The three Rio Conventions: Real Synergies or dominance by the Climate Convention?

Helena Paul, EcoNexus

References to potential synergies between the three Rio conventions are to be found scattered through the texts under discussion, notably in agenda item 5.6 Biodiversity and Climate Change. There are calls for these synergies to be consolidated and strengthened in the run-up to the Rio+20 celebrations in Brazil in 2012. At the CBD COP here in Nagoya as well as at the Climate COP in Cancun, we have the ‘Rio Conventions Ecosystems and Climate Change Pavilion.’

However, we must be extremely vigilant. There are serious and well-founded concerns about the impacts this might have in practice. The Climate Convention is bigger, more powerful with many governments and better funded than the CBD. It could easily dominate any attempt at synergies between the three Rio conventions.

In addition, the Climate Convention’s Kyoto Protocol had a market approach built into it from the beginning, with emissions trading and the clean development mechanism (CDM). The attraction of markets is powerful. There are already many forces intent on applying this approach in the CBD.
But the commodification of biodiversity for offset markets or a possible green development mechanism would mean the fragmentation of biodiversity. Zoning exercises that divide ecosystems into, for example, Resource Use Zones, General Use Zones, National Park Zones and Nature Sanctuaries are already underway. Companies could offer funding to support National Park Zones in exchange for access its resources.

This is a critical danger of biodiversity offsets. We know that biodiversity is already being fragmented, for example in the forest mosaic approach, which is based on the idea of high biodiversity areas being protected while companies exploit areas zoned for plantations of different kinds. We need to protect biodiversity from fragmentation – not increase it. Biodiversity protection needs to be coherent with the functions of ecosystems.

Another danger inherent in any coming together of the conventions is the focus on technologies projected to provide a quick fix for climate change. While the impacts of geoengineering technologies are unknown, advocates are saying we do not have the “luxury” of delaying to investigate further because we must act now. This is a very dangerous path and the CBD should strongly apply the precautionary principle to cool down the ardour of the technological optimists, whose message to governments are simple and seductive: if we fix the climate then you will not have to make the painful decisions to reduce consumption and energy use.

Such arguments must be resisted. However, at this COP it is hard to escape the conclusion that in some discussions, for example on biodiversity and climate change, the CBD is being streamlined to be coherent with the climate convention. The latter makes no mention of biodiversity; it only speaks of ecosystem services. Now this terminology is creeping – no galloping – into the CBD. But the use of the term ecosystem services as opposed to ecosystem functions opens up the way to trading in these services. International trading in biodiversity is more likely to help traders than boost biodiversity conservation.

There are serious concerns about the coming together of conventions for Indigenous Peoples, who have a special place in the CBD, but certainly not in the dominant Climate Convention.

There is great sensitivity being expressed here in Nagoya about the need to avoid pre-empting decisions to be made in Cancun, at the next phase of the UNFCCC negotiations. However, it seems as though Parties are bowing to the capital endowed climate process (particularly the tantalizing REDD prospects), when it is precisely the opposite that should happen.

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