Please excuse the perhaps heavier-than-usual tone of this blog, but we are dealing with very serious issues; indeed, our children and grandchildren’s futures depend on them. As I am about to become a grandfather, I am more aware than ever of our failures in respecting nature across the world.

The much-delayed UN Biodiversity Conference will finally meet at Montreal in December this year, about three weeks after the conclusion of COP27 in Egypt The notification for the Biodiversity Conference claims it will ‘provide the global community with further opportunities to galvanize efforts at all levels to build a better future in harmony with nature, and to continue efforts to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets’. The hint of desperation in this wording is entirely appropriate. As the UN has had to admit, following an official report, not one of the biodiversity targets set for the decade 2010 to 2020 were met. The idea that these vast international conferences obsessed with setting unlikely global targets will achieve anything except a confection of pious hopes is a joke. What is the point of targets if you have no planned means of getting there? It’s like setting a target of cycling a hundred miles a week before you own a bike. Several of the governments represented have no conceivable interest in taking any action that might constrain their business-as-usual, but announcing ‘pledges’ gains politicians positive headlines. You may think I’m being unduly pessimistic, that it is cynics like me that are hindering progress, but my feeling is that other approaches might be more productive.

These unwieldy conferences where every National Government with a seat at the UN is represented, irrespective of approach or legitimacy, are not a solution – they are part of the problem. (Of course some, like Taiwan or Western Sahara, aren’t even allowed to attend – excluded for political reasons which have nothing to do with climate change or the global need to conserve biodiversity.) In giant conferences like this, any resulting treaty text can only be literally the lowest common denominator. Recent attempts at an International Plastics Treaty, and an International Oceans Treaty have foundered for this reason – to get any general agreement the texts become so weak as to be meaningless, in any case even the minimal goals they aspire to are rarely observed. The problem is not the ‘pledges’ but the implementation, and it would be more sensible to concentrate on mechanisms rather than targets. Celebrating best practice and encouraging more countries to commit to change would be more productive.

At COP26 in Glasgow (last November) a new initiative called BOGA (Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance) was launched by 11 like-minded national and subnational administrations (led by Costa Rica and Denmark and including France, Ireland, Greenland and the Canadian province of Quebec). It aims to act as an international pressure-group acting to improve performance – a sort of international ginger group. Could this approach work to conserve biodiversity?

Some progress in championing biodiversity has been made; here are a few examples. The Great Green Wall project in eleven countries across the Sahel region of Africa has already spearheaded restoration in the hands of rural communities; these experiences could be built on. Greenpeace dropped large boulders on the shallow Dogger Banks in the North Sea to discourage destructive bottom-trawling – and effectively shamed the British Government to respond by banning the practice in a number of so-called ‘protected marine areas’ (though others remain ravaged by destructive fishing techniques). Mangroves are being replanted in countries as far apart as Egypt, Vietnam and Nigeria, with considerable success for coastline erosion protection, carbon sequestration, promotion of inshore fish stocks and the involvement of local communities. A new approach to protection of the Amazon has been proposed by COICA (Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Amazon) with enormous potential based on sustainable extractive use involving local communities and supported by local governments. There are even ways of growing oil palm without first destroying the forests, working with nature instead of against it.

As with all threatened ecosystems, in the long run some sort of balance between loss and restoration of tropical forests and the oceans will have to be established. The question is, will there be any primary forest still standing and in healthy condition by that time? Or will we be left with a few impoverished specimens – a few unrepresentative hectares here and there, kept alive like miserable animals in a zoo, the last specimens of a long-lost heritage? I will suggest how a BOGA-like initiative might make a start to confront some of the key issues in my next blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s