by Mika Tan, Singapore
What does it mean to track biodiversity conservation policy at a UN meeting?
At the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP 13) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the “negotiating text” (i.e., policy decisions that governments negotiate) is being discussed in two “Working Groups” 1 and 2, each handling about half of the topics, or “Item”s, in the negotiating text. Working Groups (WGs) have their discussions in “plenary” sessions in giant halls that look like this:
Plenary hall where all country delegates, intergovernmental organizations, and NGOs (including youth) negotiate the text. Seen here is the plenary hall from the Youth seat (“Jóvenes” is “Youth” in Spanish, since we are hosted by Mexico). Photo Credit: Thiemo Karwinkel
This COP, the negotiations for CBD-associated Protocols are also merged: the Nagoya Protocol (NP) on Access and Benefit-Sharing and the Cartagena Protocol (CP) on Biosafety. It was decided that WG 1 will cover the topics that are more cross-sectoral and relevant to the CBD and the Protocols.
This means that in one plenary session, Items from the CBD, NP, and CP are up for discussion and our team has to be very on top of things to keep up with the negotiations!
Screen shot of an example agenda in each Working Group. Notice that WG 1 includes Items in the Nagoya Protocol and the Cartagena Protocol (and in other days CBD as well), but WG2 only contains CBD Items.
Our amazing dedicated policy team members masterfully tracking negotiations in Working Group 1. Featured here are two social media team members who live tweet main happenings in English and Spanish. From left: Melina Sakiyama (Brasil), Michelle Pazmino (Ecuador), Bharath Kolan Reddy (India), James Kaliisa (Uganda), Amelia Arreguín Prado (Mexico), Miyuki Ando (Japan). Photo Credit: Bharath Reddy
Tracking then means that we listen and note down what country delegates and other organizations are saying about the particular Items. Sometimes these statements they make are more general, highlighting the importance and urgency of, for example, addressing sources of marine litter.
Other times the statements are about specific words and phrases used in the negotiating text, because every word that finally gets agreed upon by all Parties (i.e., countries that have signed the CBD or the Protocols respectively) is legally binding.
In the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, “indigenous peoples” is a recognized, legal term that has been defined and the definition agreed upon by all Parties. Hence, if “indigenous people” without the “s” were included in the negotiating text and agreed by the Parties, it would not hold the same legal obligations as “indigenous peoples” would. Words matter!
Often, if Parties cannot agree on an issue in the plenaries, they move in to “Contact Group” sessions which are smaller informal negotiations. At the CBD, NGOs and non-Parties are usually allowed to enter these Contact Group rooms to observe the progress of negotiations, which can run late into the night.
After the sessions, our hardworking team then prepares a succinct summary for each topic, which we will be sharing in future blog posts. Keep an eye out for them!