Negotiations at the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity produced some successes for peoples and Nature, but corporations continue to heavily influence proceedings.
Over the past eight years we have been operating under the 2010-2020 Aichi Targets. Under these targets, the world was supposed to make major advancements to solve the biodiversity crisis. Almost nothing was achieved during this time, aside from a handful of small advances, while there were major declines in many areas. This was due to a lack of implementation of the Aichi Targets by most of the countries party to the Convention. At COP14, held from 17 – 29 November in Egypt, one minister provided important information that showed there has been at least 160 times more investment in destructive sectors than in biodiversity protection.
Attention on indigenous peoples and local communities
Indigenous peoples and civil society succeeded in securing the approval of terminology for indigenous conservation community areas – ICCA. This text is about the communities practicing conservation within their own lands, such as forests or other kinds of ecosystems. This term is very similar to what we in Friends of the Earth International call Community Forest Management.
Along with this, we secured recognition of ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ – OECMs – which refers to areas that are not officially protected, but which are biodiversity rich areas and conserved ecosystems, most of which are being managed by indigenous peoples.
To have the Convention recognize that these territories are as important as officially protected areas is significant, because protected areas quite often take governance away from indigenous peoples. Also, many of the best protected nature is in such ICCA-areas. Governance by indigenous peoples is important for their conservation. Now, governments recognize this a bit better.
Conflicting corporate interests
Text was introduced to the Convention relating to conflicts of interest. During COP14 civil society witnessed corporations becoming being more and more active, with corporate spokespeople lobbying Parties and seeking positions in scientific advisory bodies.
Though the approved text on conflicts of interest does not go far enough to curb corporate influence, we are happy that it exists and that conflicts of interest have been identified as a problem. This is crucial particularly with regards to industry representatives invited to participate in advisory capacities, who will now need to declare conflicting interests. We now have wider awareness of the fact that there are interests which are incompatible with protecting biodiversity.
Corporate presence at every level
The corporate lobby was visible in all synthetic biology proceedings and discussions relating to gene drives and Digital Sequence Information, which are extremely advanced forms of genetically modified organisms and transgenics. Corporations experimenting in these fields want free reign and zero regulations. Colleagues in Friends of the Earth member groups, including Nigeria and the US, worked hard to tackle powerful corporate influence.
While civil society was not as successful with securing regulations as we would have liked, we did establish recognition of the Precautionary Principle. Any corporation intending on carrying out an environmental release of a gene drive organism, which can exterminate or alter complete species, will first need to obtain the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of local communities and indigenous peoples.
Blocking access and hoarding benefits
The majority of the Parties should be doing more to meet the three main objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity: to conserve biological diversity; to ‘sustainably use’ the components of biodiversity; and to fairly and equitably share the benefits from the use of genetic resources.
The Swiss delegation in particular was blocking progress regarding sharing the benefits derived from Digital Sequence Information. Though this seems not to represent actual plants, it implies that the genetic codes of, for example, plants that exist in the Amazon can be transferred over the internet. Thus, benefit sharing can be circumvented. The Swiss interest is to protect their Big Pharmaceutical industry, and as a result the delegation blocked the associated text. However, there was some recognition among Parties that more work must be done on this issue, so we are looking forward to regulation being implemented at COP15, in 2020, in China.
2020 and beyond
We are now beginning the process of building a new strategic plan, to be implemented from 2020. At COP14 the planning process was approved, in which all delegates were calling for a participatory and inclusive process – though we are concerned that, when it comes to the fine print, this might not be the case in reality.
Friends of the Earth International and our hardworking allies will continue pursuing a process that is genuinely participatory. We are working together to incorporate our demands for social justice, for strong economies that respect planetary boundaries, for the inclusion of indigenous peoples and local communities, and for the inclusion of agroecology – all the components that we know are vital for saving Nature.
Over the next two years we will have a strong voice to show the world what must be done.