Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Indiana Jones and the Fight for Biodiversity

Now if Indiana Jones thinks that saving biodiversity is a good thing, then well, maybe it is. I can't recall a time that Indi was ever wrong...Nor Hans Solo for that matter..

That's right, Harrison Ford was in attendance at a summit of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, being held in Nagoya, Japan from October 18 - 29, 2010. I had no idea he was a conservationist, not to be confused with conservative - an easy mistake to make given his country of origin..Tea Party Patriots, need I say more?

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international treaty for the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of the components of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of the benefits derived from the use of genetic resources. It entered into being in 1993 and has near universal participation of countries. Of course, the U.S. is among three countries that have not yet ratified it. 

That's why Indi was there, to kick some Congress butt into action! He called on the U.S. to ratify the convention and to spread the environmental word to American consumers, the largest (no pun intended) consumers in the world.  

In his opening summit address, Ahmed Djoghlaf, CBD Executive Secretary, underlined the urgency of the talks: 'The third edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook demonstrates that, today, the rate of loss of biodiversity is up to one thousand times higher than the background and historical rate of extinction. The report predicts that if we allow the current trends to continue we shall soon reach a tipping point with irreversible and irreparable damage to the capacity of the planet to continue sustaining life on Earth.' 

Talks between country representatives resulted in agreement on the "Aichi Target", which includes 20 headline targets organized under five strategic goals to be reached by 2020. Targets of particular importance include:
  • Cutting the rate of natural habitat loss, including forests, by at least 50%;
  • Increasing protection of land (and inland waters) from 13% to 17%
  • Increasing protection of marine and coastal areas from 1% to 10%; 
  • Restoring at least 15 % of degraded areas; and
  • Reducing pressures faced by coral reefs 

Parties agreed to a 'substantial increase in the level of financial resources in support of implementation of the Convention'. But who knows what that will or will not translate into. Criticism of the Aichi Target stems in large part from lack of funding for its actual implementation.

Agreement on the equitable sharing of the benefits (often genetic) derived from the exploitation of flora and fauna was expected to cause problems for overall summit goals.  However, a protocol was developed to ensure that developing countries rich in natural resources, such as Brazil, are recompensated for products made from their native plants and animals. This protocol will come into play once it is ratified by at least 50 parties.   

Ahmed Djoghlaf seemed to be pleased with the outcome of the summit in light of his closing remarks. Conservation groups, on the other hand, say that it is a step in the right direction, but not nearly enough.

Ford has sat on the board of Conservation International for 20 years, and is the current Vice Chair. In addition to calling on the U.S. to ratify the Convention, he was at the Nagoya Summit to persuade world leaders to protect vast amounts of land and water. His organization believes that 25% of land and 15% of oceans need to be protected in order to steer clear of the tipping point.

The U.S. has not paid heed to Indi's calls, citing that  it has so far not been politically 'necessary' to ratify the convention (let alone agree on the Aichi Target). This is the summit's greatest weakness. The U.S. is the world's largest energy consumer, and has the highest Gross Domestic Product; a country unfortunately, with a lot of pull on the world stage. If the U.S. is not on board, other developing countries may forgo their pledges in the name of economic development at the expense of their natural resources. Not to mention that American pharmaceutical companies and other businesses have no requirement to respect the protocol on the equitable sharing of benefits derived from countries' native plants and animals. And we all know how 'ethical' pharmaceutical companies have been of late. If the failing Obama government won't sign on, can we expect the next American government backed by a sweeping citizen movement that promotes fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets? I think that is a resounding no. 

Listen to Indiana Jones people! Speaking to the 193 countries in Nagoya he said that nature provides free services but that it is under threat, and bold and decisive action needs to be taken. He wasn't kidding. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, a global study initiated by the G8 and five major developing economies to analyze the global economic benefit of biological diversity, the costs of the loss of biodiversity and the failure to take protective measures versus the costs of effective conservation,” found compelling economic arguments for conservation. Below is an example: 

The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity: TEEB for Business Executive Summary
After seeing these numbers, why do we still not get it?! And we haven't even factored into the equation improvements to health. For instance, if we were to reduce overweight and obesity by changing the food industry; growing wholesome foods in a sustainable manner. In Canada, overweight and obesity are estimated to cost CAD$ 6 billion. Or by reducing the amount of pollutants we pump into the environment. Environmental pollutants in the U.S. are estimated to cost US$ 55 billion due to diseases in children, such as asthma.   
Let's all get on the same page here; being 'green' IS compatible with economic and social development, will improve health for all, and will leave us with a planet that we can pass on to our children.

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