As conservationists meet in Mexico in two weeks’ time to discuss the 2020 Global Biodiversity Targets, the director of the law division at Unep, Elizabeth Mrema tells Mutinda Munyao what is wrong with conservation efforts.
What do you hope to bring back from the Cancun meeting?
This is the 13th edition of the convention biodiversity. During the past 12 conventions, conservationists have been talking to themselves. They were attended by the officials of environment ministries, so we have been preaching to the converted.
This year’s convention is different. The theme is mainstreaming biodiversity, so we are bringing sectoral ministries — environment, fisheries, agriculture and tourism — into the discussion and therefore widening its scope. As the agriculturists focus on food security, we need the appropriate environment; when the parks disappear and the animals die, what tourism will we have?
We are aiming at biodiversity management from an integrated approach. The Cancun Convention will include two independent meetings: One on the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, which aims at sharing the benefits arising from the utilisation of genetic resources, and the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, which ensures safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms.
In 2010, the parties to the Convention adopted the 20 Global Biodiversity Targets or the Aichi Targets to address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, with nations expected to take actions to meet those targets by 2020. Now, 2020 is four years away. The midterm review showed that some progress has been made, but it’s doubtful that all the targets will be met by 2020.
What is slowing down the process?
Many factors. Developing countries cite funding and capacity building, but there are other factors accelerating biodiversity loss. Rain patterns have changed. In East Africa, for instance, the movement of land animals and birds has changed. These changes are largely natural, but we know some are human-induced. This is worrying, because climate change impacts everything else. Human-wildlife conflict is a big deal for communities living around conservation areas.
Again, illegal trade in wildlife products such as ivory has an impact on the ecosystem. We are talking about overexploitation of fisheries, illegal logging, unsafe use of chemicals and their impact on food production. Then there is the question of land use and tenure. Remember when the oil discovery was announced in Turkana? People rushed there to buy land for speculation. Soon, the bulldozers will move in and the community that occupies the land will be displaced.
Communities must be allowed to participate in decision-making. In Kenya, we have the Maasai against lions and leopards and elephants; in Tanzania we have the issue of the planned construction of a highway through the Serengeti National Park, and now conservationists in Kenya are up in arms over the routing of the standard gauge railway through the Nairobi National Park.
So, what will Cancun do?
The Aichi Targets are ending in four years. Cancun will review the progress of reaching the targets and maybe find a way of aligning them with the Sustainable Development Goals. When the Aichi Targets were adopted, nations went into the process of making NBSAPs — National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans. This meant that each country has a document showing what actions they would take to reach each of those targets.
What worries you in East Africa and what should be done?
Governments need to formulate policies to tap communities’ traditional knowledge and involve them in conservation decisions that affect them. Under the CBD, we have Article 8j that deals with harnessing traditional knowledge to protect protected areas. Within the East African Community, there are protocols helping implement global agreements. They include the Protocol on Wildlife, the Protocol on Environmental Management — which was developed with our support — the Protocol on Water Management, the Protocol on Forests and the Protocol on Fisheries.
In all this, political will is key. It will help in implementing effective actions at the national level. You can have all the laws in the world, but if they’re not effectively enforced, they’re just mere paper. We need bold decisions and actions.
There are huge infrastructure projects going on in East Africa, and environmentalists have been opposing some of them due to their impact on the environment. Where should the line be drawn?
One thing that should be clear is that we don’t use the excuse of conservation to oppose development. Environment and development must complement each other. We are developing nations and people need these projects. What is needed is a balancing act between environmental management and development. And that’s why we always advocate that, before embarking on any project, an environmental impact assessment or a strategic impact assessment be done upfront.
Does corruption have a role in the failure to achieve these targets?
We get reports of illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products all the time. We see reports on illegal trade in chemicals and unsafe waste disposal. Look at electronic waste; where does the developed world dump its e-waste? In the developing world, due to loopholes. Even waste has value. We have a convention on the depletion of the ozone layer. We have been working for decades to phase out conditions HFCs — hydrofluorocarbons — used in refrigerators and freezers.