1 Dec 2016

Critical conservation summit must not become a Mexican stand-off

Golden Eagle, Mexico's national bird. © Adrian Berg
Golden Eagle, Mexico's national bird. © Adrian Berg
By Carolina Hazin

Ready, steady, go:  the 13th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity* opens tomorrow in Cancun, Mexico. The agenda? Nothing less than the future of the world's species and their habitats.

Over the next 15 days, governments will be discussing international policies to tackle a variety of issues. These include: the creation and management of protected areas, the protection of oceans, the restoration of degraded habitats and, of course, the funding needed to promote these activities.

However, this time around the elephant in the room will be the economy. The world is yet to find ways to align development and nature conservation. Policy wonks call it “biodiversity mainstreaming” - making sure that the value of biodiversity is taken into account by productive sectors.

To set the tone, ministers of environment, fisheries, agriculture, forestry and tourism will meet ahead of the Conference (on the 2nd and 3rd December) to agree on the ways and means to reduce the impacts of production on nature, and generate win-win situations for nature and development. The fact that it is the first time that ministers of these various sectors will gather globally to discuss biodiversity conservation is, in itself, good news.

In 2010, the 196 States that tomorrow participate in the Conference set 20 global targets on biodiversity conservation, which are due in 2020 (the famous Aichi Biodiversity Targets). So far, with just 4 years to go, assessments demonstrate that so far, countries are far from successful in their commitments. Agriculture is poisoning habitats with heavy loads of pollutants, contaminating river bodies and killing insects that pollinates culture; fisheries are killing dozen of thousands of seabirds; governments are spending millions of dollars in subsidies for unsustainable productions that destroy nature. No wonder the global conservation community feels discouraged by so many promises, and so few actions.

BirdLife International will be there of course, to advocate for stronger commitments by countries on sustainable production, sharing various successful cases where policies and practices on cattle breeding, energy production, fisheries or agriculture have been improved as a result of our work with the private sector and governments.

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The Grasslands Alliance is one such example. Farmers in South America are producing, and already exporting to the European, “grasslands and birds friendly” beef. One of the many good examples of such good practices. Tax incentives have also played an important role in the project.

Our main message: during the COP we will be calling on countries to reduce the number of international formal Resolutions and move into actions on the ground. In other words, a little less conversation, a little (or a lot) more action.


* The Convention on Biological Diversity was signed in 1992 at the occasion of the Rio Earth Summit – The UN Conference on Environment and Development. Today the Convention has 196 Parties, committed to promote 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. In 2010 the Convention approved the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, with its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets