TWN Info Service on Climate Change (May10/03)
29 May 2010
Third World Network

Dear friends and colleagues,

At the 14th session of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD) Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) that took place at the UNEP headquarters on 10-21 May, a number of issues related to climate change were debated and recommendations albeit bracketed have been forwarded for resolution at the 10th meeting of the Conference of Parties in October.

Among the contentious issues were:

  • the role protected areas play in climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • carbon sequestration and storage
  • Moratorium on geo-engineering activities and applying the precautionary approach
  • Joint action programmes among the 3 Conventions (biodiversity, climate change and combating desertification)

Some developing countries also called for elimination of references to the Copenhagen Accord in the SBSTTA document.

Below is a TWN report first published in SUNS #6930 Wednesday 26 May 2010.

With best wishes,
Third World Network

SUNS #6930 Wednesday 26 May 2010
south-north development monitor SUNS

Environment: UN biodiversity body meeting ends with unresolved issues

Nairobi, 25 May (TWN) -- The 14th session of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity's (CBD) Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) that took place at the UNEP headquarters on 10-21 May left many unresolved issues, which participants expect will only be decided upon by the Conference of the Parties (COP) when they meet for the tenth time in Nagoya, Japan in October 2010.

"This is the most successful SBSTTA ever," said Mr. Spencer Thomas of Grenada at the close of the Nairobi meeting, ending his tenure as the Chair, even as the Secretariat noted that the meeting's outcome document has about 115 brackets, continuing the tradition set by SBSTTA13 that also forwarded text with numerous brackets to be resolved at the ninth meeting of the COP in 2008. These brackets indicate issues that did not get consensus from the participants.

The CBD COP meets every two years.

On the agenda item on protected areas, suggestions were made on how to improve the management of the world's protected areas which, among others, included the consideration of traditional systems of biodiversity management and the establishment of wildlife corridors on private and community lands, and ecological restoration outside protected areas. However, the most contentious issue on this supposedly non-finance-related matter was actually the issue of providing funds for the improvement of management of these protected areas.

China, with Iran and Ethiopia (opposed by Belgium and the UK) requested developed country Parties and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), among others, to fully implement the COP decision, which identifies options for mobilizing financial resources to provide adequate, predictable and timely financial support to developing country Parties to enable full implementation of the CBD's program of work related to protected areas.

On sustainable finance for protected areas, Japan noted that SBSTTA has no mandate to discuss financial issues.

Costa Rica, supported by Ethiopia, Zambia, Peru, India, Senegal and Ecuador, argued that SBSTTA can address technical approaches for developing financial mechanisms. The Secretariat clarified that SBSTTA is not precluded from considering items with financial implications.

China, supported by Iran and Malawi, proposed new text urging Parties, the GEF and other international institutions to provide resources for the implementation of the programme of work by developing countries.

The other contentious aspect of the protected areas discussion relates to the role protected areas play in climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Sweden cautioned against language on enhancing carbon sinks in protected areas, noting the risk of triggering inappropriate action in those areas.

Belgium and Colombia supported including protected areas in a joint work programme of the Rio Conventions (on climate change, biodiversity and combatting desertification), while New Zealand recalled that discussion on the joint programme of work had been considered premature.

Cote D'Ivoire stressed that the Copenhagen Accord could provide new resources to protected areas.

[The Copenhagen Accord is the highly contentious document that was not negotiated in accordance with UN procedures in the December 2009 Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and was only "taken note of" by that COP.]

Brazil proposed deleting reference to REDD financing, underscoring the need for new and additional financial resources both under the UNFCCC and CBD.

[REDD refers to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries, and is a "hot" topic under the UNFCCC. There is a UN-REDD Programme being implemented by FAO, UNDP and UNEP.]

Brazil and Argentina also suggested eliminating references to the Copenhagen Accord in the SBSTTA document.

Further debates on protected areas that have a bearing on climate change involved the issue of carbon sequestration and storage whereby Liberia objected to referring to "carbon sequestration and storage" in the text, arguing that it may be interpreted as something different from natural processes. Iran also queried about references to carbon storage and capture in protected areas.

[Carbon storage and capture/sequestration is another contentious topic in climate change discussions.]

Delegates agreed to refer to "maintenance of carbon stocks" instead. Delegates also decided to eliminate language on the proposed joint work programme among the Rio Conventions, as it will be addressed in the recommendation on climate change.

On climate change, Colombia proposed language suggesting that Parties may consider undertaking joint activities and a joint work programme.

Germany and Belgium preferred keeping the bracketed list of procedural steps in developing the joint work programme.

Switzerland, with Cote D'Ivoire and Mali, underscored the importance of retaining language on the possibility of having a joint high-level segment of an extraordinary meeting of the COP of the Rio Conventions, with Brazil preferring to "explore the possibility" for a joint high-level segment.

Delegates agreed to insert Colombia's proposal as a second bracketed option.

On China's proposal to request the CBD Executive Secretary to invite Parties' views to explore the possibility to develop proposals for joint activities between the Rio Conventions and report on progress at COP10 later this year, Germany, supported by Norway, suggested instead to note the need to bring biodiversity and climate change agendas closer together and the many scientific issues considered by SBSTTA relevant to the objectives of the conventions on combatting desertification and on climate change.

This was opposed by China and Colombia. Delegates finally agreed to bracket both these proposals.

In the plenary, further debates on biodiversity and climate change were on funding, where delegates double-bracketed three paragraphs of text relating to funding, while the UK proposed bracketing a paragraph on enhancing REDD benefits for forest-dwelling indigenous and local communities, expressing concern about ongoing negotiations.

On geo-engineering (a controversial set of emerging technologies) as one possible technological fix to address climate change, delegates debated whether to include consideration of risks for "social, economic and cultural impacts".

Canada suggested "examining" related geo-engineering activities to determine if there is an adequate scientific basis to justify them, rather than preventing such activities until an adequate scientific basis to justify them exists.

Eventually, the bracketed text called for the application of the precautionary approach such that no climate-related geo-engineering activities will take place until there is an adequate scientific basis on which to justify such activities and appropriate consideration of the associated risks for the environment and biodiversity and associated social, economic and cultural impacts.

On the issue of agricultural biodiversity, the Philippines suggested that the joint work plan of the CBD and FAO Commission Secretariats should include the trends in patenting of plant, animal, forest and microbial genetic resources in the FAO's publication "Global Assessments of Plant, Animal, Forest and Microbial Genetic Resources". Japan sought to delete this, but the Philippines resisted, saying that it wants to retain the proposal with brackets.

Another key item on the joint work plan of the CBD and FAO Commission Secretariats that was suggested by NGOs, supported by the Philippines and qualified by Canada, was the inclusion in the joint work plan "the relevant findings and recommendations of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development and their implementation, as appropriate".

The qualifications "relevant' and "as appropriate" were ultimately supported by all delegates, as the text would then be un-bracketed thus reflecting consensus.

Another contentious issue on agricultural biodiversity involved the conservation, restoration and sustainable management of biodiversity-rich and high-nature-value farmland, including the FAO's Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) that was pushed by Germany and supported by Sweden.

Australia wanted to bracket the description of these landscapes and farmland as "important" and "high", preferring instead the notion that there can be sustainable production in these areas, while Argentina wanted this to be in accordance with international law.

Switzerland substituted this with language from a CBD decision with makes these initiatives "consistent and in harmony with the CBD and relevant international obligations".

Observers here noted that this debate is crucial for developed countries, as they would want to continue subsidizing their agricultural sector in order that it may be considered in compliance with the "green-box" subsidies of the World Trade Organisation.

The discussions on agricultural landscape would also include what Japan has promoted extensively here in SBSTTA in the lead-up to COP10, particularly the Satoyama Initiative which recognizes socio-ecological production landscapes such as the muyong, uma and payoh in the Philippines or mauel in Korea, dehesa in Spain, terroirs in France and other Mediterranean countries, chitemene in northern Malawi and Zambia, and satoyama in Japan.

In addition, Japan has also proposed in this agenda item rice paddies as another agricultural ecosystem worthy of protection and further study, which may also be used to justify Japan's continued support to its heavily-subsidized rice sector.

On the issue of bio-fuels, a large amount of time was spent in the contact groups for three days with no text advancing within those three days and in the lead-up to the plenary of the SBSTTA Working Group 1, which finally tackled the text on this agenda item.

In the end, heavily-bracketed texts were in place on various proposals, such as to request the CBD Executive Secretary to compile, analyse and disseminate information on tools that will assess the impacts on biodiversity of bio-fuels while working with various UN bodies such as FAO, and industry such as the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, the Roundtable on Sustainable Bio-fuels, the Global Bio-energy Partnership and other organizations.

Another contentious issue here was on the insistence on land security by Zambia, South Africa, Malawi and Ethiopia as an item to be included in assessing the impacts of bio-fuels on socioeconomic conditions, food and energy security.

There was also text on the application of the precautionary approach on bio-fuels turned by a UK intervention to a preambular text, making it weak, but requested by Iran, supported by the Philippines, Zambia, South Africa and Ethiopia for parts of the text to be returned as an operational paragraph.

On synthetic biology, the Philippine proposal to form an ad hoc technical experts body to assess the technology's impacts on biodiversity and livelihoods remained, albeit in brackets.

[While the Nairobi meeting was underway, news broke on the world's first artificial organism produced by synthetic biology.]

The Philippines made a closing statement in the plenary lamenting the watering down of the precautionary approach because the 2008 COP Decision IX/29 had put the burden on those who wish the SBSTTA to consider new and emerging issues to gather data and comply with further criteria first, as set out in Decision IX/29, before SBSTTA will even consider the issue.

New Zealand responded to this statement, albeit indirectly, and wishing that SBSTTA in its future meetings will not waste its time dealing with procedural issues and dealing with issues that are not new and worthy of consideration by SBSTTA.

Most of the text on the goals and targets of the CBD up to the year 2020 was forwarded to the 3rd Meeting of the Working Group on the Review of Implementation of the CBD, which will meet this week (24-28 May), also at the UNEP headquarters in Nairobi.

For some, this has put into doubt the SBSTTA's long-term role, as delegates also discussed informally outside of the sessions, the establishment of a potentially competing global body similar to the Intergovernmental Committee on Climate Change.

The proposed new body, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, is being formally discussed under the auspices of the UNEP whose Executive Director was welcomed in a 2008 CBD COP decision to convene an "ad hoc open-ended intergovernmental multi-stakeholder meeting to consider establishing an efficient science-policy interface on biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being".

The first meeting was held in Malaysia in November 2008, followed by the second in October in Nairobi, with the final one to be held on 7-11 June in South Korea. +