Photos and Analysis: Biodiversity Convention Hijacked by Corporate Influence

by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project and North American Focal Point, Global Forest Coalition.

Business and Biodiversity: Together at Last. Photo: Petermann/ GJEP-GFC

“Nature is not just about fluffy animals or brightly colored frogs–it’s central to the health of businesses that need to incorporate environmental impacts into their risk management.”   —Richard Burrett, co-chair of the UN Environment Programme’s Finance Initiative

“We cannot have the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity without the full engagement of the business community,” –Ahmed Djoghlaf, CBD executive secretary

Lack of Progress at COP-10 Stifling

Taxidermy: An innovative strategy for preserving biodiversity presented at COP-10. Photo: Petermann/ GJEP-GFC

By the evening of Friday, October 22nd, participants at the COP-10 negotiations in Nagoya, Japan were clearly exhausted and frustrated–especially the NGO representatives, many of whom emerged from their “contact groups” shaking their heads in disbelief or disgust.  “Contact groups” are small working groups organized to tackle the specific language of various pieces of the negotiations.  They can be mind numbing exercizes in futility.  Helena Paul, of EcoNexus was following the contact group on biofuels and biodiversity.  She abandoned it by around 9pm explaining, “they can’t even get past the title of the paper.  The pro-biofuels folks want it to be under the heading of ‘agricultural biodiversity’ and not ‘Biofuels and Biodiversity.’  It’s totally unacceptable.  Calling it Agricultural Biodiversity would mean forests would be completely cut out of the biofuels text.”

Removing forests from the agreement around biofuels would indeed be ludicrous.  Biofuels and their cousin bioenergy form two of the world’s greatest threats to forests, which are falling at an accelerating rate to clear land for biofuel crops, or to feed wood-burning electricity plants. But the trend of business steering the negotiations at COP-10 with an aim toward maintaining business as usual is one that was very clearly predicted long ago.

Nagoya = Copenhagen

UN delegates guzzle free booze in preparation for biodiversity negotiations. Photo: Petermann/ GJEP-GFC

Back in August The Guardian UK wrote, “[COP-10 is] on course to make the farcical climate talks in Copenhagen look like a roaring success.  The big international meeting in October which is meant to protect the world’s biodiversity is destined to be an even greater failure than last year’s attempt to protect the world’s atmosphere.  Already the UN has conceded that the targets for safeguarding wild species and wild places in 2010 have been missed: comprehensively and tragically…It appears to have had no appreciable effect on the rate of loss of animals, plants and wild places.

“In a few weeks, the same countries [as in Copenhagen] will meet in Nagoya, Japan and make a similarly meaningless set of promises.  Rather than taking immediate action to address their failures, they will concentrate on producing a revised target for 2020 and a ‘vision’ for 2050, as well as creating further delays by expressing the need for better biodiversity indicators.  In many cases, there’s little need for more research.  It’s not biodiversity indicators that are in short supply; but any kind of indicator that the member states are willing to act…the international agreements struck so far have failed miserably in halting the world’s biodiversity crisis.  All the international meetings have done is to diffuse responsibility for the crisis, allowing member states to hide behind each other’s failures.  They create a false impression of action, insulating governments from public pressure.”

Jessica Dempsey, of the CBD Alliance, explained in the October edition of “Square Brackets” that the failures of the CBD to reach its goals are being used to promote the same market-based approach as the climate convention, “As we ingloriously celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity, civil society is hearing carfully negotiated intergovernmental reasoning and rationales for the failed 2010 target.  Much emphasis is being placed [by the CBD] on the lack of understanding about why biodiversity matters.  If only we had focused more on the ‘critical role of nature and its ecosystem services in supporting human well-being’.  If only we could demonstrate, once and for all, that biodiversity and nature are ‘the Treasury of all human beings, especially the poor.’

“The crux of the problem is often stated as follows: no one cares about biodiversity; no one knows what it is, or why it matters.  This kind of thinking has spurred a massive re-framing of biodiversity in terms of ecosystem services, [and on] how biodiversity contributes to human well-being.  This re-framing is part of a widespread movement to value biodiversity, but these are not your grandmother’s values.

“As the Executive Director of the CBD, Ahmed Djoghlaf, stated in a meeting with civil society just prior to the ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-9) in Bonn (May 2008), ‘The largest corporation in the world is not Walmart.  The largest corporation in the world is nature.'”

The Corporate Influence in Nagoya

Origami animals: another form of biodiversity promoted at COP-10. Photo: Petermann/ GJEP-GFC

David Kubiak, writing for Truthout way back in February, wrote an extensive piece called “Big Bodies vs the Biosphere” that detailed the corporate takeover of the biodiversity convention.

“Like the Copenhagen-jubilant corporate climate lobby before them, the big corporate bodies that dominate the drug, energy, agro-business and natural resource extraction arenas are aggressively organizing to keep any Nagoya agreement toothless…The planet’s Big corporate bodies clearly recognize the bottom line implications of COP10 and have rushed in to dominate its organization, framing and regulatory intent.

“Nippon Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations) represents 1,295 companies, 129 industrial associations and 47 regional economic organizations (including scores of big foreign players like Pfizer, Exxon Mobil and Goldman Sachs). Its self-described mission is “to accelerate growth of Japan’s and world economy and to strengthen the corporations…Keidanren co-hosted the … Kobe Biodiversity Dialogue … ‘to promote information exchange, dialogue, and collaboration among various stakeholders.’ I attended hopefully along with 300 other citizens, but quickly became concerned that biodiversity in the stakeholder population seemed to be crashing, too. While there were three or four NGO types wandering about and a fair number of bowing bureaucrats, the podium and panels seemed totally overrun with greenwashed corporate suits. Elegant and articulate spokesmen from Keidanren, Toyota, Sumitomo, Hitachi Chemical and Asahi Breweries all congratulated themselves silly and were only outshone by the heroic ecological achievements of Royal Dutch Shell.

“During the final wrap-up panel, I asked about their views on the vastly expanded sanctuaries and protected zones now being proposed to concretely preserve biodiversity. The moderator grabbed the mike, ‘Well, that’s a very interesting issue to be sure, but not exactly what we’re here to consider today. Next question …’

“The NGO scarcity [at the Kobe Biodiversity conference] was not unintentional. One staffer confessed that many in the organizing committee believed that most NGOs only introduce ‘cacophony’ into the proceedings. ‘Their demands for attention to the specific species or issues they represent get too competitive and centrifugal … They don’t systemically address the big picture we must deal with or even collaborate very well. Let them have their own alternative conference. That’s what they seem to like to do.’

“So in the COP-10 organizers’ ideal world we would see 7,000 technocrats, bureaucrats and corporate flacks deciding how we shall characterize, evaluate and ‘most productively manage’ the entirety of life on the planet for the next twenty years with as little input as possible from civil society, indigenous consciousness, or groups who led the biodiversity fight before anyone knew the word. What could possibly go wrong?”

While written well ahead of the Nagoya conference, these two pieces have very accurately predicted what we’ve seen thus far at COP-10, as explained by Faris Ahmed of USC Canada in “Undercover COP,” the Civil Society website on the negotiations maintained by the CBD Alliance (

Report on the Negotiations After Week One

Poster at the CBD COP-10 exhibition illustrates some of the new forms of biodiversity planned for the future. Photo: Petermann/ GJEP-GFC

“As the first week of the CBD winds down, the mood in civil society is one of alarm.  This morning someone said ‘this could be the Copenhagen of Biodiversity’.  We’re witnessing that the CBD is being rapidly infected with the same ailments that afflict the other UN instruments, particularly the UNFCCC (climate convention):  no political will, refusal to abide by legally binding principles, no commitment to financial responsibility (some call it ‘ecological debt’), dubious and unambitious targets, and excessive reliance on ‘markets’ to meet the challenges of biodiversity loss… the general sense is that the CBD has lost its way.  It looks tired – and as someone here said yesterday, ‘running just to stand still’.  At a time when the stakes couldn’t be higher.  75% of biodiversity lost, and 2% disappearing every year.

“Yet, some interests are prospecting the CBD for all it’s worth.  The CBD, some NGOs say, is open for business.  Is Mother Earth for sale?  And what happens the minute you put a price tag on Her, and all the life forms She sustains?

“While it’s imperative that business be part of the solution, some observers muse that corporate social responsibility isn’t the only thing that’s motivating business.  There are huge financial incentives available for corporate activities linked to biodiversity conservation through market mechanisms.  Many of these schemes are unclear and full of loopholes – such as the much vaunted but still not well understood REDD scheme [Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation].

“Some have dubbed these market schemes ‘perverse incentives’.   They can easily turn good intentions into bad outcomes, especially for local communities and ecosystems.  Also, the CBD is opening the door for dubious ‘techno-fixes’ to creep in, make a huge amount of money experimenting with unproven and often alarming climate and ‘geo-engineering schemes’.  Blowing bigger clouds, modifying the weather for the olympics, burying carbon in the sea, or burning woodlots as ‘biochar’ to restore carbon. ..

“Pssst, how about reducing our consumption?   No, that’s not really on the agenda.”

The marginalization of Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations and so-called ‘civil society’ groups in Nagoya has been a nagging but persistent theme throughout the past week.   Dempsey explains why this is dangerous.  “…civil society organizations have a key role to play in Nagoya.  Civil Society brings the expertise and coice of those who are not always [if ever–ed.] represented at intergovernmental conferences.  We help convey the stories about ecological devastation, corporate theft, wrong-headed governmental policies, and the spiraling decline of both cultural and biological diversity.”

Access and Benefit Sharing

An exhibit on the dangers of biodiversity at COP-10. Photo: Petermann/ GJEP-GFC

But besides the obvious corporate interest in debates over biofuels and forests, one of the most contentious debates during the biodiversity negotiations has been under the obscure title “Access and Benefit Sharing.”  A press release put out by the CBD Secretariat on September 14th explains a key goal of the Nagoya conference is to create “a new set of international rules that would provide transparent accesss to the biological resources of the world while ensuring that countries and communities get a fair share of any benefits that arise from their use–such as when companies develop commercial medicines from plants or other life-forms.”

According to Ahmed Djoghlaf, the VERY pro-business Executive Secretary of the CBD, “The three big outcomes of the COP-10 meeting in Nagoya would be a global agreement on a new strategy, the mobilisation of the finance needed to make it happen and a new legally-binding protocol on access and benefit sharing.  The decisions we take now will affect biodiversity for the coming mellennium,  We can’t have one outcome without the others.  The COP-10 meeting is all or nothing.”

David Kubiak explains that one of the basic contests of COP-10 “will be the battle over indigenous peoples’ and developing nations’ rights to a share in Big Pharma’s profits from their hijacked lore and traditions. This is framed equally as a plant diversity issue to keep them well within the CBD’s ambit, but the 40-50 tribes who will be showing up are most concerned with restitution and economic justice. They are facing off with big drug and bioengineering bodies…”

Steve Leahy of IPS, further explains the ABS issue, “Many drugs, cosmetics and other valuable biochemicals used in the industrial world have been derived from plants and animals, very often from countries in the developing world. Everyone agrees countries and communities where these originated should be compensated. The devil is in the details, and those have been under negotiation for more than six years and remain contentious and complex.”

By the end of Friday, allies from NGOs that had been actively participating in the ABS negotiations were dubious that there would be any positive outcome.

Canada Determined to Screw Over Indigenous Peoples

Dinosaur made of garbage, an apt metaphor for the behavior of Canada and other obstructionist governments during COP-10. Photo: Petermann/ GJEP-GFC

In a new article titled, “Canada Seeks to Drop Native Peoples from New Biodiversity Pact,” Leahy explains that First Nations people and other delegates are putting the blame for lack of progress on ABS directly at the feet of the Canadian government.

“‘Canada is stalling progress here, weakening our rights and fighting against a legally-binding protocol on access and benefit sharing,’ said Armand MacKenzie, executive director of the Innu Council of Nitassinan, the indigenous inhabitants in northeastern Canada.

“A protocol on access and benefit sharing (ABS) without a guarantee of the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities ‘would be totally void’, said Paulino Franco de Carvalho, head of the Brazilian delegation.

“Indigenous peoples say they are holders or caretakers of much of the world’s biodiversity and traditional knowledge, and omitting references to that reality is a non-starter for them and most countries.

“Canadian indigenous representatives have expressed their views to the Canadian delegation but the Canadian government position is that there can be no reference to the rights of indigenous people in the final ABS protocol, said Paul Joffe representing the Grand Council of the Crees, a large indigenous nation in central Canada.

‘The government never consulted with us. It came as a complete surprise,’ he said.

“Canada’s position reflects an ideology and is a political decision made by the current government in the capital of Ottawa, says Joffe. At previous international meetings, Canada has been widely if quietly called ‘obstructionist’. At the Copenhagen climate talks last December, international civil society gave Canada the “Colossal Fossil Award” for worst behaviour at those negotiations.”

How will governments and corporations continue to collude in Nagoya?  Will there be an ABS agreement?  While this is my last blog post from Nagoya, I encourage you to stay tuned over the coming week for more updates and analysis from our allies in Nagoya.

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