The city of Pyeongchang in Gangwon, host of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, will provide the backdrop for the 12th Conference of Parties (COP 12) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) this October.
Twenty thousand participants, including representatives from the CBD’s 193 member states, other international organizations and civil society, are expected to attend the conference and its side events.
The government’s offer to host the conference “is another example of the engagement of the Republic of Korea on international environmental politics,” said CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias in an e-mail interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily.
It’s an important year for the UN organization, which promotes conservation and the sustainable use of nature, as the halfway mark of the UN Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020) is approaching.
The term “biodiversity” refers to the degree of natural variation in genetic information, species and ecosystems.
The variation of life forms on Earth has been in decline due to man-made phenomena such as industrial activities, urbanization, climate change and the rise of invasive alien species through increased trade and tourism.
This year’s conference will see the Nagoya Protocol enter into force, a multilateral treaty that lays down the rules of access to genetic resources and encourages states to put in place systems of benefit-sharing.
Genetic resources are widely used in pharmaceutical research, bio-engineering and agribusiness, and they originate from areas rich in biodiversity that are predominantly located in developing countries.
Access and benefit-sharing mechanisms under the CBD will require researchers and companies interested in sourcing genetic resources to cooperate with national, local or indigenous governments, giving these entities a stake in R&D.
“The potential for the Nagoya Protocol to contribute to sustainable development and the post-2015 sustainable development agenda has been recognized by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and can be seen in the benefits – both monetary and non-monetary – generated to date in countries as diverse as Australia, the Cook Islands, Costa Rica, India and South Africa,” the executive secretary stated.
Diplomats gathering in Pyeongchang from Oct. 6 through 17 will also review the implementation process of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, a list of 20 policy objectives clustered under five strategic goals that include the mainstreaming of biodiversity across government and society; the promotion of sustainable use; the conservation of ecosystems, species and genetic diversity; the equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of natural resources; and cooperative strategies of implementation.
De Souza Dias said fulfilling the Aichi Targets “also support[s] the goals of greater food security, healthier populations and improved access to clean water and sustainable energy for all,” thus linking biodiversity to a broader development agenda.
The Brazilian official, a biologist by training, has been involved in the UN Convention’s development since its inception at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and was appointed head of the organization in January 2012 by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
The following are edited excerpts of the interview.
Q. Why was Korea picked to host the 12th Conference of Parties?
A. The Government of the Republic of Korea graciously offered to host COP 12 and the international community was delighted to receive the offer.
What is your impression of Korea’s engagement in international environmental politics?
The Republic of Korea hosts the Green Climate Fund, an international organization associated with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Practical and resourceful environmental protection has been a focus since 2008, when the government proclaimed green growth as a national development model. Since that time, the Republic of Korea has focused on overhauling economies to synergize economic development and environmental protection by striving for a low-carbon green economy that promotes investments in alternative energy sources, resource savings and other environmental growth sectors.
Restoration is an important part of the agenda. The Government of the Republic of Korea is expanding efforts in restoration of endangered species through breeding programs and raising public awareness through restoration of species with high cultural value, such as the crested ibis. These activities also serve to enhance multilateral cooperation through the [conducting] of restoration programs with neighboring countries. About 40 endangered or critical species are under active restoration programs nationally, which are expected to make contributions to the conservation of regional biodiversity. Korea has been successful in restoration programs for the Asiatic black bear and the crested ibis.
Protected areas are also important. At the end of 2013, protected area sites totaled 1,402 and covered 20,703.3 square-kilometers (7,793 square-miles) of the country’s territory. Accordingly, actions aimed at expanding protected area coverage are being promoted.
We are almost halfway through the UN Decade on Biodiversity. Where does the CBD stand concerning its own set of objectives, the Aichi Targets?
The good news is that parties are making progress in achieving the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. … In the years to come, work will need to be done to overcome not only the existing pressure on biodiversity but also the additional pressures that will be placed on the life-support systems of our planet by a greater population, by climate change and land and ocean degradation.
We will need a variety of actions: integrating the values of biodiversity into policy, changes in economic incentives, enforcing rules and regulations, involving indigenous and local communities and stakeholders and the business sector and conserving threatened species and ecosystems. Our efforts can and must be strengthened by understanding the critical links between biodiversity and sustainable development.
We still have a long road ahead of us, but if we are able to raise the public’s awareness of the value of biodiversity as a solution to the challenges of sustainable development in the 21st century, people will begin to pay more attention to biodiversity, take the steps to halt its decline, and in so doing we will be closer to achieving key sustainable development goals: poverty eradication, food security, human health, adaptation to climate change and disaster risk reduction – all vital achievements for the well-being of us all, but especially for the poorest of this world.
The Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea is known as the “Peace & Life Zone,” an area of wildlife conservation. Will you have time to visit this extraordinary borderland during your stay in Korea?
I would love to see this area, as it is yet another example of how biodiversity can thrive in such undisturbed zones. However, the heavy schedule of the meetings is likely to prevent me from stepping foot outside of Pyeongchang.
What kind of mark do you wish to make on the organization throughout your term?
My priorities during my term as Executive Secretary are to try to move the CBD process towards reducing the number of decisions and dedicate more time towards implementation. This includes pushing for an early ratification and entry into force of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, which has now been achieved thanks to the efforts of the parties, enhancing the support to the implementation of the Convention and its protocols, and mainstreaming biodiversity into the development agenda. To achieve this, we need the full engagement of all sectors and stakeholders.
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