The 14th Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP14), held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November, was my first “COP” of any kind, and I participated as part of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) delegation.
While I was not directly involved in following the formal negotiations, but rather participated for side and parallel events, I was still able to get a good first insight into the world of global environmental policy negotiations: The contact group discussions frequently continuing until midnight and beyond; the difficulty of following a non-sequential agenda where you can never be quite sure when a certain item will come up, how quickly or slowly things will progress, and items re-appear days after they were first brought up; and the lengthy discussions about parentheses and whether parties should be “concerned” or “deeply concerned” about a certain issue (the implications of climate change on biodiversity, as per the recent IPCC report on 1.5 degrees global warming, in this case).
But also, the potential power of agreements that are being negotiated with delegates from virtually all countries in the world, which is palpable as you see all these delegates coming together in the same building, and not leaving it until they have concluded on each item on the agenda (hence the late night sessions) – as CBD Executive Secretary Palmer quoted a well-known proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. Pleas to delegates to reach agreements that would help demonstrate the strengths of multilateralism in times where it is increasingly being challenged, were frequently heard.
My personal highlight, however, was the award ceremony for the Pathfinder Award for innovation in nature conservation, a prize which we launched jointly with UNDP and WildArk this year, with its 2018 edition celebrating innovation and excellence in protected and conserved area financing and resourcing, as per the COP’s motto “Investing in biodiversity for people and planet”. We sponsored representatives of the four winning nominations to participate in the COP. All of them have found commendable solutions to a key challenge concerning conservation areas around the world – the lack of adequate funding to ensure a site is managed so that it can deliver its nature conservation goals. The award winning solutions range from a transboundary trust fund to support protected areas across 3 countries in the western Balkans, to sustainable ecotourism with “mindful engineering” structures mimicking natural features such as spider webs in a reserve near Manila, Philippines. Held as part of the opening plenary, the award ceremony was a truly proud moment, and a reminder that safeguarding nature requires leadership, innovation, passion and collaboration, as demonstrated by the winners.
“Area-based conservation” was high on the agenda of the formal negotiations as well, and a key outcome of this COP is the adoption of a definition for “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs), or “conserved areas”. These are referenced in Aichi Target 11 which requires countries to set up networks of protected and conserved areas, agreed in 2010 and expiring, as all Aichi Targets, in 2020. It might seem surprising that a lack of clarity on what type of sites can actually be counted towards the target has persisted up until now. The truth is, effective nature conservation often happens outside of formally designated protected areas such as national parks – ranging from indigenous peoples who might maintain sacred sites, to private actors such as ecotourism companies. Having legal clarity on this aspect of Target 11 will enable a huge leap forward in recognizing, supporting and reporting on such sites, in the “final Aichi countdown” leading up to COP15 in Beijing, China, in 2020.
An earnest effort to still achieve at least some of the Aichi Targets (with Target 11 being one of the few that is at least partially on track) will then, at COP15, be followed by the negotiation of a new “global deal for nature”. A lot remains to be done until then to make society understand that if we continue to let the musicians leave the stage one after the other, the symphony of life will eventually go mute – and that this is not only a problem for those passionate naturalists who mourn the loss of a pretty dragonfly or bird species, but to everyone who needs to breathe, drink clean water, be sheltered from storms or eat. Whether we speak of “ecosystem service valuation” or “the symphony of life” – we need to find the right language to bring everyone in, and enable a broad conversation on the fundamental importance of nature to all of us, to create the societal momentum for an ambitious new agreement that matches the urgency of the global biodiversity crisis. It worked once with climate change and the Paris Agreement – let’s make it work again.
Marie Fischborn, ENV’18
Lead Protected Area Solutions
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