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The results of Nagoya

Historic agreement overcomes stalemate over sharing the benefits of biodiversity

FABIO COLOMBINIA most unexpected event occurred in the Japanese city of Nagoya on October 29. Delegations from 193 countries that were participating in the UN’s 10th Conference of Parties on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), reached a pioneering agreement for the protection of the diversity of species and the genetic resources of plants, animals, and microorganisms. The measures approved in Nagoya are linked to three issues. The first – and the most difficult to make progress on – was a protocol on the access to and participation in the benefits stemming from the genetic resources of biodiversity (Access and Benefit Sharing/ABS). The agreement establishes that each country has sovereign rights over the genetic resources of its biodiversity and that access to this biodiversity can only be obtained with the consent of the given country. If the biological wealth leads to the development of a product, the profits shall be divided with the country from which the genetic building blocks come from. The arrangement as to how the profit will be shared still has to be defined.

The second issue was the approval of a strategic plan for the 2011-2020 period, with targets for reducing biodiversity loss. The percentage of territories to be preserved was expanded. In the case of protected zones on land, this percentage is to increase by 17 percent up to 2020 – the previous target, which was not achieved by most countries, was 10 percent . In the case of marine ecosystems, the protected zones are to increase from 1 percent to 10 percent . Another important step was the inclusion of the value of biodiversity in countries’ public accounts and the reduction of subsidies for activities that harm biodiversity. The third step is the commitment that the developed countries undertook concerning the financing of actions to preserve biodiversity. “We were surprised that the tables were turned to the point that an agreement was defined,” says Carlos Alfredo Joly, a professor at the Biology Institute of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) and coordinator of the Biota-FAPESP program. “The meeting agenda was tense, with unresolved issues that had been dragging on for nearly 18 years, and there were no signs indicating that these issues would finally be dealt with in practical terms.”

A scientific conference scheduled by the Biota-FAPESP program, by the Brazilian Academy of Sciences and by the Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science, to be held from December 11 to December 15 in the city of Bragança Paulista (State of São Paulo) became more important. The conference, which will be attended by various negotiators – including Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity – will discuss, among other issues, the targets established at Nagoya and Brazil’s means to achieve them. “The main difficulty in achieving the targets of the strategic plan established in 2002 was the lack of measurable parameters. We’re going to deal with this issue at the meeting in Bragança Paulista,” states the coordinator of the Biota-FAPESP program.

Brazil, which chairs the group comprised of mega-diversity countries, played a major role in the arrangements that led to the agreement in Nagoya. The outcome was astonishing, as a stalemate that had seemed impossible to overcome until the eve of the meeting, was finally settled. Ever since the Rio 92-Conference, negotiations on the protection of biodiversity have revolved around three main objectives: conservation, the sustainable use of biodiversity, and the so-called sharing of benefits. The last issue, involved developed countries” commitment to financially compensate developing nations for their biodiversity resources, had always been an obstacle in the negotiations. “The three objectives overlap. It is difficult to talk about conservation without making progress on sustainable use, just as it is difficult to talk about sustainable use without establishing rules for the sharing of benefits,” says biologist Braulio Dias, secretary of Biodiversity and Forests of the Ministry of the Environment (MMA), and one of the Brazilian negotiators at Nagoya. A preparatory meeting held in Nairobi in May was the venue for drawing up a draft of a new strategic plan for 2020. At that meeting, it became clear that the stalemate persisted. “Nobody wanted to make any commitment,” says Dias. The Johannesburg Summit 2002 had established 2010 as the deadline for the countries to reach an agreement involving the sharing of benefits. “If we hadn’t come to an agreement now, we would have missed the timing and who knows how many more years we would have taken to reach such an agreement,” states the secretary.

FABIO COLOMBINIMarine ecosystems: The target is to have 10 percent protected FABIO COLOMBINI

Before the conference, Brazil had taken a radical stand: either the countries agreed on a package involving all three objectives or no partial agreement would be drawn up. As no progress had been made by the second and last week of the conference, Brazil started bilateral conversations with the European Union countries. The European Union countries took on positions that were more flexible and, at the final round of negotiations, became the main advocates of the package of decisions. Japan, the host of the conference, also made an effort to reach an agreement. However, doubts persisted up to the end.

Countries such as Iran, Malaysia, and India demanded that the developed countries be obliged to disclose information on the origin of the natural resources when patents were filed. This request did not advance; to offset this, the countries decided that institutions would be appointed to verify how a given genetic material was obtained. Likewise, the African countries wanted the sharing of benefits to be retroactive. In other words, the Africans wanted the developed countries to pay for all the biological resources they had used in the past. The consensus was that this idea was not applicable; therefore, it was agreed that a fund would be set up to compensate countries for the past use of biodiversity. Two days prior to the end of the conference, negotiators still had to discuss six articles and a dozen paragraphs in brackets, recalls secretary Braulio Dias. On the eve of the last day, several developing countries, especially the members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (Alba, comprising Ecuador, Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela), among others, questioned the idea of establishing a value for biodiversity and including it in countries’ public accounts. Their argument was that no price should be put on biodiversity, as this would peg biodiversity to market mechanisms. “We argued that it wasn’t necessary to monetarize everything and that nowadays natural resources correspond to zero in the calculation of GDP,” says Dias. “But we feared that those countries would object and that no agreement would be reached.” At the last minute, no country was willing to be held responsible for failure to come to an agreement – which could only be reached through consensus – and repetition of the fiasco of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference.

In spite of all the enthusiasm, the Nagoya Protocol must still overcome several obstacles before it becomes feasible and generates results. The fact is that the protocol is a generic agreement and, as such, will depend on many rounds of negotiations in the next four years. In addition, it will depend on the enactment of environmental laws, especially in the developing countries. “The ABS protocol does not solve all the problems. The details will be resolved through national legislation. The protocol is broad, because nothing was excluded from it, with the exception of human genetic resources,” says Braulio Dias. The weakest link in the agreement was the commitment of the developed countries to finance the protection of biodiversity. For the time being, this financing is restricted to funding offered by Germany and Japan. In the opinion of Maretti, of the World Wildlife Fund/ WWF-Brazil, the protocol will need at least two more conferences to become operational. The agreements resulting from conferences of this kind are considered soft law, i.e., they are not enforceable, even though countries commit to implement the agreements. The Nagoya Protocol will only become effective after the agreement is ratified by the parliaments or assemblies of 50 countries. The United States, the world’s wealthiest nation, did not attend the conference and will not be subject to the decisions of the conference. “The general agreement on access to and sharing of benefits will allow conservation efforts to move forward, but some details still have to be worked out,” says US biologist Thomas Lovejoy, an expert on the Amazon Region who coined the term biological diversity four decades ago and introduced it to the scientific community in the 1980s. Reinforcing the position he defended last May, when, at the invitation of the Biota-FAPESP program, he gave the opening speech at the third Global Biodiversity Outlook held at the Palácio dos Bandeirantes, the seat of the State Government of São Paulo, Lovejoy criticized the obstacles to research imposed by the laws on bio-piracy. “I want to emphasize the importance of allowing research to be conducted, instead of suffocating it, as no country alone has the expertise required to walk alone,” states Lovejoy. “For more than ten years, the bureaucracy created by current Brazilian legislation has blocked research, especially on issues connected with the sustainable use and the sharing of benefits,” adds Carlos Joly. The Secretary of the Environment, Braulio Dias, predicts that the anti-piracy laws currently in effect in Brazil will be less stringent once the Nagoya Protocol is approved. “The international protection of biodiversity will make it easier to enact less restrictive and less bureaucratic laws that will help research and technological development,” he states.

FABIO COLOMBINIBrazil has been unable to produce official list of animals FABIO COLOMBINI

In the opinion of Thomas Lovejoy, the objectives of the strategic plan for 2020 are feasible. “Personally, I would have preferred more ambitious targets, such as the interruption of biodiversity loss caused by humans rather than a reduction, as has been approved. But given that most of the countries did not achieve the targets for 2010, interruption was felt to be too ambitious,” says the biologist, referring to the fact that all the countries failed to achieve the targets for 2010 established by the strategic plan in 2002. In the opinion of Anne Larigauderie, executive director of Diversitas, the Unesco-sponsored international program on the science of biodiversity, there are huge challenges that will have to be dealt with. “I’m cautiously optimistic about the results of Nagoya,” said Anne, who attended the conference in Japan. “The conference was a success in several aspects. But we must keep in mind that one of the results of the meeting was also collective failure concerning the targets for 2010. We hope that the policy instruments drawn up in Nagoya will be able to deal with the future challenges,” she states.

An outstanding moment at the Nagoya conference was the series of debates on the study “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity”(TEEB), prepared by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), which pointed out the economic value of plants, animals, forests and ecosystems. The study evaluated that the cost of the loss of biodiversity range from R$3.6 to R$8.2 trillion a year. “The importance of TEEB is that it made it possible to resort to economic arguments to expand the debate on the need to preserve biodiversity to other segments of society – other than the environmental one – and influence decision makers,” says Cláudio Maretti, conservation superintendent of WWF-Brazil. “In addition, in the case of underdeveloped countries that need funds to invest in conservation, the TEEB study enumerates the possible economic returns from the exploitation of services provided by biodiversity,” he adds.

The Nagoya Protocol will also face challenges on a national level. There is no consensus in the government yet concerning the implementation of certain measures. The sharing of benefits for example, was questioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, which echoed the concerns of the country’s agricultural sector that the country will have to pay to enjoy the genetic resources of other countries to improve crops. “The Ministry of Agriculture has signaled that there is interest in discussing the government’s single proposal,” says Braulio Dias. “If we come up with a comprehensive set of proposals to submit to Congress, it will be easier to mobilize the congressional majority. But if we fail to do so, it will be difficult to convince the majority to approve any proposal, “the secretary explains. – The difficulties are real, as the struggle related to the Forest Code show,” says Carlos Joly, referring to the possibility that Congress may relax the stringent protection of biodiversity on private property because of pressure from politicians.

Cláudio Maretti, of the WWF-Brazil says that the key to making the Nagoya Protocol advance is to mobilize society in this respect. “The results of the conference have raised expectations but now we have to arouse the interest of society, like the mobilization on climate change did,” he states. “We need to show society that the battle is not between environmentalists and the agricultural sector; the battle is between a new, sustainable model – which has already been embraced by part of the business community – and the old economy, which still sees natural resources as endless,” he says.

JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BOTT / Keystone / CorbisAgricultural research: use of genetic resources of other countries will be charged JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BOTT / Keystone / Corbis

Even though it did not achieve the targets for 2010, Brazil was one of the countries that advanced the most in this respect – which strengthened the Brazilian negotiators during the negotiations at Nagoya. Deforesting in the Amazon Region has dropped significantly (by 75 percent between 2004 and 2009), and the number of protected areas has increased. “On the other hand, the Brazilian targets that depended on the progress of scientific knowledge didn’t do so well,” says Carlos Joly, of Biota-FAPESP. Each country was supposed to publish official lists of their native species, in order to establish the right to participate in the sharing of the benefits stemming from the use of such species. “We were supposed to have official lists of plants, animals, and micro organisms, but we were only able to prepare a partial list of species of Brazilian flora, available on the site of Rio de Janeiro’s Botanical Garden. As for native animals and micro organisms, we don’t even have officially recognized partial lists,” says Joly, pointing out that São Paulo has made some progress in this respect. A special issue of the Biota Neotropica journal will soon publish the official list of vertebrate, invertebrate, and plant species of the State of São Paulo. According to this state’s Secretary of the Environment, Pedro Ubiratan Escorel de Azevedo, who was at Nagoya, São Paulo contributed significantly toward achieving the targets established for Brazil. “The payment of environmental services is already covered by a state law and we have created protected marine zones,” he states. “São Paulo has 52 percent of the protected marine zones and 13 percent of the protected land zones,” he says.

Nagoya motivated the creation of the Group on Earth Observations – Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO-BON), a global, scientifically robust structure for the observation and detection of changes in biodiversity. “This is a very important initiative that will give us the necessary tool to keep track of what we’re doing to achieve the new targets,” says US biologist Harold Mooney, of Stanford University. He is the president of the Diversitas scientific committee and will come to Brazil in December to participate in a conference in the city of Bragança Paulista. “There is no clear action plan to achieve the targets established at Nagoya, even though many countries are making a major effort to achieve them,” says Mooney, who was also at Nagoya.

The post-Nagoya scenario also imposes a stronger engagement of scientists in the protection of biodiversity. At a meeting organized by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in June, in Bussan, South Korea, representatives from 85 countries recommended the creation of an Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The intention, which must now be ratified by the General Assembly of the United Nations, is to conduct regular and updated evaluations of knowledge of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Scientific studies are to be independent and evaluated by peers, in a manner similar to that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes (IPCC). A previous attempt to create an entity of this kind had been rejected by diplomats from various countries, including Brazil. This previous attempt – the International Mechanism of Scientific Expertise in Biodiversity (Imoseb) – had been proposed by France and was viewed as an attempt at intervention by developed countries in the strategies of developing countries. “The main reason why this attempt was unsuccessful was that there was no guarantee of representation-related proportionality in the composition of the entity, between biodiversity-rich countries and the countries with the technology to exploit it,” explains Carlos Joly.

According to secretary Braulio Dias, there is a fundamental difference between the IPBES and the IPCC: instead of merely producing reports, the IPBES will also provide training for technicians, especially in the underdeveloped countries. “This is necessary to build the bridge between scientific knowledge and its application in public policies,” he says. According to Dias, Minister of the Environment Isabela Teixeira has already announced interest in creating a national entity similar to the IPBES. “We know that we will not solve the biodiversity issue without a strong scientific basis,” says the secretary.