random notes from our staff

Mainstreaming Biodiversity into Security initiatives

It was at Gabala, Azerbaijan, that this idea crossed my mind; though probably it has already crossed the minds of many other people.

It just came out during an NGO discussion. We divided in 3 groups; our group was meant to prepare the NGO message to the Roundtable III – Post 2010 biodiversity targets and the Strategic Plan of the Convention on Biological Diversity: Priorities for the Pan-European region.

Our working group, designated the Bears (in fact we held our discussion in a nice small room opened laterally in one side, reminding somehow a cave) had a hot , vivid discussion, even a bit chaotic in some moments. At a certain point someone insisted the problem is that CBD is not be really binding and there should be effective sanctions for non compliance, therefore we should demand for that on the document. That’s when I interrupted and said that is the problem of most international law. Who binds and punishes, at UN level? I fiercely defended that was not a thing reasonable to ask for, would be seen as a naive claim because it would involve the changing of the whole system, unless…

The real binding decisions of the UN, subject to real sanctions, seem to be the ones UN takes at the level of the Council of Security. If we consider that wars and conflicts can arise because of water scarcity in some points of the globe — and that is quite identified already — the same potential problems may arise if we have ecosystem degradation up to a point that can compromise livelihood and trigger conflict risks. I gave the example of the sharp contrast of Haiti vs Dominican Republic, as the following picture shows:

In the end, the text of our message headline was:

“To make the slogan for Nagoya, “Life in Harmony, into the future”, a reality, immediate changes in the development paradigm are necessary. We must begin to tackle the underlying causes of biodiversity loss in Pan-Europe and globally. Humanity depends on biodiversity for our continued survival, making biodiversity conservation and climate stability matters of global security.”

This and other two message documents were proposed to be inserted in the final Gabala Declaration. The draft version of Gabala Declaration was later discussed during the plenary and an NGO representative argued some key messages were missing; I also added that the concept of “biodiversity as a matter of security” was missing and explained the intentions behind it were not just to do a nice phrasing with using a common sense concept, as referred by the Chair, but to prepare the path for biodiversity (together with climate change) to be considered in future, at UN level, as a matter of security; basically to mainstream biodiversity in Security.

Well, at the end of the day, the officials decided not to insert it in the final Gabala Declaration.

Maybe they thought it was a visionary thing, or maybe they did not feel they had the mandate to say such a thing in a Pan-European context or simply they did not want to risk such an approach before further reflection and discussion on it.

I feel responsible for such an idea, I did not have time to explain what could be meant by mainstream biodiversity into security matters and their discussion/decision fora, and to be honest I myself did not exactly know how. But the idea was basically and first of all to “upgrade” the speech on Biodiversity in a new important sector. Biodiversity is being progressively “upgraded” into the world of Economics for instances by the study on TEEB – The Economics of the Ecosystems and Biodiversity, not to mention other practical approaches.

If we start looking to biodiversity loss as an indirect driver for water scarcity and resulting conflict problems, or as as connected to desertification and related conflicts, or as a driver for food scarcity and resulting conflicts, it could reinforce the recognition of the value (not necessarily monetary) of biodiversity at the political level. It is a fact that, unfortunately, only when things become perceived as a risk (or a threat to security of any kind) for humans, they become really important items on the political agendas.

Meanwhile I found out that there is already a program involving UNEP, on Environmental Security. Below are some links to this and other articles.

[note]The ENVSEC Initiative was established in 2003 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). NATO became an associate member in 2004, through its Public Diplomacy Division. Recently, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the Regional Environment Center for Central and Eastern Europe (REC) joined.[/note]

In the NATO website you could also read:

Environmental Security

Based on a broad definition of security that recognizes the importance of political, economic, social and environmental factors, NATO is addressing security challenges emanating from the environment. This includes extreme weather conditions, depletion of natural resources, pollution and so on – factors that can ultimately lead to disasters, regional tensions and violence.

In ENVSEC priorities and future challenges you could read:

The Southern Caucasus, composed of Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, has long been a focal point for change and a bridge between Asia and Europe. The region is in the midst of a tumultuous transition and has seen multiple inter-state and ethnic conflicts in its recent past, some of them escalating to full-scale warfare. In this context, the lack of regional cooperation threatens to exacerbate environmental issues, themselves a source of potential conflict in the region. Among the environmental concerns identified by ENVSEC in the Southern Caucasus are the management of shared natural resources (not least in the Kura-Araks river basin which covers a large part of the region), pollution from ageing industries and irrigation networks, and uncontrolled growth of capital cities. On the positive side there are quite a few opportunities to foster cooperation between the countries in the environmental field.

Some other sources of reading:

Water and security – An European Perspective (issued March 2010)
Saving Haiti’s environment, preventing instability and conflict
Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Food Security
Food security through biodiversity
A FAO article related to agrobiodiversity and food security