Rio+20 - BirdLife urges governments to ensure that biodiversity and nature are central to decisions taken on sustainable development

By Melanie Heath, Mon, 11/06/2012 - 13:25
At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 178 countries voted to adopt the Agenda 21 blueprint to rethink economic growth, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection. Twenty years later, the UN is again bringing together governments, international institutions and NGOs in an attempt to agree a range of measures to reduce poverty while promoting sustainable development across the world. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), better known as Rio+20, will take place in Brazil on 20-22 June 2012 after a week of preparatory meetings beginning 13 June. The first Rio Summit identified three mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development: social, economic and environmental. Three key international treaties were also opened for signature at Rio in 1992 - the Convention on Biological Diversity, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. These have done much to shape international approaches to climate change and biodiversity loss. Since the first Rio meeting, nations have put in place some significant policies to slow biodiversity declines. Overall, however, these have been woefully inadequate, and the increasing pressures on biodiversity continue to outpace the responses. Efforts need to be greatly scaled up. BirdLife is calling on governments attending Rio+20 to demonstrate global leadership to redirect the global economy towards a sustainable pathway - see our letter. Among other qualities, a genuinely green economy must be centred on the principles of sustainable development as outlined in Agenda 21. It must be in harmony with nature, respect environmental limits, and recognise the crucial underpinning provided by biodiversity and ecosystem services, and thus the fundamental importance of nature conservation to economic prosperity and poverty eradication. It must use the effective solutions that nature offers to many global challenges, including water, food security and climate change. The underpinning role of nature and biodiversity needs to be clearly reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals. This new initiative to be discussed in Rio could result in a set of quantitative, universally applied goals to measure country performance towards sustainable development, as part of an international post 2015 framework for international development. BirdLife also urges a redirection of the ’perverse incentives’ that act to undermine sustainable development, such as subsidies that indirectly stimulate overfishing, destructive agricultural practices and use of fossil fuels. The marine environment needs special attention, and BirdLife International supports calls for negotiation of an implementing agreement within the framework of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea that would address the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction, including effective safeguards for ecologically or biologically significant areas. “To ensure coherent progress towards sustainable development, priority cross-cutting issues identified in the Rio+20 outcomes, like forests and biodiversity, oceans, water, food security and agriculture, energy, require urgent action,” said Melanie Heath, Head of Policy. “They must link and refer to the delivery of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, agreed at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010, and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets”. These targets are essential for the achievement of sustainable development and need to be firmly embedded in ambitious Rio+20 outcomes that are in harmony with nature and respect environmental limits. See IUCN Aichi Target analysis. Governments have spent many hours in preparatory meetings to try and agree on the Rio+20 outcome text. BirdLife is calling on governments to act quickly to agree and implement decisive actions that will achieve sustainable development, recognizing that biodiversity and ecosystem services are at the heart of a sustainable future for all - essential for our livelihoods, our cultures, and our well-being. Some 50,000 people, including governments, business executives, representatives of NGOs, youth groups and indigenous peoples, among many others, are expected to participate in both official and parallel events during the Conference. A delegation from BirdLife (including BirdLife Partners from Fiji, Kenya, Spain, Turkey, and the UK as well as the BirdLife Secretariat) is working to try to ensure that the needs and roles of biodiversity and nature are central to decisions taken on sustainable development. Links to: - The BirdLife International Partnership Letter to the World's Governments at RIO+20 - IUCN Aichi targets analysis - Rio+20 BirdLife policy briefing paper - BirdLife's spotlight on sustainability

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Dear BirdLife International, I would like to thank you for thinking globally and for the leading role that you play and the work that you have been doing throughout the world throughout the years. I hope and pray that your input at Rio+20 hits the right targets. I wish I could be there. I am part of the Canadian Caretaker network that you folks inspired and deliver through Nature Canada, Bird Studies Canada, and Nature Manitoba (my province). My IBA is 009. It is quietly in the news at present as Lake Winnipeg (into which the marsh flows) is being viewed as a global canary - nutriant overloading is killing it. The IBA is being viewed as a kidney - the cattails drawing up the globally limited supply of phosphorus in the water that is reaching it, so they say. . Sustainable Development thinking at a recent, 'Save Lake Winnipeg Conference' was to harvest 60% of the marsh, compress the cattails into pellets, burn as a bio fuel, get some carbon credits, and reclaim the phosphorus in the ash for redistribution onto the land. They'd brushcut the cattails by 75%. It'd open up the marsh a bit, so they say. What they are forgetting to say is that a 60% harvest is more than just a bit. Winter natuarally brushcuts the cattails down to 4 ft. Blackbirds stake out their territories in that 4 ft old growth. A brushcut down to 1 ft would leave the marsh looking like a stubble field. Wind tides are 3 ft. Hello? That would leave the marsh looking like a lake, which it already does look like in many places thoughout. As good as nutrient harvesting sounds, it is somewhat impractical (in my opinion) as it would require the harvesting to be done in winter and one good blizzard would shut it down. We do get good blizzards. In that way the marsh is self protecting. Some of the more logical thinking is: "Maybe we should harvest the cattails in the ditches and marshes upland instead before the phosphorus gets to the marsh - ditches and upland marshes being drawn down quite easily by comparrison. Summer heat alone dries many of them up. Water level regulation of Lake Winnipeg has been, by far, the most devastating threat to this IBA. Birds are leaving it (have left it) for safer marshes elsewhere. Lake regulation keeps the water high not just in the spring but in the fall as well. Wind tides can be 3' or more. Add waves to that and you get massive destruction of riparian edges and shorelines, and to the food chains themselves. The marsh cannot re-juevenate if not drawn down. It cannot survive a constant onslaught of high water and wind tides. The cattails had all but disappeared prior to 2003. No rejuevenation means massive reductions in food and serious declines in the number of birds. As your work points out, though, they could rebound if given a chance. Drawing the lake down would be that chance. The lake is regulated for the purpose of creating hydro electric power to market not just locally (winter heat and such) and provincially (next door), but internationally (the USA) for winter heat and summer air conditioning, plus whatever all else requires electricity - a billions+ industry - much like birding itself is a billions+ industry, so I've read or been told. A yearly draw down of the marsh would bring back the vegetation and bring back the food chain - bugs and frogs and minnows and muskrats and birds and such. A drought in 2003 did just that - it brought back a half mile ring of cattails surrounding the marsh (plus whatever internally within the marsh) and we're starting to see Black Terns again. Even the muskrats are coming back. It has taken 10 years. If the frogs and minnows come back, we could see the Black-crowned Night Herons come back. My point being - draw down the marsh. It'd mean less for hydro and it's investors but it would mean more for the marsh and it's spin offs. There used to be a thriving fur, haying, minnow, hunting, cottage industry here. All that has been wiped out so that we can micro our buns. As your article points out, we need to rethink the way we do things if we are ever going to reach any kind of sustainability. I think you are ABSOLUTELY RIGHT! Manitoba Hydro's 30 year (I think it's 30) interm liscense to operate is up for review right now and has been for some time. Their approval for a final liscense must be getting close. They have not applied to raise the level of the lake (I asked them directly) but keep it at 715 (mean) which is too high to begin with imo, meaning it could be 718 much of the time especially in high water years creating weather bombs that you don't want to know about. Well, actually, maybe you do. Cottages have been destroyed. It's like a giant beaver dammed up the outflow from the lake in the north and we now have a provincially massive beaver pond (lake and marsh) on our hands - the third largest hydro electric project in the world I think. I suppose the review will address the impact their interm liscense had on 30 years of marsh and lakeshore devastations. I'm still in the baby steps of IBA research and programming so I don't have all the facts and figures just yet but am getting to them and thought it important to let you know since rethinking how we do things here is parallel to the rethinking you're suggesting there/globally. Nature Canada knows about this and has said that they've closed some gaps between Winnipeg and Ottawa, so good on them for now - that's a good thing. Again, thanks and good luck in your work over there/everywhere.

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