In the midst of tense negotiations

Nagoya is a very important step in the general negotiations of the CBD. For years the delegations have been working on an additional protocol on the so called Access and Benefit Sharing of genetic resources and traditional knowledge (ABS).

This is particularly important for developing countries and their local and indigenous populations to actually benefit from their biological (genetic) diversity when it is used by business in the developed countries. It will be an important legal instrument to tackle biopiracy amongst other things.

The agreement on this protocol will be the most important outcome of this meeting. Still these negotiations are not really proceeding. Contagious issues are still a compliment regime(A compliment regime is a set of laws ensuring that transgressions of intl. law can actually be punished), without which the protocol will be a toothless watchdog, and the access to pathogens(desirable to the developed world  for use in cure research in the event of an epidemic.)If no agreements are achieved here, all the rest could be halted and there might not be any outcome.

Further in the negotiations the issue of agricultural biodiversity is discussed. As industrial agriculture is proposed more and more especially in fora like the Commission on Food Security at the FAO as the solution of the worlds food problem we are losing more and more biodiversity in our agriculture.

But in many developing countries the livelihoods of local communities rely on a great biodiversity, therefore there is a need for international support for conservation of a huge varietyof seeds on the farms of these communities. Also there is a big threat to these natural varieties by genetically modified crops in particular the so called terminator technology. It is also important that the land rights of small farmers must be protected. Some delegations don’t like this as they want to expand industrial agriculture and the production of biofuels (sugar cane and oil palms).

A lot still needs to be done here to promote a general understanding that protecting the global climate, while destroying life (biodiversity) is not an option.

Biodiversity and Climate Change. Third day of negotiations in Nagoya.

One of the key issues discussed today in one of the two working groups is the link between biodiversity and climate change.

As high biodiversity is known to be important for effective mitigation of climate change, quite a few of the solutions put forward in the climate change regime especially regarding techno fixes like geo-engineering and the market based approaches to forests in the so called REDD+ proposal are favoured by a lot of developed countries.

The original idea of REDD is to address the emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation. This in itself is a good move, as it had not been addressed before. But the difficulties are as usual in the details.

If for example the definition of forest is not clearly modified even a sugar cane plantation can count as forest, or a simple monocultural tree plantation would count as a high bio-diverse natural tropical rain forest.

As the focus in the Climate Change regime is entirely on carbon storage, fast growing tree monocultures are to be preferred over high bio-diverse forests. This will be accelerated as companies in the developed world will seek to have cheap carbon offset possibilities. They might tend to go especially for tree plantations leading to further transformation of natural forests into boring monocultures.

With the present move to give priority to the Climate Change conference (UNFCCC), the efforts for biodiversity could be undermined. Though climate change needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, it is of utmost importance not to lose track of the biodiversity aspect which could end up being neglected.

COP 10 – Second day. Where do we go to protect life on this planet?

It started already yesterday but continues today: the tendency of state representatives to ask for less ambitious goals and targets in order not to fail like the last time.

It is actually frightening to see, that it is more important that a convention like this is always successful, instead of looking at  what is really needed for the betterment of life on earth. Of course it is frustrating when goals are not met, but is this a reason to go for smaller goals than necessary for the good of all of creation?

We will have to ask ourselves what is more important: the infallibility of international conventions or the very needs of the greater good which are at steak? We are talking about life on this planet ultimately.

What other issues are discussed here? In order to address the really pressing issue of climate change there are some proposals on the table of the international agenda to do, what is called “geoengineering” This stands for measures like ocean fertilisation, meaning putting huge amounts of fertilisers like ion (Fe2+) or nitrogen (NOx) into the oceans to have massive algae growth to capture carbon dioxide. Massive growth of algae does on the other hand also have massive effects on the marine ecosystem itself, with effects which are not really foreseeable.

A further proposal is the shooting of sulphates into the stratosphere to reflect back the sunlight and therefore cool the planet. The effect on global precipitation patterns and the growth of plants is not understood and it is questionable, if we really want to know.

A third proposal is the so called biochar. Biomass transformed into charcoal shall be burrowed in the earth for fertilisation and carbon capture. But in order to really contribute to mitigation of climate change huge amounts of this biochar need to be burrowed. But to produce this biochar trees will be used even more than today and therefore put more pressure on our forests.

Perhaps it is necessary to ask why all these technological projects are proposed. The more thinking is done in the international environmental arenas, one result is more and more inevitable. A certain life style namely that of developed countries (which is not only found there) is not sustainable at all.

But no-one dares to say this, as hardly anyone wants to change this style of living. So in order not to change this life-style we are looking for technology to fix the problems.

Unfortunately it seems, that each technology solving one problem, creates at least two new ones. So it needs a rethinking of our lives and how we want to live and organise them. Will we have the strength and creativity to do it? And who will take the lead on this? Could it be us?

Today the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity has officially been opened.

The introduction speeches by the various representatives of states, and the various parts of society, highlighted the importance of biodiversity and its protection. Of course every one of them gave reasons why biodiversity is so important to us.

It is a significant observation that most of the speakers would refer to biodiversity as a resource for medical cure and renewable resources or as service provider for fertile soil, clean water and clean air.

Looking at the logo of the meeting (which due to copyright issues cannot be shown in this post, but can be found here) again highlights one of the central problems we are facing:

It is still  humans who are at the centre of it all ,while all the other creatures gather around us . So again it is the greed and desires of us humans which counts. But lets hope it might also be our compassion and good will.

Looking at our founder St. Francis I am convinced that his logo of this conference would have looked different. It would be humans together with all of creation gathering around one centre, which is God and his loving passion for all he created.

This would also give us an idea, that this conference is actually not about something which sounds very scientific like “biodiversity” but really about  life on this planet. And it is life, which is ultimately at stake.

But what are the issues to be discussed here after having to acknowledge that the goal of the last eight years to halt biodiversity loss by this year, 2010 ,has failed?.

Similarly pressing issues such  as climate change have taken a pivotal role in the international arena.However,  there are solutions proposed for climate crisis which may or even will have strong adverse effects on biodiversity. Therefore Biodiversity must take a lead in the environmental discussions.

Maybe the most important outcome of this meeting is the agreement to a new additional protocol to the CBD on access to genetic resources and related traditional knowledge, and the fair and equitable benefit sharing of their usage.

This is of particular importance for small local and indigenous communities. These communities, who through their traditional knowledge have conserved the biodiversity of their environments. As companies seek to exploit more and more genetic resources for pharmaceuticals, the knowledge and resources of these communities are used and even patented, without  informing them, let alone allowing these communities to profit from this exploitation.

There is more to discuss in the coming days, but this is all for today.

Technologies and markets overwriting values. Overarching issues in international environmental negotiations

Looking at more overarching tendencies in international environmental negotiations, it is possible to detect a move towards ever more technological solutions which may or may not address the problem they are designed for. But there are definitely technologies which pose threats to biodiversity while addressing climate change.

Example: The use of  biomass for fuels to mitigate climate change. One consequence of using biomass (ethanol, biodiesel, etc.) for fuels and biomass for carbon storage (biochar) is that it leads to a further conversion of natural forests into plantation or plantation like forests. So these technological “solutions”are one further example of  a solution to one problem creating a threat to other issues namely biodiversity in this case.

Of course this use of biomass opens huge markets which generate a lot of money and provide possibilities for economic development. But the thirst for energy is never-ending and growing with economic development as we have known it in the past. If only supply and demand regulate what is happening, the ever growing demand will lead to more supply as long as there is land still available for conversion.

This is but one example highlighting that technologies and markets are not providing a comprehensive solution to the environmental issues we need to address.

There is a need for overarching values to be established and agreed which will govern our use of technologies and markets. These values need to point out the importance of biodiversity and lifestyles favouring its protection.

But that said, the question again arises, where are these values coming from in these international fora and who can show values actually making a difference?

“What we need most are values, which drive us to concrete action.” Preparations for the Conference of Parties* of the Convention on Biodiversity

This weekend is packed with meetings. The various civil society organisations are getting together to prepare themselves for the two weeks of negotiations to come.

Quite a few of the organisations are taking part in the convention on biodiversity as well as the one on climate change. As there are a lot of cross cutting issues like agriculture, forests, etc., this is essential.

One development which we have seen happening within the climate change regime is an ever growing habit of putting prices on carbon and carbon offset measures.

But there is a big danger within this. If we put a price in terms of money on each and everything in the living world, we are commercialising the whole of creation. This is particularly dangerous as ecosystems are unique. We cannot replace the forests in the Congo by the ones in Madagascar.

Creation we have inherited should be considered a common good rather than a commodity. Looking at the bigger picture of the environmental crisis we are facing, it is becoming more and more obvious that the biggest challenge we are facing is our  popular and much promoted lifestyle. This lifestyle has been shown to lead to the destruction of our natural resources, resources which all of life and especially human life is inevitably tied to.

Looking at the situation we are facing in our world and within the negotiations, one of the fundamental problems, if not the fundamental problem, is the lack of values other than money and economic prosperity.

There is actually a desperate cry out  to religions and beliefs to provide the necessary values,  and show how the values we stand for work for the conservation of nature. The creation we inherited and which was given to us is one we must cherish and protect because we are all children of the same father.

The franciscan spirituality leads us to take a long look at St. Francis, who recognised profoundly the universal brotherhood of all beings on this earth. It is up to us to show, that our spirituality can and does make a difference.

*States which have already signed an international treaty

Franciscans International participates in the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

The Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is already in its penultimate day. Dealing with issues around the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) the meeting is facing a lot of challenges.

Whereas by many politicians and representatives of industry the release and use of GMO’s is presented as the ultimate solution to problems especially of hunger and malnutrition, voices of civil society often sound very different.

As more and more genetically modified organisms are released into agriculture concerns for nature are constantly being raised.

As these GMO’s for some time have not been mere occurrences in scientific laboratories but are are being released purposely into nature, the term living modified organism (LMO) describes better what we are talking about.

As these organisms are alive, they do what living beings do, they move, they respire and eat and they procreate.

This causes a number of already well known effects and more which we are not yet aware of. As those plants and animals are only slightly different fron their unmodified, naturally occurring conspecifics they are mating amongst eachother.

This in turn leads to a broad distribution of the genetic modification even where the modification is not intentional. One example amongst others is the case of canola in Japan, where genetically modified (GM) canola was found growing wild in Japan.

Unintentional spreading is even more difficult to limit once GM animals are released into nature. In September of this year the Food and Drug Administration of the US was close to approving the distribution of  GM salmon to US consumers.

Once these fish are bred it is only a matter of time, that some of them will escape into the wild and cross-breed with their natural occuring conspecifics.

As these GM salmon are fast growing, once in nature they will compete for food with the wild species and no-one knows how this competion will end. Depending on external conditions the GM’s could outgrow their wild type brothers.

So there might be areas in the  future where all living salmon is actually the intellectual property of one company instead of a common good owned by man-kind to be protected and used to the benefit of all.

The negotiations going on until tomorrow focus around regulations and measures to limit such dangers as much as possible. It is important to raise the voice of those who might loose out, mainly small scale farmers, fishing communities, etc. People who, anyway, have difficulties surviving but on the other hand have helped preserve the natural equilibrium which the Lord bequeathed us for our well-being.