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A Postcard from Sharm El Sheikh: SAFEGUARDING LIFE ON EARTH IS NO SMALL FEAT. BUT THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT WE'RE AIMING FOR, AS PART OF A GLOBAL AGREEMENT FOR NATURE.

EGYPT. Land of pyramids, mummies, revolution and host of the 14th Conference of the Parties for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) known as COP14.

In November last year, my colleague James Trezise and I travelled to the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP14), taking place in Sharm El Sheikh, on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Avid habitat readers might remember James writing about the CBD in the last issue. But if you've never heard of the CBD that's unsurprising.

The CBD is not as well-known as the UNFCCC aka the Climate Change Convention. It is one of the many environmental conventions that stemmed from the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, a time when global agreements were in vogue. The 'nature' convention lacks the attention of the world's leaders, business and media. It is a highly technical convention reflecting the complex and multifaceted nature of its subject matter, from conservation of biodiversity through to genetically modified organisms.

Back to Egypt. Exhausted, we landed in Sharm after over 30+ hours of travel, a large chunk of that time spent sitting on our luggage at Cairo airport check in counters after an EgyptAir system failure led to mass cancellations and delays.

Lying many thousands of kilometres from the pyramids, and the Nile, there's nothing in Sharm to evoke the wonders of ancient Egypt. As a kid who grew up learning hieroglyphics and dreaming of digging in desert sands for mummies, my disappointment was acute. Instead modern resorts stretch down a long coastline, white stone and gleaming glass in bright hot sun, bordered by red sea on one side and the stark rocky Sinai mountains on the other. It is an intimidating and desolate landscape with no green to be seen but beautiful in its simplicity. Sharm was developed as a tourism hotspot by the Israelis due to the easy access to the reef that lies beneath the Red Sea. The Egyptians continued its development when the Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt in the 1980s. However, its tourism industry has been rocked by a series of terrorist attacks and in a bid to boost visitor numbers it has become a hub for international conferences.

The Convention Hall where COP14 took place was new and shiny; wrapping still visible on door handles and bathroom fittings. Over two weeks, negotiators, first nations representatives, youth representatives, NGO delegates, academics and a multitude of others moved between plenaries and side-events, grappling with the world's rapidly increasing loss of nature.

The release of WWF's Living Planet Report in the same month as the conference added to the sense of urgency in the convention hall. Today we are living through the highest rate of extinctions since the age of the dinosaurs. Our survival is intrinsically linked to the health of our natural world. Nature provides our food, water and shelter; it's our life support system. Without global action to reverse the loss of nature we could be the first species to document our own extinction. Climate change loomed large at the 'nature' COP. Nature regulates our climate, and we cannot tackle one problem without the other. Nature can help mitigate the worst impacts of climate change but as we are already seeing, rising temperatures exacerbates the already rapid rate of loss.

The main focus of many negotiators and non-state party delegates, including ourselves, was on developing the roadmap for a 'new deal for nature and people' to be signed in 2020 in Beijing. It's fair to say that the CBD has mostly failed to halt the loss of nature over the past decades. The hope at COP14 was that this new agreement to be signed in 2020 will be ambitious enough to not only stem the loss but reverse it.

International negotiations are not particularly glamorous or exciting; they are slow and painstaking. I have been through this experience once before in Doha, Qatar, where the UNFCCC met in the lead up to what would become the Paris Accord. There, as here, I was struck by how removed this process is from our living reality of the issues being discussed. Perhaps this tweet by Ruth Davis, Director of Global Programmes at British charity RSPB, best sums it up:

"I am used to the UN--its ups and downs--but it's still disorientating listening to hours of wrangling over single words in obscure documents in empty rooms when this is supposed--quite literally--to be about a plan to save life on Earth."

Maybe it's naive to think the UN and global agreements can solve anything but at a time when global collaboration is increasingly at risk of becoming an 'endangered species' there is still something powerful about the majority of the world's governments coming together to discuss nature protection. Nature needs to rocket up the political priority list and the global community must place it there. While the UN process can leave one feeling deep despair, the fact that there is still a forum through which global ambition can be realised gives me hope. As James said, we have learned that the way to make the people in power care is to show them that we do. The shift is beginning.

By ACF Nature Program Manager, Basha Stasak
COPYRIGHT 2019 Australian Conservation Foundation
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Title Annotation:14th Conference of the Parties for the Convention on Biological Diversity in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt
Author:Stasak, Basha
Publication:Habitat Australia
Article Type:Conference notes
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Apr 1, 2019
Words:866
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