Blog 09.12.22

How UN conventions make a better moisturizer

Photo credit: Thierry Fillieul

Your rainforest plant-based miracle moisturizer feeds your skin but also carries cash to the people who protect the trees that provide active ingredients.

We can thank a thing called the Nagoya Protocol for making our daily moisturizing an ethically soothing experience.  Or so we hope.

The Protocol is part of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the international law designed to prevent environmental pillage and ensure the financial rewards of wonder plants (and other genetic resources) are shared with the people who live where the plants grow.

Cash for nature

But very little of the cash generated from using nature is shared equitably, with the flora and fauna that underpin our very existence facing catastrophic decline. This is bad news for the natural world and terrible for all of us because nature underpins everything we do.

This week, these issues are on the agenda at the much-delayed meeting of world governments who signed the CBD.  The gathering, in Montreal, Canada, is called COP15 (not to be confused with the other conference of the parties – COP – which deals with the climate change convention) and will be chaired by China who was scheduled to play host in 2020.  Because of Covid and China’s continuing lockdown policy, the meeting was delayed and is now relocated to Canada.

The gathering is important because international law percolates to regional and local laws, affecting all the countries that ratify conventions and related protocols.  The USA, which signed the CBD, is the only major nation that has not ratified it because this requires national legislation, impossible in the America’s political climate.

NGOs, some governments and business organisations are pushing hard to make COP15 a success.  Work to implement the CBD is essential if we are to protect nature and its life-giving services.

The natural world provides fresh air and clean water (ecosystem services), health benefits of diverse plant and animal life, as well as the commercial opportunities provided by natural ingredients (foods, drugs, cosmetics etc).  Nature’s support of our everyday is something urbanized societies find increasingly difficult to grasp.

New targets

Every decade at the biodiversity COP, governments decide on targets to achieve the CBD’s three main goals: conserving biodiversity; using nature sustainably, and sharing nature’s benefits equitably.

Governments have failed to meet CBD targets set in 2010 and its unlikely they will meet revised goals expected at Montreal.

It is easy to be gloomy about the effectiveness of the UN process.  But conventions and all the rigmarole that accompanies them do bring change. For example, the Nagoya Protocol has a significant impact on law-abiding companies that depend heavily on natural products (agriculture traders, pharmaceutical companies and cosmetics firms among them). The protocol limits access to essential resources, demands monitoring of supply chains and greater sharing of financial rewards from the end product.

Business engages

After a slow start, big business is now engaged with the CBD process.  A coalition of business organisations has joined with leading nature NGOs, such as WWF, to form Business for Nature.  The coalition has called for mandatory requirements for all large businesses and financial institutions to assess and disclose their impacts and dependencies on biodiversity by 2030.

The call marks a big shift from business’ preference for self-regulation and is an admission that a level international playing field is needed for change to happen.  Whether the change will ever be fast enough to outrun the rapid extinction of species and the rampant destruction of our natural world is, at best, open to question.

But even with this gloomy outlook, the conventions and their protocols provide the only hope to protect nature.  While regular, ethical moisturizing won’t save the world, it is a gentle start.

UPDATE: agreement reached at COP15, as nations agree to protect 30% of nature by 2030

Mandatory reporting on how much businesses rely on natural systems, championed from France at COP15, was removed from the final document.  Instead, it was agreed that countries should makes sure companies are transparent with the public, regulators and investors about their reliance and impacts on nature.  

This was part of a landmark deal to protect and restore at least 30% of the Earth’s land and water by 2030, struck by 195 nations after two weeks of negotiating in Montreal, Canada. 

Countries agreed to: 

  • The sustainable use of biodiversity to ensure ecosystems services are maintained. 
  • Ensure the benefits of resources from nature, such as medicines from plants, are shared fairly and equally while protecting the rights of indigenous peoples. 
  • Maintain, enhance and restore ecosystems.  This includes preventing species extinction and maintaining genetic diversity
  • Fund the preservation of biodiversity.  As with the earlier climate change negotiations in Egypt, funding proved to be the most difficult obstacle with developing nations demanding more from developed countries. Rich nations finally pledged to provide $30 billion a year by 2030 for conservation projects.  

UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15)  December 7 – 19, 2022. Montreal, Canada.

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