Mainstreaming Biodiversity & Marine Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas: Terminology, Treaties, and Timelines

By Charlotte Whitney (Canada), Alejandra Echeverri (Colombia), and Franzi Bäker (Germany)

The overarching theme of of the 13th CBD Conference of the Parties (COP13) is Mainstreaming Biodiversity, which means to consider and incorporate biodiversity for ecological and human wellbeing in all the productive sectors, including agriculture, forests, fisheries, and tourism. The group of up to 10,000 attendees was split into two working groups so as to be more efficient during the two weeks of the COP.

During the first week of COP13 we completed the first reading of the draft decisions on the Convention on Biological Diversity, which are provided beforehand for parties and delegates to consider and propose changes to. In Working Group 2, we worked through 20 Conference Room Papers (CRPs), which are working documents used during the conference. The topics considered included: mainstreaming biodiversity,  the rights of Indigenous peoples and Local Communities, marine management and EBSAs, invasive alien species, scientific and technical issues including synthetic biology, and wildlife management and pollinators.

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Temperate kelp forest, British Columbia, Canada | Photo by Jenn Burt

Charlotte (Canada) a global north delegate for GYBN, was in charge of following Item 15, on  Marine issues and EBSAs (Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas). The main discussion from the parties about this topic was around conservation issues, related to marine debris, underwater noise, and a diversity of protected areas tools.

On December 5th, GYBN made an intervention on marine issues asking that parties accept the current EBSA list, which should lead to more multinational support for this tool, and work towards more effective marine spatial planning. Following the parties negotiations closely allowed us to tailor our negotiation to the debates and support the stated positions of certain parties in our intervention. As members of civil society, we aren’t allowed to suggest specific changes to the text or the ongoing negotiation, so we spend a lot of time thinking about alliances and lobbying for our perspectives around specific items. Unfortunately, the contentious text about EBSAs continues to be a point of conflict throughout the second week.

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Small scale fishing boat, Canada | Photo by Lauren Eckert

 

Terminology rules at COP. It’s not uncommon for a discussion around a single line or phrase in the negotiating text to take half an hour or more, or to even come to a standstill. During the marine sessions, a lengthy discussion took place about the inclusion of “pelagic areas” or whether to use the more general phrase “open sea areas”, when referring to marine debris and the associated regulations. After talking to some of the more experienced delegates, we think that this disagreement relates to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and whether some nations are or are not signed on to that agreement. There are so many layers of complexity beyond sometimes simple points of disagreement here! It is important to understand that these discussions over scientific terminology are often referring back to political issues, such as the delimitation of boundaries on national jurisdictions.

 

During the first reading of the negotiating text, parties also discussed Item 10, which refers to mainstreaming and integrating biodiversity within and across sectors. Led by Alejandra Echeverri (Colombia) and Franzi Baeker (Germany), GYBN made an intervention to state that:

1) Mainstreaming biodiversity should be added as a permanent item in the agenda for future COP meetings,

2) Other sectors including extractive industries and energy should be included,

3) When referring to mainstreaming biodiversity on agriculture, sustainable and ecological ‘intensification’ are complex and unnecessary terminology that could be misinterpreted (back to terminology!), and that

4) Youth, and Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities should be added as relevant groups and stakeholders throughout the process of mainstreaming biodiversity.

This intervention was also in line with the values and perspectives of several parties and other groups, and we’re still continuing the progress of these changes a week later. Happily, we can report that our intervention related to sustainable agriculture (not intensification!) was spot on and is now a relatively ‘hot topic’ within the contact groups. Success! It’s good to feel that we’re on the right track. Unfortunately for the results of the COP, this issue is still unresolved.

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GYBN Evening Team Meeting | Photo by IISD/ENB | Francis Dejon

Treaties among parties are complicated and multifaceted. A main topic that continues to arise relates to inequality and funding disparity among developed and developing nations. For instance, last week some debate arose about subsidies and incentives for ecosystem protection and restoration. The debate was led by Nicaragua, opposed by Zambia, Norway, Switzerland. We have spent a lot of time discussing the integration of mainstreaming biodiversity within the CBD COP with other recent agreements (e.g. Honolulu Declaration, UNFCCC Paris Agreement, World Parks Congress, & CITES).

 

The mainstreaming issue continues… we will let you know how the discussion ends!

 

Hasta la próxima,

The GYBN

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