Biodiversity protection needs community input

REDD+ has been criticised for leading to commercial monocultures of fast-growing alien trees Copyright: Flickr/ kalimantan

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A pledge to increase support for biodiversity targets in developing countries is welcome, but care for indigenous people is vital too.

This month’s meeting of the 11th Conference of the Parties (COP 11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), held in Hyderabad in India, came as a reality check on the capacity of the international community to implement pledges on biodiversity made two years ago in Nagoya, Japan.

At that landmark meeting in Nagoya, countries agreed on 20 global biodiversity targets for 2010–2020 (called the Aichi Targets, after the province in which Nagoya is located) and outlined a protocol on access and benefit sharing to ensure that local communities benefit from profits made by governments or companies from their resources.

But Nagoya had an unfinished third agenda that Hyderabad inherited — the mobilisation of financial resources to meet the Aichi targets. India also endeavoured to use the meeting to focus on links between biodiversity and livelihoods.

Broader understanding

Unlike the climate change meetings of the past few years, high-level negotiations on biodiversity are not closed-door sessions. The result is more input from civil society organisations (CSOs) and less drama — even if only some of the CSOs’ concerns are addressed.

For example, CSOs and some official delegations, notably from Bolivia and the Philippines, called for a moratorium on tests in synthetic biology and geo-engineering. Scientists observed that this would neither fill knowledge gaps nor lead to more informed decision-making in these emerging and controversial fields. The meeting finally called for precaution and more scientific evidence before large-scale deployment of these technologies.

There now seems to be a broader understanding, reflected at the meeting, that biodiversity is a cross-cutting issue, and UN agencies and international centres that focus on plants, food, fish, livestock and health need to talk to each other.

For example, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings have evolved REDD+ as a mechanism to reduce deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries, and to encourage forest growth. But REDD+ is drawing flak from biodiversity experts for leading to commercial monocultures of fast-growing alien trees rather than the regrowth of original forest.

The pace and degree of progress varied in each cross-cutting area. In agriculture, there was a definite outcome, with the Food and Agriculture Organization and CBD signing a memorandum of understanding on collaboration to promote partnerships in research, policy and practice.

But discussions regarding biodiversity and climate change ended on a weak note. The final document ‘requests’ liaison groups of various UN conventions, in order to identify workshops and activities on climate change that could be conveyed to the biodiversity convention to ‘continue discussions’. [1]

Regarding REDD+, the decision ‘requests’ countries to compile information on applications to safeguard biodiversity in REDD+ activities.

Support to meet targets

Despite some dialogue, the divide between developed and developing nations persists.

Most biodiversity-rich nations are economically poor, and conservation projects require finance and technical expertise for activities and data assessment. Therefore, financial and technical support is necessary to implement the Aichi targets.

On the other hand, developed countries ­— with many battling financial crises — feel their aid list is growing, which makes progress difficult. With the COP 11 meeting running overtime, India used its position as COP president to push for a compromise that involved a doubling of current spending on biodiversity by developed nations. In turn, developing countries would strive to meet at least 75 per cent of their Aichi targets.

But this formula falls short of estimated needs. A high-level panel sponsored by India and the UK has estimated that the cost of implementing the Aichi targets is between US$150 billion and US$430 billion a year. Of this, developing countries are estimated to need between US$74 billion and US$191 billion from 2014–2018 to achieve the targets. [2]

Traditions and practices

The financial pledge is a beginning. There was also an announcement at the UN Development Programme’s biodiversity framework on 18 October, of US$1.5 billion — as well as co-financing of US$3.5 billion from partners to implement the Aichi targets.

But finalisation of the aid package and implementation of the biodiversity targets without further marginalising the poor will require a deeper understanding of the intricate links between biodiversity, poverty and livelihoods by scientists, policymakers, donors and developed countries.  

Over centuries, communities in Africa, Asia and South America have developed traditional ways of using natural resources without disrupting the balance between their needs and the environment. But this traditional knowledge has been eroded as countries aspiring for development over-exploit their resources.

Discussions during the Hyderabad meeting on Article 8 (j) under CBD — which addresses traditional knowledge and customary practices related to conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity — were fraught with tensions in relation to the issue of mobilising funding.

The final decision noted "the apparent lack of financial support" for indigenous and local communities in their efforts to develop community plans, and invited donors to support indigenous communities to document, map and register their conserved areas. [1]

It also noted the potential contribution of the international Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Land and Sea Managers Network, announced at the Rio+20 summit in June, which could help to link modern technology and indigenous expertise.

Scientists need to give parity to poor communities’ traditional knowledge that may not be documented or published in peer-reviewed journals, just as policymakers need to take on-board the concerns of poor communities. Achieving the ‘end’ of reaching Aichi targets does not justify the ‘means’ of displacing local communities.

T.V. Padma

Regional coordinator for South Asia, SciDev.Net