North-South divide blurs at Hyderabad

Gopi Warrier | Updated on December 16, 2012

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressing the CoP-11 delegates at the biodiversity convention recently in Hyderabad. The agreement worked out has brought the developed and the developing countries closer. — PTI

Biological assets are predominantly in developing countries, but the benefits from the ecological services they provide are global.

Some of the world’s poorest communities live in areas richest in biological diversity and the richest live in areas poorest in diversity of life. Obviously, the frugality of these poor communities has helped the rich reach where they have.

The near-intractable international discussions on finding the financial resources for protecting the diversity of life during the 11th Conference of Parties (CoP-11) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) at Hyderabad was a reflection of this dichotomy.

As was obvious from the start of CoP-11, if there was anything that could have thrown a spanner in the works of finding an agreement in Hyderabad, it was the issue of finding financial resources. Right from the onset, India played its role well. As the Chair of the CoP and as an emerging economy straddling the developed and developing blocs (though it is listed under developing countries), India worked to find a solution reasonably acceptable to all.

The developed countries agreed to double their international funding for biodiversity conservation and development by 2015 from their baseline contribution between 2006 and 2010. This, according to experts, is expected to bring in $12 billion annually as funds for biodiversity conservation.

In response, the developing countries agreed to set their houses in order. By 2015, they will work out ways to identify priorities in biodiversity conservation and incorporate it into their national development plans. They would carry out gap analyses and also increase national funding for conservation.

Constant engagement

Bipolar positions are good for drama and media coverage. However, they do not necessarily result in consensual agreements. It is not an easy task to weave through ‘developed versus developing countries’ and ‘state versus civil society’ positions and come to an understanding.

The Biodiversity Convention, and its better-known sibling the Climate Change Convention, were both created at the UN Conference on Environment and Development held at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992. Though the global economic reality has changed in the past 20 years, the positions that are taken at the meetings of multilateral agreements have more or less frozen in time.

Even in Hyderabad, the developing-country parties laid the entire onus of finding funds for biodiversity conservation on the developed countries. The civil society organisations, on the other hand, treated all official parties — representing developed or developing countries — as one bloc.

In the feint and parry of international negotiations, perhaps it is necessary to take such positions. It is this constant engagement that has resulted in progress in the multilateral environmental agreements.

However, global developments in the past 20 years have shown that all countries — developed or developing — are vulnerable to poverty, joblessness and economic insecurity. The North and the South are not as distinct as they were in 1992.

There is also a paradigm difference between climate change and biodiversity discussions. With climate change the developed countries have more of the assets (industries, transport, power plants, etc.), while the developing countries pay the environmental price for it (glacial melts, floods, drought, rise in sea level, etc.).

With the CBD declaring biodiversity as a sovereign property, the biological assets are predominantly with developing countries. So to expect the developed countries to pay the total cost of conservation is reasonably unrealistic. The onus for establishing governance structures for the conservation of biodiversity, promoting its sustainable use and ensuring equitable sharing of benefits rests with the developing-country governments.

The Developed must pay too

Then why should the developed countries pay? The argument for this is twofold. Though the Amazonian forests are in Brazil and the Himalayan ecosystem in South-Asian countries, the benefits from the ecological services they provide are global. Two, the historical growth of the developed countries has been through the use of the resources available in developing countries. Industrialisation during the colonial period and in the post-World War II years was based on biological diversity, which then was considered global commons. Genes from developing countries spurred the growth in agricultural production and the pharmaceutical industry.

The agreement worked out at CoP-11 straddles both these realities — the developed countries have promised increased financial support and the developing ones have committed to put their systems in place. The fact that an agreement could be found with give and take from all parties is a positive indication of a certain sense of business that the participants brought to Hyderabad.

The task that the international community committed to on biodiversity is huge. By 2020, the five strategic goals (into which the 20 Aichi Targets are dovetailed) have to be met. They are addressing the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society; reducing the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use; improving the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity; enhancing the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services; and enhancing implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building.

The real test

Inaugurating the high-level segment of the CoP, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh launched the Hyderabad Pledge with the support of $50 million during India’s presidency of the CoP to strengthen institutional mechanism for biodiversity conservation in India. “We will use these funds to enhance the technical and human capabilities of our national and state-level mechanisms to attain the CBD objectives. We have also earmarked funds to promote similar capacity building in developing countries,” stated Singh.

Even while Singh was speaking at Hyderabad, his Government was planning the formation of the National Investment Board that could override the Environment Ministry’s objection to large projects.

Will the national governments stick to their Hyderabad commitments? That is the real test.

(The author is Regional Environment Manager with Panos South Asia. Views are personal.)

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Published on October 25, 2012
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