Youth Statement on Stakeholder Engagement

by Mariana Calderon

During the opening ceremonies of the COP, the Global Youth Biodiversity Network was scheduled to deliver a youth intervention, but, like many other observers, we were pushed so far down the schedule by lengthy State speeches that our moment to speak never came.

So, we decided to create our own opportunity. I spent much of today drafting a statement on item 5.4, Engagement of other stakeholders, major groups, and subnational authorities, with other members of the Network — unlike in the UNFCCC process, the CBD opens the floor to observers after all States have had a chance to speak, meaning we could address a speficic agenda item as it was being discussed. Agenda item 5.4 is directly relevent to youth, and yet the draft decisions made no mention of youth participation. We decided to introduce GYBN to the delegates, emphasize the importance of including youth in decision-making process, and finally, to propose the addition of specific text on youth engagement:

CBD COP11 youth statement, 10.10.12 from [Earth in Brackets] on Vimeo.

Full text after the jump

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Day 2 of Working Group 2: Financing Biodiversity

How to finance biodiversity, or, how parties will talk about it for a very long time

by Mariana Calderon

Working Group II — Financial Resources and Mechanism:

Day two of COP 11 to the Convention on Biological Diversity–my first day at the conference venue–opened rather earnestly, with scores of delegates still registering, picking up their complementary messenger bags and water bottles, and inspecting the screens which slowly scrolled through the agendas for the day. After some time spent wandering the venue and getting to know the lay of the land, I found myself in the Working Group II session– The morning sessions for working groups I and II were scheduled to address Marine and Coastal Biodiversity, and Financial Resources and Financial Mechanism, respectively. Noting that there were plenty of youth in Working Group I, and almost none in Working Group II,  I decided to bite the bullet and find out how biodiversity conservation was being financed.

After a rather ominous amount of time spent catching up on unfinished work from the day before, the chair opened discussions on the strategy for resource mobilization with a video message from the chair of the High-Level Panel on Global Assessment of Resources for Implementing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, Pavan Sukhdev.

Sukhdev emphasized that the Strategic Plan is “actually about sustainable development,” with connections to food security and human health, among other things. Like the Sustainable Development Goals, the Aichi Biodiversity Targets are so interconnected that developing succinct cost estimates is nearly impossible. For this reason, the report of the High-Level Panel is very preliminary, and estimates on the amount of funding necessary to achieve can vary a huge amount — the necessary recurrent expenditure per annum for Target 1 (raising awareness) is estimated at between 4.4 million to 1.4 billion US dollars. Numbers like this may be staggering at first glance. But, as Sukhdev also pointed out, the results of the assessment suggest that upfront investment needs tend to be greater than the resources required for ongoing activities; an estimated 60-70% of the overall global resource needs for reaching the Targets over the 2013-2020 period are one-off investments. The report also stresses that these expenditures should be recognized as part of the wider resource needs for promoting sustainable development.

With this in mind delegates began putting forward their countries’ statements on the Strategy for Resource Mobilization, bringing to light several debated points. Goal 2 of the Strategy (strengthen national capacity for resource utilization and mobilize domestic financial resources) was indirectly referenced separately by several developing states, who, in response to  developed country remarks on the need for data collection in more countries in order to develop more baselines, highlighted the need for capacity building and funding for countries to perform national assessments of needs and funding gaps. The establishment of these ‘baselines,’ i.e. current levels of expenditure on the Aichi Targets, was another point of contention. Some countries, such as Canada and Japan, were unsure that the existing information was enough to establish baselines, and as such, stated that work on establishing targets would be premature at this, or even the next, COP. However, several countries, including Namibia, Kiribati, India, and Mexico, stressed the importance of adopting at least preliminary targets and baselines at this meeting, in order to “build confidence among parties’ and begin more concrete work. Mexico, in particular, said it would be a “serious mistake” to delay implementation. NGOs chimed in as well, with the Third World Network reprimanding Parties for advocating for more talking and less action.

Also on the agenda were discussions on the GEF report, Guidance to the financial mechanism, and needs-assessment for the sixth GEF replenishment cycle. Representatives of GEF reported on biodiversity-related activities during the first two years of the GEF-5 cycle, and on the assessment of funding needs for GEF-6. Parties made several suggestions on improving the efficacy of GEF as the financial mechanism for the CBD– Mexico stated that despite the impressive and detailed numbers of the GEF report, a simpler methodology for understanding the rationale behind application of GEF funds would be welcome, and several parties stated that the COP should suggest that GEF improve the timeliness of financial support.

Discussions on the financial resources and mechanisms went well over time despite the Chair’s frequent and somewhat stern-fatherly requests to keep statements brief, putting WG II behind schedule on the second day of the COP. It was only to be expected, however; like any environmental agreement, implementation depends on funding, and talks on money will never be brief and to the point. Much of the discussion was taken up by countries reporting on progress made so far in resource mobilization. This is necessary, but lengthy and self-congratulating declarations on how much a State has contributed are not, and naturally lead to more lengthy statements by less developed countries on how ‘we would like to contribute, but don’t have the capacity yet.’ All valid statements, but as TWN pointed out, more speeches, and more quibbling on the definitions of ‘new and adequate’ and ‘innovative’ funding, will not lead to the implementation urgently needed.

The chair has decided that there is a definite need for a contact group on the financial mechanism to be formed — so with luck real action will be taken this weekend. 

Earth in Brackets at CBD COP11 in Hyderabad


Mariana Calderon is currently reporting from COP 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad, India. She will be working closely with the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN) as well as developing her own work as part of Earth in Brackets. Follow her take on developments at the negotiations here, and keep up to date on facebook and twitter!

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The Point of It All

Point of No Return

By Mariana Calderon

Sitting back in a bed in a hostel in Rio de Janeiro, trying to regain some sense of normalcy through regular sleep and regular meals, I hardly dare to think back on the last two weeks – or the last 20 years – just yet. Some time to recover, please.

Unfortunately, time is something we don’t have much of anymore. In the halls of the Rio Centro convention center, the atmosphere differed depending on the crowd: While frustration abounded, the sense of urgency you might expect from such a reputedly important moment in history was lacking in many rooms. It seemed as though few participants had any real grasp of the situation; in negotiating rooms, delegates showed little of the ambition necessary to address as huge an issue as sustainable development. Compared to other meetings, such as those for the UNFCCC, the theatrical dramatics were missing. It is a strange way to put it, but while at the climate COPs, negotiators are constantly bombarded with the responsibility to save humanity and the earth before time runs out, here in Rio the feeling of momentous occasion was lackluster, enough that media were starving for interesting shots and swarmed around children at the conference center (our future!). Negotiations felt staged, simply a ritual which representatives had to go through to show that they had tried – and the more governments insist on holding ritualistic meetings without real substance, the faster we run out of time.

Perhaps I am being unfair. Certainly, there were States championing the rights to water and food (even as others strove to weaken or eliminate them) or fighting against a “green economy” that would commodify and privatize nature as well as human life, but I am pondering the long term effects of this gathering and all those before. Why didn’t this conference, and the many preparatory meetings that came before, or the last twenty years work?

If I’m going to be completely fair, one answer is that sustainable development is huge. It could be called The Next Big Thing. After all, it should be all-encompassing. It needs to mention climate change, and biodiversity. It must address poverty eradication, how to bring it about, and how to do so while protecting the environment and traditional ways of life. It has to guarantee basic human rights for all. It needs to fix our economy and create a framework under which all of this will be done. It also should address the various issues we care about, including gender and reproductive rights, youth unemployment, the use of science, protecting oceans and forests, and just about everything else that we, as humans within and as part of our environment, have to interact with and decided to throw into the mix. Therein lies our problem. Sustainable development is the Next Big Thing that no one really knows how to deal with. It is an issue that no one person could possibly begin to fully comprehend – sustainable development deals with everything. True sustainable development, a kind that would acknowledge, respect, and take into account social, economic, and environmental issues as part of a larger whole, is an ideal.

So it’s really no surprise that it hasn’t worked so far. After all, when you’re talking about everything, a two-page inspirational statement would be next to useless. A cumbersome 49-page document could be more useful, but no one wants to look at it, and anyways, 234 paragraphs still isn’t everything. There was no sense of urgency because no one would know where to go with it. So why the meetings? Why the thousands of flights to Rio de Janeiro, dozens of shuttle buses, and “recycled material” installation artwork full of styrofoam? I can’t answer to the styrofoam and plastic bottle art on Copacabana, but I do still see a point to these meetings. They could work, but first, the people need to get angry. Angrier.

Sustainable development may be huge, but collectively, we understand what needs to be done. I’m not talking about negotiators understanding, or Heads of State, but everyone else. The solutions are right in front of us, and civil society can see them. Some things, like affordable renewable energy, need to be ironed out. Figuring out how to feed the world without relying on genetically modified organisms and monocultures is difficult. Conserving biodiversity when developing countries need the natural resources is complicated. But we know enough to start. In fact, we know enough that we could get a running start, punctuated by leaps and bounds. It could be done, but only with a united effort. This is where we run into problems. For the most part, the way in which we currently try to collectively address global issues would involve governments taking lead. Clearly, this is not working well. So the question we must ask is why? Why are our governments not taking lead?

We have one huge problem: Our governments no longer represent us. They no longer (if they ever did) have our best interests at heart. If millions are hungry, forests are being razed, and the oceans are being emptied, and we know that it is possible to change all this, shouldn’t it be done? Yes, it would be difficult – incomprehensibly difficult – but, if there is to be a focus on human well-being by governments (the rights of nature non-withstanding, we know most governments hardly like to hear about inherent values to biodiversity), then our governmental bodies should be working harder to listen to our solutions and put them into play. They are not.

This is where we get angry. What do governments do at these meetings? Many come into the game full of empty promises and empty pockets – they left all their accountability behind when they started to put the interests of large corporations before the interests of people. Money shouts loudest. It’s that simple. I may be biased. After all, supposedly, the US government is representing me. In the halls of the UN, I am often ashamed of this. The US government has consistently tried to take the right to food out of the text. I have the right to be furious. But are other governments any better? In small ways, perhaps. But small ways do little when what is needed is larger collaboration. Small gains in the text – on human rights for example, are more symbolic than practical when there is no one to read all 234 paragraphs of text and check on governments to see if they are adhering to them. And governments won’t adhere to them. Not completely. Some countries simply can’t, just yet, and those who can often resist assisting them.

But I should come back to the anger. We have to be angry. The reason is this: Sustainable development is an ideal. Multilateralism is an optimistic sort of idea. It seems like we’re striving for utopian perfection; it’s so utterly far away. But, the more we strive to reach it, the further we’ll get. And with millions dying of something so simple as hunger, we have to reach as far and long as we can. We won’t get there with optimism or defeatism, practicalism, or realism. To get there, with governments who don’t represent us, and who are stubbornly stuck on the modern world as it stands, we need anger.

The reason we couldn’t hope to achieve sustainable development right now is because most people, most governments, are looking at it as a way to alter our current system. We’ll make our billions of cars green with biofuel, drink fair trade coffee from a continent away, buy reusable plastic tote bags for our groceries, and this will work just fine, we say. But we know better. The system isn’t working. Sustainable development will never fit in, neatly, or otherwise. The shift must be bigger. It has to be huge. The world has to change, and to do so, we must change who our governments listen to and work for: Not for big corporations – they work for us, and we have to remind them. We’ve been trying to do it nicely for a while. Some have given up on being “environmentalists,” forsaking the world of environmental policy and multilateral agreements for local and grassroots efforts centered on changing communities. This is necessary as well – change has to come in two directions, which is why I still place value on multilateralism.

For practicality’s sake, the United Nations makes sense. The issues the world faces are global, and global discussions and action are needed to address them. There is an institution available, ready to facilitate that. It is a resource, and should be used. If this multilateralism isn’t working, it is because UN meetings are driven by those who drive the negotiators. Negotiators are driven by their government offices. Those governments are too often, and increasingly, driven by corporations and big polluters. To get the shift we want, we must drive the governments ourselves. It’s that simple. But first, we have to make them listen. There must be action outside of the UN, as well as inside. I will continue to work from the inside even as others work from the bottom up. I am privileged enough to have some sort of voice inside negotiations. I’m going to use it to make delegates, negotiators, and representatives look twice at the large groups in their complexes denouncing their false work. We can show them that we have solutions, and can come to them in a truly consensus-based way. We can provide the ideas and values, and the words to frame them, that they are too cowardly to put into writing themselves. They will leave with that uncertainty hidden in the back of their minds, and then they will go home, patting themselves on the back, and they need to find movement back home as well. We’re at a point of no return. We have to be angry enough to be loud enough to show our governments that 1) They need to put our interests before those of polluters, and 2) That if they don’t, they will be losing the power we had given them. We will demand a future and take matters into our own hands.