used by pharmaceutical companies and others.

What’s the Convention on Biodiversity, and what is it supposed to do?

The Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), along with the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention, was born at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, where it was recognized that, although the two issues were related, a separate negotiation regime was needed to deal with biodiversity loss and preservation.

The Convention has three main objectives: to conserve biological diversity; to use biological diversity, i.e. ecosystems and their related components, in a sustainable manner; and to share the benefits of biological diversity fairly and equitably. To date, there are 193 parties to the convention.

In May 2002, at the CBD’s COP6 meeting, it was agreed to work to make a significant reduction of the current state of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level by 2010. There were several problems with this goal, however.

The first and most obvious is that it failed to commit states to specific numerical goals, leaving each party to determine politically rather than scientifically what was meant by a “significant reduction.”

Another problem was that, unlike climate change, there was no one international body of scientific experts advising the U.N. at the time with the political clout enjoyed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Without such a body, forging an agreement on specific numbers was all the more difficult.

Given this background, it’s not surprising that the U.N. recently concluded that, far from achieving significant reductions by 2010, the situation is growing much worse.

How much worse?

To give just a few examples the U.N. cites, 70 percent of the world’s coral reefs, which nearly a half a billion people depend on for their lives and livelihoods, are threatened or have already been destroyed.

Of the world’s 5,490 mammals, 79 are extinct, 188 are critically endangered, 449 are endangered, and 505 are vulnerable to extinction if current trends continue.

And 1,895 of the world’s 6,285 known amphibians are in danger of extinction. Scientists have advised the U.N. the world is facing the greatest extinction crisis since the end of the age of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Will COP10 also deal with preventing the extinction of these species?

In practice, what has the CBD done, and has it met its goals?

COP10 will work on forging an agreement to halt the loss of the biodiversity systems sustaining these species by 2020. But the convention is not designed to deal with the conservation and preservation of individual species, as there are other conventions and international agreements that address specific species conservation.

In other words, you will not find lines of text in the final COP10 agreement that agree to protect a certain percentage of the world’s remaining polar bears and snow leopards, or whales, dolphins and bluefin tuna.

Then what, exactly, will the agreement say?

At present, the text of the draft that will be discussed at COP10 gives delegates the option of conserving by 2020 either 15 or 20 percent of all terrestrial and inland waterways, and an undetermined percent of coastal and marine areas.

In addition, delegates will debate whether by 2020 the rate of loss and degradation, fragmentation of natural habitats is either halved or brought close to zero. However, these numbers are highly controversial, with many governments opposed to stringent targets and some NGOs saying they should be even tougher.

Just because these are the numbers that will be brought to the table in Nagoya doesn’t mean other options won’t be decided on by the time the conference ends.

And what about the concept of access and benefit-sharing?

This is expected to be the other area of major difficulty for concluding an agreement at COP10. Under the convention, any financial benefits that result in giving access to genetic resources to others, especially corporations, are supposed to be shared as equally as possible with the people who live where those genetic resources originated.

What this means in practice is that, for example, a pharmaceutical company in country B that creates a new vaccine or medicine using the genes from a plant or biological organism located on indigenous people’s lands in country A and long used for medicinal purposes should financially compensate those peoples for their knowledge after the drug has been patented and sold.

One purpose of COP10 is to agree to a new regime on access and benefit-sharing that will ensure indigenous peoples worldwide are compensated fairly. But pharmaceutical companies in many advanced countries are opposed to creating a strong regime while countries with large indigenous populations support one.

What does COP10 mean for Japan?

As conference host, Japan must show political leadership by bringing together nations that are far apart on both how much of the world to set aside for biodiversity conservation by 2020 and how much indigenous people and others should be compensated for use of genetic resources that originated on their lands after those same resources are developed into patented products.

Japan must also deal with expectations that it will make a financial commitment to biodiversity protection in developing nations.

In addition, Japan will likely have to deal with international criticism that, because of its prowhaling stance and opposition earlier this year to a proposal for an international ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna, it has already failed to provide leadership on biodiversity conservation issues and so therefore can’t be expected to help forge a strong agreement at COP10.

At the same time, however, Japan will propose its Satoyama Initiative of traditional farming methods as one way of conserving biodiversity systems worldwide.

Tokyo has already received positive signals from other nations in regards to its suggestion that the period between now and 2020 be officially designated by the U.N. as the biodiversity decade, which would, the idea’s supporters hope, raise public and political awareness of biodiversity issues to the level now enjoyed by climate change issues.

The Weekly FYI appears Tuesdays (Wednesday in some areas). Readers are encouraged to send ideas, questions and opinions to National News Desk