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Bráulio DiasBráulio Dias

Bráulio Ferreira de Souza Dias: The voice of biodiversity

Eduardo CesarBrazilian biologist Bráulio Ferreira de Souza Dias has taken part in all 10 occasions of the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), since the first one in 1994 in the Bahamas, until the most recent, held in Nagoya, Japan, in 2010. As a representative of the Ministry of the Environment of Brazil (MMA), where he worked for 20 years, Bráulio had an important role to play in the Nagoya negotiations, which resulted in an unprecedented agreement for the protection of the diversity of species and the genetic resources of plants, animals and microorganisms. The main advance was a protocol on access to genetic resources and the sharing of the benefits of biodiversity (ABS), which establishes that every country is sovereign over the genetic resources of its biodiversity and that access to them can only take place with its consent (see Pesquisa FAPESP 178). Brazil, at the head of the so-called megadiverse countries, those that are home to most of the species on the planet, helped unravel negotiations that had been dragging on for 18 years. In February, Bráulio’s efforts earned him the privilege of assuming an unprecedented position for a Brazilian: that of executive secretary of the CBD, to which he was appointed by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon.

59 years
Biology and public policies in biodiversity
University of Brasília (undergraduate) and University of Edinburgh (doctorate)
United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity

He left his position as the MMA’s national secretary for Biodiversity and Forests and exchanged Brasília for Montreal in Canada, where the headquarters of the CBD are. His first mission is to prepare COP 11, to take place in October in Hyderabad, India, and to speed up the implementation agenda of measures taken in Japan, by offering, for example, training for the government employees who are going to deal with the effects of the Nagoya Protocol. In Hyderabad, for the first time, he will be exchanging his role as negotiator for that of organizer. “Now I have to be neutral, but my experience will be useful. I know what the biggest difficulties for negotiation usually are and what I have to do to try to avoid them,” he says. Bráulio Dias is one of those researchers that have made the transition from university to public policies. With a degree in biology from the University of Brasília (UnB), he became a professor at the institution after doing a PhD in Zoology at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland. Married, with one son, Bráulio Dias gave the following interview to Pesquisa FAPESP:

I wanted to begin by dealing with your scientific career as a professor at UnB and the transition to the field of public policies. How did this change come about?
I started my career in the science area. I was a researcher at IBGE; in fact I retired just recently. At UnB I was both a student and a professor, after doing my PhD in Scotland. There was an agreement between UnB and the United Kingdom in the ecology area. The post-graduate course in ecology at UnB was one of the first in Brazil and was set up in partnership with courses in the United Kingdom. It was in this spirit that I did my post-graduate studies in Edinburgh. When I returned I joined UnB. Initially I was a professor of forest protection, working in the Department of Forestry Engineering, or with missions linked to forest fires and other topics linked to forest protection. I subsequently moved to the Ecology Department, where I was responsible for course subjects and student guidance in the areas of biodiversity, ecology of the cerrado [Brazilian savannah] and fire ecology.

Where you at the same time attached to IBGE?
Yes, at the same time. I was a senior researcher at IBGE. The institute has an ecological reserve in Brasília and undertakes a series of very detailed studies in partnership with institutions from Brazil and the whole world and I got involved with this. I coordinated various pieces of research and I organized major projects in the ecological reserve with international cooperation. At the end of the 1980s I began to get more involved with the contribution of science when it comes to formulating public policies and I was invited to be the director of public policies at Ibama in 1991. I stayed at Ibama for two years and this was when negotiations began on the Convention on Biological Diversity. I got involved with the subject and in 1993 I was invited to set up the biodiversity area in the Ministry of the Environment. I ended up staying there 20 years. I was always involved with biodiversity. But I also explored its interfaces with climate issues, uses in agriculture and other themes linked to biodiversity, which is a pretty vast subject.

And as a result you took part in all the COPs of the Convention on Biological Diversity from the 1990s…
I took part in all the COPs and most of the convention’s scientific meetings. I was one of the organizers of COP 8, which took place in Curitiba in 2006.

The next COP is going to be the first one in which you’re taking part as secretary of the CBD. There were major advances in the Nagoya COP after a long time of paralysis. How do you see the evolution and what are you expecting from the next conference?
The convention was opened for signatures at the Rio-92 Conference and came into force in December 1993. It was negotiated as a framework convention that establishes general guidelines, but no specific objectives, goals or mechanisms. It took many years to conclude this process of negotiation of the convention. Little by little we explored different themes, based on major geographical regions and biomes. Later we worked with transversal themes, like scientific research into biodiversity or economic instruments. The perception we have today of this 20-year journey is somewhat divided. There are people who judge the CBD to be one of the most successful environmental conventions from various viewpoints. For example, it has practically universal coverage. We have 192 member countries and an economic region, which is the European Community, and it has successfully negotiated and constructed an international agenda on biodiversity that was established by consensus. It’s not easy when you work by consensus. All you need is one or two countries to disagree and you’re unable to complete a negotiation. You work more slowly, from necessity. The advantage with negotiation by consensus is that you take all countries along with you. Some people would prefer to work with countries that have more leadership and to leave the others behind, but countries that have more leadership don’t necessarily need the result of the negotiation to advance. After many years we managed to negotiate quantitative goals. At the beginning there was a lot of resistance from participating countries, because they were afraid they’d be held to account if they didn’t manage to implement the goals. COP 10 in Nagoya was the culmination of the initial period of standardization. We managed to complete negotiation of the Nagoya Protocol and also put together the strategic plan for this decade until 2020, with 20 global goals. In 2008 in Germany we’d also negotiated the strategy for mobilizing financial resources for implementing the convention. So the main elements for the advance of the biodiversity agenda were put into place.

But there are also those who don’t see this evolutionary pathway as a success…
On the other hand the convention is subject to well-grounded criticisms; that there’s a very big distance between what was agreed in the CBD and the practices we see in each country. There’s a time lag in implementation. That’s true. But the lag between international commitments and implementation in each country is not the privilege of the CBD. Biodiversity themes are complex. Some of them, like access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing, are very innovative themes. There are no international points of reference covering them. This makes it harder for countries to implement their commitments.

Brazil only ratified the Nagoya Protocol in May. Was there a delay?
The CBD only came into force a year and a half after it was signed. That’s a record in international conventions. Some take as long as ten years to come into force. The Nagoya Protocol was signed in October 2010 and so far five countries have ratified it. Another two have announced that they’ve ratified, but we haven’t received anything yet: Ethiopia and the Fiji Islands. Reports are that the process has not stopped and that countries are making progress. Now, each country has its own complexity. This is a theme that involves not only the legal environmental area, but is also relevant to the agricultural, health and biotechnology sectors. Before ratifying the protocol many countries are going to have to review their national laws on the theme, or create a legal framework. There are federal countries, which are obliged to consult all the states before the national government makes a pronouncement about adopting a new convention. I expect we’ll have the Nagoya Protocol ratified not for this conference in October in India , but by the next one, COP 12, in October 2014. If we manage that I don’t consider it late in terms of ratification.

The implementation of various Nagoya decisions will be defined at  future conferences. How important will the next COPs be for consolidating the decisions of Nagoya?
Concerning the question of ABS, which is access and benefit-sharing, this is going to await ratification of the Nagoya Protocol. We’re working on several fronts. We’re carrying out campaigns and issuing publications to enlighten governments and interested sectors as to what the Nagoya Protocol is all about and what advantage there is in countries ratifying it. At the same time, we’re organizing training workshops for technicians. Many countries don’t have people with experience in this area and so we have to prepare them. We’ve been doing this since last year, with the help of several partners. Now we’re inaugurating a pilot phase of the mechanism to exchange information about the future Nagoya Protocol. Before the protocol even starts functioning we have to put into place a pilot phase of this mechanism. This will allow all users of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge to find out if what is being used was duly authorized in the country of origin, if it went through a consent process with local indigenous communities and if the designated national authority issued an international authorization certificate to avoid a biopiracy situation. As for the other convention topics, the main challenge is to engage more sectors of society. We’re not going to reach the so-called 20 Aichi goals, defined in the meeting in Nagoya, with just the work of the environment ministers in each country. We have goals for reforming economic instruments, for incorporating biodiversity in the national accounts, for reducing deforestation and other forms of biodiversity loss and for developing sustainable production in the areas of agriculture, aquiculture, forestry and fishing. There’s a need to involve these other sectors in each country so that we can work to achieve these goals.

What does the CBD intend doing so these goals are met by 2020, remembering that countries failed to comply with the biodiversity goals that had been established for 2010?
We have to create the mechanisms that are going to help us implement these commitments. One of the questions is that of skills-building. Another is mobilizing financial resources. A further one is the engagement of other sectors. We’ve already begun this. As from COP 8 in Curitiba, we started engaging with cities. An initiative was approved at COP 9 called City and Biodiversity. In Nagoya we approved an action plan to engage sub-national, state and provincial governments in each country. We’ve also begun an initiative to attract the private sector. Last December a global platform on biodiversity and business was launched in Tokyo to alert the corporate sector to the need to reduce its ecological footprint on biodiversity. We’re also working with a series of other international partner organisms; several UN organs, for example. The UNDP [United Nations Development Program] is finalizing a global strategy on biodiversity. The Inter-American Development Bank has signaled a strategy of how to deal better with biodiversity issues.

Do you think that this type of measure is capable of preventing another failure to comply with goals?
I wouldn’t say it’s sufficient, but it’s getting there. The convention is mainly implemented on a national scale, because it recognized national sovereignty over the use of natural resources. As from COP 10, we have had resources from the World Environment Fund and are helping countries review their national strategies on biodiversity and define their national biodiversity goals for 2020. In Brazil, in April 2011, we prepared a process called Biodiversity Dialogues, which arranged consultations with various sectors. The Brazilian government is trying to conclude this process to see if it can adopt a national strategy for biodiversity with new goals. One of the great challenges is how to do this in such a way that it’s not only a strategy of the Ministry of the Environment, but of the government as a whole. This was a lesson learned. Brazil has managed to reduce deforestation in the Amazon because it was a public policy of State, involving a dozen different ministries, governments, states and the Public Prosecutor’s office, to reverse the deforestation process in the Amazon. The same thing is necessary for the issue of biodiversity to be treated responsibly in each sector.

What’s it going to be like taking part in a conference as secretary of the CBD? How does your involvement change?
A lot changes. As a representative of the Brazilian government at meetings of the convention I was part of a country delegation with a negotiation mandate. Now, I’m not. I have to be neutral. It’s the countries that have to freely negotiate their preferences concerning COP decisions. My role here is to develop all studies and documentation for supporting the preparatory meetings and then to support the conference itself so that countries have the elements available to take good decisions. Afterwards, I must implement these decisions. There are global and regional implications on which the secretariat of the CBD has to take initiatives. That’s my role; helping countries more, enabling countries more, so that they’re able to implement their commitments.

At the COP in Nagoya you played a leading role. You facilitated negotiations so there was a satisfactory outcome. Will  you be able to use that experience now?
It’s useful experience for my new function. As I had experience as a negotiator, in conducting the work of the secretariat, and in preparing the meetings and documents, I already know which are usually the greatest difficulties to be negotiated and what I have to do to try to avoid them. I also had 20 years’ experience in the Ministry of the Environment in Brazil and am familiar with the challenge of implementing a national biodiversity policy in a megadiverse country. These two experiences will help me a lot.

Considering that the United States has not ratified the CBD, what’s the situation with regard to North American companies continuing to use molecules or processes coming from the biodiversity of megadiverse countries?
The United States has not ratified this because it depends on a decision of the US Congress. But the government, the Executive branch of the United States, has signed a commitment to ratify it. And the American Executive branch has actively participated in all the convention’s decisions and work programs. They don’t work against us. They work in line with the convention’s objectives. For example, when the National Health Institutes in the United States fund research projects abroad for developing new drugs, in the public bid notices they state that it’s compulsory to sign the access and benefit-sharing agreements before starting the work. When Nagoya comes into force, the United States will be unable to obtain genetic resources from other countries without complying with the rules that are going to be valid internationally.

It doesn’t depend on who is president, as long as he’s more or less supportive of the environment.
Exactly. There was an incident a few years ago involving Indonesia and companies from the United States and Europe for the development of a vaccine against bird flu. The variety of virus that caused this flu originated in Indonesia. The Indonesian government was asked for authorization to collect this material so it could be taken to North America and Europe to develop they vaccine. Indonesia gave its authorization, but North American public laboratories undertook the research and later passed it on to private laboratories to make the vaccine. When the vaccine came on the market, the Indonesian government tried to get access to it but this was denied. This was a very bad precedent, caused a huge amount of ill-feeling and was the subject of intense negotiations in the World Health Organization, which led to the signing of an agreement under WHO auspices to avoid this type of situation in the future. This was widely discussed at Nagoya when we finalized negotiations on the protocol. This is what is understood by benefit-sharing. You have to have access to the benefits generated by the use of the biodiversity from your country.

How do you see ratification of the so-called complementary biosecurity protocol? Will countries have to take out insurance in the case of accidents with transgenics?
No. The supplementary protocol doesn’t require this. This was one of the negotiation points, but it was not supported by the majority of the countries and was overturned. If this protocol comes into force it will not require countries to take out this type of insurance before selling any genetically modified living organisms.

What will be the impact of this?
There’s a perception in sectors of agriculture that this protocol may raise barriers to the export of transgenic products. But the supplementary protocol was unanimously approved in Nagoya. All countries wanted the protocol. It’s an illusion, then, by a country that exports transgenic products to think that they’re going to be able to export to other countries in the future without discussing liability and safety issues regarding the risks that exporting live transgenic products may cause. This protocol had a smaller number of signed commitment letters from countries to ratify. There were some 50 countries. In the case of the Nagoya Protocol, we had 92 or 93 signatory countries. This causes us to assume that ratification of the supplementary protocol will take longer.

Last year when you were in the ministry there was a clash with scientists involving authorizations for biodiversity research here in Brazil and fines for those who carry out research without ministry authorization. In your current function, are you going to face similar tension with researchers?
I can’t get into internal discussions. I suggest you talk to my successor at the ministry. The scientific community participates in CBD subjects in various ways. Now, with the creation of IPBES [International Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services], scientists will have a better mechanism, so there will be  more coordinated participation.

How will CDB’s relationship with the IPBES  work, a type of biodiversity IPCC comprising scientists?
The CBD will be one of the main customers of this platform, which is going to coordinate the preparation of assessments of the state of scientific knowledge on themes related to biodiversity and ecosystem services, both globally and regionally. This should be a better guide in the negotiations. I was in Paraná in April, at the meeting that approved the creation of the platform. I accompanied all the previous negotiation stages and now we’re monitoring the final phase. There’s a timetable for concluding the work so that next year the platform can function. When it’s functioning, it should meet customer demands. We’ll be able to formulate demands by saying, for example, “I need information about the current state and tendencies in such and such a theme in the area of biodiversity.” IPBES is going to coordinate the work with the scientific community.

Talking about Rio+20, what did you think of the result in relation to biodiversity?
The final Rio+20 document recognizes the importance of biodiversity, has a chapter on biodiversity and a lot of references throughout on biodiversity issues. The complaint that many make is that the language was not the strongest. But you have to remember again that this is a multilateral negotiation and you have to appreciate the concerns of all countries. One of the important results is the establishment of a process for negotiating objectives and sustainable development. This has to be resolved by 2015. A commitment was also undertaken to set up a process to obtain financial resources. Concerning objectives, for which there were greater expectations, they didn’t manage to agree on them in Rio+20. They only managed to agree on starting a negotiation process. We’ll have to wait a few more years to see the spin-offs of the commitments signed, before we carry out a final assessment of the reach of Rio+20.

At the Nagoya conference the text presented before the meeting of heads of state had a series of points for negotiation. This didn’t happen at Rio+20. A text was presented without any controversial elements and the heads of state merely rubber stamped it. Couldn’t the negotiators have been more ambitious?
We always think they could have been more [ambitious]. Once again the problem is that the document reflects the degree of convergence possible at that point in time. We have to remember that on the one hand some countries are facing a serious financial crisis. On the other, many countries with economies that are highly dependent on oil and fossil fuels are still very reluctant to embrace a stronger commitment to reducing this fossil-based economy. Rio+20 was not a meeting for negotiating agreements, like Rio-92. Rio-92 had negotiation processes that lasted several years and that generated the Climate Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity and several others. This one was different; if you want to compare it, it was more like Rio+10, in Johannesburg in 2002, or like Stockholm in 1972. They were great conferences for attracting the attention of the world to greater cooperation on an agenda; not necessarily for coming up with new regulatory instruments.