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Issue 3, March 1999

Newsletter Index


Bridging the Gaps between the Conventions on Climate Change and Biological Diversity
The Earth Summit, which took place in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, was a time of near euphoria. Its highlights were the signing of two ground breaking conventions, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The key objective of the FCCC is to achieve "stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system" [Article 2]. The CBD, the first convention to address in a comprehensive fashion all genes, species, and ecosystems, is aimed at – among other things – "the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources" [Article 1]. The two conventions, both signed by over 150 countries, are intended to contribute to the establishment of a systematic, legal mechanism capable of balancing the need for development with environmental protection and conservation.
Important strides have been made in implementing these conventions over the past seven years. In the context of the FCCC, the agreement in Kyoto in 1997 on binding emissions reduction targets for the so-called Annex I countries (developed countries) immediately comes to mind. Under both conventions, many countries have made progress in reporting, public education, and the creation of national action plans. Of great importance as well, a significant amount of funding has been made available through the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other mechanisms to aid developing countries in their efforts to implement these conventions.
While the importance of these achievements should not be minimised, it is clear that what has not been achieved is a comprehensive system for the protection of both the atmosphere and the biosphere in the context of sustainable development. In the fragmented system that presently exists, important conservation issues are falling between the cracks. One of the central reasons for this fragmentation is a failure to build in synergies between the two conventions, leading to piecemeal approaches to environmental degradation, overlaps and gaps in monitoring and reporting mechanisms, waste of funds, failures in communication, and a myriad of other problems.
The following article points out five key areas where the lack of synergy is evident and briefly discusses the reasons behind this state of affairs. It then goes on to suggest possible actions that could be taken to strengthen the links between the conventions and bring about a more holistic approach to environmental conservation. Many of these actions can take place by building on strengths inherent to the conventions or their implementing bodies Though the focus is on 'synergizing' the FCCC and the CBD, the proposed solutions may very well be applicable to the numerous other environmental agreements and conventions in existence, particularly the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
Synergy Gaps
A lack of synergy between the FCCC and the CBD is evident in the timing and interpretation of the scientific research underpinning the conventions, the process by which the conventions were drawn up, the content of the resulting conventions, the implementation of the conventions, and the direction taken in the negotiations for further protocols to the conventions.
While the links between climate change and biodiversity loss have become increasingly well understood over the past decade, this understanding played only a limited role in the drafting of the FCCC and CBD. In part this was the result of political factors, where protection of business interests and of sovereign rights to national resources took precedence over environmental conservation. The timing of scientific research was also problematic, particularly in the case of the CBD. While the FCCC was drafted on the basis of interdisciplinary research conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the drafters of the CBD had no such scientific body to which to refer. It was not until after the adoption of the CBD that the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) launched a two and a half-year project resulting in the Global Biodiversity Assessment. It can be argued that the very limited references to climate change in the CBD result from this fact.
The CBD and the FCCC were drafted during essentially the same period, but in relative isolation from each other. Work on the CBD began in 1987 when the UNEP Governing Council recognised a need to consolidate existing instruments and streamline various efforts to protect biodiversity. An ad hoc working group was set up to this end and, along with the UNEP Secretariat and a group of legal experts, was instrumental in creating an initial draft of the convention. Formal negotiations began in 1991 and the CBD was adopted on 22 May 1992.
The first time extensive discussion formally occurred on the threats of global warming was at a meeting of a group of scientists in 1985 in Villach, Austria. In 1987, the Bellagio Conference was held in Italy involving both scientists and policy makers who began discussion on measures necessary to stop global warming. The IPCC was established in 1988 and issued its First Assessment Reports in 1990. Drafting of the FCCC began at the same time and was completed in time for signature at the Earth Summit.
Although the two conventions were drafted separately, it should be noted that neither the FCCC nor the CBD completely ignore the synergies between climate change and biodiversity loss. The FCCC already in Article 2 notes that greenhouse gas concentrations should be reduced "within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change...". The Preamble and Article 4, as well, make specific references to the need to protect ecosystems from changes in climate, and the need to prepare natural systems to adapt to climate change. The CBD, though not referring to climate change specifically, does call for integrated planning [Article 6] and the monitoring of activities likely to have impacts on conservation [Article 7]. These statements could be interpreted to include climate change impacts. However, the national and regional action plans, legislation, public education, reporting and other requirements included in the two conventions do not specify any integrated approach to climate change and biodiversity loss.
Given the fragmented approach of the two conventions to climate change and biodiversity loss, it should come as little surprise that their implementation has not been marked by integrated approaches to the two problems. At the international level, the problem is exacerbated by the locations of the two secretariats on different continents: the FCCC Secretariat is in Bonn (Germany) and the CBD Secretariat is in Montreal (Canada). At the national level, the implementation of the two conventions is often the responsibility of two or more different ministries, making cooperation difficult. Perhaps as a result, there has been a failure in most countries to re-evaluate existing policies and laws from a perspective, which holistically considers the relationship between climate change and biodiversity.
Negotiations that have taken place subsequent to the signing of the conventions have focused in ways that widen the gap between them. This is especially obvious in the negotiations on protocols to each convention. The Protocols have not been the result of a holistic approach to the environment, but of priority placed on protecting national interests. In the case of the FCCC, the Kyoto Protocol focused largely on numerical targets and flexibility mechanisms such as emissions trading and the Clean Development Mechanism, paying almost no attention to the biodiversity impacts of climate chance.
Similarly, negotiations on the first protocol to the CBD, known as the Biosafety Protocol, have focused exclusively on the transboundary movement of Living Modified Organisms╣. While targets for emissions reductions and rules for the movement of LMOs are important, the failure to create any synergy in the follow-up to the two conventions greatly limits their effectiveness.
1. The latest round of talks on the Biosafety Protocol -held in Cartagena, Columbia in February 1999- failed
Building Synergies
The challenges involved in integrating the implementation of the FCCC and the CBD are truly immense. Nonetheless, there are important strengths that can be built upon to synergise the conventions and ensure that they begin to function jointly for the protection of both the atmosphere and the biosphere in the context of sustainable development.
The existence of the IPCC, which provides constant up-to-date scientific information upon which sound policy on climate change can be based, is a boon to the FCCC. To strengthen the scientific underpinnings of the CBD, the creation of a scientific body similar to the IPCC, but focused on biological diversity, is an idea worthy of consideration. Were such a body to be created, a system institutionalising information exchange between it and the IPCC should be put in place.
In both conventions, there are articles, which make reference to the links between climate change and biodiversity loss. These references need to be more explicit. Amendments that serve to encourage governments to consider the implications for biodiversity of decisions made regarding climate change policy and vice versa are necessary.
On the level of implementation, more coordination of effort is needed at both the international and national levels. At the international level, the coordination of reporting requirements among the convention secretariats would provide for more efficient use of time and resources and would ensure that the links between climate change and biodiversity loss were better recognised by the relevant government ministries and agencies. Delegates to the "Expert Meeting on Synergies among the Conventions", convened by the United Nations Development Program in Israel in early 1997, suggested that this coordination could be facilitated if the Conference of the Parties (COPs) of the various conventions instruct their secretariats to work together. The GEF may be uniquely placed to promote such synergy because it is the key funding mechanism for both conventions.
At the national level, delegates to the 11th Global Biodiversity Forum held in Buenos Aires in November 1998 noted that implementation would be enhanced if responsibility for implementation and compliance were to reside in the same institution of government, particularly if that institution had strong links of communication with other parts of government and to the society at large. In the short term, this could be difficult to achieve, as ministries are sometimes in competition or more interested in one convention than others. These problems could however be mitigated in part by ensuring that regular exchanges take place between ministries. In the long term, the formation of a national committee or even the creation of a single institution with authority over both the FCCC and the CBD (and possibly other conventions, such as the UNCCD) could be envisioned.
Though the Kyoto Protocol and negotiations on biosafety have been extremely important follow-up activities to the FCCC and the CBD respectively, future follow-up protocols need to explicitly address the links between biodiversity loss and climate change. Without such synergized follow-up, the conventions will not be able to move beyond piecemeal responses to climate change and biodiversity loss.
Biodiversity loss and climate change are inextricably linked in the natural environment, particularly in climatically sensitive ecosystems such as coral reefs and wetlands. The two conventions that now exist to address these issues are sadly not designed to address the interface between the two problems. Greater synergy is needed between the science, content, implementation, and follow-up of these two conventions. In the absence of a holistic approach, it is unlikely that the FCCC and the CBD will truly be able to help bring about the now desperately needed balance between development and environmental protection and conservation.
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Akiko Domoto
Member, House of Councillors,
Japanese Diet
President, GLOBE Japan
Domoto, Akiko. "A Holistic Vision for the 21st Century: Creating Synergy in Environmental Policy." In Views from Japan on Global Warming and Biodiversity: Identifying Dangers and Recognising Links (forthcoming).
Fernandez, Javier Garcia. IUCN-The World Conservation Union: Statement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Fourth Conference of the Parties. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 11 November 1998.
Global Biodiversity Forum 11: Workshop on Coordinating National Strategies and Action Plans under the FCCC, the CBD, and the UNCCD (Summary Report). Buenos Aires, Argentina. November 1998.
IUCN-The World Conservation Union. Coral Reefs Dying from Heat-Stroke- Press Release. November 1998.
McNeely, Jeffrey A. "Biodiversity and Climate Change: How the Conventions Can be Mutually Reinforcing." Paper presented to the Global Biodiversity Forum, Kyoto, Japan, November 1997.
The United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) was created in December 1992 following the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) which took place that same year in Rio de Janeiro.
The role of the Commission is to ensure effective follow-up of the UNCED; to enhance international cooperation and to monitor and report on implementation of the Earth Summit agreements at the local, national, regional and international levels. The CSD is a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), with 53 members.
The Commission meets annually at the UN Headquarters in New York. Each of these meetings have been attended by over 50 ministers and more than one thousand non-governmental organisations are accredited to participate in the Commission’s work. Since its creation, the CSD has ensured the high visibility of sustainable development within the UN system and has helped to improve the UN’s coordination of environment and development activities.
The 7th Session (CSD-7)
The first session of the CSD took place in 1993 and was followed by 3 other sessions, each of which reviewed different sectoral chapters of Agenda 21. CSD-5, which was convened in April 1997, negotiated the text to be adopted at the Earth Summit+5 and determined the CSD work programme for the following five years.
At its 7th session (19-30 April 1999), the Commission will address the following issues:
  • oceans and seas,
  • consumption and production patterns, and
  • sustainable tourism.
The State of the World’s Oceans
Following the 1998 Year of the Ocean, the CSD will focus its attention on ways of tackling urgent issues such as overfishing, marine pollution and the destruction of coral reefs and ecosystems.
According to a new report prepared by the United Nations, "at least 60 percent of world fisheries are either fully exploited or overfished, 58 percent of the world’s coral reefs are threatened by human activity, and more than half of the planet’s coastal areas are at high or moderate risk of environmental degradation".
Solutions brought forward to combat overfishing include, the reduction of government subsidies to cut excess fishing capacity, the creation of "no take" marine protected areas, taxes and financial incentives, and access restrictions via quotas.
Regarding pollution, some 80 percent of marine pollution is caused by land-based activities such as agricultural run-off, sewage and industrial waste. Governments present at the CSD-7 will seek ways to improve the implementation of the Global Action Plan on marine pollution adopted in 1995. Delegates will also discuss the possibility of creating an Ocean Forum. At present, many international agencies and treaties are addressing different ocean issues, but there is no single intergovernmental institution to oversee the marine affairs in an integrated way.
Towards Sustainable Tourism
The tourism industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy. For many developing countries it means higher foreign investments and earnings as well as increased employment opportunities. However, uncontrolled tourism growth leads to environmental and social problems and consequently will undermine profits and jobs creation in the long term.
The World Tourism Organisation expects the number of people travelling internationally to increase from 612 million in 1997 to about 1.6 billion by the year 2020. Altogether, earnings from international tourism will rise from $443 billion in 1997 to more than $2 trillion in 2020.
Although, the tourism industry has already taken several initiatives by putting into place guidelines for environmental practices, creating awards and certification schemes as well as raising awareness, environmental groups say that the tourism sector should be made more accountable. A larger share of profits and benefits from tourism should come back to local communities, through purchase of local foods, supplies and services or via the promotion of local crafts and businesses. Finally, tourists themselves should also be made more aware of the social and environmental consequences of their choices while on holiday. This can be achieved through eco-labelling of hotels, screening of educational videos about environmental and cultural sensitivities on in-flight and in-room television channels, and distribution of guidelines for responsible tourism through travel agents.
For further information on the CSD and its 7th Session, contact the GLOBE Office in Cape Town or access the CSD website at: http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/