Biodiversity V

International Dynamics

The world’s nations realizing how much danger there is to global biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, have taken at least some steps to try to pull back from the sixth great extinction.1351

Some are indirect, for example, riding on the climate control effort, as feeble as it is, through red plus the initiative to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. There have been treaties of course limiting some kinds of trans-boundary pollutants that, that threaten the oceans. There have been agreements of some sort, though often quite weak, on global fisheries. In addition to those, there have been at, at least two direct important attempts to focus on biodiversity through direct international treaties. The most important of these is the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity[1]. Whose core purpose is to slow, to stop, to reverse the loss of biodiversity. The second is CITES[2], a treaty that predates the CBD, or the convention of biological diversity by a couple of decades to try to restrict trade in endangered species.

1352Both have experienced ups and downs. It’s important for us to have a look at what’s being accomplished, what isn’t to understand what we’re going to have to do.  think the most important point to emphasize time and again, is that the pressures of the global economy are so strong that even when treaties or regulations are put in place, vested interest often give a powerful counter force to these measures.

And control mechanisms are often at the mercy of illegal activities, at bribery, at corruption of other limits of enforcement. So the weight and the force, and the momentum of the world economy is often so powerful that it just runs roughshod over attempts at regulation. Well CBD, the Convention on Biological Diversity, is at least a valiant attempt to try to get under control, the human threat to biological diversity. It is one of the three great multi-lateral, environmental agreements MEA has reached at the Real Earth Summit in 1992. You’ll recall that the other two are the UN Framework Convention on climate change, and the UN Convention to combat the desertification. CBD is the third of the three. And I would say that it has had a rather unhappy history. It’s accomplished a bit, but it has not accomplished at all its core purpose of heading off the massive loss of biodiversity.

1353So what is the CBD, the Convention on Biological Diversity? It, it says, and I’m quoting from the preamble, that affirming that the conservation of biological diversity is a common concern of humankind. It put, as the core of the convention. And I quote, the objectives of this convention to be pursued in accordance with its relevant provisions  are the conservation of biological diversity. The sustainable use of its components and the fair, and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. Nothing wrong with fair and equitable sharing. But what was thought about at the time in 1992 was an incredible bonanza that was expected at that point in what was called bioprospecting.

That scientists would enter the world’s forest regions and one after another would identify new blockbuster drugs that would not only be of profound value in the, in and of themselves but a profound income stream. And the question was how to make sure that the host countries rather than say the pharmaceutical companies would, would get that. It’s not completely fanciful by any means, that idea. Nature does have in its store houses still to be discovered chemical compounds of profound benefit. One of the greatest that I see in my everyday work is a, an herbal ancient remedy for fever in China. The wormwood plant called in Chinese [Xing-kuah-Soo] which became the source of the modern molecule artemisinin used to fight malaria. So nature offers wonderful products, but a lot of the driver in 1992 and a lot of the mishaps with the convention on biological diversity. Since then came from the notion that we should be focusing our efforts on who’s going to get rich out of bioprospecting rather than how we should control human activity in order to prevent a collapse of ecosystems and biodiversity for our much deeper, longer term well-being.

1354The treaty has accomplished a certain bit but it fell far short of what it should be doing. And one of the main reasons for that is the disgraceful behavior of the government of the United States. I of my own country. Already during the negotiations of the treaty, even though US scientists and some politicians were leading movers of the treaty negotiation itself. The right wing in the United States started to lobby against the treaty. And by the time the treaty was finalized for the Rio Earth summit, President George Bush Sr. in 1992 decided on the basis of members of his own party, not to sign the treaty. The next year President Bill Clinton came to office, signed the treaty, and submitted it for senate ratification which in the United States system requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate. The senate committee looking at this treaty gave it its approval. But the senate never ratified the treaty then, and up until today. What happened is that, so called free marketeers said, why should we our activities?

Why should we agree to equitable and fair sharing of biological products our, its our drug companies, let them go make a profit. Isn’t this going to call into risk, they said, intellectual property of the pharmaceutical industry? One suspects that powerful industrial lobbies were having their say at the time. And then more and more senators, especially from Western states in the US where there are a lot of federal lands that private developers crave. Give us those lands so we can mine on them, so we can create ranches and so we can drill for oil or hydrofrack for Shell gas and so forth, said this treaty is going to be a menace to our property rights. It was a startling the kind of free market sentiment that arose that is so misguided because markets are to serve human purposes. But when markets, don’t take into account the profound externalities of individual behavior, such as the loss of biological diversity, or driving species to extinction, free markets are not our friend.

1355They become the enemy of human well-being, the antagonist of human well-being. And an ideology that says, leave me alone, I have perfect right to destroy species is obviously an ideology that can create havoc. And it is as odd as it sounds, an ideology of tremendous political and economic force in the United States and in other parts of the world. Here’s what senator at the time from Montana said about the treaty. US environmental laws are currently encroaching on our property rights. Provisions like the endangered species act and wetlands laws are dictating what private landowners can and can not do with their own land. This treaty, in other words, the Convention on Biological Diversity could give a panel outside the United States the right to dictate what our environmental laws should say. That is wrong. He and his colleagues prevailed. The treaty was never ratified and the US while an observer to the treaty has been conspicuous by its absence of responsibility. Of providing required and adequate financing under the treaty, and of taking the steps as a signatory in enforcing the treaty. CBD is hardly known to the United States a, as a result. I, I don’t think people of the street have the slightest idea of what the convention on biological diversity is. And when the convention signatories signed back in 2002, a commitment. A pledge to reverse the loss of bio-diversity to slow it and reverse it by the year 2010. Making a global goal to get the loss of biological diversity under control. It’s fair to say that that global goal had, I don’t know if it’s fair to say, no impact at all. I, but I think it’s probably right to say no discernible impact in actually slowing the loss of biodiversity. Well, those three multilateral environmental agreements were reviewed 20 years later at the Rio+20 Summit. And when the world went off to Rio in June, 2012, to review progress that had been made, or the lack of progress.

Nature Magazine, one of the two great English language scientific journals weeklies in, in the world, gave an in-depth analysis of what had happened under the various treaties. And they gave a report card, and you’re looking at the report card, that nature magazine gave on the convention on biological diversity. And you see main assignment. Reduce the rate of biodiversity loss. Grade an F, total failure. This treaty has not slowed the loss of biodiversity. Other assignments. Develop targets, a D. Protect ecosystems a C. We’ll look at why at least there was a passing grade for that though not a very high one. On and on, recognize indigenous rights, provide funding. A D, for recognizing indigenous rights, something we’ve already seen, indigenous communities the world over continue to face massive discrimination. And lack of recognition of their rights. Financing to offset the loss of biodiversity a solid F. The one high grade that was given was creating a regulatory framework around genetically ma, modified organisms. Whether that serves the human purpose, or chokes off the benefits that advance to genetics might give for seed breeding, for example, remains to be seen. The only other passing grade, decent grade of, it’s not even decent, but of, of a C given on that report card was of protecting areas. One of the provisions in the convention on biological diversity was to set aside protected zones and this graph shows you  the cumulative protected areas in the world. National parks and national reserves, protected wildlife refuges, marine protected zones and so forth have been on the increase for decades. We see the rise in protected areas and the rise in particular of marine protected areas. [This is a contribution we, we can say of the convention on biological diversity. It has some effect, but overall that verdict of F as the overall grade on the main goal of the treaty stands and gives us a fair warning. Now, another very important treaty preceded the convention on biological diversity by a couple of decades. That is, the convention on international trade in endangered species which was signed in 1973 and went into effect soon thereafter. The idea of CITES is to reduce the pressures and dangers of species’ extinction by regulating trade specifically in endangered species. And the way that the treaty works is that the treaty takes a classification of endangered species. Species that are not yet endangered with extinction but could become so unless trade is reduced, and a third category of species whose trade indirectly imperils the species in endangerment of extinction. And with those three categories, CITES covers around 34,000 plant and animal species right now. The main idea is to stop or to ban, trade in endangered species to, and to regulate trade more generally. To head off the endangerment of species and, and of course to prevent their extinction. This treaty has an effect, but again like all international law, the real forces of the world economy can sweep aside what’s on paper and often lead to consequences that are absolutely devastating even if illegal. An example of this is the recent surge in trade, illegal trade in rhinoceros horns, and the massive kill off of rhinoceroses because of this world soaring demand. Most of this demand, virtually all of it, comes from china where rhinoceros horn is a treasured part of the pharmacopoeia of traditional Chinese medicine. It’s sometimes said that the rhinoceros horn is coveted as an aphrodisiac. Apparently that’s not the case. the, rhinoceros horn is ground into powder, and used to fight varies, diseases, in traditional Chinese medicine. And it as a extraordinarily valued commodity. But the black rhinoceros is an extraordinarily endangered species, and the numbers have fallen precipitously. One can say that the populations of the black rhino have plummeted in recent years as demand has soared for the rhinoceros horn. It’s not surprising why when you take into account that the market price for a rhinoceros horn estimated to be around $50,000 per kilo is just about the same as the price of a kilo of gold. This is a commodity worth it’s weight in gold, literally and such a commodity is bound to give rise to tremendous pressures at every part of the supply chain. Bribing local game park officials. Bribing people at port facilities that are supposed to be monitoring trade. Bribery and corruption all the way along the supply chain until the final market.  Thanks to a very important recent study by Professor Lenzen at the University of Sydney and his colleagues. We find that trade in rhinoceros horns or in elephant tusks and the dangers that they pose are a pervasive problem not specific to a couple of headline areas, but involving thousands and thousands of endangered plant and animal species. Professor Lenzen and colleagues looked at thousands of threatened species. And millions of bilateral trading patterns between countries, both source countries of these products and destination countries demanding products that are using these endangered plants and animals as inputs in the production process. And their results are stunning. A very significant proportion a third or so of the endangered species that they looked at are part of important global trading chains. Meaning that it’s not good enough to stop local pressures say small holder farmers entering into a forest area. Or to think about the endangerment of an ecosystem based on local economic forces and local economic incentives. We’re talking about essentially the full weight of the $80 or $90 trillion world economy, which is providing the fuel for this massive loss of biodiversity. In this graph from the Lenzen study, you see a differentiation of species threatened by net importers, and by net suppliers of the species. So, net importers are rich countries. Like the U.S., Japan, Germany, France, U.K., and so forth. And the net suppliers are countries typically poor or middle income tropical countries that are supplying the, the tropical hard woods, or the forest products, or the other plants and animals coming from the tropical ecosystems. Cameroon, Cambodia, Russia, Thailand, Sir Lanka, Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, Indonesia All places that are net exporters of this endangered of these endangered species in large numbers. One of the useful graphics from the Lenzen study is the ability to trace the world wide supply chains. This is shown by this illustration from the study of two parts of this worldwide supply chain. One are trades in species where Malaysia is the supplier, and that’s shown in orange in this global map. And then our, the trade in species where Germany is the net importer, the demander. So you can look at these supply chains of endangered species, both from the suppliers side and the demanders side. And the, the main point of this graph without having to go into detail is that we’re talking not only about pervasive trade influences on the loss of biodiversity, but we are talking about global supply chains. And not simply one point to the next, but multiple countries engaged in multiple threats as consumers. And of course many, many countries engaged in threats to biodiversity as suppliers to those consuming countries. What’s our conclusion? Our conclusion is that global efforts stretching over many decades have not yet come to grips with the sixth extinction wave on the planet. Humanity is the power of influence over ecosystem functions, and its endangerment of biodiversity is so vast and coming from so many different directions. That we still lack the comprehensiveness and the weight of our politics, and our public awareness as well as our economic incentives, to get this right. When the world met at Rio plus 20, 20 years after the Rio world summit. And they had that report card of an F on implementing the convention on biological diversity, an F on implementing the UN framework convention on climate change, an F on implementing the UN convention to combat desertification. They knew that something, something different needs to be done. And we’re going to look at what the prospects are for the breakthrough of policy to a true age of sustainable development under a set of sustainable development goals. That at least have the potential to energize our actions and raise our awareness, our understanding and our motivation to take hold of these forces and make sure that we move from the very threatening business as usual path, to a true path of sustainable development.

[1] http://www.cbd.int/

[2] http://www.cites.org/

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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