The big-hitters descended on Hyderabad yesterday for the ministerial segment of COP11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The biggest hitter of all was arguably a paper report, the long-awaited verdict of the High-Level Panel on Global Assessment of Resources for implementing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020.
Led by Pavan Sukhdev, the Panel was commissioned because the Aichi Targets – which support the Strategic Plan – were approved in Japan in 2010 without calculating how much they might cost, let alone where the money might be sourced.
The report contains many scary costings, much good sense on the contribution of biodiversity to sustainable development, and a great deal of naivety on the role of the private sector in meeting the massive cost of halting the loss of biodiversity.
Hopes are pinned on the idea that business decision-makers will see that stable ecosystems deliver critical inputs to their production and be prepared to pay protection money, for want of a better phrase. But this demands a long term assessment of business risk in a competitive market environment in which investors look for maximum returns on 3-6 month timescales.
The High-Level Panel does not shirk from putting rough figures to the costs of each Aichi Target – some running to hundreds of billions of dollars. But this cannot be said for the chapter on financing where the list of sources is not accompanied by any breakdown of their potential contribution.
Away from financial matters, the report is on surer ground, for example in observing that:
Understanding the inter-linkages and co-dependencies across Targets and between Targets and policy goals for poverty alleviation, human health, agriculture, freshwater, desertification, fisheries, etc, is important in order to prioritise action and should be considered a crucial area for further work
There’s relevance here to the financial issues too. My worry is always that reference to “interdependence” in the context of development is a polite word for complexity. No one has much idea how to join up the traditional silos within and between environment and development policy.
The formal negotiating business of the Conference rather ground to a halt yesterday, not least due to security measures surrounding the participation of India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh. Some reports suggest that even the internet connectivity inside the conference centre was suspended.
As I guessed yesterday, Mr Singh’s speech was thoughtful, showing a welcome grasp of the rarely mentioned dimension of global injustice arising from the loss of biodiversity:
Living at the periphery of subsistence, the poor are the most at risk from biodiversity loss. They should not also be the ones to bear the cost of biodiversity conservation while the benefits are enjoyed by society at large
The prime minister was rather less enlightened in listing India’s various laws and regulations on biodiversity without any reference to their broadly ineffective implementation.
I mentioned yesterday the UK government’s inclination to press the road-building button as a panacea to economic woes. I suspect that the US election will occupy similar territory. It was therefore a good day for a European initiative to present its work on “roadlessness”, a term new to me.
Building a road in a rainforest is akin to signing its death warrant. Here’s one of the presentations explaining why:
It was indeed a bad day for the rainforest. Normally paraded at these events at the hottest of biodiversity hotspots, the rainforest was subjected to attacks on its supremacy. Advocacy groups for drylands and wetlands each had an impressive outing to declare that new research knocks the rainforest down the pecking order of biodiversity intensity.
Environmental protesters at this COP have so far been conspicuous by their absence. Unless you count a bunch of local journalists who were highly miffed at being excluded from the prime minister’s speech. I think the language in this clip may be Telugu but you won’t have too much difficulty in understanding what’s going on: