WORLD'S FUTURE COULD BE IRREPARABLY UNDERMINED
Partnership Plenary Examines Biodiversity/Ecosystem Management
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
JOHANNESBURG, 26 August -- As the World Summit on Sustainable Development this afternoon examined critical issues related to biodiversity and ecosystem management, a High-Level Adviser for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) cautioned that unless governments took immediate action to address environmental degradation and overuse of natural resources, the future of the world could be irreparably undermined.
With that warning, Peter Schei opened the second in a series of partnership plenaries focusing on the five thematic areas identified by Secretary-General Kofi Annan as key to progress at the Summit -- water, energy, health, agricultural productivity and biodiversity. Mr. Schei said biodiversity could be seen as an insurance policy for life itself -- the living basis for sustainable development, encompassing ecosystems, as well as providing "goods and services" that purified water, contributed to pollination and controlled pollution.
Hamdallah Zedan, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biodiversity, stressed that biological diversity was essential for sustainable development, as it generated a wide range of goods and services on which national economies depended. The causes for the loss of biodiversity were human induced and were the same driving forces behind other environmental problems, such as climate change and desertification. Therefore, it was necessary to address all the various causes in an integrated manner.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, he said, had emerged from Rio as a key instrument for not only conservation, but for the sustainable use of biodiversity and ensuring that benefits arising from the use of genetic resources were equitably shared. Indeed, it was the first treaty on sustainable development. Subsequent relevant agreements had led to significant progress in understanding the importance of biodiversity and the consequences of its loss. There had also been progress with regard to building partnerships and inter-agency cooperation.
The discussion on the issue included a panel of 15, representing United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations, community activists and business. The wide-ranging debate, moderated by the Secretary-General's Special Envoy to the Summit, Jan Pronk, touched on the depletion of natural resources, the extinction of indigenous species, government responsibility and international conventions to protect biodiversity, among others.
During the discussion, a representative of UNEP pointed out that most concepts of biodiversity were incorporated international conventions. A host of ideas was available, but they were in need of implementation. The concept of biodiversity was not well understood by the public, which might be a reason for the lack of progress. The term biodiversity at the public level had been seen as a species issues, but the great importance of eco-system management needed be underlined.
A business representative echoed the sentiments of many speakers, saying that partnership was at the heart of solutions. No one sector was responsible for biodiversity. The root causes of biodiversity loss had to be addressed, he added, and that led back to equity sharing and giving local communities a stake in conservation.
When Member States took the floor, India's Minister of Environment and Forests emphasized the importance of creating partnerships to address biodiversity loss. He noted that his country's conservation strategy had depended heavily on cooperation with all stakeholders. He called on the international community to put in place a mechanism for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
Several speakers touched on the link between poverty and biodiversity. In addressing the causes of biodiversity loss, the Minister of Environment for the United Kingdom said it was necessary to have incentives to reduce commercial pressures leading to the overexploitation of natural resources. Time-bound targets on natural resources, biodiversity and fishing were needed.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Denmark's Environment Minister, said the Summit must set a target to halt the loss of natural resources by 2015 and reinforce the target agreed on at the Sixth Conference of the Parties in April 2002 to halt biodiversity loss by 2010. Moreover, it must give political impetus to action to reach those targets. Those included recognition and application of the ecosystem approach as the basis for managing natural resources.
Also participating in the discussion were the government ministers and representatives of Ecuador, Uganda, Japan, Czech Republic, Benin, Armenia, Nepal, Niger, Seychelles, Norway, Gabon, Netherlands, Egypt, Mexico and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as a representative of the Palestinian Authority.
The Summit will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 27 August, to hold a partnership plenary on agriculture.
Interactive Partnership Plenary
Presenting on the theme of biodiversity/ecosystem management, PETER SCHEI, High-Level Adviser for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), stressed that if the international community did not act immediately to address critical matters related to biodiversity, particularly environmental degradation and overuse of natural resources, the world's future could soon be irreparably undermined. Biodiversity, together with good ecosystem management, was important to ensure the sustainability of all ecosystem services. Biodiversity was not the same as biological resources. It underlined the concept that diversity could be seen as an insurance policy for life itself.
He went on to say that biodiversity could be seen as the living basis for sustainable development, encompassing ecosystems, but also producing "goods and services" that led to the protection of soils, contributed to pollination, purified water and controlled pollution. It was essential, therefore, to integrate biodiversity concerns into the other sectors identified by Secretary-General Kofi Annan as integral to a coherent approach to sustainable development -- including water, energy, health, and agricultural productivity.
The challenge was great, but perhaps figures on the economic impact of protecting biodiversity and ensuring ecosystem services could provide impetus for action, he continued. It had been estimated that the value of biodiversity was some $3 trillion per year, with overall ecosystem services estimated at over $33 trillion. That figure was practically the gross national product (GNP) for the entire planet. While those figures could be debated, the extreme value of ensuring functioning ecosystems and the biodiversity interplay -- at least in the economic sense -- was undeniable. He added that the international community could not forget the scientific, recreational and cultural value of ensuring biodiversity.
He said that there had been some achievements, particularly with the instrumental help of non-governmental organizations. Major treaties had been developed, some species had been saved from extinction and tracts of land were under protection. But, he was sad to say that many of those initiatives remained in effect only on paper -- protected areas were in fact not very well protected and many treaties went unimplemented. To overcome some of the challenges facing biodiversity today, it was important to promote knowledge, information-sharing and education, as well as develop human and institutional capacities, and financing.
Also presenting on the theme, HAMDALLAH ZEDAN, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biodiversity, said that biological diversity was essential for sustainable development. It generated a wide range of goods and services on which national economies depended and on which the rural population depended more than any other sector of society. The causes for the loss of biodiversity were human-induced and were the same driving forces behind other environmental problems, such as climate change and desertification. It was necessary, therefore, to address all the various causes in an integrated manner.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, he continued, had emerged from Rio as a key instrument for not only conservation, but for the sustainable use of biodiversity and ensuring that benefits arising from the use of genetic resources were equitably shared. Indeed, it was the first treaty on sustainable development. There were several areas of progress. For example, all biodiversity-related agreements had led to significant progress in understanding the importance of biodiversity and the consequences of its loss. Those agreements had proved to be effective tools for policy development. There had also been much progress with regard to building partnerships and inter-agency cooperation.
Certainly, the world had not achieved as much as it had wanted to, he noted. In that regard, he mentioned several barriers impeding the implementation of various biodiversity actions plans. Those barriers were political, institutional, economic, financial and technical in nature. The tools for progress were available. The concepts to be applied and the measures to be undertaken were known to everyone.
Among the challenges faced was the need to mainstream biodiversity into national sectoral and cross-sectoral plans, particularly with regard to economic development, he said. It seemed that the political will was lacking in that connection. Also, the global trade, financial and environmental systems must be mutually supportive. In addition, quantifiable targets must be established and monitoring mechanisms must be in place. Furthermore, it was crucial to ensure that developing countries and countries in transition had the necessary financial resources to implement action plans.
In the interactive discussion that followed, JAN PRONK, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General to the Summit, addressed specific questions to 15 panel members, who represented United Nations entities, major groups, experts and advisers.
The panel members included: Karen Ireton, business representative; Sabastiao Haji Mhnchineri, Pueblos Indigenous; Meena Raman, Friends of the Earth, Malaysia; Beate Weber, International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives; Margarita Velazquez, Gender and Environmental Network, Mexico; Elaine Alexie, Gwich'in First Nation; Delmar Blasco, Convention on Wetlands; Charles NcNeil, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Peter Bridgewater, Man and Biosphere Programme; M.S. Swaminathan, Centre for Research on Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development; Thomas Rosswall, International Council for Science; Tom Lambie, Federated Farms; Mark Collins, World Conservation Monitoring Centre; Jeff McNeely, International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources; and Estefania Blount Martin, Instituto Sindical de Trabajo, Ambiente y Salud.
Asked if the current generation had done enough to prevent further loss of biodiversity, the representative of youth answered in the negative. Without intact ecosystems, life could not be sustained. The young generation needed to address the overexploitation of resources. The current generation had not done enough.
The indigenous representative said generations had not done enough to retain biodiversity and everyone, young and old, should be involved. A scientific representative added that there was adequate scientific knowledge for action. There were so many pressures on biodiversity. The example of crops in Africa showed that, unless there was a stake in conversation, indigenous people were converting land for the common loss.
Another scientific representative said the reason why not enough had been done was a gap in the feedback loop. Closing the feedback loop could be done by governments listening to scientists and scientists putting the issues in understandable language. Everybody needed to take biodiversity as a personal challenge and support it in their personal behaviour.
The representative of the business sector said partnership was at the heart of solutions. Not one sector was responsible for biodiversity. The root causes of biodiversity loss had to be addressed, and that led back to equity-sharing and giving local communities a stake in conversation.
The representative of local communities said species did not disappear shouting -- they did it quietly. On the local level, existing ecosystems could be protected by, among other things, raising awareness. Asked about the necessity of growth, he said there were vast numbers of people who had not yet realized the benefits of growth, so that growth certainly must continue. Growth, however, must take place in a way that incorporated the values society placed on biodiversity
Asked how policies could be changed, a scientific representative said policies were integrated in the Convention on Biodiversity and the recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) treaty on food security. There had been little interest on the part of industrialized countries to implement them, however, as there was no international obligation.
The farm representative said farmers had a huge responsibility, as they were charged with feeding the world, as well as with maintaining the environment. Farmers were constantly looking for partnerships with government, business and the public. Within those partnerships they were looking for regulations regarding the environment, as well as for technical support from the scientific community. Financial assistance in achieving biodiversity was also necessary.
Asked whether governments were taking the issue seriously, the representative of UNEP said most concepts of biodiversity were incorporated international conventions. A host of ideas was available, but they were in need of implementation. The concept of biodiversity was not well understood by the public, which might be a reason for the lack of progress. The term biodiversity at the public level had been seen as a species issues, but the great importance of eco-system management needed be underlined. Educating the public was a kind of new stage in implementation.
The representative of non-governmental organizations said that, more than anybody in the world, the indigenous people felt the pain of loss of biodiversity loss and were at the heart of the issue. One needed to look at the model of development. Growth was mentioned as necessary, but resources were limited. Should one choose more cars or more public transportation, for instance? Developing countries had taken up trawl fishing through the FAO, leading to destruction of fisheries. Genetic engineering was another issue to be examined.
The representative of the farmers said, however, that the World Trade Organization (WTO) round was important, because it could provide fair trading rules. He added that there was a real need to examine productive systems, to ensure they could be made more environmentally compatible, while still keeping pace with population growth.
The representative of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources said the consideration of land-use initiatives was the issue of trade-offs. So, to that end, economists could help understand business trade-offs and biologists could help identify ecological or scientific trade-offs. He added that a farmer's behaviour was generally affected by matters beyond his control -- namely the subsidies being provided by their respective governments. It was important to ensure that those subsidies were directed at ecologically safe or compatible production and agricultural development.
The representative of trade unions said there were not only political dimensions, but social ones as well, since decisions related to land use had a direct impact on employment, health and quality of life of millions of workers. The workers must be consulted on the models under consideration. The women's representative agreed, adding that women must also be consulted in efforts to manage or maintain ecosystems.
The representative of the Convention on Wetlands wondered if -- while everyone was debating political and social aspects of biodiversity -- anybody could name one political candidate who had won an election on an ecological ticket. The critical challenge, therefore, was how to make sure that everyone was aware that biodiversity issues were essential to all life on the planet. He said it was it was shameful that international treaties related to biodiversity were negotiated at a very high level, but such instruments were subsequently handed over to small agencies with very little power to ensure implementation.
The representative of the non-governmental organization community said perhaps it was not an issue of making people more aware, noble, moral or nice. There were certain forces at work that needed to be changed. By example, she mentioned the TRIP's agreement schemes, which gave corporations a monopoly over biological resources or the ability to patent life forms. It was essential to re-examine macroeconomic policies which undermined sustainability. Industry could not have the right to go into any area and trample on resources that provided livelihoods for people of local communities.
The representative of indigenous peoples agreed, adding that in some cases, certain entities were guilty of the inappropriate use of ancestral knowledge. Those entities which manipulated or profited from the knowledge of indigenous populations must be identified, so that such behaviour did not continue.
The discussion was then opened to delegates and several speakers touched on the link between poverty and biodiversity. "If we want action on poverty, we need effective action on the management of biodiversity", said the Environment Minister of the United Kingdom. In addressing the causes of biodiversity loss, it was necessary to have incentives to reduce commercial pressures leading to the overexploitation of natural resources. Time-bound targets on natural resources, biodiversity and fishing were needed. In addition to the two T's -- clear targets and tight but workable timetables -- also necessary were the three M's -- effective mechanisms, monitoring and money.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Denmark's Environment Minister, said the Summit must set a target to halt the loss of natural resources by 2015 and reinforce the target agreed on at the Sixth Conference of the Parties in April 2002 to halt biodiversity loss by 2010. Moreover, it must give political impetus to action to reach those targets, which included recognition and application of the ecosystem approach as the basis for managing natural resources. In addition, it was necessary to ensure fair and equitable sharing of benefits from the use of genetic resources.
Poverty, noted Uganda's Minister of State for Environment, was contributing to the loss of biodiversity. The biggest proportion of biodiversity was in the developing world, where poverty was a huge problem. Enabling the people of the developing world to overcome poverty would help stop the decline of biodiversity. In his country, for example, 90 per cent of fuel needs were provided by wood. In such a situation, how could the loss of biodiversity be reduced? In that regard, he proposed that the international community assist developing countries to develop hydropower.
The Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry of the Czech Republic said opportunities for the sustainable use of natural resources could be done through the use of economic incentives. He urged all countries in which biodiversity was still high, not to sell their long-term future for short-term economic gains.
Emphasizing the importance of partnerships in addressing biodiversity loss, India's Minister of Environment and Forest noted that his country's conservation strategy had depended heavily on partnerships and cooperation with all stakeholders. He called on the international community to put in place a mechanism for conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Key issues in that connection included the development of an enabling environment to ensure benefits to countries of origin.
Also on partnerships, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment of Gabon said his country did not always attract the most virtuous partners. While Gabon had a product that could be useful to treat drug addiction in the country, a company in a Western country wanted to patent that product. The so-called "Type 2" agreements should safeguard against such situations.
The Secretary of State of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment of the Netherlands drew attention to the fact that multinational corporations in the field of agriculture possessed a lot of knowledge in the field of biodiversity. That knowledge was used for commercial purposes. He proposed to look at ways that such knowledge could be used in a broader framework.
Stressing that decision-making must be based on scientific data and knowledge, the representative of Japan said information must be shared at the global level. In addition, the establishment of ecological networks at the international, national, regional and local level must be promoted. Development of a national strategy for conservation of biodiversity played an important role in the implementation of the Convention.
Turning to the specific problems of least developed countries (LDCs), the Minister of Environment, Habitat and Urban Affairs of Benin said such countries had to face the loss of biodiversity caused by climate change. It was, therefore, necessary in those countries to strengthen the capacities of stakeholders for decision-making in the area of conservation of resources. He emphasized that LDCs needed assistance in conserving biodiversity and that a synergy should be developed between the different conventions.
Armenia's Minister for Foreign Affairs said there was a constant debate about the role of scientists in environment policies. Yet, many scientists feared to participate in such discussions, because they might lose credibility. How could that problem be addressed? she asked. Also, how could the economic value of biodiversity and the value of indigenous knowledge in resource management be determined? Finally, she asked at what point there was enough evidence of the impact of human activities for governments to realize that actions were necessary.
A number of speakers highlighted various measures their governments had taken to conserver biodiversity. The Palestinian Authority said its Minister of Environment had set out a strategic plan, with the assistance of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), to protect biodiversity in Palestine, ensure the sustainable use of biodiversity, and protect natural resources, including the protection of paths of migratory birds. The occupation, he noted, was now covering more than 10,000 hectares of agricultural land and had uprooted more than one million trees. He wanted the international community to intervene to put an end to the horrendous impact of occupation on biodiversity in his country.
Representing small island developing States, the Minister of Environment of Seychelles pointed out that those countries were one of the most threatened ecosystems in the world. They were faced with an increasing paucity of international support at the very moment when their existence was being threatened by changing trade rules and global warming, among other things.
The Minister of Environment and Biodiversity of Egypt described plans to increase the number of 23 protected parks, covering 9 per cent of her country's area, to 40. The parks included integrated and protected ecosystems. Sustained development was continuing in the form of projects including ecotourism. Her Government endeavored to ensure participation of non-governmental organizations and civil society. As Egypt suffered from lack of rain, she highlighted an experiment in which processed and treated drinking water was used for forestation purposes in desert areas.
The Minister of Environment for the Democratic Republic of the Congo said efforts to promote biodiversity should draw upon programmes that already existed. That would ensure that developing countries could protect and safely use their own natural resources. He recognized there were problems with such a plan, particularly regarding appropriate technology and information. He called on the international community to provide the resources necessary for developing countries to enhance their capacities to put their natural resources to sustainable use.
The importance of biodiversity to local cultures was emphasized by the representative for indigenous people, who stated that indigenous knowledge revolved around nature. Indeed, most indigenous communities were located near their chief natural resources. Nature should not be seen as a source of merchandise, he said. The earth was for all to share. He appealed to world governments to listen to the language of indigenous people, who believed that development must include human beings, as well as nature.
In closing comments, Mr. PRONK said that there was overall consensus that the international community was not on target. It was necessary to speed up action to meet the commitments undertaken. The necessary knowledge was present; what was needed was action. The urgency of the matter was clearly felt. The greater the threat for further loss, the greater the need to change the models and policies of the past. He also drew attention to the fact that there were many events taking place in the Ubuntu Village during the Summit bringing together best practices.
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