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Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, or COP10, has kicked off with "more than 10,000 government officials--including delegations from 193 parties to the convention--members of nongovernmental organizations, business leaders and citizens" attending, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun story. And there are special factions on the ground, too, with their own special interests to promote. One is the Like-Minded Megadiverse Countries, a bloc that includes Brasil, India, China, Mexico and Kenya. Another is the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program, which involves "mining developer Rio Tinto, oil giant Shell, the United Nations Environment Program, and Conservation International, a U.S.-based environmental nongovernmental organization". There are also local special-interest groups such as the Japan Business Initiative for Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity, which involves only Japanese companies.

With so many bureaucrats representing so many sovereign interests, it's likely that acronyms will start to proliferate. They've started already. One new concept that people everywhere will need to get acquainted with is the International Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES): "The envisioned organization would act on those issues just as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) works to assess climate change." But what will it try to regulate or, more exactly, what will it try to convince national governments to regulate, as they must do independently?

The COP10 convention has three objectives:
  • Conservation of biological diversity.
  • Sustainable use of its components.
  • Fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources.
As usually happens when something complex needs explaining to a Japanese audience, an expert is trundled in for an interview to touch on salient points and make them digestible (they love their food in Japan). Doing the honours this time is Asahi Shimbun, which found Naoki Adachi, executive director of the Japan Business Initiative for Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity.

Adachi explains what it's all about by starting off to clarify what hasn't happened among businesses in the past. Businesses have not taken biological diversity into account when making decisions.
To date, humankind has just been cashing in on the ecosystem. For example, we have borne the costs for labor and transportation when we cut down trees. But we have not paid compensation when natural disasters occur after the trees have been felled.
The economic value of ecosystem services is estimated to be at least in the tens of trillions of dollars (annually). The world economy rests upon these benefits.
He says most businesses "are thinking along the lines of just making a small contribution to afforestation or something similar. Their thinking has stalled at the stage of simply protecting nature."

One body present at the conference with such interests to protect is the Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation). It has "expressed concern that the discussions might spawn regulations" and "warned against creating a market for tradable credits for offset programs", according to an Asahi Shimbun story. More bizarrely:
It said that the introduction of compensation measures such as buying credits could lead to an acceleration of biodiversity destruction.
The Keidanren is running interference on the sidelines. The loud noises it is making are similar to those we became familiar with when business bodies took to the airwaves to slam IPCC claims and policy measures as they were articulated by national and local governments. It's a predictable behaviour, funded and abetted by businesses, aimed at making sure legislative measures enacted in national parliaments are as mild and unrestrictive as possible.

The COP10 goals are broad-ranging and aimed at securing support from both developed and developing countries, and it's very early days yet. Think the Kyoto Protocol in embryo. As we saw in the case of the more-recent Copenhagen climate change talks, there will be significant disagreement between countries and blocs of countries when it comes to nailing the details in place.

A country like Japan will find itself conflicted by the talks. On the one hand its corporations use, say, genetic resources that are sourced in tropical rainforests, or send their fishing vessels to exploit fish stocks found around small island states. In both cases, the biological resource belongs to other countries and Japan will need to take the concerns of those countries into consideration when it conducts commercial activities in their territories. Compensation will be requested, if COP10 has its way, and paid.

On the other hand, Japan loves big talk-fests like this that possess international cachet. Such events bolster national pride because they are seen to enhance its international standing. Unfortunately, international media have so far completely ignored the COP10 convention, so with part of that equation so far not pulling its weight for the Japanese, the poor buggers seem to be set to lose a lot (access to biological resources) without gaining much (prestige).

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