Biodiversity talks end with slew of announcements

International ministers united under the Cancun Declaration, which include nearly all countries except the United States, have agreed to measures to restore eco-systems, improve conservation and track biodiversity targets.

Intergovernmental negotiations under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Cancún, Mexico ended on Friday with a slew of decisions aimed at safeguarding nature, ensuring natural resources can be used sustainably, and that the benefits are shared fairly and equitably.

The parties to the CBD, which include nearly all countries except the United States, agreed to integrate biodiversity into the policies of key economic sectors that depend on and impact nature. For the first time, high-level participation included environment ministers and also ministers of agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism.

The gathered ministers and heads of delegations committed in a Cancún Declaration to specific actions in each of these sectors, and “to work at all levels within our governments and across all sectors to mainstream biodiversity, establishing effective institutional, legislative and regulatory frameworks”.

This “mainstreaming” approach, coupled with pledges to bring the values of biodiversity into national accounting systems, may mean that biodiversity at last gets the attention it deserves.

However, despite the progress, a new rift between developed and developing countries has emerged. The split, which concerns digital information on genetic sequences, may have far-reaching implications for the CBD and will be addressed at its next meeting in 2018.

Good news and bad

The Cancún talks, held from 4-17 December and attended by four thousand delegates from 167 countries, got off to a good start with a number of high profile announcements.

Brazil unveiled plans to restore 22 million hectares of degraded land by 2030, the largest ever commitment of this kind. Mexico announced four new biological reserves and five more protected areas. Among other moves, Japan pledged US$16 million to support capacity-building activities in developing countries.

It wasn’t all good news though. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature declared that 11 per cent of 700 newly-recognised bird species are threatened with extinction and that giraffes have declined in number by 40 per cent in just three decades.

Meanwhile, the CBD Secretariat warned that two-thirds of the 20 globally agreed goals to address biodiversity loss – the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – are at risk of not being met by the 2020 deadline, “with serious consequences for human well-being”.

Decisions, decisions

In Cancún, governments agreed more than 70 detailed decisions on everything from sustainable use of bushmeat to climate-related geoengineering, from invasive alien species to the impacts of marine debris and underwater noise.

They adopted a short-term action plan on ecological restoration, a decision to improve conservation and management of pollinators that are essential for food security, and a set of indicators for tracking progress towards the Aichi targets.

Other decisions included the repatriation of traditional knowledge; ecologically or biologically significant ocean areas; capacity building; and a global communication strategy. Parties also agreed on guidance to ensure the Global Environmental Facility, the CBD’s multilateral financial mechanism, can prioritise issues agreed in Cancún.

Protests and progress

Progress was not easy. On the penultimate day, representatives of indigenous peoples and local communities walked out of negotiations on guidelines for ensuring they have a say in how their traditional knowledge can be accessed and that they share the benefits arising from its use.

They were unhappy with proposed language describing how these groups would give consent to the use of their knowledge. Nongovernmental organisations staged a sit-in protest in solidarity.

After much debate, the parties to the CBD adopted the guidelines with text that says “prior informed consent”, or “free prior informed consent” or “approval and involvement”, depending on national circumstances, should be implemented in a context of “full respect” for the indigenous peoples and local communities.

This story was published with permission from The Third Pole. Read the full story.

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