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DPI/NGO Briefing - Highlights
30 April 2009

“Biodiversity – The Basis for Human Well-Being:
Celebrating the International Year in 2010”

Ahmed Djoghlaf, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) began by stating that Biodiversity was the foundation of our global economy, values, culture and health. He noted that billions of people derived their livelihoods from natural resources and biodiversity. According to the “Millennium Ecosystem Assessment,” a report prepared by some1,395 experts from 95 countries on the health of our planet and published in 2005: never has biodiversity been destroyed in such a systematic and scientific manner than during the past 50 years. The report notes that the current rate of extinction was 1,000 times higher than the natural rate, that13 million acres of forest have disappeared, and that the continued loss of biodiversity aggravated climate change and undermined the capacities of the world’s oceans. At the Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002, world leaders decided to substantially reduce the rate biodiversity loss by 2010. In 2010, Member States will gather at the UN for the first time to assess the implementation of the Johannesburg Compromise and to set new goals to be pursued after 2010. Mr. Djoghlaf said “a wake-up call” was needed to inform the public of the “silent tsunami” of biodiversity loss. Multi-lateral partnerships and international cooperation between governments was essential, since all stakeholders in civil society had to be involved in the protection of biodiversity. The Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity called on the NGO community to assist with sounding the alarm on biodiversity loss. He stressed ‘we need you, we need your help” as the citizens of tomorrow needed to be engaged in order to establish a chain of solidarity among the children of the world to protect life on earth. He encouraged participants to become better informed about the Green Wave Programme, the goal of which was to engage “the citizens of tomorrow” in the effort to protect life on earth. Mr. Djoghlaf informed the Briefing that through the Green Wave Programme, each year on the International Day of Biological Diversity [22 May], children around the world at 10.00 am in the morning, wherever they lived, would plant a tree in their school yards. This initiative was possible through partnerships between the CBD and schools around the world. The main idea behind this initiative, he stressed, was to see how people could work together to help the CBD spread the message of biodiversity, and make the 2010 Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, taking place in October next year, a new chapter in human history written by all stakeholders in the fight to protect biodiversity.

David Ainsworth, Focal point for the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB) at the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity based in Montreal, Canada presented the three main messages of the IYB namely that biodiversity is important for human well-being; that the current rate of biodiversity loss is severe and that cooperation is needed to halt this loss. He shared with the audience that the strategy for the International Year of Biodiversity consisted of 3 major elements: first, to provide a global message and to work with partners to multiply and transmit this message reaching out to hard to reach communities like youth and the business community as well as those who work in key development sectors such as water. The message would also be targeted to marginalized communities like the indigenous, and would take account of gender. Secondly, the Strategy aimed to create information products, which would highlight success stories and promote the importance of the CBD, in order to demonstrate why governments should integrate the principles of the CBD into their national policies. The third major element of the IYB was to create partnerships through taking advantage of existing alliances to highlight the importance of the IYB. Mr. Ainsworth said the Secretariat of the Convention wanted to work with a wide range of partners including national governments, indigenous and local communities, UN Agencies, NGOs at both the global and national level, representatives of key economic sectors, and educators – particularly through the Green Wave Programme, which allowed children and educators to raise awareness of biodiversity through the simple act of planting a tree each year. Other partners included the media and film producers. The Secretariat on the Convention also reached out to the UN Environment Programme, the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Some of the issues being explored were biodiversity in relation to culture biodiversity and agricultural biodiversity. He informed the Briefing that a core set of information products was available to organizations for further public information dissemination. The CBD had partnered with the “Wild Scream” Film Festival and One Planet Pictures on a series “Nature Incorporated” and the Television Trust for the Environment, which produced the “Earth Report” Series. The Secretariat would also be distributing the publication Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, travelling exhibitions and educational materials. In addition The Secretariat also hoped to create a website with important dates and events for the IYB, as well as special made for TV products. Looking at the next steps regarding the Convention beyond the 2010 deadline Mr. Ainsworth noted NGOs could help to publicise the work being carried out by the Secretariat “to achieve, by 2010, a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level, as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.” NGOs, he suggested, could help by adopting, adapting and transmitting the IYB messages to their networks and by highlighting and promoting their own 2010 success stories, and providing support and resources to national events and key international meetings particularly those held in observance of the International Day for Biodiversity (22 May) or related biodiversity issues.

Delfin Ganapin, Global Manager of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Small Grants Programme – implemented by UNDP – explained that the Global Biodiversity Programme (GBP), was a partnership between the Secretariat of the CBD and UNDP, which assists developing and transitioning countries develop their own capacity to manage biodiversity so as to sustain the delivery of eco-system goods and services on which human development depends. The GBP’s strategic focuses were first, mainstreaming biodiversity management into governance systems and supply chains in major economic sectors of all developing countries and emphasizing the importance of strengthening governance systems to biodiversity conservation. Another focus was to unleash the economic potential of Protected Areas, by developing ecologically representative and financially sustainable projects within national development frameworks. The GEF Small Grants Programme provided direct access for communities, local NGOs and community-based organisations to GEF funding. The programme championed conserving and restoring the environment while enhancing people's well-being and livelihoods through project development and implementation. Mr. Ganapin explained that over 10,500 projects had been funded since 1992, with over $400 million dollars in investments from the Small Grants Programme. Each project had to meet three objectives to qualify for funding: environmental conservation, poverty reduction and local empowerment. Funding, he noted, had saved the Golden Eagles in Kazakhstan from extinction and some 47 species of Endemic Parrots from the Phillipines. He also talked of an initiative known as the Equator Initiative where the GEF honours outstanding community initiatives and projects which demonstrate sustainable use of biodiversity and effectively reduced poverty through the conservation. He informed the Briefing that over $ 1,280,000 dollars had been awarded directly to community-level practitioners. He also noted that this initiative promoted what he termed “Equator dialogues,” with ten community dialogue spaces hosting over 375 local practitioners. It gave local and indigenous practitioners a home base to share best practices and make strategic interventions to policy-makers on biodiversity conservation. The initiative also developed over 60 research and policy publications on biodiversity. Looking at UNDP’s 2010 plans Mr. Ganapin noted that the agency planned among other things to award the 2010 Equator Prize at the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, taking place in October 2010. UNDP also planned to launch a number of knowledge products, which it saw as an important aspect of promoting biodiversity; make an inventory of local community and indigenous contributions to biodiversity conservation;, develop an indigenous and community conserved areas database, and consolidate a network of youth for biodiversity conservation as part of the support given by the Small Grants Progamme in support of the Green Wave Programme for the IYB [explained earlier in the presentation of both Mr. Djoghlaf and by Mr. Ainsworth] .

Dork Sahagian, Director, Environmental Initiative and Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, at Lehigh University opened with the fact that biodiversity had actually been increasing over time since the Cambrian Explosion [the rapid appearance of most major groups of complex animals about 500 million years ago] up until very recently. Professor Sahagian suggested that biodiversity and human population were diametrically opposed. He went on to note that in the past few hundred years, the Earth has been facing another mass extinction caused by unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and economic decisions with negative costs to the environment; all leading to ecosystem disruption, extinction, and a loss of biodiversity. The causes of these losses were due to emissions, land use and the introduction of invasive species. Land use, he explained, was primarily converted for agriculture, which led to the complete destruction of ecosystem function in some areas. Decreases in genetic diversity also threaten biodiversity. He gave the example of the whooping cranes which declined to only 14 at one point because of decreases in genetic diversity. Professor Sahagian indicated that marine biodiversity was in crisis due to uncontrolled fishing, lack of marine natural preserves, and ocean acidification. Citing Daniel Pauly, he declared that “We are at war with fish and we are winning.” “Nature Deficit Disorder,” or the lack of children’s interaction with the natural world, was a special challenge to those aiming to protect biodiversity. Professor Sahagian posed the question that if children did not gain an innate appreciation for the natural environment, they could not be expected to make the serious investments and sacrifices necessary to restore and preserve biodiversity on which we all depend. To combat this problem, he pointed out, the academic community needed to respond through academic programmes, outreach, research, and student activities. He gave the example of Lehigh’s Environmental Initiative which was reaching out to children through community outreach to broaden their environmental science education. Older students, he noted, were also demanding solutions and helping to spread the message on the need to protect biodiversity. Professor Sahagian concluded that for universities to enhance the focus on biodiversity, they had to work with NGOs to educate the public and integrate biodiversity into college curricula across all disciplines.

Q&A Session

There were a number of questions posed regarding how the issue of reaching people around the world with the message of biodiversity protection would be achieved. The need to use various means of communication including social networks such as You Tube, Twitter and Facebook to get messages to people about biodiversity was stressed by all speakers. Professor Sahagian emphasized that it was important to “go where people are.” Linguistic diversity—particularly being able to communicate messages to local communities in their local languages was emphasized as necessary to getting the message out about preserving biodiversity, this included being able to reach indigenous people. Mr. Ganapin commented on the fact that UNDP encouraged indigenous persons to submit project proposals in their native language, so that they could represent themselves in the most effect and direct way. Views were also expressed about using other forms of communication such as story telling community theater, pageants, and festival celebrations to reach people including those who cannot read or write. Mention was also made of using religious organizations in commemorations and observances of UN Days such as World Environment Day [June 7], Mother Earth Day [22 April] or the International Day of Biological Diversity [22 May]. Issues were raised about the safety of genetically modified food and plant based diets and whether these were threats to biodiversity. Professor Sahagian stressed that genetically modified crops were not a threat to biodiversity as the Convention had a strict protocol on biological safety, which ensured the safe handling of food and modeled new technologies to increase human well-being. Other issues raised included the link between war and biodiversity loss and the long term effects of nuclear accidents such as Chernobyl on biodiversity. Comments were made on the role of young people in sustainability and that fact that changes in attitude about preserving nature were coming from this group. The Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity stressed the need for the United States to become a party to the Convention. Training of journalists was also raised as an important issue in promoting the issue of biodiversity. The Panel concluded by emphasizing the need for a universal metric to monitor businesses operating under the concept of “going green”, or being environmentally sustainable. Mr. Sahagian said a universal metric being developed at Lehigh Univerity, to determine if a company was “green” by monitoring the overall impact of a company’s production on the environment, as well as that of individual products.

This Briefing was attended by over 170 representatives of NGOs, United Nations and Permanent Mission staff as well as interns from various Departments and NGOs.


Prepared by Gail B-T Sainté
with assistance from Jennifer Basch
5 May 2009
Source: United Nations, Department of Public Information, NGO Relations, S-1070 J-L

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