Progress on the international front: Biological Diversity

2010 is the UN’s Year of Biodiversity, and it is only fitting that this year (this past week in fact), 193 countries made real progress in the effort to protect the biodiversity we have left. Nagoya, Japan hosted the 10th conference on the Convention on Biological Diversity and the delegates unanimously agreed to the Nagoya Protocol- an effort to slow species extinction worldwide.

The loss of the world’s Biological Diversity- much of it from development and climate change- is leading to mass extinction and causing devastating economic losses around the world and impacting the world’s poor disproportionately. An intergovernmental study- The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB)estimates the annual loss to be between $2.5-4 Trillion! (Consider how ongoing loss of old growth forests, drought, and water contamination impact local economies)

Luckily, under this agreement the countries have committed to (amongst other goals):

  • Zero tolerance target for species extinction;
  • Reduce habitat loss by at least 50 percent
  • Conserve 17 percent of all inland water and terrestrial areas and 10 percent of marine areas
  • Restore 15 percent of degraded ecosystems
  • Fund conservation efforts in the developing world


Observers were concerned at one point about the direction of negotiations, but Japan ponied up $2 Billion in biodiversity and kept negotiations alive.

Although the new conservation goals expand inland water and terrestrial areas from 14 percent to 17 percent, the expansion of marine conservation areas is more dramatic. Nathan Herschler, who attended the conference on behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare had the following to say about the new agreement: “While the agreement to increase protection of Marine and Coastal areas by a factor of ten is fantastic and welcome news, the agreed-upon target is only half what scientists recommend.  The fear is that even full implementation of this target will not halt the loss of marine biodiversity by 2020.”

One very interesting note is that the new treaty bans “Geo engineering”, that is, man-made efforts to mitigate climate change on a massive scale, (mirrors in space or deliberately emitting gases that offset the impact of CO2). Although Geo-engineering sounds like a mad scientist plot from a bad sci-fi movie, there are many parties seriously investigating this possible strategy to stop global warming (as opposed to acting now and reducing CO2 emissions now). Thankfully, for now, this is effectively illegal unless it is thoroughly researched and proven to not impact Biodiversity.

In a time when many are skeptical of the UN process’s ability to address cross-cutting international environmental concerns, it is comforting to know that the potential for solutions is possible. Nonetheless, the conference ended with two “pink elephants” in the room weighing on everyone’s mind. 1) Will the U.S. ratify the Convention on Biological Diversity and give the agreement real weight? and finally, 2) How effective can this agreement be if climate negotiations continue to falter, as climate change continues to be a leading cause of extinction and loss of habitat?