“Political stamina” essential to shift biodiversity at heart of green economy – Felix von Geyer

Biodiversity underpins the healthy ecosystems that we commonly call “ecosystem services,” the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity told the Montreal International Relations Council (CORIM) at a lunchtime meeting on Wednesday as he called for governments to show more “political stamina” to place biodiversity at the heart of a sustainable, green economy.

A transition to a green economy must recognize how biodiversity is the basis of the economy, said Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias who became Executive Secretary of the Montreal-based UN CBD earlier this year.

De Souza Dias stressed measures to conserve biodiversity are in fact investments, not costs, as he indicated that the private sector was now increasingly alert to the reality that genetic resources are much greater than the sum of their molecules and genes and that all companies benefit directly or indirectly from ecosystem services.

Germany was the first country to introduce biodiversity guidelines for the business sector but now all governments have to implement their agreements and commitments. While there would likely be some trade-offs, de Souza Dias called for governments to integrate their taregts into national and local strategies. To this end, “political stamina” is fundamental in the creation of “win-win scenarios and policies” he said.

“We’ve reached the limits and we’ve nowhere else to go. We need to take better care of our planet,” said the Executive Secretary as he underlined the need for sustainable consumption and production.

Understanding biodiversity does however require greater modelling. Despite the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, it is estimated that little more than ten percent of the species have been catalogued. Despite this, de Souza Dias estimated that a third of all biodiversity could be lost in the coming decades if average global temperatures exceed two degrees Celsius due to climate change.

Greater scientific knowledge is essential to making decisions and four UN bodies have come together to form the new Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) that will be located in Bonn.

De Souza Dias was quick to caution that natural science could only go so far and that social scientists were essential in understanding more about the human species. One of the Convention’s own recent contributions to human organization, the 2010 signing of the Nagoya Protocol, will allow equal access to genetic resources for the purposes of benefit-sharing among the international community once fifty signatories ratify the Protocol for it to come into force. Currently eight ratifications have taken place with the remaining ratifications expected during the next two years, said de Souza Dias.

“Biodiversity is a complex issue – even more complex than climate change,” declared de Souza Dias who called for IPBES to adopt a bottom-up approach incorporating local, national and regional assessments in understanding the challenges of biodiversity and ecosystem issues and how to address them.

However, financial mechanisms and regulations have a part to play. Where current international commitments seek to preserve seventeen percent of continental territory and ten percent of marine area, it is estimated that this investment could require anywhere between US$200 billion to US$600 billion and at present it is unsure where this money will come from.

Presently there is no ideal financial solution to addressing biodiversity and ecosystem services. “We are still looking for the best,” de Souza Dias told New Orator after his speech as he took the example of fisheries.  Annually, the global fish trade has been estimated to be worth US$80 billion but the industry receives government subsidies worth almost half that value, not to mention fossil fuel subsidies, he added.

De Souza Dias pointed to the New Zealand experience as the example of a licensing round where the government holds bidding rounds for fishing licenses. In the same way as the principle of revenue neutrality in pricing greenhouse gas emissions where money raised through carbon taxes or auctioning carbon credits under a cap and trade scheme, the money used by the New Zealand government is distributed to fund people subsequently out of work to help them find other employment.

As he pointed to the famous collapse of cod fish-stocks off Canada’s east coast over twenty years ago – that are yet to recover – de Souza Dias underlined the complex nature of addressing biodiversity. “I’m not optimistic that technology will solve our problems,” he told New Orator. “I think we need to be more humble,” he concluded.


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