By Simone Lovera, Global Forest Coalition
This also will be published this week in ECO www.undercovercop.org
This important question formed the core of the statement by members of the CBD Alliance at the mid-term plenary last Friday. The similarities between the 15th Conference of the Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 10th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biodiversity are striking. In both cases, the main purpose of the meeting was to agree upon a legally binding protocol that would give concrete guidance to one of the main objectives of the original Convention. In the case of the CBD, this objective is called fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of biodiversity. In both conferences, it is the Northern countries which refuse(d) to comply with their original commitments under the Convention itself, including their financial commitments. In both cases, they try to put the blame on the G77 and China, blaming them for being “obstructive” while it is the Northern countries that continue to suffer from a serious form of dementia as far as the original texts of the respective Conventions are concerned. “Article 20? What was that about?” “Article 3? Was that not: “all companies in all countries shall have full access to all genetic resources and ecosystems and related traditional knowledge without any restrictions on their commercial exploitation?”
If this COP becomes a flop, it will be a serious blow for international environmental governance. But it is also time to analyze why these two main legally binding outcomes of the Rio Conference are in such a deep crisis, less than two years before we celebrate Rio plus 20 (and considering the persistent dryness of financial flows to combat desertification, we might add the CCD as well…). This crisis is very much due to the corporate take-over of international environmental governance that has taken place during the past decade. Having concluded year after year that they failed to comply with their commitments, many Northern Governments seem to have come to the conclusion that they simply cannot do it and will not do it, especialy in times of economic crisis. So they are now turning themselves to the private sector, and consumers, and promote a broad range of market-based approaches under this nice sounding term ” the green economy”. And yes, here in Japan that does sound a lot like ” the greed economy”. It must be admitted in this respect that the CBD process is certainly becoming more colourful as until last year, we were constantly told that Redd was going to be the great saviour of the world’s biodiversity.
Redd or green, the problem with these market-based approaches is that they all seem to assume that somewhere there are these large pots of money, that just need to be found. It seems forgotten that the economic crisis that plundered government budgets has even more seriously plundered the budgets of corporations and consumers. The “market” of philantrophic donations by corporations to biodiversity projects was already quite limited before 2008, since the economic crisis it has shrunk to a few alms a year, which are very hard fought-for by those conservation organizations that accept them. Worse, these alms seldom go to complicated projects that involve such head-aches like Indigenous rights, community participation, gender considerations and sustainable livelihoods. Some cuddly animals in a charming country score higher than projects that try to address underlying causes of biodiversity loss like unsustainable consumption patterns, lack of respect for land rights, industrial bioenergy, or corruption.
The entire concept of “the green economy” is a typical construct of middle- and upper class conservationists that do not seem to realize that the majority of the world’s people does not have a choice in what to consume, as they are already happy to conquer three meals a day in times of food crisis. It is no surprise that almost all advocates of market-based approaches and other ‘ innovative financial mechanisms” are wealthy and/or Northern men. But should it really be rich ecotourists who determine which ecosystems are prioritized for conservation? Should it be airline travellers and companies who determine which forests are blessed with carbon offset money?
Market-based approaches can never be in harmony with pro-poor, equitable biodiversity conservation, as they will, per definition, give more political power to those who have economic power. What Copenhagen, and perhaps, if things go wrong, Cop10hagen, learns us is that we need to reinvent the international governance of our commons. We need policies that truly integrate poverty eradication strategies and biodiversity conservation by promoting sustainable livelihoods (buen vivir). Such policies can only be developed through truly participatory decision-making processes in which the representatives of those who do not have a lot of money to spend – Indigenous Peoples, women, monetary poor rural and urban communities, and “the South” in general – have an equal say to those who do have money to spend. Markets can never achieve this.