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UN Biodiversity Boss Dias Sees More Engagement With Cities, Private Sector

Steve Zwick

When Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias was appointed Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in January, he took responsibility for implementing the CBD’s new ten-year strategic plan.  In a wide-ranging interview with Ecosystem Marketplace, he discusses the plan, the future of biodiversity, and the role of offsetting.

When Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias was appointed Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity in January, he took responsibility for implementing the CBD’s new ten-year strategic plan.   In a wide-ranging interview with Ecosystem Marketplace, he discusses the plan, the future of biodiversity, and the role of offsetting.

18 April 2012 | The Tenth Conference of the Parties (COP 10) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) took place towards the end of 2010 in Nagoya, Japan, and yielded five Strategic Goals to be achieved by 2020.   It further breaks these goals into 20 targets known as the “Aichi Targets”, many of which aim to mobilize resources for biodiversity preservation.

Resource mobilization will be the central focus of COP 11, which takes place this October in Hyderabad, India, but it won’t be the first time a COP has begun with lofty goals and high ambitions.   After all, 2002’s COP 6 ended with a vow to slash biodiversity loss by 2010, and 2004’s COP 7 yielded 21 sub-targets designed to achieve that mission.  

None of those targets were met, and species are disappearing at record rates.

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias says it will be different this time – in part because the CBD has more time to implement its goals, but also because many steps undertaken in the past decade will provide a foundation for the next one.

Formerly Brazil’s National Secretary for Biodiversity and Forests, he succeeded Ahmed Djoghlaf as CBD Executive Secretary in January and joined Ecosystem Marketplace for a wide-ranging interview last week.   Below, he discusses the past, present, and future of biodiversity preservation – and the role that a “no-net-loss” regime can play in helping to rectify the apparent contradiction between economic growth and environmental preservation.

“The concept of no-net-loss certainly makes sense, especially in areas that are already deforested, where no-net-loss could incentivize more intensive production systems,” he says.   “It also makes sense in developing countries, which need to find common ground between the biodiversity goals and the economic, social, and other needs.”  

But the CBD, he said, can’t afford to bite off more than it can chew.

“We have to work with what we have so far, and we have an important set of 20 global targets for biodiversity,” he says. “The implementation of these will not be easy, (but) if we succeed on our 2020 targets, we will have good momentum to try to engage everyone and all stakeholders in a global no-net-loss or even a net-gain commitment.”

Here is the interview, edited for space and flow:

Ecosystem Marketplace:   Why do you believe the CBD failed to achieve any of its previous goals, and what will be the greatest challenge moving forward?

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias:   There are several reasons for that.   First, the time available to implement those targets was short because the broad target for 2010 was adopted in 2002, and the more detailed 21 sub-targets weren’t adopted until COP 7 in 2004.   That meant countries really only had five years to do something.   This time, the targets and plan were agreed on in 2010, so we have more time to get into gear.

Another reason is that we didn’t have the enabling conditions in place to really promote the implementation of these targets.   We still don’t have the right conditions in terms of public policies, economic instruments, capacity at country level, mechanisms for exchange of experiences and transfer of technology, mobilization of resources and all of that.  

This will be a major focus moving forward, and these are not trivial issues, because the drivers of biodiversity loss are very powerful and lie well beyond the mandate of the environmental authorities.   We’re talking about population growth, consumption growth, climate change, globalization which promotes the spread of invasive species.   These are major driving forces, and as we saw in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report of 2005, they remain strong or are even increasing.


And how will this change in the future?

We need to promote the mainstreaming of biodiversity into other sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, energy, etc.   We also need to engage the financial sector more to create economic instruments that can reverse perverse incentives and enhance positive incentives.  

But for this to happen, we need to make some fundamental changes – because if we were to depend on just the current conditions, we would probably fail to meet the 2020 targets as well.


What changes are most fundamental?

Raising awareness is, obviously, at the top of the list, because that will lead to resource mobilization.   We are trying to do both at once, and resource mobilization will be a central focus of COP 11.

We are also in the process of engaging beyond the national governments to engage down to the state, provincial, and city levels, and we also hope to increase the engagement of the business sector.  

The aim in each of these efforts is to go beyond outreach and strategy to talk about commitments, mechanisms, needed, etc.


Can you give us an example of how you’re engaging at the sub-national level?

We started the Cities and Biodiversity initiative in Curitiba a year after COP 8 in 2006 and the initiative was formally adopted at COP 9 in Bonn. It gets local governments engaged in developing concrete actions in favor of biodiversity, and we got good support from key cities around the world.   We also developed a partnership with ICLEI (International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives), which has lots of experience in mobilizing local governments for environmental issues.  

A number of municipalities have committed now to a set of goals towards the incorporation of biodiversity into their agenda at the local level, and some of them have already produced very detailed reports on what they are currently doing, the challenges they are facing, and their response to these challenges.   That includes issues of enhancing conservation activities at the municipal level, starting with the enhancement of municipal parks and other protected areas, then looking at ways of reducing the impacts on environment through pollution, traffic, and incorporation of sustainability criteria in government procurements.

Later, we also managed to establish a complimentary program looking at sub-national governance at the state and provincial level.   This was agreed at COP 10 in Nagoya, and at the end of this month I’m going to Curitiba, where we are having a meeting to formally establish an advisory committee for this initiative.


You mentioned mainstreaming.   How can we do that?

My own experience shows that we cannot go to these other sectors and ask them to implement our goals from the environment sector unless it somehow helps them achieve their targets.   So, we have to look for common ground – look for initiatives that, for example, support biodiversity goals in ways that deliver goals for agriculture in terms of food production, food security, adaptation to climate change etc.

I was in Washington early this week with the GEF (Global Environment Facility), which has been supporting several projects designed to support mainstreaming, and I asked them for a review of their experiences so we can know the lessons-learned – what works, what doesn’t, and why – and how to make these projects more effective.  


Can you provide an example of a win-win situation for agriculture and biodiversity?

Sure.   The most obvious is that the CBD selected oceans as the main theme commemorating International Biodiversity Day this year.   That’s because we have a global problem in the collapse of fishery stocks and pollution and impact of climate change on coral reefs, etc.   But we’ve run into the classic tragedy of the commons problem, and it’s an issue of governance.

One of the things we want to explore more is the extent to which we can promote more community-based protected areas to simultaneously increase efforts for biodiversity conservation and also promote the restoration of fishery stocks and human well-being.


Do you see markets for catch-shares playing a role as well?

Currently, there is a lot of mistrust on the part of indigenous and local communities with the whole discussion of innovative financial mechanisms.   They are concerned with market-based financing mechanisms where there would possibly be less engagement on the part of governments and civil society organizations and more power being given over to private companies to decide about the future of biodiversity.  

So, before we can talk about markets, we need to make sure they are being done right and will proceed in a way that gives people confidence, so that as we implement innovative financing mechanisms we know what the rules are and people understand that governance will play a major role in this, that the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities will be respected, etc.


In the run-up to COP 10, work was done on ‘innovative financial mechanisms’, such as biodiversity offsets, PES, etc. A number of governments such as Bolivia, Venezuela, Honduras and others objected to the draft decision and it was dropped in the closing minutes of the final COP10 Plenary.   Is there reason to believe this will change?

We’ll have to wait and see.   So far, in discussions under the CBD, ALBA Countries (Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América, Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) have raised the most concerns, and this prevented us from adopting decisions at COP 10 on innovative financial mechanisms, but it goes beyond these countries.   Other countries also have concerns, and there is a broad constituency of civil society movements and indigenous rights organizations who have serious concerns about REDD and other market-based mechanisms.

As you know, all decisions under the CBD and most multilateral agreements are decided by consensus.   So all it takes is one or a few countries to say they are not comfortable with something and we will not get a decision.   So we really need to build trust, to better understand their concerns, and see what would be needed to take care of these concerns.  

But I would hope that these concerns don’t mean we are blocking the discussions on these issues and the possibility of agreeing on the mobilization of some of these mechanisms.   In fact, COP 11 in Hyderabad in October will focus on the establishment of targets for resource mobilization.   In doing that, parties will want to be clear on what sort of sources would be targeted for these funds and what sort of mechanisms could be utilized.


Decisions at COPs 8, 9 and 10 supported work on biodiversity offsets as a way to attain ‘no net loss’, going beyond residual losses typical as a result of Environmental Impact Assessments.   Do you see this as an important part of achieving the Aichi targets and strategy, and where do you think it has a home in the CBD?

This is a concept that was developed and mostly led by Forest Trends (publisher of Ecosystem Marketplace) under the Business and Biodiversity Offsets Program (BBOP), and there has been a lot of support for this concept.   More recently, the Equator Principles group incorporated this into their new set of rules for sustainable financing regarding biodiversity.

The concept of no-net-loss certainly makes sense, especially in areas that are already deforested, where no-net-loss could incentivize more intensive production systems, thereby reducing the need for continuous expansion of activities in areas still covered by native forest and other native ecosystems. It also makes sense in developing countries, which need to find common ground between the biodiversity goals and the economic, social, and other needs.

But as for CBD’s role, we have to work with what we have so far, and we have an important set of 20 global targets for biodiversity.   The implementation of these will not be easy, so we have first to prove that we are capable of moving this agenda, because the results that we got with the 2010 targets was terrible.  

If we succeed on our 2020 targets, we will have good momentum to try to engage everyone and all stakeholders in a global no-net-loss or even a net-gain commitment.

The CCD (Convention to Combat Desertification) will be pushing for something related at the Rio+20 – namely, communicating a potential long-term vision of a “world-neutral” policy in terms of land degradation.   If we get agreement on this, and agree to establish a process for a new set of sustainable development goals, that could provide us with a framework to promote sustainable development and thus contribute to the mainstreaming of biodiversity in the development sectors.


What factors would support no-net-loss and even offsetting?


We have to involve more stakeholders in the process of learning how best to implement offsetting for biodiversity in the most appropriate way.   Currently, only a few countries have national legislation requiring offsetting, but I think there is opportunity out there to really engage more countries – and companies – with these principles.  

The discussions so far under BBOP are quite good, and could provide a reference for further discussions and commitments.


In the past, the CBD tried to harvest REDD as a vehicle for biodiversity protection, with the LifeWeb initiative and others.   How do you see this continuing in the future?

REDD can be a real win-win for both the climate-change and biodiversity agendas, and the relationship between the two will be a focus of our SBSTTA (  Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice) meeting at the end of April and beginning of May in Montreal.  

It goes beyond making sure that REDD is implemented with proper attention paid to biodiversity safeguards.   We want to promote as much as possible the conservation of biodiversity-rich forests and promote the preservation of ecosystems that can deliver both climate-change mitigation and adaptation as well as biodiversity preservation.

But we have to make sure that such initiatives respect the rights of the custodians of biodiversity – namely, the indigenous and local communities.   This will be a focus of the SBSTTA meeting, and hopefully we will have recommendations to the COP on this.


What, exactly, can the CBD do to influence the UNFCCC?

It is only the COP that has the authority to decide on policy, so as we agree with something we can forward it into another convention, and in this case the climate change convention.   We also have initiatives liaising among the Secretariat’s between the Rio conventions where we explore these things.


Your predecessor, Ahmed Djoghlaf, told us that he’d like to see the Rio Conventions unified.   Where do you stand on that?

I think it’s a premature conversation, but at Rio +20 the issue of governance for sustainable development and environmental issues will be under consideration.

 


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Steve Zwick is Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace.  He can be reached at szwick@ecosystemmarketplace.com.

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